Phone interview with Russell Allen from the ALLEN/LANDE Project
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
January 29th 2011, Los Angeles CA
Andrew: The third Allen/Lande album "The Showdown" comes out in North America on February 8th. What can people expect from this one?
Russell: More of the good Allen-Lande combination duel that we've got going on. This album is pretty much a combination of the first and second one. So it's pretty slammin', pretty kickass and we're really proud of it.
Andrew: Guitarist Magnus Karlsson writes all the music for this project. So, when does your involvement come in? Is it after everything is already written?
Russell: Pretty much. I come in after he's got most of his songs already written. If there's anything I can add to it, I will. But most of the time it sounds great. Coming in to my studio it sounds killer, so I just lay down the vocals, send it back to him and we move on from there.
Andrew: The first album of this project was called "The Battle", then came "The Revenge" and now it's "The Showdown". So do you think it's almost like a trilogy in terms of the lyrical themes?
Russell: Yeah, I think that was the actual idea from the beginning, to do three records. So the lyrical content kind of has that going on. Each title isn't totally themed for each record like a concept or anything like that, it's just a cool title and keeps people in line with this whole thing of me and Jorn sort of pitted against each other, even though we're really not. But it's a lot of fun and we have a really good time with it.
Andrew: For this project, do you sing differently, or is it just that the songs fit your style perfectly?
Russell: It's a little bit of both. The style is something I'm very comfortable with, doing sort of melodic music. It's very natural for me. I also enjoy doing the soulful blues kind of material which comes very naturally to me, and it's a chance for me to do things that I don't really do too much in Symphony X. So that's what intrigued me in the beginning and it broadens my horizon, letting me experiment a little more with styles of music that I'm not accustomed to recording in Symphony X. I always walk away learning something new, whether it's a new way I express myself with the singing, or the new songwriting kind of thing. I always learn something.
Andrew: So, is this project pretty much about three musicians trying to explore their creativity?
Russell: It is, in a way. Ceraphino from the label certainly did put this together. He had the vision to hear us the two voices together with Magnus' writing, and approached us with it. I heard the demos and knew immediately what he was going for, and I thought it was great. I said sign me up and let's do it, and so the work started. It was really his perception and his baby, and I've been happy to be part of it.
Andrew: On this album, were there any songs that you thought were challenging for you vocally?
Russell: Well, I didn't have anything like that going on. I thought all of them were challenging for me this time around because I had to go first. Normally Jorn sings first and I follow him. Somebody has to sing it first so that you can match the phrasing, get the harmonies right, and all that kind of stuff. So every song for me on this album was a challenge because I was singing it by myself first. So I had to set the tone, I had to set the energy levels, so that was a challenge.
Andrew: That's very interesting. The fact that this is just a studio project, is that actually a good thing for you because you are so busy with Symphony X and your other projects?
Russell: Yeah, it is. With these types of things, a lot of people have a misconception as to how much time it takes to do these things. The album is coming out now in America, but I sang all the songs during the course of a 2-week period over a year ago, I think in October-November of 2009. So, the songs themselves don't take much time for me because I don't do the majority of the writing. So I just get the singable parts and I do my best to produce them. I did produce my singing in my own studio, so that's been the thing I've been doing and that's why I enjoy doing it because I explore my own understanding of the recording environment very well first, software and things that I've learned over the years. So I'm interested in doing such things because they don't take too much of my time, but I like the challenges to handle technically as an engineer and also artistically as a musician.
Andrew: Do you think you've gotten better with age as a singer?
Russell: Well yeah, of course. That's all relative. For me personally yes, I feel that I can reach a lot of different emotional levels a lot easier and understand more of what I'm doing in the context of the songs than before. When I was younger, I was more or less trying to emulate all my heroes and cop certain vibes off of things they would do, instead of really just doing what I felt and then letting the voice carry whatever emotion I had to do, whether it was anger, hatred, betrayal, or happiness or whatever. Nowadays I feel much more tuned with that, and that's where the maturity comes. There's a lot more power and energy than I had when I was a kid. I can hit those notes stronger and better because I know how to do it. When you're young, your voice is changing. It always changes every 7 or 8 years, they say. I'm happy with what I've got going on now. I'm in the best singing shape of my life.
Andrew: You talked about trying to emulate your heroes. Who were some of those heroes in the beginning?
Russell: Dio, God rest his soul, is a huge influence on me. Dickinson of Maiden, and Paul Rodgers from Bad Company for the soft stuff. Those three guys really made a huge impact on me when I was young. I love the swagger of a David Lee Roth too, he was an influence to me in terms of how to be an entertainer. But in terms of singing, Ronnie James Dio is definitely at the top of my list of influences.
Andrew: You've also worked with Arjen Lucassen for the Star One project, and he credited you as Sir Russell Allen. What did you think about that?
Russell: Well, that's kind of a joke that we have between us because I used to work at a dinner theater that's an actual jousting show. I used to be a knight with them so I did medieval combat for dinner patrons for a lot of years, and when he learned about that, he just thought that was the greatest thing so he started calling me "Sir" Russell Allen as kind of a joke, and now it's stuck. Everybody thinks that I'm knighted or something. It's pretty funny (laughs).
Andrew: It is! Are there any plans to do a solo album? You did one a few years back and there hasn't been anything since then.
Russell: Yeah, I actually have been working on one for the past several years now, and I'm getting close to finishing it. Hopefully it'll be released sometime this year. So yeah, that's coming very soon.
Andrew: You've been working with so many bands and projects like Star One, Dream Theater, ReVamp, Avantasia and Allen/Lande. So, would you say you're the kind of person who always likes to push himself and try to keep a never ending cycle going?
Russell: Well that's a funny thing because as of late, in the past few years the band [Symphony X] went into a big writing mode. Michael Romeo goes into a huge writing phase and it takes him six to eight months to do that. So, during that time, I like to stay busy. I like to keep my voice going and challenge myself with some projects. I work with my friends, and make new friends and things like that, so I like to stay challenged, stay focussed and to be honest with you, making a record is the stuff that keeps me young and keeps me in it. I don't want to ever get to the point where I can just relax and sit around doing nothing. Then you start getting stagnant and nothing is happening. I'm not into that. I like to keep it creative and keep working, like an actor in a way. If people want to pay me and make records, I'm in. Unfortunately, progressive metal isn't the biggest market share of the music industry, but there are great bunch of people who are awesome fans and are very loyal. I love them very dearly. But Symphony X has such a long time between albums. There were five years between Paradise Lost and The Odyssey, and there's four years from Paradise Lost to this new album coming out. So, I just try and fill that time void and do other things, trying to stay energetic about music, learn more about music and everything I do outside of the band, I'm able to bring into my performances. So it all works, it all helps.