“It’s an attempt at expressing myself in the only way I can” - Steve J. Allen on his latest album, Contrast.
“I have no idea what’s next” muses Steve J. Allen as he ponders his next steps, his next living location, following the recent release of his sixth album, Contrast. We spent a little time talking about his music, growth, broadening horizons and loss.
Born in Peterborough, he toured in punk bands from a young age, musically coming of age in Sheffield, as well as being the inventor of the tasty pizzas at The Cremorne, before becoming a globetrotting musical creative, Steve has lived a life enriched by his experiences, and with Contrast he continues on an ever-evolving journey of self-discovery.
“I was always into the punk-y scene in Peterborough, and Sheffield too, but I also love different types of music from indie to reggae or even electronic music. It doesn’t matter what genre it is”
Contrast showcases the growth of not just Steve J. Allen the artist but also the person. “It’s like walking around in the dark, trying to find my way. The persistence keeps me going” and that’s fitting. Described as uncompromising and refusing to be defined by the expectations of others, Steve J. Allen’s Contrast begins in a manner befitting of the artist.
The first track, Outlaw, kicks off with a guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a cowboy film, interspersed with a frenetic folk-esque delivery. Each song somehow seamlessly flits between a mixture of different soundscapes, case in point being the relentless typewriting that begins and ends The Anchor, a title that belies its soaring sound.
Expectations shattered then? Defiantly so, yes defiant and definite… there’s a continual change of pace, delivery and direction throughout. No one song sounds the same, an example being Mystery Interlude 2, which starts out like something that Bloc Party would have experimented with before settling on Hunting for Witches or even the earlier works of Patrick Wolf, indifferently different, but undeniably something unique. His influences seep into his music but his sound though clearly a punk and folk fusion experiments across a number of genres — and there’s even a welcome appearance from a harmonica on the foot-stomping and messy beer stein thumping No Time, a transition to more traditional folk.
As an album, Contrast is a clear sign of comfort, exploration and self-confidence within himself as an artist, something Steve was keen to point out. “My previous album, I recorded it at home with my own equipment, so naturally the sound was not as high quality. There was more collaboration in this one, rather than me trying to do everything myself, which was also a reflection of who I was.”
“I want to work with people, trust other peoples’ creativity, have feedback from other people, let go of control”, and this is a boon for this latest release. Taken as singular songs the album could seem disparate, muddled even, but as a whole there’s a purpose to it all, each song segueing effortlessly into the next, complementing whatever came before.
“It’s about the contrasting experiences that I’ve gone through that have led to where I am now”, he says with a smile.
Later on the album takes a decidedly different turn with the heartfelt tribute to a friend on For Joe, who passed away suddenly in a music class at school. This had a profound effect on Steve, “the way people are and how people treat each other, may not mean much to others, but it really puts it all into perspective when that person is gone.” This struck a particular chord with me as the song brought back memories of a friend of mine from school, a chap called Liam who is remembered as being friendly, sociable and you sincerely couldn’t say a bad word about. Then he just wasn’t, just like that, a wave of shock hit those who knew him, leaving a void in his wake, something Steve could empathise with in relation to Joe.
“When he died the school went from there being this polarity between groups of people, from the cool kids to the not so popular ones, to one of… unity, that’s the word I’m looking for. It brought a whole place of unity. It just struck me how important that is”, it’s a rare gift to have such an effect and a fitting eulogy to a friend.
But what of the album as a whole?
“It’s about the good and the bad in life, how it shapes you… that’s really what it’s all about.”
Contrast by Steve J. Allen is out now on all streaming platforms, and you can buy it on Bandcamp here: https://stevejallen.bandcamp.com/