Michelle LaRose talks to Devon Allman for Road To Jacksonville
Photographs by Michelle LaRose
You’d be hard pressed to find a person that didn’t know the name Allman, a small tribe deep in the heart of the Amazon maybe? Well there is a new Allman on the scene, Devon Allman.
Devon Allman’s band is called Honeytribe and they aren’t banking on the Allman name… they don’t have to. Honeytribe’s blues based rock with Devon’s strong lead vocals is winning fans daily across the globe. This is the next generation of Allmans generating exactly what you would expect from such a name, it’s obviously in the bloodline. Make no mistake, this isn’t Gregg Allman, it’s his son and he’s taking no prisoners on his trek across America promoting his first album Torch.
We were able to sit down with Devon and talk about the new album, virtual CD’s and family aviation antics.
Devon: It came out nationwide August 29th and we recorded it at Ardent Studios in Memphis, which is just a phenomenal world-class studio. All the ZZ Top records were done there, all the Stevie Ray Vaughan records were done there. We just had a really great time making it and now its out nationwide and we’re touring coast to coast to support it. As far as stylistically, I tell everyone that it’s like a third rock, a third blues and a third jam, kind of jam oriented. So there’s a little something in there for everybody.
RTJ: The album was just released although the band was formed over six years ago. Why did it take so long to release an album?
Devon: Well actually the band was formed in ’99 and we ran it through the early part of 2001. Then a lot of personal stuff came up in everybody’s life. My son was brought into this world. I wanted to spend some time, some really good quality time being there and laying a foundation with him. Obviously if you leave home and he’s two or three, it’s a little harder for him to understand. So now, he’s almost seven and he knows that Dad goes on the road and he also knows that I come back. So we just took a few years and there were some side projects and other things going on but the thing was that the whole time everyone had talked about what a great lineup it was, the chemistry we had. We were always like, “You know, we ought to put Honeytribe back together.” I woke up January 3rd of ’05 and thought, “It has to be done immediately.” I think three days later I had rehearsal scheduled. A month later we had a booking agent. Eight months later we had a record deal. It just all fell into place really quickly after that. So actually there was four years where Honeytribe didn’t exist.
RTJ: Who wrote the songs on this album?
Devon: I’m the primary writer. We’re starting to get into a zone where there’s input from the guys but I’m kind of the quarterback when it comes to the writing. I had a specific vision of where I wanted this record to go. The guys are real supportive of me and believe in my vision. It works really well.
RTJ: How is the songwriting process accomplished?
Devon: There’s really no set way for me. Typically, I’ll sit down with a guitar and just noodle around and noodle around and if something pops up that I think is cool, I’ll hunt it down. Sometimes it starts with a lyric and I’m like, “I really like that lyric” so I’ll want to write a song around it, make it happen. Every once in a while it does come into your head when you’re lucky enough. It’s kind of hard to take credit for writing a song because I really feel like any kind of art is kind of floating in the ether around us and if you’re lucky enough to kind of pull it down and make it happen, it’s just kind of out there.
RTJ: You cover Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman – No Cry’ on this album. Why did you decide to add a cover tune to this album?
Devon: Well actually, you know, we didn’t! We had the record done and the label came out to see us at a show in Atlanta and the President just freaked out, we just happened to throw that in the set. We throw in a few covers just to throw curve balls at people and give them something that they’re familiar with when it’s their first time to see Honeytribe. We threw that in the set that night and they just freaked out and they said, “Look, here’s the money, go back in the studio, cut ‘No Woman – No Cry’ and lets get it on the record.” We were comfortable with it because we put our own spin on it. It made sense.
RTJ: You co-produced this album with Pete Matthews [Paul Simon, North Mississippi Allstars]. Do you feel you have more control creatively when you produce yourself?
Devon: Well I think at this point, since we are very much kind of an infant band, I don’t think anyone else is going to give the production as much love as I would. Seeing as how I’m the primary writer, I think it just makes sense at the end of the day for me to have my hands on the production duties, to make sure the arrangements flow and work out any lulls in the song, to make sure that everybody’s getting the best possible takes from George on bass to Jack on keyboards. To really be able to quarterback and cheerleader the process.
RTJ: What have you learned from working with a veteran like Pete Matthews?
Devon: We really just clicked away. I was just going to produce it myself and I worked with him, I produced a record out of there for a band called Modern Red. I got to work with Pete and I realized that our rapport was so good that it would behoove me to bring him into the process. He didn’t rearrange any of the songs; he helped pull the best out of me. That was the most important thing. If I got too close to the process he would give me a birds eye view and say, “Man you can do this better and you can do that better.” He’s an amazing engineer. That’s his strongest suit; he is so good at getting the tones. If you tell him what kind of tone you’re after, he’ll get it. That’s the most important thing. So we complimented each other very well.
