Interview: Chatting about fond memories, work life, and inspiration with Jeremy Allingham

Vancouver's Jeremy Allingham has made the progression of from playing in a band to releasing a solo EP, and this Friday he'll be releasing his first full length record to share with the world. Memory Electric comes out tomorrow, and it's packed with full-throttle electric guitar riffs, memory-inducing lyrics and nods to past rock'n'roll greats. 
Jess got on the phone with him this past weekend in a few moments of morning peace before he was off to take his daughter to - fittingly - her music lesson. This is some of their conversation.

Jess: When did you first know that you wanted to record a full length solo album?

Jeremy: Well, I guess the first solo EP was sort of a result of working in a collaborative songwriting environment for a number of years and what ends up happening is a lot of songs you love end up on the studio room floor, cut from the record. What happens is there's not enough time or money to do them all and, you know, so I had all of these songs piled up and it seems like such a shame to not record them and not share them with the world. The EP was 5 songs I like and was like 'I want to record them' and so I did. It was an amazing experience to go into the studio for the first time. Jesse Gander is the producer and just basically being able to follow my musical vision.

The experience of doing that EP was very freeing musically and creaitvely and it wasn't a terribly focused EP because it was just sort of like 'here's 5 songs leftover,' but it was that feeling that it ignited in me that kind of really inspired me to actually kind of try to get into the jam space and write a more cohesive and longer form record. I just started going down to the jam space - and usually my songwriting process would be in a more quiet setting like in the livingroom or the bedroom with an acoustic guitar, but this time I was moved and motivated to head down to the jam space and be loud and plugged in. It was always on my new Telecaster that I got so I would just go down to the jam space, plug in, turn it up a little bit and see where that took me.  Following up on that positive feeling.

Jess: So, what were some of the sources of inspiration not necessarily for the words but for the sounds and melodies? Some songs feel like a fifties rock and others sound more modern to me. A geography or a time?

Jeremy: When you're writing a song you just have to stay open to what comes to you and, not to sound too flaky or anything, but I feel like just by being in that space in the room, in the moment, and being open and accepting to ideas that come through you and, as you like them and how they sound, you can persue them. As far as melodies, I can't really say where those come from because it's a function of the song and what feels right.

As far as the songs to through I think there's more classic rock elements I'd say more 60's and 70's rock but on "Better Dayswe have sort of a 50's rock with the drums, and "Find Loveis possibly a bit more modern, "Money Gods" is a bit psych-y even, you could say it gets a bit more grunge-y so you could say that's 70's or 90's kind of thing. "Teenage Autumn Nights" is kind of like just classic boogie woogie rock, and I definitely think that's a function of growing up with, you know, listening to tunes with my old man in the car or the living room. Growing up listening to the Van Morrisons and the Bruce Springsteens and the Paul Simons and things like that, but the 90's were hugely influencial to me because I was a teenager then and I would hear more modern stuff on C-FOX and I'd hear lots of grunge and that sorts of thing. The inspiration is scattered but I think it resulted in something that's cohesive to my musical identitity. 

Jess: What were you doing on teenaged autumn nights? Tell me about them.

Jeremy: Hmm, what parts can I say and what parts should be left out [chuckles]... it's basically I got swept up with some nostalgia and I took a few kind of memorable / notorious / infamous nights from my teenaged years and made it into one big one for the song. There's that whole kind of young, in love, stupid, risky, dangerous... sometimes I look back and I'm like 'Oh man, I'm so glad we all got out of that without dying or going to jail.' We were pretty rambunctious and just kind of classic suburban kids who just find our way into trouble.

There's the "park behind the rink, what would mama think?" when you're just driving around, and there was this one day when things got pretty crazy and we ended up driving around a car around a baseball diamond and just kind of nonsense. There was one night where we used to go down to a park in Langley and that was where the bush parties happen and we'd end up having a big fire and you'd somehow get your hands on a 2L of Growers Cider or something like that and no matter what, part of the night was the cops would come. It was almost part of the sport of it. The cops would come, you'd run away, but one time I didn't totally get away and I got put in a cop car. That's where the "blue and reds are flashing and now I'm stuck inside and the cuffs are rather tight" comes from. The lyric from the third verse there. Just some of the bullshit we got up to when we were younger.

