INTERVIEW: DD ALLEN
We spoke to Bournemouth based singer-songwriter DD Allen about his hard-hitting new single, 'Paper Masks'. Focusing on the events that have surrounded us all in the last 18 months, the young troubadour delivers an 80s inspired synth led anthem that goes through his personal journey throughout the pandemic.
Please talk us through the meaning of your powerful new indie-rock single ‘Paper Masks'.
I saw a lot of ugliness in the pandemic. Principles became the currency that paid for the chaos. So ‘Paper Masks’ carries a message about responsibility. There are good and bad consequences for everything we do. Sometimes we need to think if our actions are going to make things better or worse.
What is it about 'Paper Masks' that made you want to make it your next single?
I didn’t really plan to write Paper Masks or make it a next single. It was all very spontaneous.
I’d already written a new song called ‘Rebel Hero’ which everyone in the camp got excited about. We had an arrangement together but the restrictions hit before we could get into the studio and finish the record.
The idea for Paper Masks happened when I was stuck inside feeling pretty cut off from the world. I’m in the COVID risk category so I spent about four months indoors either on furlough or in lockdown. I did the TV boxsets and re-ran every Tarantino film in the first month. So then I started watching the news.
The ideas popped into my head quite quickly. And the story evolved into a sort of snapshot of history. After that it all came down to the song being right for the moment.
What made you want to write about this topic in particular?
The sheer scale and magnitude of what I saw going on hit me really hard. There were so many things happening at once. So much intensity. A lot of people suffered, and many still do. The events that happened across the board sparked debate in a way that I’d never seen before. I don’t really know why I wanted to write about the topic. I just felt I had to.
Do you have to be in a certain mood to write?
Definitely. I’m not really a songwriter who can go into a studio and get told to write stuff on the spot. I get fired up by emotion. So whenever anything good or bad happens in my life it flicks a switch. The ideas start to fly and I will often write two, three or four songs in quick succession. Sometimes in like one week. Writing is almost like a defence mechanism for me — a release for emotional overload.
How was the recording and writing process for 'Paper Masks'? You say you chopped and changed throughout...
Yeah, Paper Masks is really the song that nearly never happened. Writing the song wasn’t an issue. I changed lyrics around on a few occasions but it’s making the record that had the issues. A couple of the lads thought everyone was sick of lockdown and nobody would listen to anything remotely connected to the pandemic.
So I got a bit unsure about the song and parked it for a month. It was really tough because I felt strongly about the story. In the end, my manager called it. He knew I’d regret not recording the song and felt everyone would come around. This must have been around the second lockdown and the problem was we couldn’t get in a studio.
A lot of places closed and took the furlough just to survive. You can’t blame them for that. Eventually we found somewhere that at least could get one or two of us in a space at a time, so things started to move. The progress was painfully slow though. We’d get the bass and drums down, then record guitar parts and synth in different sessions. Sometimes we needed to go back and make changes but we had big gaps in between sessions.
I’ve got a drummer who lives in Newbury, a keys player who lives in Bristol, and the studio is in Southampton. So tying everything together was a nightmare. Then when we thought we finally had the song nailed, we had big issues with one of the production team.
We got asked to make a fundamental change in the melody which meant another month lost getting stuff done. And at this point, the Derek Chauvin trial in America was under way. Our guy suddenly got windy about the George Floyd verse and asked me to take it out. He felt the verse was incendiary and it would backfire big time if Chauvin got acquitted.
There’s no fucking way that was happening so we went back and finished the song based on the origional composition. That meant another two sessions for different things and the time just flew by. We got it done though. Barny Barnicott put the final mix together. Barny worked on Sam Fender’s Hypersonic Missiles and he has a great ear for anything with a bit of an 80s influence.
‘Paper Masks’ is definitely the most challenging song I’ve ever recorded. But it’s all good now.
Where do you live? What’s the music scene like?
I live in Bournemouth on the South Coast of England. It’s a great place to live. It features heavily in my songs. The music scene has changed over the years and we’ve lost some iconic venues. There’s a big club scene now because we have about 70,000 students at the University. The town’s also stag and hen-doo central.
Other music still cuts through though. There are plenty of bars where people go to listen to indie bands, rock and metal. We’re seeing some pretty big bands play intimate gigs in Bournemouth.
Lastly, what's next for DD Allen and his journey?
I’m really pleased with the response to ‘Paper Masks’. Especially after such a crap eighteen months. It looks like we made the right decision. I’ve got a stack of material that needs recording so we should be releasing another two or three singles by next Spring. Then a debut album.
I’m getting a lot of requests to play live stuff from home. So I’ve set a little performance space up. They’ll be a solo version of ‘Paper Masks’ going up in a few days. Then a series of solos, some performances with my guitarist Jordan Gray, and maybe a couple of duets.
Gigs are starting to open up. We’re playing the Lighthouse in Poole next February. It's a great space and the venue brought extra seating last time due to demand. There are other shows lining up as well. We’ve already played in Europe but I’d love to get to America next year. The songs are getting radio play in the States so hopefully we can build a following over there.
Check out the fantastic video for 'Paper Masks' here: