DownTown Mystic Interview

How has your time since the release of your last album changed your outlook toward life?

When I released Standing Still in 2010 I had no expectations about anything. Little did I know what kind of adventure I was in for. lol From the start, it was the longest recording project I had ever tackled, recording 15 songs. Just prior to starting the project I had a bout of pneumonia and I was still dealing with it as I went into the studio. So physically I was not in the best of health. 4 months later the project was finished and a couple of months after that I released it.

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Standing Still would be my 1st release as an Americana Artist. The songs all fell into a Country/Roots/Rock feel and Americana was the umbrella all the categories fell under. Plus there’s an Americana Association with its own chart and own Grammy category, and I wanted to be able to focus myself and my music when marketing the release. There are so many genre specific formats at Radio, which is why I wanted to be focused on one. I had no idea what would happen at Americana Radio and being an independent artist, you kind of expect to be ignored, but you still have to try.

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Americana Radio in the US was not too receptive, but within a month of the release in 2010, I had made the Top 25 on the Euro/Americana Chart. Suddenly DownTown Mystic was on the map somewhere. And that changed my outlook quite a bit. It made me realize that there is a whole other world out there beyond the US. In 2011 I signed a Licensing Deal in Europe with a German Label, a Sub-Publishing Deal in the UK and a worldwide Digital Distribution Deal. I was ready to concentrate my main operations in Europe, all based around the release of Standing Still there.

 

Do you find yourself more of a fan of being signed to a label or forging out on your own?

Early on in my career I had a few Production Deals, which was kind of like being signed to a label in the respect that you signed on the dotted line and did not have total control of your career. The Licensing Deal that I signed in Europe gave me total control of what I created, including artwork. I licensed the masters to the record label and then it was out of my hands. I was not a fan of being signed to a label unless I could get what I wanted out of it. I was very optimistic when I signed the deal because it had the potential to be very rewarding for both parties, provided they lived up to their end. I’ve been around long enough to know if something is worthwhile. I was willing to take a chance because I’d already released Standing Still in the US and figured I had nothing to lose by having it released in Europe. Plus, I would have Major Distribution via Sony Music, so I took the shot.

 

What have you learned since Standing Still?

The release of Standing Still would consume 3 years of my life. The first 4 months was creating and recording it and the rest was dealing with the business of it. While the release sort of came and went after a few months, 8 or 9 months later I was signing a Licensing Deal for it in Europe. And that would be the start of 2 more years of dealing with the Standing Still release. I was looking forward to going over to Europe to tour and promote the cd. That was my main reason for doing the deal in the first place. That didn’t happen because the label did not live up to its end of the deal. It would take 6 months after signing the deal for the label to finally release Standing Still at the end of 2011. The reviews were fantastic! A tour was the next logical move and it didn’t happen. And that meant 2012 was a total waste of time as far as the deal was concerned.

What did I learn? Actually, quite a bit. You have to take chances sometimes that might not work out and you better be prepared if they don’t. The ironic thing about this deal was that I owed the label 1 more album, and so I went into the studio in July 2012 to start recording a new project. I was only doing it because I had an Agreement to fulfill. So here I was finishing the project in December of 2012, solely because of this deal that I had signed, and then realizing that I didn’t want to give them this new project because it was turning out to be the best thing I had ever done. I knew the label would waste another year trying to decide when and if they should release it. Been there done that! lol

The other thing that I learned since releasing Standing Still was that I couldn’t just print up another cd and release it, expecting better results. More and more the idea was circulating that it was better to release singles more often to get your music out there, instead of all at once with a cd. I’m old school and like to have physical product to look at and listen to, so I knew I would put out another cd. But this time around I had worldwide Digital Distribution with one of the largest Online Distributors, so I had some options to look at. Of course, going back to releasing singles is very old school…like the 50s all over again. lol

When I looked at the iTunes definitions for each release genre, I saw that iTunes considered a Digital Single to be 1-4 songs. Cool! By putting 3 songs on each Single Release, I could put other tracks from the upcoming cd that might not otherwise get any attention. I could also put an unreleased track for fans to keep them interested. I decided to do a few Digital Singles before releasing a full cd. I would be all digital, releasing singles and promoting them to Internet Radio. The results would prove to be interesting. But first I had to get out of my Licensing Deal with the German Label. That’s a whole other story, but I did manage to get out of the deal in June 2013.

 

Influences and playlists changed. What will long-time listeners be able to hear on the self-titled album that may be surprising.

