Kris Allen has kept himself pretty busy during this year’s holiday season. The day after Thanksgiving, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter travelled to Kenya with World Vision as part of the organization’s True Spirit of Christmas tour. On December 10, he released his new EP, Waiting For Christmas.
Allen is currently gearing up for his upcoming Out Alive Tour, which kicks off in January. He and his bandmates, Cale Mills and Chris Torres, are set to head into rehearsals soon. According to Allen, fans can look forward to some new music, new covers, and some possible variation in instrumentation on songs.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Allen over the phone, where he spoke about his trip to Kenya, the making of Waiting For Christmas, revealed the inspiration behind a new song that he dedicated to those affected by the Newtown, CT tragedy during a recent online show, and what he’s looking forward to during the Out Alive Tour.
You recently returned from your trip to Kenya with World Vision. How did you get involved with organization?
The way I got involved with World Vision was actually a friend that lives in L.A., he’s done trips with them before. I think he produced them or directed the trips. He does a lot of video work and stuff like that. We’ve become friends, because he’s from Arkansas, and when I was out in L.A., we kind of met up and he was actually going to go on the trip, he was like, “I want you to go on this trip with me,” and I was like, “Okay, sure.” And it ended up he couldn’t actually go, but I was really happy to go.
I really kind of looked into World Vision and what they do. I think they’re doing it the right way. I’m always down to get involved with somebody that’s doing it the right way, you know?
Definitely! What was your impression of Kenya and the people you had the opportunity to interact with?
Man, those people are amazing. The people that work for World Vision there in Kenya, they’re all Kenyans, they’re just amazing people that are very selfless and are putting pretty much their communities before themselves. The stuff that they go through every day, they don’t see their families that much, because they don’t live in the places they work, so they have to drive three or four hours and then spend like the whole week there. It’s just pretty crazy that people are willing to do that kind of stuff just to help out people that are like them, or maybe even they were in the same situation once, and then the people that we met were the people that were in the communities that were maybe receiving some of the gifts that World Vision had given. They’re some of the most beautiful people in the world.
We met this lady named Sylvia and her family; they were awesome. We were walking to a place where they get water, which World Vision had given them and it started raining. All of us were like looking for an umbrella or get back in the car, or something like that. She just like looks up at the sky and just says, “Blessings.” It was kind of a really like “Yeah, let’s stand in the rain for a little bit.”
Would you consider that to be your favorite moment from the trip?
I mean, that was pretty amazing. ‘Cause then a rainbow happened, and it was like, “Are you serious, right now?” There’s a rainbow and she just said that that was definitely one of the favorite moments. There were a ton, really.
I remember we walked through this dry riverbed, and there were a bunch of camels crossing in front of us. I just took some pictures of them. That was pretty crazy, I’d never seen a camel before.
What is the best way for people to get involved, if they would like to support World Vision’s efforts?
I think the website you go to is True Spirit Christmas, and they do some really cool stuff. You can give whether it be an animal, such as a goat or a chicken or a cow or ducks, or bees. They give a lot of stuff, but the greatest thing that they do is that they do a child sponsorship.
They’re actually going to come out on tour with us on this next run that we do in January and February and people that come to the show are going to be able to sponsor a child after the show or during the show. It’s going to be really cool.
Do you think that there will be more trips like this for you in the future?
Maybe so, I mean, I really enjoy stuff like this. I always have. I love going to Africa and stuff. I love going anywhere, really, but I’ve been to Africa a bunch of times and it’s just a beautiful place that needs help, obviously, but helping people that are really thankful is really easy to do. And the people out there always seem so thankful.
That’s pretty awesome. And switching gears now, you just put out your new EP, Waiting For Christmas. Have you always wanted to do a Christmas album?
I don’t know, I’ve always loved Christmas music. I feel like I like it so much that I didn’t want to screw it up. It’s hard to write music for specific things, because I’m always writing just to write. If I was going to write a Christmas song, I’d have to go, “I’m going to write a Christmas song.” So, that’s why I definitely didn’t put a song of my own on there, because I tried writing a Christmas song and nothing happened. [laughs] I’m not very good at that.
Just taking my favorite songs and really trying to do something with them was a little bit scary. It always kind of has been, but they’ve always been fun to play live. Me and my buddy Andrew [DeRoberts], we tried not to do too much with it, you know? We kept the songs’ melodies and all that stuff kind of the same vibe, but tried to change it up just a little bit and make it my own, but not change it too much where it doesn’t feel like Christmas or sort of like I’m trying to screw up the song. And Andrew is awesome at that, so I was happy that he helped me out.
