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Interview with Kris Allen

 

 

 

Kris Allen (Season 8 American Idol Winner)

By Nina McCarthy, Music Journalist

 

Kris Allen is currently touring in support of his new album release, “Letting You In” released on Dogbear Records.  I caught up with him at Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH.  These songs are the most personal he has written, inspired by his life and family.  Thanks Kris for “letting me in” on some of your stories.

 

 

BRR:  You became interested in music at a very early age, playing the viola in Elementary School?

 

Kris:  I did.

 

BRR:  Can you briefly describe your music career before American Idol?

 

Kris:  Music was always around and I think my parents saw this affinity for it early on, especially for singing.  They actually put me into a school where I could play music, so I started playing classical music when I was 8 years old until the end of High School.  I took up guitar at 13 but was super shy though, so I didn’t play for anybody.  I don’t think anyone knew I played guitar until I was 18 or 19 years old, or that I could sing.

 

BRR:  I was going to say, you taught yourself how to play guitar at 13, right?

 

Kris:  Yeah, I did and I didn’t let anybody know because I was shy.  I played in my room a bunch.

 

BRR:  That’s funny because I’m the same way.  I’m extremely shy and now I do this.  You just have to push yourself.

 

Kris:  You do. My parents were really good about that.  They were always pushing me out to do music and it was a lot of fun.   When I was still in college I made a record and started playing it in bars for 4 hours making $25.

 

BRR:  You self released “Brand New Shoes” inspired by your day job selling shoes so you could play out at night.  Tell me about that.

 

Kris:  I knew that I wanted to do music, and for the way that I wanted to do it, I had to start writing music, so I started.  I feel like I started writing pretty late.  I started doing that and I amassed enough songs to make a record.

 

BRR:  What age did you start writing?

 

Kris:  I started writing about 19.  I was in college, and I had some jobs too, but I knew that was the way and so I wrote some songs and I got up a trio and we went into the studio and recorded.

 

BRR:  What made you audition for American Idol?

 

Kris:  Gosh, when I think about it now, there has to be fate somewhere in the world because I did not plan on it at all.  It was a last minute thing.

 

BRR:  Your brother auditioned too, right?

 

Kris:  My brother auditioned and actually my guitar player auditioned as well.

 

BRR:  Was it your brother’s idea?

 

Kris:  It was his idea.  He wanted to get me out there.  He’s a great singer as well.  We were like, we don’t get to spend a ton of time together, and it was one of those things where I was kind of out of college and I was about to get married and we thought this would be a fun trip for both of us and my other friend came too.  So, we just drove through the night 9 hours from Arkansas to Louisville.  

 

BRR:  Was your guitarist in your original band?

 

Kris:  Cale?  No, I always got mad at him because he was in a band and they were great and I was like, “Why can’t I be in a band?”  But, it all works out, I guess.  It was totally on a whim.  They had closed registration when we got there so they had to open it back up for us.  It was crazy.

 

BRR:  Wow!  I know they say your audition was kind of your last “hurrah” before giving up pursuing music professionally.

 

Kris:  I don’t know.  I feel like I get that question a lot.  I don’t know if that would have been the last thing.

 

BRR:  It’s in Wikipedia, that’s why.

 

Kris:  Yeah, Wikipedia, it’s so trustworthy.  (laughing)  I really don’t know if would have been THE last thing I would have done.  When I was younger I went to Nashville with my parents and played some open mic things for a weekend.  We actually got some bites which was great, but nothing really happened.  Who knows if I would have done something like that again.

 

BRR:  Did you ever think you’d win American Idol?

 

Kris:  Heck no!  I was so surprised I got through Hollywood Week.  I knew once I made it through a little bit of it, I was like, “Ok, I feel like I have something that not everyone here has”. I think it was just a music education.  A lot of people are great singers, but for me I grew up just immersed in music  That was a huge part of what I did on the show so I knew I had enough to get me that far, into Hollywood Week and even through some of Hollywood Week.  But, to even make it through that and another week after that, I had no idea why I was still there.

 

BRR:  They always talk about Hollywood Week being hell.  You don’t get much sleep.

 

Kris:  Yeah, it was pretty crazy.   On my year there was a sing off that I had to do.  It didn’t get aired but I beat out this other kid and it was crazy.

 

BRR:  I read about, that you had to do that to get to the semi-finals.

I work mostly for unsigned artists.  Any advice for those aspiring musicians?

 

Kris:  I think the biggest thing that has helped me, because I’ve been signed and I’m unsigned as well (I’m signed by myself, I guess); I put out my own records which is a lot of fun.  I think the biggest thing in today’s world, is you have to have a clarity on who you are but you also have to have a good team around you that is willing to work hard.  You can do a lot on your own but you can’t do it all.  I can’t imagine if I had to run all of my social media.  Now, I do post on my social media but all the posts that are on there, I don’t do all that stuff.  There’s so many other things like agents, as far as booking shows, and managers and business people.  There are a lot of pieces to this business and you need people who know how to do it, and do it well, that are on your side.

 

BRR:  That’s what I do actually, besides interviews.  I do booking, management, and promotion for local bands.

 

Kris:  Great!  That’s awesome.  People need that.

 

BRR:  Ironically, you were one of the finalists that received the least airtime on Season 8.  I thought for sure Adam Lambert was going to win because they hyped him up so much.

 

Kris:  Me too.

 

BRR:  I can’t deny that I loved him too.

 

Kris:  Yeah, he’s great!

 

BRR:  What was it like performing with Adam and Queen at the finals?

