Interview: Singer/Songwriter David James Allen Discusses His Album The Architect

David James Allen sits on a dark yellow couch in a yellow painted room
Photograph by Jen Squires

32-year-old David James Allen’s third solo record The Architect tells almost a decade’s worth of stories that touch on politics, making music, love, and the journey he took to take control of his life. Ranging from bluesy alt-country to easy sounding folk and country songs, The Architect was largely recorded live off the floor at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton, Ontario. Co-produced by Allen and William D. Crann [Mappe Of, The Trews, Iskew], there’s a warmth to its sound that mirrors the community that Allen hopes listeners find in the album. Allen spoke to us ahead of the November 19th release of The Architect.

Jason: Can you begin by letting readers get to know you by telling us the backstory of your introduction to music?

David James Allen: I grew up in Barrie, Ontario in a musical family. My father played guitar and my mom played violin. We did a lot of camping growing up, so a lot of musical influences. I have come from jam sessions around campfires. They’d play The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, that era of music. I played in bands throughout my youth, punk bands, ska bands, the full gamut of everything. In my early 20s, I started reconnecting to those folk and classic rock roots my parents introduced me to. It’s been a natural progression to write songs that have meaning to them. I lived in Toronto for two years. People think of me as a Toronto musician, but I live in Prince Edward county and been here for five years. Because Toronto is such a large city, it’s something people can connect to,

Jason: How long have you been writing your own music?

David James Allen: I’ve been writing since I was about 12 years old. In 2017 I called my first album When the Demons Come and this was an album I recorded, did artwork for and did the mixing and engineering. The album was after a nasty breakup. It was an opportunity for me to get used to the equipment I had. I released it and got some nice reviews. I got to travel the country, West Coast to East Coast and back and recording music. I’ve been self producing, mixing and recording music since then. The last album is called Radiations. It was a 2020 album where I did one song a month throughout the pandemic which was nice because I wasn’t on the road touring and I got to create which brings me to this next album coming out in November. This new one, The Architect, was done a little differently, where I co-produced it with an old friend of mine from Barrie, Ontario.

Jason: I listened to the main single “For the Times”, what would be the main single. What inspired you to write this one?

David James Allen: I was reflecting on my relationship with my partner and the people in my life. In my 20s I fell into depression and some negative self talk, some self-destructive patterns that have influenced some of my best relationships in life. As I’ve grown older and matured, I started taking stock of the good things that I have in my life, and the good relationships I have so I wanted to write a song talking about the challenges, and that dynamic interplay that exists when you have two people who are separate people and trying to coexist with each other, and make life easier and better for each other. When you’re young, you have expectations of what relationships should be, especially for somebody like me who might have imagination at play with expectations and reality of what to expect when you’re getting to know somebody. So I wanted to tackle that in a song and express that. I think it takes a lot of courage and a lot of difficulties and a lot of patience from with yourself and with your partner to grow a relationship. So that’s kind of where it comes from. Reflecting on that.

Jason: Can you touch upon your experience with imposter syndrome?

David James Allen: The idea of imposter syndrome is for me in my late teens, early mid 20s there was a lot of struggles with my identity. I’d be feeling depressed or anxiety about relationships with people, even people I’ve known for years. I never felt 100% comfortable with myself and in my skin. That’s where the imposter syndrome stuff comes from; you’re living a life where you’re not feeling confident and not feeling like you deserve to be in that position in your life, or maybe you’re at odds with it. That’s been an ongoing battle. I don’t know if it’s imposter syndrome, it’s just about being comfortable with yourself. Many people go through that and are going through that now. I wanted to tackle those types of subject matters in the song. If myself at 25 was experiencing this and I could have a song to listen to snap some perspective into someone saying ‘things right now aren’t trivial. But there is something brighter ahead, you just got to stick to it.’

Jason: This detail about you stood out to me when I red your press release, I’ve read hundreds of press releases but that was interesting and I wanted to learn more about that from you so thank you, If you could send a message to someone struggling with something along those lines. What would that be?

David James Allen: It’s important to take some time for yourself and to not inundate yourself with so much information. Step away from other’s social dynamics of your world and just focus on yourself for a little. Give yourself time to think and meditate. It might sound cliché, but meditation is very helpful. Go for walks and abolish some anxieties and focus on what’s happening now. Just take time for yourself and just breathe a little.

Jason: How are you feeling these days?

