Allan Rayman has been quarantining for the last 14 days, like most everybody else in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, after returning to Toronto from Los Angeles. Today, he was finally able to get out and buy cigarettes.
It is a little ironic to buy cigarettes during a global public health crisis, but cigarettes are essential to Allan’s mental health. Allan’s cigarettes are, he says, his “little therapists.” When he needs to get away from people to gain a new perspective, he goes to have a smoke and vent to the cigarette he’s smoking. The outside world will get an inside look at what he tells his cigarettes while listening to his new album Christian, out Friday (April 3) via Republic Records.
The eighth track is titled “I Talk To My Cigarette.”
“I smile alone, and have conversations about you,” Allan sings in the track, his gravelly voice dancing over a mesmerizing electric guitar backdrop. “You carry on, there’s not a goddamn thing I can do / I talk to my cigarette / I don’t want this cigarette to end.”
Fans listening through Christian‘s 14 tracks for the first time may find themselves falling down a rabbit hole they don’t want to end.
The cover of Christian features Allan wearing angel wings with his long, dirty blond hair covering his face. The album has nothing to do with Christianity. He is playfully misdirecting people—testing them, seeing who will actually listen to the songs and derive his true message. He quickly garnered a reputation as the most mysterious man in music when he was first breaking into the industry, but he has revealed intimate details about himself with Christian.
The album title was inspired by Christian Slater. More specifically, the 50-year-old award-winning actor’s role in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume. Allan first watched it when he was 16 or 17 years old, and it has remained an all-time favorite.
“Basically, the movie is about a kid who comes to a new town,” Allan explains. “He’s shy, got a little bit of anxiety. In his new high school, he eats lunch in the stairwell. So, like me, not really a cool kid. A shy kid. He has this radio. He uses a short-wave radio that he got to keep in touch with his friends back home, but it doesn’t reach all the way there, but it does reach the surrounding area of his town. He starts talking under the name Harry Hard-on, and all the kids in the high school start listening to him. He doesn’t realize it, but he’s got a voice and he’s got something to talk about. He’s inspiring people, and he’s becoming the voice for a generation. To me, that was always kind of cool.
“When I started making music, I felt like, whoa, that’s kind of similar because I’m not really singing about doing epic things or being epic at all; I’m singing about just my own trials and tribulations with day-to-day life and things I go through. It’s pretty remarkable how many people have connected to it and related to it.”
When Allan first met Ben Lovett, keyboardist/vocalist for Mumford and Sons and co-founder of the label Communion Records, they sat down inside a glass West Hollywood building and discussed the long-term vision for their new partnership.
“I think that it has gone the exact way we thought it would,” Allan tells tmrw. “Real slow, real steady. It’s not a lightning in the bottle kind of moment here. We knew we had to fight ’cause we’re trying to do something different here, and it’s not gonna be easy. It’s not gonna take days. It could take weeks, it could take months, maybe years. That’s what it is. We stuck to our guns, and I’m happy. I’m really happy, actually, to be honest, with where I am and everything.”
Christian, produced by Grammy-winner Alex da Kid, is the latest chapter in this portion of Allan’s plan.
“If you look at Hotel Allan and Roadhouse 01 as narrative albums, in which you can sense a time and a place, you can sense a setting for like a universe, I guess—like Marvel or D.C. would,” he says. “In which, you have a kid from a small town. Loves his girl, has his friends and family, but he also has a passion for writing and decides to go and leave everything behind and chase his passion but ultimately confounds the two. He just has to be selfish and dive right in to his passion. So when he goes to the woods to write his music, he writes Courtney, Harry Hard-On and Christian. And then I’ll wrap the whole thing up with Roadhouse 02, and then I’ll hopefully move on to greener pastures in my life.”
Christian has a narrative of its own outside of the role it serves within Allan’s discography. Much like Harry Hard-On was the character and Christian Slater is the real man, Harry Hard-On was Allan trying out what it felt like to make a vulnerable, full-length album while Christian is the real thing.
“It is about specifically feeling strongly about one person and then the other people in your life that come and go,” Allan says. “I guess it’s about not being there 100 percent for those people who want the same thing you want with that one person.”
That message is made extremely clear in lyrics throughout the tracklist. “Road Warrior,” the project’s raspy and passionate lead single, sees Allan in a tender light. He’s longing after a “wild” and “wicked” girl that he says he will marry. The very next song is “Chief,” where he contradicts that picturesque dream entirely by referring to himself as “Mr. Quick Fix” and “Mr. Right Now” over raucous drums and alluring R&B-laced beats.
The most radically different moment on Christian comes in a 48-second package titled “Industry.” The track features Allan speaking with a confidence and disdainful delivery that matches how Christian Slater spout into his short-wave radio in Pump Up the Volume. It’s a cautionary tale, told by someone living it:
We’re not heroes and heroines
We’re not here to save you
We do not care about you
We don’t do this for you
We’re self-obsessed, self-absorbed, self-destructive
And we are everywhere
Do not mess with us
“First, I’d like to think that song—it could be from a different perspective, right?” Allan says. “The perspective of the industry, and that’s that they don’t care about us as the artists. Or it could be from the perspective of the artists in which we don’t care about you, the fan. For me, that’s definitely a bit of both worlds. Not that I don’t care about fans, but from day one, bottom line, I need to be happy and enjoy the work most of all. Above anyone else. And I am. I’m gonna stop right there with that before I say anything else. But yeah, the industry is a circus, right? They balance on this big ass ball for people and give them a show, and a lot of people who don’t do it themselves telling you how they think they know how it should be done has always kind of baffled me a little bit. Hard to swallow that pill, but I’m working on getting better at swallowing pills.”
Growing up, Allan never envisioned that he would be a player in the music industry’s game. He was doing honest work in construction and making music on the side when all of this took off. But he is still not anybody’s pawn now that music is his life’s work. Christian is his weapon against conformity.
He made Christian over an 18-month period exactly the way he wanted to. “Road Warrior” was written in during a night spent sitting around a fire with beers in an Oregon RV park between tour stops in Portland and San Francisco. The single was then recorded at Abbey Road Studios and Electric Lady Studios alongside Lovett. He took a “very important” trip to Alaska. He holed up in Los Angeles with Alex da Kid for six weeks to record portions of the album.
Through all of that, and more, he learned something simple: “Stop and smell the roses. Enjoy the moments. Because I’ve been taking them for granted for too long, so I’m trying to put an end to that.”
Allan will spend the rest of this day sitting around and drinking beers with his friends (at a socially safe distance). You could say he’s resting on his laurels, but you would be wrong.
“Tough time,” he says. “We’re gonna get through it. Stay positive. Try and get creative. Be as creative as possible. Write. Write, write, write, write, write, write.”
He discloses he is already eight songs deep into a new project and four songs deep in another one while also five scenes into a movie script.
His roots in construction sprout through every day. He is a worker at heart. He has to be working, even though COVID-19 and its surrounding circumstances have prevented him from embarking on a spring headlining tour in the United States.
So, he’ll wait. But he’ll work while he’s waiting. This is his life’s pattern regardless of what the rest of the world is doing. “It’s no different,” he says. “I just sit here and wait to get back on the road and try not to go too, too crazy. But I also welcome craziness a little bit. It’s good for art.”
Can people expect the most mysterious man in music to emerge on the other side?
“I honestly don’t think I’m the most anything,” he says with an earnest laugh.
Christian shows him as the most Allan Rayman he has ever been.