Highway Song: A Conversation with The Vegabonds’ Daniel Allen

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Michael Weintrob

Daniel Allen – lead vocalist of The Vegabonds – has an easygoing demeanor considering that his band is playing in Wisconsin on the night of our conversation and its van is being repaired in Kentucky that same day. Asking if he would like to reschedule our call in light of the aggravation, he just laughs and says it’s a good time to talk as he is just sitting. Somehow this mental picture befits a band that tours as incessantly as The Vegabonds. Comprised of Alabama natives and current Nashville residents, the quintet released its fifth album, V (Blue Elan Records), in January. With a style reflecting the timeless sounds of Tom Petty and The Allman Brothers Band, The Vegabonds are reverent and relevant at the same time. On Saturday, August 10, the band will perform at Zydeco’s Jam in the Ham Festival. While patiently waiting at the dealership in Kentucky, Allen weighs in on the band’s new album, songwriting and today’s musical climate in general.

Birmingham Stages: Daniel, thanks for your time. We are enjoying the new album, though I assume you have been living with these songs for quite a while.

Daniel Allen: Actually, I was just thinking about that – it’s funny you said that. One of the songs on the album – it’s actually the last track called “Help Is On The Way” – I was thinking about how long ago we wrote that one and it was probably written in 2013, which is crazy to me.

Birmingham Stages: Are the songs on V newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Allen: Most of them are new. “Help Is On the Way” is an older song, but it’s the first one we went to and the first one we recorded for this album – that kind of got the ball rolling. The first track on the album called “Partyin’ With Strangers” – we released that as a single about a year and four months before the record came out. We’ve been playing these songs live for probably a year and a half before the record came out.

Birmingham Stages: Why do you think “Help Is On The Way” resurfaced after so many years?

Allen: I think lyrically it hit us in a certain way. It’s basically talking about how in 2008 and 2009 the whole market crashed. It touched a lot of people in Alabama and it touched my family personally. My dad had a building materials business that kind of went under because the housing market was crap. That’s basically what the song is about – going through that situation personally and as a country as well. It touched everybody.

Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate? Some artists applaud avenues such as iTunes, Youtube, satellite radio and Spotify. Others say the current setup makes it difficult to be found among the crowd.

Allen: I do feel the same way about both of those statements. It’s great that you can put out a single or an album and somebody in Japan can listen to it as soon as you put it out. I think that’s crazy and it’s awesome. But at the same time, bands on our level aren’t making money off records anymore. Where we find [technology] beneficial is on the touring side which is what we do year-round. It’s easy for people to listen to music which brings them out to the shows, which in turn enables us to connect to them a lot easier. I know how it was in the older days, but I wasn’t doing music then and this is the only way I know. Apple Music and Spotify are great avenues to get your music out there and we use them as tools for touring. It’s shortened attention spans for people because there is so much music out there. To me, it’s hard to get hooked on an album these days because there’s so much content out there. You have to figure out how to reach people.

Birmingham Stages: How does your writing process work? Is there a set routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

Allen: I’m writing all the time, even on the road. I’m jotting down notes and lines and throwing them in my phone or my notebook. When I get home, I get my son off to daycare and then I’m sitting down writing songs. It’s almost like I can’t turn it off.

The Vegabonds will perform at Zydeco’s Jam in the Ham on Saturday, August 10. Advance tickets to the 18+ event are $15 and can be purchased at www.zydecobirmingham.com.