David James Allen: I’m feeling really good these days. I’m very lucky to have met a partner at 25 and we’ve been together since then. I couldn’t be happier. We help each other out and encourage each other to focus on positive things. I also stopped drinking my face off all the time. I feel I turned towards some self-destructive patterns and stuff like that. I’m feeling really good. But it’s always a growing constant thing that you try to focus on trying to get better with yourself.

Jason: What do you feel it is about music that besides friends, family, that people turn to when going through trying times?

David James Allen: Music has been there for me. I think the thing about music is that there’re different things at play. Some people listen to music and they’re not thinking about the lyrics or melody, it’s just filling space, and it feels good. Then there’s people who connect to lyrics and look at songs for healing. I think it’s because we’re not alone, but we’re our individual person. And we’re When you hear music, you’re getting an insight into some of the deeper emotions or feelings or experiences that another person has had. Pairing to melody and sound feels really good. I just feel like it’s a cosmic or gut thing for me.

Jason: Are there favorite artists you have who inspire you and help you get through trying or even good times?

David James Allen: I do. I come back to Harry Nilsson so much and that’s because his voice penetrates me. He’s got one of those beautiful voices that are rare. Some people can get away with not having a dominant voice like Bob Dylan, which I would argue it’s still a great voice, but Harry Nelson had this magnificent voice. And his songwriting was playful and he could bring a sense of humor to the most heartbreaking scenario. I appreciate hearing Nelson’s music for that. And I’m always coming back to Al Green or Bill Withers and Gregory Porter is another modern music with a voice I’m attracted to. I think Gregory’s voice gives you this giant hug when you hear it. Bob Dylan, there’s so much material there. The Band, Joni Mitchell, was huge, growing up for me and Joan Armatrading. She has a song called “Woncha Come on Home” I have to listen to at least a few times a year. There’re tons I love music and I love many stuff. Even Hip Hop.

Jason: How would you describe your music?

David James Allen: I think it’s from the gut. It takes inspiration from some of these oldies. If you listen to the last record, Radiations, there’s some folk psychedelic influences coming through, there’s some country, but I don’t think I’m trying to focus too much on the genre. I try to focus is on a song with lyrics that mean something and a good melody. I love a good melody. I love lyrics. So my music pairs melody, lyrics and has this funky country alternative vibe to it. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. It’s just what it is.

Jason: I want to talk about the new album The Architect coming out in November. How proud of this of this upcoming album?

David James Allen: I’m very proud of it. The last two records I collaborated with some people, but a lot of it was me working in mixing and producing at home. For this record, an old friend of mine, William D. Cran, co-produced with it me. He mixed the album where I’ll mix it on my own, so I was stepping out of my comfort zone a little. Will has an excellent year, and he’s very open and experimental and knows how to make a microphone and room work. In the past I just set up a microphone and try to get the sound so come from a different background and I think it was helpful working with Will because not only do I learn about proper engineering techniques, but he just made the record sound so good. Collaborating with him was a lot of fun and nerve-wracking. I was used to keeping things close to me and to work with somebody else and open up and allow their ideas to make their way into my songs. But Will’s exceptional and the record sounds sweet. It’s a good relationship and I’m very happy with how it turned out.

Jason: What are some topics or themes listeners can expect to hear you explore on The Architect?

David James Allen: We were talking about the imposter syndrome stuff earlier and those types of personal struggles and social struggles which are dynamic. There’s a lot of dualism on this record. I studied communications in university and there was this theory which was a two-headed llama attached. There’s no bottom. That diagram is good for the record because there’s a lot of contrast and juxtaposition. So anxiety, relationships, love, a little climate change narrative plugged in there which I think that’s important. That being said, I don’t write topical songs. They’re layered, so you’d have to listen to pick up on some of these things. This album is social commentary mixed with personal struggle and just trying to be a better person.

The Architect By David James Allen vinyl

The Architect will be released November 19th. Follow David James Allen on Instagram and at his official website.

Written by Jason Sheppard

Entertainment reporter living at the end of very cold Canada. Proud owner of a diploma in journalism and just about every CD by John Williams ever released. Favorite directors are Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, Tarantino, Fellini, Lynch and Fincher. Twin Peaks, Sopranos and Six Feet Under are the greatest TV dramas ever crafted and I love 90s sitcoms such as Spin City, Sports Night, Newsradio, Seinfeld and even that one with Deadpool working in the pizza place. Click linkies below to follow me.

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