On a New Path

Artists seem to come from every path and musical style, and according to Michael B. Allen an ex-Evangelical filmmaker-turned-musician this seems to be the case.

Allen’s fourth single “My Ugly White Straight Reality” release came out in July. But his collection of new singles works to show his range of musical styles. According to his bio the “first single release was “Subterranean Hollywood Blues,” an upbeat early 90s-style dance track. The second single, “Somebody,” the title track from the upcoming album Somebody, is modern r&b/hip-hop comparable to Post Malone. The third single, “Lemon,” is a breakup track that features a brooding saxophone and layered pitched vocals.” In this interview Allen talks with Jupiter Index about his music.

Jupiter Index: Talk about your musical influences? And what drove you to release your debut release?

Michael B. Allen: My biggest influences for this album are Frank Ocean and Kanye West. They’re both amazing artists who combine and juxtapose genres effectively, and their lyrics speak openly and poetically about their personal lives, even the ugly, difficult parts. Historically, I’ve also been really inspired by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire, Radiohead.
My debut solo album, Somebody, is basically the story of losing my Christian faith, struggling with depression and suicide, having an affair, then being found out and kind of losing my life as I knew it. I went through a divorce, lost my career and most of my friends. In the end, I was able to find healing and peace and experience a sort of rebirth, but it was a long road. Going through such a hard time and being so isolated, I needed an outlet. These songs were my way of processing my own story. I wanted to record the album and share it so that maybe others dealing with some form of shame, isolation, depression, or loss of values could know they’re not alone and find some hope from my story.

JI: What was the songwriting process like for you? Do you have a daily routine?

MBA: I don’t really have a songwriting process other than I’ll start to hear a song in my head, and when it sticks with me, I put it down on paper. These songs came to me one by one in their own time. I didn’t really start out with a plan for the album, but once they were all in front of me, I had a really clear idea of the concept. From there, I practiced playing through the whole album once or twice a day for months to build smooth transitions between all the songs and make it work well as a unified piece.

JI: Describe what the studio recording process was like for you with your CD? How much time did you spend recording it?

MBA: I moved out to Marfa, [Texas] to record the album. I basically locked myself in a little house with all my instruments for a month. I wanted to do it in the desert because the album deals with themes of isolation and excommunication and surviving in tough conditions. I think doing it out in that setting served the music well, but it was emotionally exhausting. Every day I was reflecting on the hardest times in my life and putting in long hours without much human contact. Of course, when I finally finished and moved back to Austin ready to reconnect to people, we went into lockdown because of Covid haha.
From a technical standpoint, there’s a wide range of instruments and sounds on the album, lots of electronic instruments and sampling mixed with guitars and piano and vocals. Part of my goal was to approach each song as a standalone piece that sounded really unique, but then to use clever transitions and musical callbacks to make the whole album cohesive. At one point, I got to link up with Gory Smelley from Marfa Recording Co. to do an extensive listening session and get feedback and ideas, which was super valuable.

JI: What’s next for you with your music?

MBA: Mostly the torture that is music marketing I guess haha. I don’t really aspire to be a touring/career musician. It’s a tough business, and I can’t imagine making my living from it. At the same time, I want to get the music out to as many people as possible to share my story and connect with people who have gone through something similar. I’m also working on a book with some visual art and the lyrics from the album.
I see it all— the music, the art, the marketing, the messages I’m putting out right now— as part of a bigger conversation about empathy and healing. Our culture is so divided and judgmental. We’ve been trying to heal our pain through hate and division, and it’s only going to create more pain. If we’re going to heal, we need to understand people and connect with them, even if we disagree with them.
The hook for the title track of the album, “Somebody,” is “Everybody wants to be somebody.” It’s the idea that we all have a deep desire to be seen, known, and loved by others. The final line of the song is a phrase I’ve been promoting with the album and in general, “Everybody is somebody,” which is the idea that we’re all worthy of love. We all have something good to offer, and when we see that in each other, we can heal and come together.

JI: Would you like to add anything else to what you have already said?

MBA: The Somebody album website is everybodyissomebody.com. The homepage is a simple interactive expression of the album’s message. You can get the album on vinyl or digital download there and sign up for updates. I’ll also be adding more cool art and merch to it soon. I currently have four singles out on streaming platforms (i.e., Spotify) and will be releasing the full album for streaming in fall 2021.

by G.M. Burns