There are some surprises in that I challenged myself with some of the writing, delving into styles I was not that familiar with, but the final results were well worth it. Where Standing Still was very consistent in how well the songs all worked together in style and sound, the new DownTown Mystic has a very different vibe. I consider it Modern Americana, despite being somewhat “old school”. The opening track In The Cold is kind of an Alt/Country/Folk song that I think got radio airplay now because of the recent success by groups like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. Stylistically I don’t think it sounds like those bands but groove-wise its right there. Then you have a bluesy rock track like the current single No Exceptions, and it plays very well next to someone like Joe Bonamassa. One critic has said “it’s a bit like the Allman Brothers doing an Exile on Main St song”. I doubt that either track would have gotten much attention back in 2010. The previous single, Way To Know, is a straight ahead rocker that would cross over and go to #1 on the Roots Music Report Alt/Rock Song Chart, which is the world’s #1 Independent Music Chart. So listeners will hear a combination of Folk, Rock, Blues, Country and everything in between on the new release.

 

How has the backing act changed in the years since Standing Still?

The current cast of characters on the new DownTown Mystic is pretty much the same as on Standing Still, with a couple of exceptions, The main rhythm section is Steve Holley on drums and Paul Page on bass. They form the rhythm section for rocker Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, so these guys know how to bring it. I really trust them when it comes to working out the grooves on the tracks. Bruce Engler is a Singer/Songwriter I’ve worked with for many years. I was playing on his Go Back album, which I also had a hand in producing, and he returned the favor helping out with his great slide guitar work. Bruce introduced me to a longtime friend of his, Justin “JJ” Jordan, who also plays a great slide guitar as well as mandolin and dobro. JJ filled in for his buddy Lance Doss, who played a bunch of different instruments on Standing Still, but was unavailable this time around.

The big addition this time was having Garry Tallent & Max Weinberg of the E Street Band for my rhythm section on Way To Know, which Garry also arranged. Not too many people can say they’ve played with a Rock’nRoll Hall of Fame Rhythm Section, so that’s one I can cross off my bucket list. lol Actually, they played on my track Hard Enough that was added to the European release of Standing Still. That one track got so much attention from the Press there that I knew I wasn’t going to leave them off of this one! lol

When I was writing No Exceptions I knew that I had to have a blues harmonica on it and luckily Nasty Ned was available. He was supposed to play on a track on Standing Still but it wasn’t in the cards. This time it was and Ned came in and killed it on the 1st take. It was great! I also have the track Breathe that I cut with The Discontent, a modern rock band that I was producing and writing with. I’d worked with their drummer Tommy Mastro in the studio on a bunch of tracks, including Lost & Found, which is just the 2 of us. He had moved down to Nashville and I had been thinking about calling him to maybe put something together live, when I got a call saying that Tommy had ALS, which is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I couldn’t believe it. They called Lou Gehrig of the NY Yankees, the “Iron Horse” and that’s how I would describe Tommy. You just can’t get your mind around how someone that strong and healthy could come down with such a horrible disease that saps all the energy and function out of the muscles. I still can’t fathom it. Please send Tommy some love: http://togetherfortommy.com/

The last and certainly not least character from this cast is also the most important one…my Co-Producer and Engineer, Ben Elliott. We’ve been working together for almost 20 years now and he’s really the Key Man here. Ben keeps getting better with age, having worked with such Rock icons like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton to name two. He’s the man behind the sterling sound of Standing Still and DownTown Mystic.

Your star has shined a lot brighter since the last time we have talked. Tell us why the average NeuFutur reader may be familiar with your music.

While the music business has been in a freefall for a number of years, it’s made it much harder for artists and musicians to earn a living. CD sales and even downloads have taken hits and ask anyone about the royalties from Streaming. Besides touring, the best income source has been from Sync Licensing music for TV and Films. I got started about 4 years ago and my music has been heard on The Voice on NBC, American Pickers on The History Channel, The Carrie Diaries on The CW and various shows on MTV, USA, Lifetime and other cable outlets. The shows get shown around the world. I think I’ve been heard in 8 or 9 countries now. The thing about Sync Licensing on TV is that the music is almost subliminal in the background. So millions of people watching The Voice heard the instrumental track of Way To Know probably without knowing it. This made me realize that releasing Way To Know as a Single might tap into people’s unconscious. They might think they were familiar with the song if they heard it on the radio. So your average NeuFutur reader has probably already heard Way to Know and doesn’t know it. lol They’re like sleeper cells waiting to be activated! LOL

 

In the interim, you have had considerable online airplay, in Europe, and in North America. What differences have you seen between these audiences? How has support been from each of those regions?