Devon: It’s a really cool promotional thing that the label is doing to raise the awareness of the band. We give out these cards that look like credit cards and on them are the directions. If you go to the website and type in the password the artwork for the album comes up and you can flip through the pages like it’s a CD and you can listen to every song and you can download the first single for free. So it’s a really cool part of our campaign. It’s very unique and people love getting the little credit card, they’re really sharp looking. It’s proven to be really cool. You get to preview the whole record before you make the investment of fifteen bucks. It’s just really a great thing. I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of it in the future. It’s a really, really great idea.
RTJ: You were not raised by your father Gregg. Were your musical pursuits encouraged by your parents when you were young?
Devon: My Mom, bless her heart, tried to get me to learn guitar I think starting at age five or six. She kind of pushed me so hard that it really… you know, I was a pretty typical kid, I didn’t want to do what my Mom wanted me to do. I really avoided it. I was at a friend’s house and I was thirteen and he had this electric guitar in the corner and it had probably an inch of dust on it. I was like, “Dude, you play guitar?” He’s like, “Oh yeah man.” He was acting all cool and he grabs it and he played horribly, bless his heart. I was like, “Man, you know, I think I could probably do that.” I went home and I told my Mom, “You’re going to be happy. I’m going to start playing guitar.” So she gave me this ten-dollar P.O.S. from Mexico guitar and said, “If you can learn some stuff on this and prove yourself then I will go out and buy you an electric guitar.” Obviously that was a good way to get me to do it. So I played the heck out of it! [Laughing] I still have it. Actually my sister who is backstage with me right now, she painted it at one point, I could smack her! Anyway, it’s was cool! I still have the guitar and it’s got an inch of dust on it now because I have better ones. Yeah, ya’ know, it just worked out. I didn’t really take any lessons. I took a couple but they don’t really count because it was just like ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ and all that stuff. My Mom was very and still is so supportive of me and once my dad and me hooked up in my mid teens he could tell that I wanted to do this and he’s been supportive ever since.
RTJ: Your stepfather was a TWA pilot. Did you ever have an interest in aviation?
Devon: You know… [Laughing] That guy took me up in small planes, that’s actually my sisters dad [pointing to sister]… He took me up in tiny planes and would proceed to do flips and loopty-loops with me in the plane!
[Devon’s sister is sitting in the corner clawing at the air as if hanging on to a plane seat for dear life.]
RTJ: Make note: No interest in aviation!
Devon: I think at the end of the day I’m just fine with being a passenger only.
RTJ: Bearing the name Allman, do you feel doors were easily opened for you or did you have to prove yourself twice as hard?
Devon: You know it’s really funny because half of the people think, “Oh he’s got it made, he’s an Allman, he’s got a famous name, he’s rock royalty.” Whatever you know. The other half of the people who look into the world of ours a little bit harder think, “He’s got it ten times harder than anyone because he has to live up to this, this and this.” My take on it is, I put my head down, I grind my work out, I try to be the best singer, the best guitar player and the best producer and songwriter that I can be. I don’t sit around and think about who my family is. When I look at my Dad, he’s my Dad. We watch football, we have dinner, and we spend Christmas together. So I think that if I sat around and really focused on the impact that my Dad and my Uncle had made in the industry, I think I would probably go completely insane. You know? I mean that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. I think the easiest way to do it is… I have my own thing and I get lost in it. I just really try to be the best that I can be.
RTJ: What is your goal for Honeytribe?
Devon: Wow, that’s a really good question. My goal for this band is to have it have a really good career. We could have signed to a major label; we could have gone after MTV but the core of this band and our ideals is not to become rock stars or here today gone tomorrow with a radio hit. This is about a family of musicians, a brotherhood that will be together for twenty years and the goal is to keep it together for twenty, twenty-five years and make the best records we can make. Just turn people on, one by one, town-by-town, country-by-country. At the end of the day, I’m addicted to the energy that I get from a crowd. It’s got to be what crack cocaine is like. I go up there and give energy and get it back. This ebb and flow, this give and take is just so beautiful. I want to make records and do that for the rest of my life. So that’s the goal and we’re already there! Now it’s just a matter of twenty-four more years!
RTJ: Devon, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Road To Jacksonville today.
Devon: Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.