John Allen of Charm City Devils: A Constant Battle!

By Jeb Wright
Intro By Ace Neville

Charm City Devils is a hard rock band from Baltimore, Maryland. The band was founded by singer/song writer and former Child's Play and SR-71 drummer John Allen and includes bassist Anthony Arambula, drummer Jason Heiser, and guitarists Victor Karrera and Nick Kay (also of Child's Play).

Their debut album Let's Rock-N-Roll was released in 2009. The band released two singles from their debut album: "Let's Rock n' Roll (Endless Road)" and "Best of the Worst". They were named BEST NEW ROCK BAND by iTunes for 2009.

In 2012 Charm City Devils announced the release of a new single, a cover of "Man Of Constant Sorrow," from their forthcoming release, Sins. Sins was recorded in Nashville and produced by Grammy-winning producer Skidd Mills.

In late 2013 the band began work on their new album, entitled Battles, which will be released on September 23, 2014. The first single from the new album, "Shots", has been released.

Jeb: I discovered your band, Charm City Devils, by hearing your last album.  As good as that one was, the new one is much better.  This one is more edgy.

John Allen: Thank you.  I am so close to it that it is hard for me to have a proper perspective.  I work on the songs and I try to make them as good as I can, to my liking.  I just hope people will dig it.  I have heard people say that they hear this band, or that band, and I think that is cool, but I am not trying to do that. 

Jeb: You are playing a style of music that harkens back to older times.  You guys are kicking ass just to get albums released and tours with guys like The Winery Dogs.  It has to be a passion with you. 

John: Exactly, that's why you are doing what you do and why I do what I do.  It certainly isn't the pay. I will tell you something funny.  We did several shows with The Winery Dogs and this guy saw us play at one of them and he comes up afterward and says, “Man, I thought you were going to suck but you were awesome.”  I loved that.  I don't know why he thought we were going to suck.  Maybe he didn't like the band name or he does not like opening bands in general.  It is nice to hear people are blown away when they see us play.  

Jeb: My buddy Craig caught you opening for The Winery Dogs and he said you rocked it live.  It was a show in Arkansas, and he actual ate part of your dinner. 

John: Oh my gosh it was Nuemeyer’s Rib Room.  We had no stage room whatsoever.  I think I stood on a bass bin speaker out front.  They fed us and they gave us a shit ton of food.  We didn't get it until 45 minutes before we had to hit stage.  We ate a little bit but they gave us way too much.  I remember these guys came up and sat down as we were sitting at their table.  We were like, “Help yourself.”  Everyone at the venue and your friends were all really nice.  That's really cool man. 

Jeb: You have been slogging it out for a while with this band and it seems to be growing.

John: This band has been going for six or seven years.  I was a drummer for a band before this band that was a little more punk-pop, leaning more towards the pop.  They were friends of mine from Baltimore.  It wasn't my style of music, per se, as to how I got started.  One of the reasons they brought me in to play drums for them was to heavy-up their sound.  They wanted to rock a little more.  I tried to influence them as much as a drummer can.  The record I was on with them did get a little heavier.  Before that, I was in straight-up AC/DC and Cult sort-of-bands.  I've been doing this for a while. 

Our influxes are more closer to a classic hard rock sound.  There is some modern stuff in there.  I think there is a lot of great music out there today.  I know a lot of people who are down on stuff, but I think there are amazing artists out right now. 

Jeb: It is important for a band to really show they are talented to the general public… plus it is hard to get the word out.

John: Maybe we are in this era where it is almost like when Home Depot came in and put all of the Mom-and-Pop stores out of business.  We are seeing it with the Mom-and-Pop record stores going away now.  Just like with Home Depot, things are being distilled down to where there is only so much room on the shelf.  If you are not one of the big things, there is no room for you.  If you are a niche band, then it is harder to get any press or any traction.  Right now, pop music rules the airwaves.  Rock is kind-of on a quieter kind-of cycle right now.  You know, everything is cyclical.  I believe rock will come back in a big way; it must… It’s when it happens, that is the question. 

Jeb: I don't think you guys try to sound how you sound.  Steel Panther is a band that tries to sound that way. 

