The Last Rock Band is A Rock & Roll Concept Album by Ryan Allen, an incredibly good Rock & Roll Concept album.
My two sons are starting their first bands. How would you advise them to listen to this album?
That’s awesome! I’m always encouraged when young people want to pick up guitars as opposed to, well, anything else. In terms of how I would “advise” them to listen to the album…that’s a tough one to answer. I guess I would say listen to it with an open mind, pay close attention to the lyrics, and follow the story as it goes through its peaks and valleys.
My experience playing music has been chock full of peaks and valleys, and it’s the travels I’ve had between them that has kept me pushing forward as a musician. Pursuing a creative endeavor can be super rewarding, but also super frustrating, and there are many times that I’ve asked myself “Why am I doing this again?”
But then I write a new song that I’m excited about, or open for a band that I love, or get nice people reacting positively to my music, and it gives me the juice to just keep going. So I would tell them to push through the tough moments and enjoy the exciting ones, and just go with the flow as much as you can.
Ryan, it’s such an incredibly good record. When did you become aware?
I appreciate you saying that. I don’t know if I have the hutzpah to call it “incredible” but I’m proud of it for sure. I knew I was on to something when I wrote the first three songs – which happen to be the first 3 tunes on the record – “The Last Rock Band”, “Discovery” and “Start A Band”. Once I had those three locked in, I knew I had a concept brewing, and started to map out the timeline. The lyrical themes and songs kept coming, and I kept following the muse until I felt like the story was complete.
Then I put it on the shelf during the pandemic and didn’t really come back to it until about a year ago. I had some time between jobs and booked some studio time at Big Sky in Ann Arbor, MI with my friend/producer Geoff Michael. Once we started tracking I realized again that I had something special on my hands, and it gave me the motivation to keep working on it through the rest of 2022 until I made the record I’d been hearing in my head for a few years. So it kind of happened in phases – first when I wrote it, and then again when I recorded it a few years later. I don’t normally have that experience – I typically write a batch of songs, record them, and then it comes out, kind of bang, bang, bang. But there was some space between that allowed me to almost yearn for better, more fleshed out, “big” sounding versions of the songs I already demoed. I guess that’s when I knew “Yeah, I gotta do this.” I’m glad I did.
By now I can recognize a Ryan Allen song from a mile. Will you take that as a compliment?
Yeah! I think any musician hopes that there is something distinct about what they do, even though the influences might be obvious or if the style changes from album to album. I always felt that way about a band like Spoon. They have put out a lot of records and their sound has morphed along the way – from a Pixies/angular/post-punk thing to a more classic rock sound, then taking a left turn and incorporating electronic elements into their repertoire. But no matter the direction they take, they still sound like Spoon. It could be Brit’s voice or Jim’s drumming or just their attention to detail in the production, but I could pick out a Spoon song in probably 5 seconds. I would love to think that a similar thing can be said for me and my songs. So yes, I’ll take it as a compliment for sure.
The album has been out for a few weeks now and you may have already been able to take some distance. If so, can you already indicate what this album means to you?
I tend to have a weird relationship with the things I make. I spend a lot of time putting them together and thinking about how I want to present the songs to the world – whether it’s solo or with the band – but once it’s out, it’s basically out of my hands and I’m already thinking about the next thing.
That said, this album means a lot to me. It’s the first studio-made album I’ve done where I’ve played all the instruments since “Basement Punk” and while it’s sort of a made up story, it’s also really personal to me. Music is a major part of my identity, and I’m proud to have made something that is truly a tribute to this thing that I love (and sometimes hate, haha).
Like The Ramones captures the essence for the whole album for me. Surely you weren’t thinking about that while writing that song?
Before I wrote the song I already had the title and chorus kind of jotted down – “I wanna leave home, I wanna be like the Ramones.” So naturally I had to write a song that sounded like the Ramones to accompany the lyrics and drive the story forward. I don’t know if I agree that it captures the essence of the whole album – since there are a lot of stylistic twists and turns happening the whole time – but it does exemplify what I was trying to do which, well, was take a lot of stylistic twist and turns to tell the story. So it’s just one stop along the “The Last Rock Band” highway, but it’s a fun one for sure.