theaussieword.com catches up with Youth Group drummer Danny Allen.
How and where did it all begin for you? What drew your interest to the music industry?
Even before I could drum I tapped on things and LOVED beats of all kinds. Hip hop led me into understanding samples, which got me into old soul music, which made me want to drum. I was super fortunate to befriend such a talented songwriter in Toby Martin right out of high school. Without his encouragement I doubt I would have gone anywhere in music.
What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?
Contemporaries past and present. The magic of hearing a song that cuts right through you… goosebump material as my high school music teacher would say, is incomparable to me. Wanting to understand how musicians I admire, create and what inspires them, will inspire me long after I’m ten feet under. That goes for a lot of different forms of art too though, Great films like Call Me By Your Name or graphic Novels by Daniel Clowes, the lyrics and poetry of the late, incredible David Berman… all of these kids of things just make me desperate to contribute something of value for posterity.
What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish?
Maybe I didn’t have lofty goals as a youngster, but I exceeded everything I hoped to by 30. Which isn’t meant to be bragging, I just always felt everything was a huge bonus. Winning an Aria, having a No. 1, being signed to a US indie in Epitaph and getting to tour the world were all incredible experiences but I never aspired to any of them, if I’m honest. Getting to open for my heroes were the best to me and probably still are. I just love being around people that make me feel completely alive. Opening for Elliott Smith is something I will forever hold as one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to do in music. I did always hope that I could get to a point where I was making my income solely from music. To be able to officially call myself a “professional musician” haha! But that’s probably just insecurity ties to being self taught. I don’t think it has anything to do with talent though to be honest. If anything I respect those who pay a price to make their art even more now that I’m older.
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour?
Yes! Youth Group are playing Mordialloc Food and Wine Fest (with Dragon!) and a Bushfire benefit for one of my best mates in Lake Conjola on March 1st! Details on our website. We’re also playing the awesome Meadow Fest in Bambra at the end of March. More shows to be confirmed throughout the year too!
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?
This new album was conceived by our singer Toby Martin in an abandoned laundromat in Huddersfield, England while he was teaching at University there. It became about longing for where you’re from and in our case, specifically Australia and Sydney. Which is strangely apt for me as well as I’ve been living in America for the last ten years and both Toby and I share very similar feelings on how parenthood and growing into a middle aged expat informed our longing for the comfort and familiarity of Australia. A lot of it is tied into identity as well or maybe just dissecting your identity more as you grow with your children, especially when you’re surrounded by people from other countries. For Toby and I, at least it made both of us feel more Australian than ever before. For me, I think it’s because you’re mixing with other parents outside of your normal circles and it makes you think a lot more about where you fit in to it all and who you are. The further along on that journey I go, the more proud of how Australian I am, which has been surprising since I don’t consider myself particularly patriotic at all.
In terms of describing our music, I’d say it’s kind of like slacker indie rock with decidedly un-slacker-like lyrics. Toby’s ability to so eloquently pose insights into the human condition still blows me away. In fact I believe he’s only getting better and better with age. I hope he never stops.
Give us an insight into your creative process. What gets you writing songs?
For Youth Group it always starts with Toby’s lyrics with his chords underneath and then typically we democratically decide the feel and structure of the songs together.. We all write songs for solo-driven projects but unanimously agree that this way works best for Youth Group by a long stretch.
I feel like Toby is very motivated by places and events and how they affect people.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
I feel like the majority of songs are not too obtuse… they’re intended to be pretty relatable I’d say. So, relatable events and emotions delivered from totally unique and often very moving perspectives.
Success, what is the secret to it?
Wouldn’t we all love to know?! Haha. Realistic goals perhaps.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
I guess the obvious answer would be the No.1 for 14 weeks or the Aria but right now it feels like the new album. Getting it made while we all lived on opposite sides of the world wasn’t easy but it came out as if we hadn’t stopped playing at all! Ten years away and we honestly slipped right back into gear and made an album that fits perfectly into our catalogue with strong claims of being one of our best. If I may say so.
On a personal note as a drummer, my favourite show was as second to last band (before Klaxons) on the NME stage at Reading 2010 with We Are Scientists. Long story but the short of it is that the seemingly endless crowd was amazing and practically every band we knew was watching side of stage, so I was terrified but it went really well. It was a profound moment for me confidence-wise.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
Robert Pollard of GBV has been the biggest for me over the years i’d say. And classic types like Lou Reed and George Harrison are still huge for me. Kim Deal has also been massive. There’s alot to be honest. In terms of more relevant artists I think Kevin Parker is quite incredible. I’ve always been a huge hip hop fan as well and I think Kendrick Lamar is a straight up genius. I could go on… In terms of Youth Group as a whole, The Go Betweens would no doubt be our biggest collective influence. Followed closely by You Am I.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
I’m almost certain there will be a new Youth Group album coming within the next 18 months but nothing concrete as of yet. Toby has an absolutely blistering new solo album that has a couple of my favourite songs he’s ever written. Can’t wait for people to hear that. Personally I FINALLY just finished my own solo ep that I did everything on besides mastering. It literally took me years, so I doubt I’ll do it that way again but it was an awesome experience and I’m super proud if it. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I love it and I’m sure it will be super fun live when I get time to put that all together. Not easy living in Florida with two kids. I have some amazing musicians in mind in Gainesville though, which is a mere 5 hours away. Haha
The music industry is constantly changing, where do you see yourself a few years?
