Adaptability seems to be a crucial trait for musicians these days. With the traditional record-label-backed system a thing of the past and the modern industry in a constant state of flux, the environment is more hostile than ever for songwriters trying to get by on songs alone.
Sometimes it takes some innovative thinking to survive – such as Christmas in August.
That was Florida-based songsmith Ashton Allen’s solution to bring in some bucks in the waning days of Summer 2007. Two years removed from his acclaimed debut effort, Dewdrops, Allen was on his own after his label, Livewire Recordings, dissolved. With some down time while working on a follow-up to Dewdrops, Allen partnered with fellow solo artist Devin Moore and set about answering a call from big music houses for well-crafted Christmas songs.
The result, the aptly-named “The Christmas Songs,” hit stands Nov. 4 as part of a double release for Allen, alongside his second solo album, Wellspring. This week, Allen took time to chat about his new songs, entrepreneurial endeavors and working in a world of neverending Christmas.
Mike Hume: When did you come up with the idea for a Christmas album?
Ashton Allen: Last summer, there was a call asking for original Christmas music and remade Christmas music for all genres so [Devin Moore and I] were like, let’s do it, let’s have some fun and write a Christmas album. Of course it was like August or something at the time. So we recorded in August and by the time the holidays roll around, we’re sick of the songs. And now we’re set up for the same thing this year. I’ve been listening to Christmas music since March.
MH: How do you get yourself in the mood to write Christmas music when it’s 80-degrees out?
AA: Well, Mike, down here in Florida it’s 80-degrees every day. We have the same challenge every year.
MH: So if it’s not the weather, what does get you in the mood for Christmas?
AA: The nostalgia from my childhood Christmases, going to my old neighborhood where I grew up – that’s what hits me the most. I live one minute from my folks and my mom always does this great setup for Christmas. No one puts as many ornaments in the tree as she does.
MH: Some of these traditional songs, like Silent Night, have been around for decades if not longer. How do you approach performing a timeless classic?
AA: We would take a song and do it opposite of convention just because. There were no borders, no rules. So we did some more traditionally, a swing rock version of “Jolly Old St. Nick,” but added in some cool Queen electric guitars in the back. “O Come All Ye Faithful” is like a straight-up Gin Blossoms college rock tune. We didn’t want to chase the tail of whatever is cool on K-Rock, we just wanted to have fun with it.
MH: What differences were there in recording Dewdrops and Wellspring?
AA: For an independent label, the first album was a pretty big budget record. They sent me to Nashville and I was able to work with horn sections and these incredible musicians would come in. Now, I’m an independent artist and that label is dissolved. I’ve kind of been starting over. This is self-produced, done on a dime.
MH: How did Rocksalt Songwriters, your commercial business, come about?
AA: I had the concept for starting Rocksalt maybe two years ago. I was living at the beach in Clearwater with Devin. We were noticing all the bad music on TV and were like, man, we can do this. We didn’t know where to start, so we just started. I incorporated and starting reaching out to agencies. We had our first meeting, we landed our first job, we wrote our first spot, and since then we’ve turned it into a boutique music house. We now have a record with John Miller and we do some stuff for TV and film with a company out west, we’re writing a Pacific Sunware radio spot and working with these ad agencies ourselves.
MH: Why did you turn your focus to Rocksalt?
AA: The industry is changing. If you want to be a full-time artist, you have to be creative. If I have to take a part-time job just so I can continue being an artist, it’s going to destroy part of my soul. It’s pretty dramatic, but it’s the beginning of the end for me as a solo artist. I’d be giving in to giving up.
CDs don’t sell as well, the industry is changing. When that stuff happens, when the economy is down and people are panicking, I feel like there’s always an opportunity.