Great song writing is born of two things-a passion for one’s subject, and a dedication to the craft itself. Vancouver folk rocker Jeremy Allingham demonstrates this passion and dedication to song writing on his new album “Memory Electric,” and weaves a compelling narrative in the process. We asked him a few questions about just what it is that makes him tick when it comes to music, and what we can expect from his upcoming show at the Biltmore on March 18. Be sure to check it out, Vancouver!
When did you realize that music was part of your path, and when did you start playing?
Some of my earliest and fondest memories go back to my family’s big-old sing-alongs with my old man strumming the guitar and me, my sister, cousins, friends and neighbours (whomever, really!) pounding on any percussion instrument we could find and bellowing at the top of our lungs. I have no doubt that those rag-tag sing-alongs, that really reinforced the joy and togetherness of music, lit a fire in me that continues to this day.
As far as playing in bands, I picked up the bass when I was 10 and by 14, I was playing in a punk cover band with my friends Daniel, Daryl and Joey in Daryl’s garage in Langley. We would cover NOFX, Pennywise, Lagwagon, The Vandals…all kinds of great bands, mostly from that California punk scene. Every practice was the best afternoon of my week and one of the best times of my life. It was chaotic and sweaty, noisy and disorganized, precarious and exuberant. Looking back on it now, it was really fucking romantic too.
Every time I played with those guys, I became more and more aware that music had become the one activity that I could focus on endlessly and passionately without ever growing tired of it. It never ever felt like work and the challenge of being a better musician and better songwriter became a nearly-obsessive pursuit.
It’s now almost 20 years later and I still feel exactly the same way. And if that relentless, all-consuming passion ever fades away (I sure as shit hope not!) I swear I’ll quit the moment I realize it.
I see that you work as a journalist for CBC. Does being a journalist and having exposure to various aspects of the human condition and local and world issues have any impact on what you produce musically? What drives you in your writing?
I see my pursuits of music and journalism as two parallel paths, with storytelling as the common thread. Whether it’s in a news story broadcast across the country, in a new song or in a dinner table conversation with my wife, stories are, not only how I make my living, but also how I make sense of the world. I’m endlessly interested in people, their lives, their motivations, their dreams, their failures, their fears, their ugliness, their beauty and their love. I also believe intensely in fairness and social justice, so that drives me too.
So, I think it’s the same things that draw me to music that also draw me to journalism. And yes, absolutely, there is crossover in subject matter. On this album, I’ve written about last year’s bitter standoff on Burnaby Mountain between anti-pipeline protesters and Kinder Morgan in a song called ‘Money Gods’. (KM wants to triple the capacity of its TransMountain pipeline). That story really stuck with me.
Another topic I get into is climate change. It’s a story we cover all the time at work, and the song ‘The Brinkmen’ is a lament about the stunning apathy toward the losing battle that’s being halfheartedly fought against climate change, which we know is the greatest crisis facing humans right now.
That being said, you obviously are pretty well-versed on the inner workings of media, and know what it takes to be heard when approaching various outlets for coverage. What is the best tip you’d give other musicians when it comes to pitching their musical wares? (Without giving away your own secrets, of course!)
At my day job, I’m receiving the press releases and at night, I’m the one sending them out and hoping to get an answer back. It’s a bit bizarre actually.
The one thing I would say is that media coverage almost never “just happens”. Even your favourite bands have people grinding on their behalf to get media coverage for their show or latest release. And people should know that journalists, producers and bloggers are super, super busy, facing multiple deadlines and, many days, just scrambling to keep their heads above water. A kind word about what THEY do and a polite follow up to the initial, professional message likely won’t hurt.
What is the best advice that you have received during your musical career?
Strangely, the advice came from a non-musician. I love music so dearly and go after it with so much energy and zeal that sometimes I lose perspective as to why I’m doing it in the first place. And, as bandmates past and present can attest, I sometimes get rattled and go down the rabbit hole. My wife Sajeeda has often been known to say (with an exasperated tone) “Jer, music is supposed to be FUN”, and man, is she ever right.
Name one nifty tip you’ve picked up that makes playing better. (for instance, one musician told me that Grolsch bottle tops make awesome strap locks, and another told me to play a blues scale because it makes you sound like you know what you are doing…whether that’s true or not..ha ha)
Warming up the vocal cords. Ever since I started playing with him, my great friend and keyboardist Josh Denny-Keys has insisted that we warm up. At first it was awkward and a bit weird, with the “doo doo doos” and the “see ee ee ah eee ee ah ah ahs”, but now I know how much it helps improve performance and protects the pipes. We do still get some pretty weird looks when a venue doesn’t have a green room and we’re out on the street or in a parking lot making all kinds of weird sounds.
Any particular instrument or piece of gear you are loving or coveting at the moment?
Oh lordy. My canary yellow American Vintage ’52 Telecaster re-issue is the apple of my eye and the love of my life. I’ve had it for about a year now and it’s one of those guitars that just feels like it plays itself. I got it just in time to record ‘Memory Electric’ and it’s on 8 of the 10 tracks.
I also have an amazing vintage amp. It’s a ’69 Fender Bandmaster amp which was (weirdly) installed in a ’73 Bandmaster casing and I play it through a 2-10” cabinet. I love the tone, but I’m getting so tired of lugging the cabinet around, plus it’s way too powerful for 90% of the gigs I play. I think it’s time to trade it in for a combo!