Step Right Up: David Allred
Interview with David Allred.
“I learned a lot from those experiences but eventually grew tired of learning jazz standards and wanted to start creating my own music. I think my jazz background will always only play a subconscious role in the process of making my own experimental song-writer music.”
Words: Mark Carry
A beautiful package of new music arrived to my home back in early spring. Addressed from Oregon, USA, it soon became clear that the source of this special musical discovery (music, such poignant, powerful and beautiful music!) was the special soul of American composer Peter Broderick. The album in question was ‘Midstory’ by a young singer-songwriter named David Allred, which was co-arranged and recorded by Peter Broderick at his own studio on the Oregon coast (appropriately dubbed The Sparkle). The album’s twelve songs is nothing short of revelatory where each song inhabits a far-reaching place steeped in heart, honesty and undeniable genius. The otherworldly folk-based songs – dotted with a cosmic collage of jazz, ambient and modern-classical kaleidoscope of sound – feel akin to Broderick’s own solo works as genres and borders are blurred, leaving the listener to truly get lost in the deep dimensions of the empowering sonic creations.
A beautifully written card was included with ‘Midstory’ where Peter’s words of sheer excitement for his friend’s new music was immediately evident: “I wanted to share this very special record with you by my friend David Allred”. The story behind the music and the eventual meeting of these two kindred spirits leads us on a sort of dream-like travelogue. The young musician had transcribed one of Broderick’s piano songs, ‘Pulling The Rain’ (from 2010’s ‘How They Are’) and emailed Peter his results. Forward a couple of years, Allred played bass and trumpet with Greg Gives Peter Space (the exceptional dub-inspired collaboration between Broderick and Greg Haines, whose debut record was released on Erased Tapes) as they toured the west coast of the U.S. Described by Broderick as “possibly the most dedicated musician I’ve ever met”, Allred’s music is bewitching, puzzling and awe-inspiring. Having already released a plethora of releases – reflecting the seamless array of ideas and the musician’s rich musical imagination – the arrival of ‘Midstory’ comes with a special sense of discovery and anticipation.
Born in 1992, Allred grew up in California near the city of Sacramento. After falling in love with the trumpet, he decided to study jazz and could be found transcribing and recreating the solos of Chet Baker. Soon, the young musician’s curiosity led to musical paths beyond genre definitions. He started to sing, play the guitar, upright bass, piano and in his late teens and early twenties, he started to record his own music (sometimes as frequently as one a month). These early recordings caught the ear of Broderick who moved back to his home state of Oregon around the same time that David moved to Portland in 2013. The resulting collaboration resulted in ‘Midstory’, recently released on Germany’s Oscarson imprint. Full of layered voices and a large variety of instrumentation, Allred’s music – and particularly the joyous collaboration between these two like-minded souls – conveys the infinite possibilities of music and how every so often, a record comes along to remind you of this simple, powerful truth.
Towards the close of the jazz-infused song cycle of ‘Running Out Of Color’, an exclamation of ‘Wow!’ is heard from Broderick, which somehow sums up the compelling journey of ‘Midstory’. The pristine instrumentation of guitar, upright bass, layered voices, trumpet, keyboard, celeste, violin, banjo, synth and percussion forms the perfect colours, textures and canvas for Allred’s singular creations. The record begins and closes with an acapella song. Allred sings “Don’t you wish you could find that part inside your heart that tells you” on ‘Don’t You Wish’ that evokes the spirit of Sam Amidon and the vocal-based experiments of Broderick’s ‘These Walls Of Mine’. The song centres on finding your home and in many ways, ‘Midstory’ feels like a reconnection to your roots. ‘Oregon’ is a gorgeous love letter to the California-born’s adopted state, complete with majestic strings, warm nylon guitar notes and celestial harmonies. The utterly transcendent ‘Again And Again’ is one of ‘Midstory’s defining moments. The heartfelt lament’s opening verse immediately casts a magical spell where Allred sings “Again and again/We are taught the principles of honesty/In a world where truth can’t be tolerated”. The deeply affecting ballad evolves into a soaring cinematic opus, reminiscent of Heather Woods Broderick’s ‘From The Ground’ LP. The closing choral refrain of ‘When Time Flies’ evokes the passing of time, memories, nostalgia and life’s fleeting moments. ‘Midstory’ makes the surrounding space a brighter place. Like his trusted collaborator friend, David Allred “continues to inspire all things” and we, the listener are forever grateful for that.