How did you come up with the title for the EP?
It was actually my guitar player Cale’s idea. He was the one that took the picture that you see on the front there, and he was like, “What if you call it this?” And I was like, “Okay.” So, I kind of put it in my back pocket. We were in Austin, when all that happened, and we did everything in a day. And I’ll tell you this story too, because I think it’s hilarious.
We went and bought a camera, because we didn’t have one. We went and bought one at Best Buy, bought everything with it. Sorry, Best Buy, we took it back the next day. [laughs] We actually did buy the Santa costume. We didn’t take that back, Sean still has that, so we contributed a little bit to society.
Cale had the idea of us just sitting on the road and standing there waiting for a ride. Me and Santa. And he was like, “You can call it Waiting For Christmas.” He’s a pretty good idea guy. That’s why I keep him around.
Like you mentioned, you wanted to do a bit of your own thing with the songs, and I think they definitely have a certain Kris Allen finesse to them. What was the process sort of like when it came to sitting down and picking out what you wanted to do with the arrangements for the songs?
I stayed at [Andrew’s] house when we did it, and I slept in the studio. We had kind of talked about it before, like what songs do we want to do, at least like a general idea, and then we just kind of went in there and did everything.
I played him some ideas that I had for the songs, and one of the first songs that we worked on was “O Holy Night.” I just sent a little voice recording of what I had been playing around with at home and kind of messed around with it. So, when I got to his place, he had a really good idea what he wanted to do with it, on top of it. That’s kind of how we kept it. The initial ideas would come from me and then he would just kind of amp it up and make it way better or change a couple things around, but I think the kind of initial ideas for the songs kind of came from me.
You shared in an interview that “Holly Jolly Christmas” is your favorite song, so it’s no surprise to find your version of the song on Waiting For Christmas, but how did you select the rest of the songs to include on your EP?
“The Christmas Song” is one that we’ve played live, so I thought that was a good one. And “O Holy Night,” as well. And I think I’ve played some version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” before.
“White Christmas,” though, happened kind of on accident. We were kind of thinking of other songs to do, and Andrew pulled out his guitar and he started playing “White Christmas.” We just started singing it, and we’re like, “Let’s just keep it like this.” So, it’s just me and a guitar.
As far as future music releases are concerned, you’ve mentioned that you had 50 or so songs that were recorded for Thank You Camellia. Is there any possibility of you releasing any of the songs that didn’t make the album next year?
Possibly. If we do, we’ll probably go in and re-record them and it just depends on if they still stand up and if they stand up against the other new stuff. You know, we’ll see. I really think that there’s a couple songs that could be in contention for the next record that comes out, I really do. And maybe, if anything, maybe we’ll play some of them live. It’s fun to do that. Something like, play stuff that maybe people will never hear again. [laughs] At least, if they can’t go buy it anywhere. I really enjoyed that growing up, listening to people and finding out all their random music that they never actually put out before.
Your live rendition of “Monster” is pretty popular amongst your fans. Are there any plans to re-record it?
We’re playing like a jam version of it. We’re just extending it, really. It’s such a fun song and it’s got a really good beat to it. It’s kind of fun to just jam on, so maybe we’ll do some live recordings or something like that later on down the road. Live recordings are always a little tough to get sounding right, but maybe we’ll do that on this next run.
So, last night you had your StageIt concert and you dedicated a new song to those who were affected by the horrible tragedy in Newtown, CT. What initially inspired that song, and what do you hope listeners take away from it?
The initial inspiration, I was sitting in Starbucks one day and there was like a little cork board next to the table we were sitting at and it’s got all these missing faces on it. And I never really thought about it until then, like, “Man, this is insane. There’s this six-year-old kid and no one knows where she is.” That was kind of the inspiration for the song. It kind of came out the next day.
I actually drove up to a top of a hill and wrote the song. It all happened really fast. I remember playing it for my wife that night, and she started bawling. I was like, “Uh, I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that means it’s bad or good.” She was like, “It’s great, but it’s really sad.” And that’s the last thing that I ever want to do with my music is make people sad. I think that music should be fun and happy, and make you feel good. But this one was really deep. It’s a really deep song and it doesn’t end well, you know?
I thought when we were doing the StageIt show and with everything that happened, I was like, “You know what, if I play this song, this is like one of the times it actually makes sense. All the stuff that happened in Connecticut and with Sandy Hook, it was so, so devastating and should not have happened, and is so crazy that I just wanted to give a little “We’re thinking about you” type of song. And I thought it definitely hit home for some of those people.