John: Charm City Devils is just what comes out naturally.  I may start a song out thinking I know where it comes from, but once the guitar player and bass player get hold of it then it takes a different vibe.  “Shots,” the single for example, is really one of the best examples of the band in the truest sense.  It started as an idea I had for the chorus, and with just a general outline for the rest of the song.  Anthony came up with a killer verse and he added this cool bass line, and then Victor and Nick added cool riffs to it.  It is really a band effort if there ever was one in the Charm City Devils catalog. 

Jeb: That song has great lyrics.  Tell me about that song. 

John: If you just heard the chorus, you would think it is just a call to go out and get wasted and party, and that it is sort of mindless.  If you dig into the verses, then you will see it is much deeper.  It is a letter to a friend of mine who has addiction issues.  I've tried to help him over the years, but you can't help anyone as they have to want to do it for themselves.  I worry about him, as I want him to be here in ten to fifteen years.  That is part of my plea, as I am hoping that maybe through song I can get to him.  We will see. 

Jeb: Do you write in a communal sense? 

John: It depends.  We have no set way of working.  Sometimes I come up with a song that is close to fully formed.  Sometimes it is just a riff that inspires.  We don't have a real boatload of time to write.  I love the communal kind of writing thing.  I think that is how you get a true sense of a band.  One of the bands I had prior to this did that, and we were completely democratic in the writing sense, and it took us a month to write a song.  By the time we had a full record written almost a year had gone by, and song number ten was vastly different than song number one.  As our tastes changed and our styles changed, so did our songs.  I didn't want that to happen with this band, so we try to get the stuff done as quickly as possible so you can hear where the band is at this exact moment. 

Jeb: I can prove to you I listened to this album, as my favorite song is number ten on the track list, and that is “Karma”… that song is killer. 

John: I appreciate that, as that is a fun song, man.  Skidd and I wrote that song, and then I started seeing that kind of Karma thing everywhere around Baltimore.  People were saying stuff to me…  I was at the DMV and someone goes, “Karma's a bitch” and it struck a chord. 

Jeb: To me that is what I like about the band.  You have an energetic vibe.  I don't mean to compare you to another band, but there is an energy-vibe like Buckcherry. 

John: I like them a lot. 

Jeb: They have songs that kick you in the teeth. 

John: When that 15 record came out in 2006 and put them back on the map, I loved that.  Early on in this band, we opened for that band in Baltimore.  Keith and Josh are great songwriters, and Keith has such a killer guitar tone, and it is awesome.  They are great guys, too. 

Jeb: Tell me about the song “Crucify.” 

John: That one really kind of germinates, lyrically, from me thinking about people in entertainment.  Here in the States, we kind of build our stars up and then we love to knock them down.  I thought of that, and that we crucify our stars.  I started thinking about being brought up Catholic and the ritual that we're taught in church.  If somebody were to introduce those things these days where you're eating a body of someone and you're drinking their blood, it would be considered really bizarre.  If a new religion came out today that said that stuff, people would freak out. 

Jeb: You have thoughtful lyrics. 

John: That's part of my gig.  I try, and I do the best I can at that given moment.  I am passionate about it.  I have a failed community college career, but I did some creative writing.  I try man, I try. 

Jeb: I find writing a cathartic experience.  It’s always shitty stuff.  If I am happy, I don't want to write, I want to do something fun… so it is always bad stuff. 

John: That is exactly right.  I find it hard to force happy lyrics; it is tough.  I think sometimes when I do, it is kind of goofy. 

Jeb: What is the goal going forward when the album comes out?

John: I hope we can get out in support of bigger bands, as we need to get the word out there and broaden the horizons and make some converts.  I don't care if we headline or support, but it would be awesome to get out and see our friends in Theory of Deadman and tour with them.  I actually have a nice little bucket list of bands I'd like to open for…  We've opened for Motley Crue, we've opened for Slash and Alice in Chains, and Axl Rose.  I'd love to open for Kiss, man.  Growing up, Kiss were a phenomenon, as they are fricking Kiss.  How cool would it be to open for them?  We covered “Cold Gin” in the past. 

Jeb: How important is it for you to find your own sound?

John: It is paramount, as that is how you last and that is how you transcend generations.  I think I am still trying to do that.  One thing that I have going for me is that my voice doesn't sound like the last ten years of what you've heard on radio.  I am more of a tenor, where most of these guys are baritones with these manly voices.  I love singers like Steve Marriott of Humble Pie who have that raspy type of bluesy voice.  Paul Rodgers is another one.  I don't have that same type of voice, but I do think my voice is distinctive in a way.  You are either going to love it or you're going to hate it.  I think you really cement yourself by getting your own sound. 

