Since the late 60s the name Allman has been synonymous with great music. The original ‘jam’ band, the principle architects of southern rock, Allman Brothers Duane and Gregg took the world by storm when they arrived on the scene in 1969. Now, almost forty years on, another Allman is set to do the same.
Raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, Devon fell in love with music at an early age, a love that was stoked by his relationship with his father later in life. Throughout his twenties he tried to sound anything but like his father, trying different styles and sounds to distance himself from the obvious comparisons. However, now 31 years old, Allman has realized that the music is in his blood, and he should just play what comes naturally.
Devon Allman has a voice reminiscent of his father, Gregg, and a guitar style that conjures images of a young Carlos Santana, yet he blends his influences, and impressive musical heritage into a style that is unique. In his new band, Honeytribe, and with their aptly titled debut record Torch, Devon is taking up the mantle of his forefathers and giving the name Allman a whole new meaning.
Just to get us started, could you talk us through how and where Honeytribe came about?
Devon: Honeytribe came about originally in the year 1999 as a group that would be something of a throwback band, attempting to re-visit the vibe and feel of classic blues-inspired rock music. Growing up on Santana, the Stones, the Doors, Allman Brothers, etc, it was a pretty natural road to want to walk down. We disbanded for a few years and came back together in 2005 to start Honeytribe's path as a career, making records and touring.
Where do you all come from musically within the band?
Musically I feel Honeytribe comes from the place that matters most, the heart. From the bluesy guitar, back beat feels and rhythms and soulful vocals; we've really tapped our sound from the source of what we grew up on and the type of music that makes us feel. It's not a cerebral approach at all. If the riff feels good, we work it. If the song can't be sung from a soulful place, we pitch it.
Is there a story behind the band’s name?
I was driving with my drummer, Marko, one day and we were trying to think of names. A big part of the Honeytribe sound is dynamics. We can be super smooth and delicate and also big, bad, and fierce. I told Marko that we really needed a name to reflect that dichotomy. First thing out of his mouth was "Honeytribe?", and I was like, "Yeah! Sweet like honey, fierce like a tribe, it's perfect!"
Obviously, I have to ask the inevitable. What was it like growing up with Gregg Allman as a father?
My parents divorced when I was an infant. I actually got to grow up in a very normal suburban American existence. I didn’t meet him until I was in my teens, but we formed a bond instantly. Luckily, I didn't have to grow up amidst the insanity that they went through. He is just one of many heroes of mine… those who sing and play from the heart. Those who overcome insane odds to still do what they love to do. He really lets me do my own thing with no meddling.
What effect did your family’s prestigious musical history have on you, musically? Did it spur you on or hinder you in anyway?
Musically I really found my own way in at age five listening to the Beatles and Kiss and kind of taking it from there later on to start to learn guitar. Later in life, meeting my Dad and getting to see what was involved definitely inspired me to get better at my craft so that I could have my shot.
Although there are moments on the record where you could cite the Allman Brothers as an influence, it is very much your own sound. How did you go about honing this sound and making sure that you stepped out from the shadows of your family’s legacy?
Once again it's a very natural approach. There was no making sure that it didn't or did sound like anything. The writing of the songs for this record was a totally organic flow. At the end of the day I'm really happy that the overall vibe, and tones of the record nod to the past while forging ahead into the future. Therefore it's a win/win situation for Honeytribe. I'm proud of my heritage, but also proud that Honeytribe can make a record or hit the stage and totally hold our own.
I know that originally you struggled, trying not to be compared, musically, to your father. On the opening track of the new album, you sing ‘I think I’ve found the right way to go’. Is this you finally accepting your roots and just playing what’s in your blood, and what comes naturally?
I know this direction and feel, playing and singing from the heart and soul is something I was always meant to do. It's the most effortless and organic version of my music I've ever done. I have embraced my heritage along the way but I don’t feel that there is any cerebral connection to it. I just do what I do now, with no thought process. If I "feel" it I "do" it, regardless of comparisons.
The album has been very aptly titled, as you are now carrying on the 'torch' of your forefathers. What exactly does this album symbolise to you?
Well really the idea of carrying the ‘torch’ means a little more to me. In a world of corporations running the music industry, it seems there's less and less heart and soul music. I'd like to see Honeytribe perpetuate that music for the next 20 years. We have fans that come up and shake our hands vigorously and say "Thank you! There is hope!" and they mean it. You can see it in their eyes, and that is one amazing compliment.
Talk us through the album. For instance, where you recorded it, favourite tracks, what you hoped to achieve with it, the song writing process, etc?
We recorded the record in Memphis, Tennessee at Ardent studios. This was the place where the ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughn records were cut. With songwriting, I find every single time is different. I usually just sit with a guitar and riff and practice and sometimes something just comes. Other times I'll get a lyrical concept in mind or hear a one liner that a lyrical concept can embody, it really just depends.
My favorite tracks on the record are "Mahalo", "When I call Home" and "Nothing to be Sad About". I love "Mahalo" because I always wanted to write an instrumental and never had a main melody that I thought was worth a damn. The melody came to me literally in a dream, I called my cell phone and sang the melody onto a message to myself, then worked it up in the morning, the whole time saying "Thank you". Mahalo means thank you in Hawaiian.
