Devon Allman: Off the Royal Road & Into the Turquoise Water
Devon and Samantha Fish on set of the “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” video shoot
RR: Perhaps it is an obvious choice to me, but I would like to know why you chose now to cover the Tom Petty track, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which features an incredible duet with Samantha Fish on vocals.
DA: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, she is so awesome. I have actually had the idea of updating that tune for a decade. In other bands I’ve been in, I’ve had like the local, hot chick singer come sit in with the band and do that song—not all the time, but a couple of times. It has kind of been in my wheelhouse for a while. I was always waiting to play that card for the right moment, and this seemed like it because I really wanted to use Tom Petty as one of my blueprints for this record—three-chord songs, real honest, real catchy, but soulful. That’s a very hard thing to do at the same time. And I thought, “This is it.”
Sam is my friend. We’re on the same record label [Ruf Records]. We keep the same hours. We like the same shit. We’re just really good buddies. I hit her up about it, and she said, “Oh my God, I’m the hugest Tom Petty fan.” I said, “Grab your iPhone and an acoustic when you get a moment and just sing me this song. I want to hear you sing this song because I know that you don’t do the Stevie Nicks thing. I want to hear the Samantha Fish thing doing this song.”
And she did it, and I thought, “What?!” It was the most amazing thing because it was just so real and so seductive and sexy. Damn. The moment that I saw Sam—just like Susan Tedeschi was labeled the next Bonnie Raitt, I think that Samantha Fish is the next Susan Tedeschi, who will become the next Bonnie Raitt. She’s in that line. Her voice is way beyond her years, and I think she just absolutely murdered the track in a good way. I think it was a nice little nugget to put out there. The idea was that this song could be so much bluesier if we slowed it down, made it a little sexier, and that’s what we did.
RR: I love the way the album ends with two rather melancholic yet moving pieces, which I find to be both very beautiful. Let’s talk about the acoustic instrumental, “Yadira’s Lullaby,” which is the penultimate track on Turquoise, and then, I’d like you to describe the writing process behind the final track, “Turn Off the World.”
DA: “Yadira’s Lullaby” came from the fact that I was given a cigar box guitar as a gift from a fan. I’d be on tour, missing my girlfriend, and I would Skype video chat, and I said, “Hey, babe, this fan gave me this really cool cigar box guitar.” I sat there on Skype, and I played her this little lullaby to put her to bed, and it just became a thing. I wrote it on the spot right there, it stuck with me, and I started playing it live. That was my gift to her, and I’m just really happy it stuck. It was kind of an enchanting, very simple melody—nothing fancy—but it has a little vibe and character that is all its own.
“Turn Off the World”…(laughs)…it’s really funny, man. I’ll try and condense this story as much as I can. I had ten songs ready for the record. The bass player [Myles Weeks] called me from a hotel and said, “Hey, man, are we done with basic tracks? If we are, I’m going to head home and drive back down.” I said, “Yeah, man. We listened down to all the tracks and they sound great. Have a safe trip.”
So, he got on the road, and ten minutes I got a text message from my manager: “The label wants to make sure that there’s 11 tracks on the record.” I said, “Are you kidding me?” He said, “No. Is there something wrong with that?” I replied, “I was going to do ten like a record from the 70s.” He said, “Oh, no, man, they’ve got to have 11 tracks, around 43 minutes, blah blah blah blah blah.” I said, “O.K.”
I had this little thing and Jim Gaines reminded me of it. It had no lyrics, no melody, and all it had was a Middle Eastern, beach-y recurring riff. Yonrico heard me play it again, and he said, “Yeah, man, let’s just go cut that.” We went in there, we came out a half hour later, and that was cut. Then, I went back in and I played the bass on it myself.
RR: I suppose this is a bad time to ask about the impact of the bassist on Turquoise.
DA: (laughs) Yeah, right. It’s crazy. I just sat there with Yonrico, and I pulled out a Sharpie and a legal pad and we arranged it really fast, and sometimes, that’s when you’re best work comes—when you’re not blocking it with negativity filters. We sat there and banged it out, and then, he split like an hour later. He was on the road back to Atlanta. “Turn Off the World” became this joke because Jim Gaines knew that I didn’t have that at all coming into the session, so every day or so, he’d be like, “Hey, you’ve got that song done?” (laughter) I said, “No, I’ve got nothing.” It came to me at the very, very last second. I played bass, I wrote the lyrics and then sang them and it was like, “Wow, that just kind of spilled out of nowhere.” It’s really kind of weird—the label wanted 11 songs, I had 10, and…the funniest thing was that I had scheduled making a record, I had schedule five days to cut the basic tracks for the record, and I scheduled it to where when I left on the fifth night, I would drive from the studio to Nashville airport, get on a plane, and go down to the island of Curacao. That’s why that song is steeped in I want to feel the sunshine on my skin…I want to wash off this rock ‘n’ roll —that’s, literally, what I was doing, and when I came back from the trip to Curacao, I was telling Jim Gaines, “Oh my God, Gaines, it was beautiful. The water was just perfect turquoise.” And, then, my eyes got real big, and I thought, “All right—well, that’s done.” It all just came together, man. It wasn’t ever planned. This was just all serendipitous.
RR: I do want to give a shout out to Myles Weeks who did some great work.
DA: Killer bass player. In fact, the reason why I had hired him to do the record was because I had envisioned the record being all upright bass. He brought it, and “Key Lime Pie” features it, and it’s amazing. We tried it on a handful of other tracks and it just didn’t fly. They were really screaming for a traditional electric bass. Kudos to him for trying it, and we really gave it hell, but it’s nice because “Key Lime Pie” has its own little vibe because it is the only one with the upright bass.
RR: Tremendous spot right about now because you have two projects, which are really strong, going on at the same time. I assume you will play some selected solo dates, when you can, in between all the Royal Southern Brotherhood gigs.
DA: Yeah. Once we got out on the road with Royal for the first couple months, we all realized that Royal is not the side project. That dynamic flipped. Royal is the main project, and when you have time away from Royal, you tour your solo thing. I’m very excited about my first ever solo record. I also invested a lot into the Royal world. I committed to it, so that comes first. We have tour dates all year, four trips to Europe, Australia, summer festivals in America, and we’re going to do all of that, but when there are a free eight days, or a free 14 days through this year, I’ll be out supporting Turquoise. (laughs) I’m going to be double dizzy all year long.
RR: I need to ask you—currently on hiatus, what is the status of Honeytribe?
DA: A lot of people have been asking, and I’ve been getting a little hate mail, and, literally…just because I’m not using the Honeytribe name, or personnel…it’s on hold. It’s not over. I didn’t say it is dead. It was time for me, after 12 years touring the world with the same project, the same framework, the same vibe, to go: “I need to shake things up in my career; I need to strive for different things.”
And Royal was the perfect thing. Royal got me to the level where I could make this solo record. I had to take that step, to take this step. So, everything is for a reason. I wouldn’t be surprised if—definitely not 2013 or 2014, but 2015—you don’t see, maybe, a return to a nice big blues-y guitar riff record from Honeytribe.
RR: Well, for me, 2013, it is indeed a pleasure to hear the music that is being made, and I am content with what is happening with where you are at right now. I’m excited for you this year.
DA: Thank you. I really appreciate that. That means a lot to me.