Who knows. Especially in our early 40’s it’s almost impossible to say. I’d happily settle for “still being able to make records and enjoying it more than ever”.
What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why?
My favorite part is the camaraderie and the bonds you make. Sharing these experiences can truly bond you like family, for better or worse and fortunately for me Music has given me some of the greatest, enduring friendships I have.
Least favourite would be lack of sleep on tour. I’m sleep obsessive and when tours are routed excessively for profit over the well-being of the artists, it can very quickly become hellish.
Name a few of your favourite Australian artists.
The Go Betweens Robert Forster, The Saints / Ed Kuepper, Gaslight Radio, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Gersey, The Wonder, The Moles, The Bad Seeds, Roland S. Howard, Archie Roach, Dirty Three, You Am I, The Vines, Rocket Science, The Avalanches… As you can tell I’m old and have been living out of Australia for a decade so probably not the best to ask. Haha. There are loads of current, really great bands of course like Ocean Party, Dick Diver, Courtney Barnett, Rolling Blackouts CF, etc. but I’m terms of bands I will absolutely never stop listening to, I think I basically covered it there.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
It’s kinda harder for older bands like us to stay relevant to the kids when we’re not as social media savvy and simply don’t have the time or energy (or will) to invest in being omnipresent in that realm but that’s just the way it goes. Natural selection to a certain degree.
For the younger bands coming up I imagine it’s amazing. The ease at which you can create decent recordings at home and get them out online is frightening. I prefer the romanticism of 4 track recording and then physically having to pass your tapes on to peers but that’s most likely a generational thing.
How will you continue appealing to the international market?
I live in the US so I’m interested in keeping our name alive over here but with visa costs etc. and everyone having family responsibilities, unless we can tweak the numbers enough to make it worthwhile (which we’re working on) , I think the time, money and energy is better spent focusing on Aus. and making sure we keep recording and releasing decent albums.
Do you collaborate with others? Who is on your wish-list?
I love the idea of collaboration. I think why not bleed creativity as much as possible? I don’t really understand why it doesn’t happen more tbh. My wishlist would include Robert Forster, Mikey Young, Kevin Parker and Richard Davies. Speaking strictly Australian. But you know what they say about meeting your idols? I can attest that sometimes they’re better left the way you imagine them.
What advice do you give for other artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Do it purely for the love of it. Anything else is not enough.
A message for your fans. How do you best interact and respond with your followers and fans?
I prefer face to face at shows. The best way to show my true and sincerest appreciation for allowing us to even do this!!
Any last words?
My youngest daughter is awake and crying for me. Gotta go!! Thanks for your time!
Long before their iconic cover of Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young’ became a number #1 Aussie hit, propelling them to national notoriety and earning them an ARIA award, Youth Group were already a much-loved indie rock band on Australia’s underground touring circuit. With two albums under their belt, their debut Urban & Easternand the 2004’s follow-up Skeleton Jar, the band had built a solid reputation for sharply observed lyrics and a wistful, chiming and effervescent sound.
Formed in 1998 in Sydney’s inner-west, it was Skeleton Jar that really started to spread the word about Youth Group and the skill and depth of the extraordinary songwriting on show turned listeners into true believers. Scoring four and five star reviews, it also made fans out of Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla (who invited Youth Group on tour with them in the US), the music director of then hit drama ‘The O.C.’ (who featured the band’s song ‘Shadowland’ and their version of ‘Forever Young’ in the TV show) and world-renowned LA label Epitaph (who signed the band to their roster for the US/Europe without ever having seen them play live).
The band went on to release two more acclaimed albums, 2006’s Casino Twilight Dogs which spawned crowd favourites ‘Start Today Tomorrow’ and ‘Daisychains’, and 2008’s The Night Is Ours, and tour the country supporting Coldplay on the UK rockers’ 2006 arena tour of Oz.
After a decade long absence, Youth Group returned in 2019 with Australian Halloween arguably their most fully formed collection of songs yet. Propelled by singles ‘Cusp’ and ‘Erskineville Nights’, the album looks back at Australia from abroad, exploring themes of home, growing up, parenthood and the changing world, all set against the classic sound of Youth Group’s dynamic indie rock. The album received glowing reviews (The Australian called it “power-pop heaven, with subtle lyrics a cut above most”) and was named Album of the Week and one of the Top 50 Albums of 2019 by Double J, all proof that the band had lost none of their charm while they’d been gone.