SXSW 2018 Interview: Allman Brown

By on Thursday, 31st May 2018 at 11:00 am
 

My first interview at SXSW 2018 was with English singer/songwriter Allman Brown, who I met before his very first SXSW showcase on the Tuesday night of the music festival, at Austin’s Seven Grand. We had already featured Brown as one of our Bands to Watch leading into SXSW, and he kindly answered our Quickfire Questions ahead of the festival, but this interview was a nice chance to chat with Brown one-on-one, and to get quick preview of what I was about to hear from him on stage.

Brown had already had a bit of an adventure leading into the music festival, which he related to me in the beginning of our chat. “We flew to Dallas, and we were supposed to have a gig in Dallas but I had to cancel that, sadly [due to illness]. So, then we drove, we got the Greyhound, because we’re English, so we thought we had to hit that American stereotype and get the bus to Austin.” It turned out that the 4-hour bus trip from Dallas to Austin was less than scenic, but being an avid reader, Brown took the opportunity indulge his favourite hobby. “I was reading ‘The Nix’ by Nathan Hill,” he explained. “It came out, I think, like two years ago. It was a big hit in the States. It was brilliant. It’s all centered around a lady who abandons her son. And it’s the back story of her through like, the 1968 Chicago riots, and why she did it. It was quite intriguing.” He further described the story as a “multigenerational family drama, but also quite funny, and (it) dealt with pop culture as well.”

I mentioned that we don’t always get such detailed book recommendations at There Goes the Fear, and Brown smiled a bit sheepishly. “Reading is breathing, I live to read. I just read today, actually, the novel of the new Joaquin Phoenix movie, ‘You Were Never Really Here’. I just read the novella it’s based on. It was pretty savage.”

Brown’s readling list recommendations naturally led the conversation into possible literary influences in his music. When I asked him if he has consciously introduced his reading into his songwriting, he demurred a bit. “I think if I read a book that I really like, that gives me a certain feeling, I might take that feeling and try and put it into a song. But I try not to imitate anyone because it doesn’t feel organic to me.”

From there, the discussion turned to Brown’s own repertoire, which at this point includes his 2017 album ‘A Thousand Years’ and his most recent EP release ‘Bury My Heart’, which came out on the Friday of SXSW. In discussing the EP, Brown mentioned, rather casually, that it was his first release as a full-time musician. “I was always working in restaurants and bars and stuff for like 10 years, but I managed to go full-time music just after my daughter was born, actually.” Like any proud father, Brown was clearly eager to talk about his family, and I expressed surprise that he would choose to turn to music full-time just after having a baby. “She brought all the good luck,” he beamed. “She’s now 15 months. But it was okay, I didn’t rush into it. It happened gradually, but I felt secure to make the change.”

Brown was away from his family for only eight days on his trip to Austin, but he jokingly described it as being “horrible.” I told him that, based on my own experience, eight days at SXSW would go by quickly, and he agreed. “Honestly, eight days in Austin is not the worst place to be,” he admitted, “it’s a beautiful city, nice people.” But getting back to his wife and daughter, he says, “I did a tour [once] for about 10 days, and that’s kind of my limit. Anything longer, I’ll just bring them with me.”

The background music and chatter at the Seven Grand got gradually louder as the start time for the evening’s showcase approached, and I took that cue to ask Brown about his set list for the show. “It will be a bit of a selection really, because it’s just me,” he confided. “I don’t have the band, which I quite like sometimes, because it’s good to sort of keep your chops. I spent years just playing by myself. So, a couple of new songs, and some old favourites from the album. I mean, they’re my old favourites,” he laughed.

“But you kind of have to gauge,” he continued. “South by Southwest seems quite quite rowdy and upbeat so far. You know what I mean, like the crowds are quite energetic. So, if there’s no space for the really, really delicate fingerpicking songs, I won’t play those. I’ll just try and read the room.” Talking about gauging the audience, I asked him how familiar he thought the crowd might be with his songs. “I have no idea,” he confessed. “There’s a couple of songs off the album which are doing well on Spotify, I think they’ll probably be well known. I’m guessing it’s the newer stuff that they won’t have any idea about. I try and imagine that every gig I play, I have to convince the audience that these are songs that they should enjoy. I try not to take it for granted, like I’ve got to do my best every time and that’s all I can do.”

Following his Tuesday night show, Brown played a handful more shows during his time in Austin, including a second official showcase at the Barracuda on the Saturday night and a potential Sofar Sounds show, which was yet to be confirmed at the time of the interview. I haven’t yet found any evidence of that show online, but Brown is a Sofar Sounds veteran, having performed shows in London, New York, and Paris in the past. Just below, you can watch a vintage clip of his 2012 NYC performance, courtesy of Sofar Sounds.

Brown did a brief tour of North America at the start of May, following on the success of his SXSW appearance, and played a short string of shows in the UK at the end of the month. His new EP ‘Bury My Heart’ is available now.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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