As I was saying earlier, I decided that I would put out Digital Singles before I would release a cd. I found a company that would promote the single to stations on the Internet around the world. The 1st single got around 400 stations globally to play it. The 2nd single doubled that and the 3rd single hit the jackpot, getting 8000 stations, with a possibility of up to 12,000 stations! Now that trumps anything I had previously done considerably. This included some big companies in Europe and Asia that have in-store play at over 6,000 stations worldwide. This was totally new and amazing to me. I had discovered an alternative to the traditional radio stations here in the US. This was really a big confidence booster for me, in that, when I finally committed to release the cd and promote it to Americana Radio here, I already knew Radio had played me around the world.

Now the support I get at Radio in Europe is very strong. I find that the DJs are old school with 20+ years in Radio, and they are real music heads. I feel like they really get inside the music. While here in the US, I find there’s really only a handful of people who are really interested in discovering new music to play. The years of the major labels with their promo people dominating the stations have made for a more business-like structure for programmers. The system was designed to keep Indies out. Americana Radio is really a hybrid type of format where there’s a mix of AAA stations that have some Americana programming. There are more Indie Labels at Americana Radio than Majors, but they act the same way the Majors used to. They protect their turf and you can’t blame them.

This time around at Americana Radio would prove to be very successful for DownTown Mystic. Despite being away for more than 3 years, we charted on the AMA Radio Charts from the 1st day of release, breaking into the Top 100 and ultimately the Top 50 in Spins. 6 months later, DownTown Mystic is still on the charts! But having said that, we were only added on 12 playlists and still managed to hold our own, sometimes getting more spins than acts with twice as many stations than we had. But the stations that played us had tested our songs with their audience and the results they got back was very positive, so they added us knowing DownTown Mystic was reacting well with their listeners. Now while we were added on 12 stations, there were more stations that played us, but it doesn’t show up in the spins on the charts. On one hand you think, my music’s already been played on 8000 stations around the world, and on the other hand you think, I’m getting serious airplay on half a dozen stations in the US. Which means more? lol

I guess it’s all relative. They say that all Radio is local, meaning that you’re affected by what you hear. DownTown Mystic might be getting played on 8000 stations around the world, but we’re not there to hear it. It has more impact being here in the US, especially when you’ve been on the charts for 6 months. That has far more meaning.

 

What do you still want to do with music that you have not yet committed to recording?

I would very much like to tour. It’s the one thing I haven’t gotten to do and I won’t do it unless I have the support that’s necessary. I can be a one man wrecking crew, but without an agent or promoters to help, there’s only so much I can do. I’m involved with recording for sync licensing and recording for DownTown Mystic, and then doing the PR is a full time job in itself. If I was back in my 20s, I’d be on the road sleeping on floors. But for the band I would want to take out on the road, those days are over. There probably isn’t another band around that has as many up-tempo songs as DownTown Mystic. So a set of music will be intense and I need great players to do that, and great players need to be paid. I figure the opportunity will present itself at the right time with the right people to make it happen.

The only live show that DownTown Mystic has ever played was back in December of 2010 when we shot videos of 5 songs live for Alternate Root TV. The videos are on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/DowntownMystic1 and that’s the only place you can see us live. I’m wearing my famous vest. lol And we did it without any rehearsals prior to filming, so you can understand just how good the players are that are performing with me.

 

How can individuals contact you or listen to your music?

I can be reached here: http://about.me/robert_allen

Listen here: http://www.airplaydirect.com/music/downtownmystic/

DownTown Mystic is available on iTunes: https://t.co/4szbdarAY7
The DownTown Mystic CD is available on Amazon.com: http://t.co/E579yRA3xh
CD Baby: http://t.co/lJG7sU8SAg

 

Do you have any final thoughts?

Yes, one final thing. There’s been this impression by some critics that DownTown Mystic is to be filed under “classic rock”. Some of this stems from the promo material using the catchphrase “vintage yet modern”, which is interpreted as meaning “retro” or “classic”. We get compared to classic rock acts all the time because of our influences but I think it’s kind of lazy to then call us classic rock. We may use some retro sounds and styles but just listen and tell me what other time this music would have been heard. It’s totally now and there aren’t too many Americana bands that can rock as hard as DownTown Mystic…and I don’t mean as hard as classic rock! LOL

Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / neufutur.com since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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