‘Midstory’ is out now on Oscarson.
Interview with David Allred.
Congratulations David on the truly remarkable new record, ‘Midstory’. It’s a real pleasure to ask you some questions about this spell-binding collection of visionary pop songs. The music was co-arranged and recorded by Peter Broderick at the Sparkle in Oregon. I would love for you to discuss the recording sessions for ‘Midstory’ and indeed the day-to-day routine of collaborating closely with Peter? It’s such a beautiful (and deep) musical connection that is forged between you both, and makes for such an enriching journey that effortlessly seeps into the album’s twelve songs.
David Allred: Every recording session I had with Peter was always an incredible experience. Peter has been one of my biggest musical idols for many years and I always dreamed of meeting him one day. And now after moving to Portland, Oregon, Peter and I developed a close friendship and musical relationship that I never imagined happening so soon in my life and I am extremely blessed for having this connection with him.
Peter and I first had a recording session for 6 straight days at The Sparkle. During that time we were joined by Alicyn Yaffee, who contributed some beautiful electric guitar and vocal harmonies on the record.
I wrote the music for ‘Midstory‘ without any idea of how I wanted the songs to be arranged. Once we recorded the basic structure for each song, Peter and I would throw ideas back and forth until we got the right fullness of sound that we were happy with. It was a very enjoyable process to create the arrangements which came together very organically.
One of the great hallmarks of this record is the wide range of instrumentation used throughout and also this sense of adventure and willingness to explore every possible avenue of sound. For example, the gorgeous album opener ‘Don’t You Wish’ is a gleaming psych pop treasure built on beautiful nylon guitar notes and mesmerising vocal harmonies, synths & violin passages. Please discuss the layering of songs such as ‘Don’t You Wish’ – and indeed the album as a whole – where endless moments of stunning beauty unfolds before the listener.
DA: The album starts and ends with an acapella song. The songs with a wide variety of instrumentation happen in-between the 2 acapella pieces. ‘Don’t you wish’ is the first song which turned out to sound like sort of a world-music acapella piece with the background choir interacting with the lead vocal melody. There are also 6 songs on the record that were originally written for guitar and voice, 3 songs that were written for upright bass and voice, and 1 instrumental song which have all evolved into pieces of music with thick arrangements of strings, brass, background vocal harmonies, percussion, keyboards, backwards talking, and more.
‘Midstory’ has a wide spectrum of styles and sounds: jazz, folk, pop and utterly beguiling sonic experimentations to take your breath away. Please take me back to California where you grew up, David. Describe your surroundings and what it was like growing up there? Also, I would love for you to reminisce for me your introduction to the trumpet instrument and the world of jazz? Would this have informed your musical upbringing so to speak? It is these beautiful jazz nuances that form such a vital part to ‘Midstory’’s narrative.
DA: I was born in Sacramento, California and lived in that general area of central CA before moving to Portland in 2013. In 5th grade, I picked up the trumpet in school and took private lessons in 8th grade from a wonderful teacher named Dave Metzker. In my first year of high school I started a goofy experimental band outside of school called Strawberrier with my friends Greg Eldridge, Daniel Nickerson and Andy Page. Strawberrier turned out to be the first opportunity I had to explore new musical genres and instrumentation. In high school/ early college I was involved in a number of jazz ensembles playing the trumpet, upright bass and singing in vocal jazz ensembles. I learned a lot from those experiences but eventually grew tired of learning jazz standards and wanted to start creating my own music. I think my jazz background will always only play a subconscious role in the process of making my own experimental song-writer music. Although, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now if I never had the experience of learning jazz standards.
