Over the past three or four years, Devon Allman's Honeytribe has begun forging a career for itself through constant touring in the wake of the band's 2006 debut album, Torch. Bandleader and guitarist Devon Allman – the son of Allman Brothers Band frontman Gregg Allman – tends to make music that comes down on the hard knocks side of that fine line where blues and rock music intersect at the crossroads.
The band's 2010 album Space Age Blues shows a distinctive maturing in the band's sound, which is an engaging and adventuresome blend of rock, blues, soul, and jazz delivered with an energetic jam band aesthetic. With this recording, Devon Allman's Honeytribe is taking blues music in an entirely new and exciting direction, the band's dynamic live performances helping bring kids over to the blues from the Phish/moe fan horizon. We spoke with Allman prior to the release of Space Age Blues.
Devon Allman's Honeytribe's Space Age Blues
How would Allman define "space age blues?" "It's a futuristic blues record," he says, "taking something old school and infusing it with some futuristic vibes. I wanted to shake up the normal 1-4-5 thing of the blues and twist it around, inject some cosmic thing into it. It kind of happened itself...I'm a fan of the blues, and I'm a fan of sci-fi, so when I wrote the first song, "Space Age Blues," everything kind of fell into place for the vision."
Listening to Space Age Blues, one thing is evident – Devon Allman's Honeytribe doesn't sound like any other band that you've heard. "People expected a lot of burning guitar solos, or Texas-style blues since I'm from Texas," says Allman, "or the Allman Brothers, part two. But I enjoy writing songs; I enjoy fleshing out the details. I was the producer of this album, and that was my biggest joy, focusing on composition and taking people along for the ride." The sum total of Allman's myriad influences can be heard in the deep rhythmic grooves and energetic fretwork found on Space Age Blues. "I'm an amalgam of everything that has passed through my consciousness...from Billy Gibbons to Hendrix, Miles Davis, whatever. I've always kept an open mind; I've never stayed in one stream of styles. I've always enjoyed listening to everything. I have a messed-up sense of what's cool."
Memphis's Ardent Studios
As was Torch, the Honeytribe's Space Age Blues was recorded at the historic Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The site had particular meaning for Allman. "When I was seventeen years old, I was living in Memphis," he says, "and the Allman Brothers came through to make an album with Tom Dowd, producer extraordinaire. He produced Aretha Franklin, he did Layla...and I can remember being there. I knew three chords, or five chords on the guitar, and just being there and trying to soak it in, to learn. I remember saying that 'some day it will be my turn' to make a record there." When it came time to record his Honeytribe debut, Torch, Allman returned to Memphis and Ardent Studio. "I was so comfortable with the process, and with the tones that we got that I returned there for Space Age Blues."
Allman's familiarity with the studio and the city helped contribute to the casual and accomplished sound of the album. "There's a certain comfort zone there, Memphis is such a great music town," he says. "It's neat to go in during the winter, when it's crappy outside anyway, and make a record. You can really get lost in the experience…plus they have some amazing restaurants. Great burger joints, great sushi...a lot of people don't realize that some of the best sushi in American is found in Memphis because they're the home of FedEx." The city's rich musical history isn't lost on Allman, either. "Memphis is the only place in America where you can pull up, get out of your car, walk in to get some bar-b-que at 10:30 in the morning on a Tuesday and Al Green is playing at 100 decibels on the street. There's just so much vibe and history...in the studio that we cut our records in, "Cheap Sunglasses" (ZZ Top) was cut there, the guitars for Zeppelin III, there's so much history in that city that it's phenomenal."
Allman's Early Days
Devon was raised in Texas, Tennessee, and Missouri, and the Honeytribe is based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Uninfluenced by his famous father, the younger Allman began playing music as a teen. "Through high school, as people were kind of jockeying for position to go to college and become this or become that," he remembers, "I resonated with my guitar...it didn't have anything to do with my dad, it had to do with what fulfilled me, what spoke to me. I started playing guitar when I was thirteen...it kind of perplexed me. It was like 'I can see this guitar, and I can hear on an album somebody making a sound like this, so I want to get that and make it sound like that.' It was like a big riddle that I had to word backwards, reverse engineer to try and figure it out. It was hard, but once I got it, it definitely flowed."
While Allman's guitar style shares the reckless spirit of his legendary uncle Duane Allman, it retains an individual flavor that is entirely of Devon's making. "Spirit is the perfect word," he says. "I've never sat down and learned Duane's licks...I think that would be completely uncool. He lives on in so many people's minds because of his approach, his sense of freedom, his connection to his instrument. He didn't even listen to other guitar players, he listened to horn players. I would never want to pick up a slide or try and capture his thunder. I think that he would be a lot more proud of me doing my own thing."
A lot of Allman's current fans don't realize that Devon Allman's Honeytribe was originally formed in 1999, the band taking a lengthy hiatus in 2001. "My son was born, and I wanted to lay a foundation with him, be there for him instead of missing what is essentially the coolest part of his live, those first few years," says Allman. "It was important to me to anchor down, work on some songs, and work on being a father. It worked out, by the time that he was ready to start school, to go into kindergarten, I was ready to get out there and start touring hardcore."