Dave Allen was a founding member of landmark British post-punk group Gang of Four (along with vocalist Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, and drummer Hugo Burnham), and his highly agitated funk bass lines are essential to the indelible appeal of the band's classic material, 1979's Entertainment! and 1981's Solid Gold. Allen left the band in 1982, and has since settled in Portland, where he works at boutique ad agency NORTH and heads the creative concern Pampelmoose (not to be confused with the insufferably twee Hyundai hawkers). He rejoined Gang of Four for their invigorating and celebrated 2005 reunion tour and for the subsequent re-recording of older material Return the Gift (a move that supposedly improved upon the low recording quality of the originals while also wresting royalty money away from EMI). Allen quit the band again in 2008 (after they'd fired Burnham) amid conflicts about distribution strategies and future songwriting credits.
I interviewed him last week, in the course of writing a review of Gang of Four's new album, Content, for another publication, to ask him why he'd quit and what he thought of the album King and Gill recorded without him. (Gang of Four, sans Allen, perform tonight at the Showbox. And, for fairness, you can find a recent [bizarrely titled] interview with frontman-turned-ad exec King here.)
SW: So, first, obviously, and if you're not tired of explaining it, why aren't you part of the band for this album?
Allen: We simply disagreed over the idea of new material and how it should be released. Once the idea of a CD came up, I became disillusioned instantly. If we had broken the mold (post-punk, etc.) with the release of Entertainment! in 1979, so I believed that the right thing to do was break the mold again by releasing new music in a different way. For example, raw, live footage of the band in the rehearsal room released only on YouTube. Or just for free, as we were getting paid really well for our live shows.
As I told the author Rick Moody in an interview recently: I don't believe the world needs an album of new music from an entity called Gang of Four, and I say that with great respect for Jon and Andy. It's been six years since we originally reformed and six years in the music industry, and on the Web, is a lifetime. For two years we had a fleeting window of opportunity where we could have once again produced something of importance. Because of all the goodwill surrounding the comeback of the band with the original lineup, we had another moment in time where we could have had a large impact on the popular music world. In my opinion, we missed that opportunity.
Here's the whole interview http://iamdaveallen.com/thinking/2011/1/14/rick-moody-and-me-a-conversation.html
A lot of your leaving seems to hinge on your ideas about how music distribution--could you elaborate briefly?
I presume you mean my thoughts about music distribution? I wrote back in 2009 about the end of the "container" where the CD is the "container." The Internet broke the music business' stranglehold on artists, so for the first time in recording history they are free of certain technological yokes. Unfortunately, musicians seem to be having a hard time grasping the power of the Internet beyond social media.
Do you find it amusing that the album is called Content, given that your disagreements were apparently about the media for said material?
I don't have an opinion about the title. I do have an opinion about the actual music content.
I understand you were around for some of the songwriting behind the new album, no? How involved were you in what's made it onto the record? Were there any signs at that time that made you not want to stay involved?
I was around for some of the songwriting, some of which has made it on to the album without credit. At the time no decision had been made to release new material, so I wasn't thinking of leaving because of that. I did think, that after we foolishly fired Hugo, the reunion period was officially over. Then I got to thinking that I didn't want to continue in what may have been seen as a lukewarm project. My work as a Digital Strategist is very fulfilling, and I wanted to get back to it. I noticed in an interview that Jon had said I "wanted to spend more time with my family," but given they don't live with me anymore, that's a bit of a stretch.
You also quit the band in the early '80s, just after the sort of "classic" run--what were your reasons then?
Drugs and exhaustion.
Was there something more appealing to you about playing/re-recording the classic material than the idea of making a new album?
The original lineup getting back together and performing the old material was almost miraculous--by that I mean the fact that we could actually still perform with such energy. And that lineup was built to play that material. We had a great time touring countries we'd never played in originally, playing to thousands of fans around the world. There's always an end point to reunion tours.
What do you think of the record?
I think the new Brian Eno album has some fantastic moments, and the The Fall's Your Future Our Clutter is a masterpiece. On my drive down to the U of O in Eugene, where I teach a digital brand strategy class every week, I punish the car stereo with Sleigh Bells and Mad Lib . . . you get my drift?
Hear anything in it you'd want to place in an ad?
All of our most recent licensing opportunities have been for one original song--"Natural's Not In It." Maybe there'll be a switch to some of the new stuff, who knows?
Your thoughts about content, distribution, etc., lead me to wonder: Are you at all paying attention to acts like Lil B and Odd Future, both young up-and-coming outfits that are giving tons music away for free either as an end business strategy or as (presumably) loss leaders for future live performance (and other) revenues? is this the sort of thing you'd like to be seeing more of?
Yes, I'm keeping an eye on the young up-and-comers who are doing it right. My criticism is with the more established bands who keep signing label deals and knocking out CDs as usual. Music is the loss leader--as I've said for years now, bands are in the T-shirt business and the concert business . . . that's how they'll make money.
Did you see my thoughts on the Decemberists' first-week sales numbers? http://www.north.com/html/index.php/latest/the-decemberists-and-the-roi-of-social-networking/
Which makes me wonder, when you get to #1 on Billboard with 96,000 sales a la the Decemberists, then what do sales look like at number 200? Gang of Four never even made it into the top 200.