I am only new to your music with ‘Midstory’ being my starting point. Please discuss the plethora of releases you have made to date. Has the creative process changed dramatically between each release of yours?
DA: I’m now into my 3rd year of writing songs and in that time, I’ve averaged releasing 5 albums per year; all of which were self-releases and almost never made into physical copies. I recently took some of these albums down from the internet because I felt as though my musical style has grown too far apart from the first collection of songs I started releasing. In the process of writing and putting out that much music in such a small amount of time, I’ve really learned the value of reserving songs for the future. I have been much happier with my recent releases because I made sure to only include songs that I felt were adding quality to the album without an overbearing quantity of songs. There was even a handful of songs I didn’t end up recording for ‘Midstory‘ because I wanted to craft the right collection of songs that sit well together to be released on the record. And some of those songs that I have up on the shelf right now may very well make their way onto a new record someday in the future.
‘Again and Again’ is such a towering achievement. There is an honesty, immediacy and sincerity deep inside the song that hits you hard. The sublime guitar lines are a joy to witness and the myriad of warm percussion that arrives later. What are your memories of writing this particular song, David? I feel this song evolved (and blossomed) quite wonderfully while recording in The Sparkle?
DA: I remember writing this song back when I lived in California in 2012, around the time I started teaching myself guitar. ‘Again and Again‘ and ‘Path Less Taken‘ are the only two songs on ‘Midstory‘ that I previously recorded/ released on earlier albums and wanted to rework them. I mostly chose these two because I still feel attached to these songs and I also felt like they had potential to sound greater than they did in their earlier stages. Peter also suggested I re-record a couple of my older songs for this record in addition to the brand new ones. I don’t think I generally identify too strongly with any songs I write in general because I’m always changing over time. I think I might always naturally identify with songs a lot more in the moment of creating them rather than after they are finished.
‘Oregon’ serves a love letter to your home of Oregon since moving there in 2013. I would be curious to know would the majority of these songs originate from demos of you and your trusted nylon guitar? What sources of inspiration do you feel Oregon and this part of the world gives you (and brings to your artistic senses)?
DA: I have been really fortunate to live in Oregon at the time I moved here. A lot of good things in my life have since lined up really well in my favour. There’s also a lot more nature in the Portland area as opposed to the central California area I came from so I put in a great effort to spend as much time outdoors as I can; which in this case, was the main source of inspiration for this particular song.
I usually always try to record demos which is good because I’m amazed with how quickly I forget new song ideas. I usually do it as a documentation of an idea that I know I will want to come back to and spend time on.
What is next for you, David? In what way do you feel the follow-up to ‘Midstory’ may bloom into? What are your most cherished memories from this special document of ‘Midstory’?
DA: Some of the most cherished moments I had when recording this record almost always revert back to how much I enjoyed collaborating immensely with Peter. Between the two of us, we both contributed a super wide variety of ideas and I truly felt like we were on the same page the entire time we worked at it. I couldn’t be happier with the way this album came together.
The next bit of news I have coming up is that I’ll soon be releasing a new stop-motion music video for the first track “Don’t You Wish” with beautiful illustrations from Jess DeSa the day my album comes out on the Oscarson Label: 20/04/2015.
Lastly, please discuss the records you’ve been heavily immersed in of late? Or indeed books, poetry, films etc!
DA: Lately I’ve been obsessed with Twin Peaks. I’m really looking forward to that show coming back after 25 years. Musicians I’ve been listening to: Nick Drake, Molly Drake, Arthur Russell, Johanna Warren, Heather Woods Broderick, Elliott Smith, Chantal Acda, Kate Wolf, Sir Millard Mulch, Secret Chiefs 3, Sibylle Baier, Brian Eno, Lee Hazlewood, etc. Right now I’m reading a book called “The Truth, Finally” by Bob Zmuda and Lynne Margulies. Andy Kaufman is one of the most inspiring figures in my life right now.
‘Midstory’ is out now on Oscarson.