 

Kris:  For me, Brian May walks out onto the rehearsal stage and so doesn’t Roger Taylor and I’m just standing there and I turn around and they are just there and I was like, “Fuck (whispered...but there is controversy whether he said “frick”), this can’t be happening right now!”  I love music, so I love Queen.  That was really insane to get to perform with them and with Adam.  It was just this nice celebration.  We were singing “We Are The Champions” and I think we both felt like that too.  We kind of both felt that no matter what happens that we both win, obviously.

 

BRR:  I’ve seen a lot of people that weren’t the winners hit it pretty big.  They just aren’t “owned” at that moment.

 

Kris:  It depends.  Even with that contract, if the company wants to pick you up, if you don’t win, than you can do that too.  

 

BRR:    Interesting.  So, who was your favorite mentor?

 

Kris:  I think it was Smokey Robinson.  We kind of had the whole experience with him.  We got to go to Motown.  He showed us around and told us stories inside the studio about Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, so it was a very cool experience.

 

BRR: I read Michael Jackson was one of your favorites.

 

Kris:  Oh yeah, growing up.  I think he was the first record that I stood in the line at the record store to go buy.  I was young, like 7 years old.

 

BRR:  In 2013 you broke your wrist in a car accident and you had multiple surgeries.  Has that affected your guitar playing?

 

Kris:  It’s just different now. You see my wrist, this is as much as I can move it.  (He demonstrates that he can’t fully bend it forward much.)  There’s this way that you’re supposed to play guitar and this rhythm that comes from your wrist, so mine doesn’t come from my wrist anymore.  I play a lot with my fingers now.  Also, if I’m strumming, it’s more of an arm thing, so I have to really focus on the rhythm a little bit more. (strums his guitar)  I have a natural rhythm so it’s almost frustrating to not have that there anymore.  It’s just something I have to work on daily.

 

BRR:  You went on tour right away with the cast against your doctor’s advice?

 

Kris:  That was dumb.  We had planned this tour and I didn’t want to disappoint the fans, so we did it.  I was under a lot of drugs too and I probably made decisions I shouldn’t have.

 

BRR:  You are heavily involved in several charitable organizations that promote music education.  Can you tell me about that?

 

Kris:  I got really involved with this group called Music Empowers about six years ago.  I had that opportunity to play music as a kid and I saw it happening in a school that I went to where they started taking things away.

 

BRR:  Music seems to be the first program to be dropped now.

 

Kris:  Yeah, it costs a lot of money.  Instruments are expensive and teachers and that sort of thing, so it’s an expensive deal.  I get it, but it was such a huge part of my life.  I was okay at other things, okay at sports but I would miss baseball games to go play orchestra concerts because I knew I was way better at that and that’s where I fit in.  There are millions of other kids that are exactly the same.  You have to be able to find your spot when you’re growing up or you are just going to feel lost and maybe do things you shouldn’t.  So, I got involved in Music Empowers and some other things as well.  There’s a school back in my hometown called Black Bird that I’m heavily involved in.  We do a songwriting competition every year and they do after school activities for kids with music and dance and all that sort of stuff.

 

BRR:  That’s great!  What has been the response to your latest album, “Letting You In”?

 

Kris:  From what I’ve heard, really good, which is nice because you never know what is going to happen.  For me, I get nervous about all that stuff, like people hearing songs for the first time.  It’s a weird deal.  These are songs no one heard before they came out.  In the past, I’ve played songs live and then recorded them but for this record, all of them were brand new, which was very cool.  I enjoyed that.  I think people are really digging the record which is beautiful.

 

BRR:  Your wife is expecting your second child in June.  How do you balance your family life with touring and recording?

 

Kris:  Lots of FaceTime. (laughing)  That’s a lifesaver.

 

BRR:  It was great seeing you on the final episode of American Idol this past week.  What do you think about Trent winning?

 

Kris:  Oh man, I think he’s great.  He’s really, really good.  Both of them are so good. La’Porsha is amazing as well.  I think Trent got a lot better throughout the season.  Not that he was bad at the beginning, but I feel like La’Porsha was always really, really good: not that she didn’t get better because I’m sure she did.  But, I think there was this noticeable thing that Trent did, this noticeable curve.

 

BRR:  It’s funny, because I think right from the beginning I picked out Dalton and La’Porsha as finalists.

 

Kris:  You got it close.

 

BRR:  Can you believe the show has ended?

 

Kris:  No, not really, but I think it went out on the right note, kind of leaving a teaser for everybody.

 

BRR:  Especially with what Ryan Seacrest said at the end.

 

Kris:  I had no idea he was saying that because I couldn’t hear on stage with confetti and everyone screaming and crying and stuff.  So, I thought that was interesting because I don’t know what’s going to happen.  There’s not like some email that we get.

 

BRR:  My friend Veronica is a huge fan of the show.  She has watched every season and has met a lot of the contestants.  She wanted to know if there was anyone from all the season’s of the show that you would like to do a duet with?

 

Kris:  A couple.  Melinda Doolittle is one of my favorite people in the world.  We’ve never sang together.  Actually we did sing together not too long ago, but not a duet.  That would be fun.  I think Ruben Studdard is one of the greatest, tastiest singers I’ve ever heard.  He can sing circles around a lot of people but he doesn’t and you know that.  Having the confidence to not do that, that is just something I can respect.  Also, for him I think he has had a really great music education as well, so he knows and has listened to a lot of music where he can say I’m doing this like this person and this person, very cool.

 

BRR:  That’s about it.  Max (Tour Manager) is looking at his watch.  Any additional comments for your fans?

 

Kris:  For the fans, they are amazing.  They’ve been coming out to shows this tour which is really awesome and they’ve been really supportive of the new record.  I don’t have anything but love for them.  They are amazing and always have been.

 

 

For tour dates and more information on Kris:

 www.krisallenofficial.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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