The song definitely caused a response. I came across it last night on Twitter and your fans seemed pretty moved by it. And listening to it, it is really sad, but I thought it was really poignant in that moment.
Yeah, that was kind of the great thing. I got on Twitter last night after the show and people were really kind of touched by the song, and that was the whole point of it. Maybe we’ll do a recording or something of it, where people can listen to it, or we can sell it a for the families or something like that. I don’t know, but just trying to do something to help them out in any way.
The Out Alive Tour kicks off next month. What are you looking forward to during this tour?
You know, this will be the first time in a long time that I’m actually going out on tour and it’s like a tour, tour. We’re out for two months, and I’m excited. I love the people that I get on the road with. They are my family, and they’re my best friends. We always have amazing times and tour stories are always the best.
But more than that, I love playing music. I did a phoner right before this, and he was like, “I feel like you’re playing a lot of shows,” and I was like, “Well, what am I supposed to do on my days off? Am I supposed to hang out? That’s boring.” So, we booked as many shows as we could, because we love playing live. Even the nights that we don’t play, we’re like, “Let’s go sing karaoke or something.” [laughs] I didn’t do this, because I don’t like doing it. I really enjoy playing live music, and I really enjoy getting to know the crowd, getting to see old fans’ faces and getting to meet new fans. It’s always a treat to get on the road.
As most know, “Out Alive” is a track off of Thank You Camellia, but what was the decision behind using the song title as the name of your tour?
You know, we were trying to come up with names and I’m terrible at that. I feel like I’m the worst at coming up with names for stuff, whether it be a record or whatever. So, when we were coming up with names, and I came up with a couple and I was like, “Man, that sucks.”
I was looking at lyrics from the record, none of it was making any sense. Then it came to the Out Alive Tour. I don’t know if I came up with it. I don’t think I did, I think someone else did. I thought about it for awhile, and I was like, “I think this kind of really hits home,” because not that my relationship with the label was anything that I should make it out alive, it wasn’t that at all. A lot of things have changed over the past year, and just letting people know that this is the new beginning, really. Everything is new now. I’m really excited about it, and I want other people to come on board and feel the same way.
Being that this tour is you, Cale, and Torres, does playing shows as a trio allow you to get a little more creative with how you perform your music?
It makes us do that. We have to. It’s been a lot of fun. I love playing with a full band, but there’s just like a different feeling up on stage when you’re playing with a smaller group. It’s easier to play off each other. I’ve been playing with these guys for awhile now, and it’s so much fun. They’re really good people, they’re great musicians, they’re great singers, and I just really enjoy sharing the stage with them.
Jillette Johnson is set to open for you. How did you two cross paths and end up joining forces for the tour?
My agent actually went to her show and was like, “Listen, I think you should consider this girl.” I looked her up, she agreed to come out on the road with us, and I think she’s awesome. I think she’s really talented, and I can’t wait to get out on the road with her.
Are there certain cities that you are looking forward to that you either haven’t played before or haven’t played in awhile?
You know what, I was just thinking about this last night. I was going through the routing and all that stuff. I haven’t spent too much time in North Carolina or South Carolina. I know that probably sounds lame, but I read a lot of stuff on the planes. I read all those plane magazines, Spirit or American Way, or whatever. They always tell you about each different city that you should go to. I remember one of the last one of them that I read was Charleston, SC, and I think we’re playing there. It just seemed kind of like my place.
I love places that focus on [laughs], this is terrible, focus on food and stuff to do. I love really good food and I don’t ever want to spend too much for it, but I like hanging out and having really good, tasty, interesting food. And it seems like Charleston has that.
Lastly, what about this tour do you hope stands a part from past tours you’ve done?
I don’t know, I really just want people to enjoy themselves at shows. I want them to come and to be entertained and impressed, and come away if you were a fan, you’re even more of a fan now. If you’re a super fan, then you’re like a mega fan now. If you weren’t a fan, then you are. Like that’s the whole goal. My job is to, if there’s someone at the show that is not a fan of mine, it is to play that show for them and make them a fan. And usually it comes out on my side. It’s gonna be fun.
Kris Allen will be heading out on the Out Alive Tour in January 2013. For tour dates, check out his official Facebook page.
His new EP, Waiting For Christmas, is available now on iTunes.
Photo credit: LeAnn Mueller