"When I Call Home" is just a really fun song to play lead guitar on, very much of a creeper song with great dynamics. I like "Nothing to be Sad About" simply because I never really thought I'd be able to write a simple, throwback, ‘old timey’ song like that… kind of surprised myself. The overall goal when we went into the studio was to make a quick record that would introduce Honeytribe to the planet. "Hello, here we are, heart and soul based rock music is not dead and we'd like to perpetuate it by burning the Torch for the new generations!"
What was it like to record in a studio as steeped in history as Ardent studios? For example, it’s where The Allman Brothers recorded Shades of Two Worlds.
Recording at Ardent was in fact an amazing experience. If those walls could only speak… I was actually living in Memphis as a teen when the ABB made that record there. I would come every day to watch them. I was enthralled, I remember Tom Dowd at work very well. I remember taking my acoustic guitar into the atrium to work on songs and having Warren Haynes come out and tell me it sounded good. I swore I would someday make a record there. It's really meaningful to have come full circle and be able to make Torch there.
You’re obviously very passionate about the music, what is it that you love about music? What inspires you, both in and outside of the musical world, to create the music you do?
Wow, that's deep! I really don't know… there’s melody, groove, rhythm, expression, the way it can make you feel… there is just so much! I think life experience and emotion are at the forefront. Pain, joy, anger, epiphany, etc can get you in a head space to pull music and lyric from the ether and breathe life into them. Hearing music from artists that play and sing from the heart and soul also inspire me… but so does everyday life.
Although I’ve yet to catch the band live, I’ve heard great things about the band’s live show, and I know you spend a lot of time on the road. How do you approach a live setting differently to a studio performance, and do you have a preference of the two?
I equally enjoy making records and playing live. The obvious edge to playing live is the energy you share with the crowd. That is the one thing that is like no other. You send out the vibrations and you get them back and there really isn't another feeling on the planet quite like that.
We tour a lot! We are in the middle of our Torch tour right now. We've hit over 30 states in the U.S. and are going well into 2007 and hopefully into Europe as well. Life on the road is fun for me… I love living out of a suitcase and being in hotels. The food sucks, but you learn to get around it. The waiting sucks but it is made worth it by the 90 minutes on stage. It's a blessing to be able to wake up everyday and play music and I thank my lucky stars constantly. We just go out there and try to make those 90 minutes really count for something every single time we take a stage.
The band seems to have come a long way in a relatively short space of time. What would you put this down to?
We’re a dedicated hard working group that decided it was time to go out and work every single night on this band, first and foremost. Also it is attributed to a phenomenal team that I've assembled around us. From our booking agent, to our record label, our publicist, and so on. Everyone working in the Honeytribe world is dedicated. They feel what we are doing and are completely behind the band and for all the right reasons. They work just as hard in their offices as we do out on the road and on stage.
What’s been the highlight in the band’s career so far, and personally for you?
The respect factor has gone way up! Even if the music isn't someone's cup of tea, you can't say we are here because of my family. We are here because we have busted our asses to be here! Don’t get me wrong, we’ve loved every single minute of it. Having our first, sold out in advance shows has been a major highlight as well as the first time people starting to sing along to the lyrics of the songs.
Similarly, have there been any low points?
I'm an optimist to the core… it's hard to really pinpoint a low point. Running late and running ragged can be tough on the road, but we still look at each other with a lot of love and mutual admiration after a show and just go, "Man… this band! This is a special band!"
You’ve said before that you’re in this for the long run. What are your plans for the future, both with Honeytribe and otherwise?
Honeytribe is a career band. I have a 25 year outlook for this band. It is a marriage and the players in my band are my brothers and my musical warriors. We plan on making solid records at very cool and historic studios and playing live for the next 25 years. Next step is album number two to be recorded at Compass Pointe in the Bahamas… and it will have a totally different feel than Torch.
We look forward to every step we take in our career. I’d like for the 'Tribe to someday be viewed in the same manner as the ABB or Santana or the Stones… a long tradition of heart and soul music. I try to just concentrate on what's going on right now.
One final question the. If there was one record that you could cite as the definitive recording that has influenced you and inspired you, what would it be, and why?
Wow this is really, really hard. I guess I would have to go with the Derek and The Dominos Layla record. Although it's not straight blues, it's obviously dripping with soulful blues guitar. Layla has always appealed to me because you can really really ‘feel’ what Clapton was going through. That man was straight up in love. It brought out a burning passion in his throat and fingers that is undeniable, and it obviously soaked into the other players on the record.
My uncle Duane just sounds like a bird on it as well! It has so much raw energy and passion that it sounds ultra fresh every time I put it on. Front to back, one of the few records that can bring me to tears if I let it.
Thanks very much for all your time Devon , it’s been a real pleasure. I’ll look forward to meeting you for another chat, when you get over to the UK in the near future.
Man thank you for the coverage and the love! Long live the blues and rock… May the force be with you!