Jess: It stirred up memories in me too, I love that song. 

Jeremy: That's what I'm going for, that's awesome.

Jess: Tell me about the title 'Memory Electric' - is it a nod to something?

Jeremy: Absolutely. I wouldn't call it a concept album by any stretch but I was just kind of looking over what I'd written and I realized that there was a really strong theme throughout all the lyrical content about memory and rememberance and I'm really taken by the idea of memory because I think that our memories and stories are truly what shape us and drive us and motivate us.

Conversely I was super interested in the idea that our memories are constantly changing and are not fully based in fact. If you talk to experts in the courts, you'll know that witness testimony is completely unreliable because people's memories aren't based in fact and they can change. In the song "The Revisionist" I wrote about how your memories will change and you will change your memories to suit a narrative. That one's about being in love and getting hurt and eventaully you get over it by saying 'I didn't ever love you anyways' and I find that so powerful that these things that make us who we aren't aren't necessarily that concrete. I just kind of realized that that was kind of a strong thing to go with, and it was also an album on the much more literal front that I'd gotten away from the acoustic guitar. There's only one acoustic guitar on the entire record, the rest is all played either on my Telecaster or my Les Paul. I really like the ring of it which is why I went with it.

Jess: Do you think that your work as a journalist influences how you write songs or what you write about?

Jeremy: I think so. I see my two jobs as parallel paths and I think the common thing between them is story telling. I think story telling is not only how I make a living but it's also how I make sense of the world. Whether that's writing a story that will be broadcast on CBC radio airwaves or in a song or sitting at the pub or the kitchen table with my wife, I'm always telling stories. 

There are certainly some stories that I've covered in journalism that stick with me and some of those stick with me. "Money Gods" is about the anti-pipeline protestors on Burnaby Mountain last year who were really pissed off about Kinder Morgan doing all of that work to try and triple their pipeline. I was up there on the mountain talking to the people, talking to the cops, talking to Kinder Morgan from time to time and some stories stick with you with such strong images and such passionate people. That made its way into the song. I was constantly bewildered by the story of climate change and for some reason our politicians don't seem prepared to make significant changes to change it even though it's the greatest crisis facing humanity right now and the CBC is constantly covering climate change and so that's something that's in my thoughts and that made its way into "The Brinkmen" airing my frustration and regret or not acting collecitvely on that front.

Jess: Is it sort of your channel for your opinion where in your day job you're gathering all of the facts but not able to express it?

Jeremy: Definitely in "The Brinkmen" I'm like 'this is ridiculous, let's get to it', and "Money Gods" I'm trying to tell a narrative from the perspective from characters. As you say, I gather facts and go to people who know about it, but these songs are me telling the stories from my perspective or the perspective of a character.

Jess: What was the easiest song to write - did any of them just come to you? And what was the most difficult one?

Jeremy: I'd say probably the toughest was "The Brinkmen" because it was in a form that was not my reflexive writing form. It had a lot of different sounds, a lot of production, we even dabbled in some electronic elements. Also I was really trying to say something and I really wanted to make a statement. When you start off with a lofty goal like that it can be difficult because you've already set the end goal for a song. You're trying to say 'this is what I'm going to say, now how do I say it?' which is different from song sthat really spring forth. The easiest would have been "Teenage Autumn Nights" for the very reason I spoke about, it was based completely on expereince and like 'hey, remember those completely fucked up nights?' and it came from the moment and flowed forth. 

To hear the songs we talked about, check out Jeremy's stream of Memory Electric on Exclaim! and make sure to catch his Vancouver album release show tomorrow night at the Biltmore Cabaret with guests Westwind. 

Tour dates:

  • 03/18 Vancouver – The Biltmore Cabaret

  • 05/06 Vancouver – Skinny Fat Jack's

  • 05/07 Saltspring Island, BC – Moby's

  • 05/13 Sunshine Coast – Roberts Creek Legion

  • 05/14 Squamish – Howe Sound Brewing

  • 06/28 Rocky Mountain House, AB –Frog Fest