Devon Allman (St. Louis) chats about latest album, Ride or Die, and Bluesfest

Devon Allman is in Australia playing for Bluesfest with a couple of sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. John Goodridge caught up with him backstage to chat about music making and recording his latest album Ride or Die”.

How have you been enjoying Bluesfest?

I say it on the mic and I really do mean it, it’s my favorite festival in the world. The location, the love from the audience, the energy from the audience, to how well it’s run, the staff are beautiful; it’s just kind of the perfect storm. This is my third Bluesfest.

I noticed you were hanging out at the Gibson tent backstage. What’s better about Gibson guitars?

I’ve used Gibson guitars since 2006, but “better” is an objective word, maybe I would say different. I came up playing Strats, but I also came up playing rhythm guitar. When I switched to lead guitar I wanted a thicker tone, with more of that violin rich tone, and I felt that I could play better lead guitar with that tone, so I literally overnight switched from Fender Stats to Gibson Les Paul when I switched from rhythm guitar to lead guitar. I’ve been playing lead guitar since I’ve been 33 so I’m still a newbie, but I’m trying to get better every day. The Les Paul helps me get there.

I noticed on your Twitter feed that you mentioned that you don’t use a lot of pedals.

I have one pedal in Australia and all it is, is a delay. I play two instrumentals in the show, and for an instrumental with no vocal I feel like having a little tail on the end of the notes. I use a very smidge, and I’m telling you the delay pedal is set on two, it’s all handpicked with fingers.

When I go into the studio to record, I go into my music room and there are probably two hundred pedals, and I listen to the songs, I go I want that and that and I take about 25 pedals worth. There’s certainly a time and a place but I tend to use them for secondary tracking, for the ear candy and the nice stuff that’s buried down deep. The main guitar thing should be organic I think. Unless you’re The Edge; I mean that guy’s made a living from very ethereal wispy sounding stuff and I very much respect him.

Tell me a little about your recent album release, Ride or Die.

It was really cool. It’s my first number one record on [the] Billboard Blues charts, it was the first time I really allowed myself to bend out of the framework of blues-rock and let some other influences in. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar, there’s a lot of other stuff going on so it was very liberating. It was very freeing for me.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted before going into the studio?

A bit yeah, I produced the record so pretty much had the record done in my head. Thankfully that’s a gift, but the real work and process is taking what you hear in your head and reverse engineering down to the core and going “Okay, now I have to build it up.” That’s a labour of love; you can pull your hair out but I was grateful. I hadn’t self-produced myself in seven years so it was time. I had been giving it to Tom Hambridge and some other producers to totally trust them to do the right thing but this time I said that this was a very personal record so I’m going to produce it.

You write a column for Guitar Player magazine; how did that come about?

It’s funny, I was at my buddy Richie Sambora’s house and we were shooting pool and I remember this question I had as a kind of icebreaker for when I meet famous guitar players. “Man, I gotta know what’s your favourite top five guitar players ever?” It’s just interesting to me to hear anyone. I had probably asked thirty guitar players that backstage or whatever. So I said to Richie, “I’m gonna hit up the magazine and see if they wouldn’t mind putting my icebreaker in print, your top five,” and it’s become a thing.

You’ve released Ride or Die on vinyl. What are the differences between digital and vinyl sounds?

I think the depth of the drums, that doop doop; you miss that in digital. The richness of strings, the violins, anyone that knows digital music and how it comes through the system, it’s all ones and zeros, it’s all being read, and analogue music is linear. The big question about digital is there is a one and a zero and a one and a zero but what happens in between the one and the zero, so there are little microscopic divots in between the information. With analogue there’s no divot at all, it’s just linear and there’s something warm about it. I recently bought all my favorite records and a killer system from the seventies and my house sounds like 1976. I love it. I understand the ease and portability of digital but when it comes to home there’s only vinyl in my house.