I am pushing myself on each album vocally.  I am finding harder and harder songs to sing.  As my voice gets stronger it enables me to do more and more with it.  I am singing higher on this record and lower as well.  My range is getting larger.  When I started in this band there was one song in the set that was a bitch to sing.  I would think about that song coming up in the set.  I would be counting it down.  That song is three songs away.  Then it would be two and then I was like, “Oh no, that song is next.”  It was a hard song to sing.  We put out the first record, and all the songs were hard to sing.  I had one song that was maybe a little easier; that was my ‘break song’.  It has been that way now for the last three or four years.  “Shots,” the single, is one of the hardest songs.  There is no breath in that song, and it is up in the higher register. One of the harder songs from the last record is “Unstoppable.” The other night we did “Shots” last, and then we came out to play “Unstoppable” as an encore, and it was easy to sing.  It used to be one of the toughest ones! 

Jeb: Is Battles a concept album?

John: I never think in terms of a concept album.  I write individual songs.  Each theme is usually independent of the other.  I kind of feel like there are a lot of songs that go together on this one.  I've been fighting all of my life, as many people have. These songs in a broad way are all about fighting.  Gifting your addiction, fighting to get your way, fighting for what you is a common theme running through the songs on this record. 

Jeb: It’s not like a Roger Waters type of thing…

John:  No, not at all.  I think that would put even more pressure on myself if I sat down and tried to do something like that. 

Jeb: Talk about your producer.  You've worked together a couple of times now.  How did you meet? 

John: We knew we wanted to work with Skidd again because we really had a good time on the last record.  It was the most successful thing that we've done to date, so we thought we would give it another ‘go’.  I met him because I sent him an email via MySpace, believe it or not.  MySpace was happening then.  Much to my surprise, he responded.  I was like, “I love your work” and he got back with me and checked out our stuff, and I went down and wrote with him a little bit and talked to him.  He seemed like a good match as we talked about what we wanted to do.  He has been so good to us in so many ways.  He is probably a mentor in a lot of ways.  He is a great writer and a great producer and engineer.  He is a great guitar player.  He has a ton of experience, and he's done a lot of successful things… yet he is a pretty down to earth guy.  It is a nice balance for how hyper and high-strung that I can be. 

Jeb: Last one:  Did Nikki Sixx really name your band?

John: Yes he did.  We signed with Eleven Seven management and we were kicking around names for the band.  They told us initially in one of the earlier conversations that they were getting ready to do the first Cruefest and they wanted us to be on that tour.  They were getting ready to announce the Cruefest and we didn't have a band name yet.  I would send them like fifty names a week, and then by the time they would get back to me I would be over the names I sent them over the last month.  Finally, I got this phone call from Nikki.  I got his voice mail, and I had to call him back.  I was afraid to call him, but I had to.  He told me, “John, the name of the band is Charm City Devils.  Charm City is the nickname for Baltimore, and Devils sounds like a gang, and a band is a gang.”'  I was like, “Done.”  He could have said, “The name of your band is Shark Sandwich” and I would have been like “fucking-A-right, man.  Take us on tour!”  We ended up not going out on ‘Cruefest One’, but they took us out on the next one, and it was an incredible experience.  I can't thank them enough.  Alan Kovack and all the people at Eleven Seven did so much for us, and I can't thank them enough. 

Jeb: Has opening for these great artists taught you anything that has helped prepare you for your own success? 

John:  I am so dense... I am a notoriously slow learner, and I think that is why I have taken so long to try to make it.  I watch these bands and I am such a huge fan that sometimes it is hard to take yourself outside of it and analyze what these guys are doing live, and try and apply to something that we can do.  They are so smart and so professional, and I hope that some of that rubs off on me and the band.  I make the same fucking mistakes over and over again, so I don't know that I've learned a goddamn thing.  I'm always running over our set time and running into theirs, and it pisses their crew off.  I don't mean to, but I talk a lot on stage and I like to have fun with the crowd.  It’s a good time.  It’s show business and we are supposed to be entertaining you people out there.  I think the thing that maybe I've learned, and I may have learned this not so much from the bands, but more from the crowd: It is all about human connections, and that is what is important to me at this stage of my life.