Local soul-pop singer Lex Allen keeps his music and mission movin'
Keep it movin', yah beauts.
That's how Milwaukee musician Lex Allen signs a majority of his Facebook posts, a callout to the single he released last fall, "Keep It Movin." But while he certainly keeps the crowd moving with his soul serenades and playful – and often poignant – pop, the credo extends well off the stage for Allen too, working not only as a dance floor theme but also therapy after a tough year of personal struggles, including the death of his mother.
Allen wears his emotions on his sleeves – as anyone who knows him or has seen the Vogue-ready, occasionally hamstring-defying photos from his upcoming album, the man knows style – but possibly even more so in his songs. Shortly after the soul-massaging of "Keep It Movin," he released "Mamas Boy," a raw and real tribute to his mother dropped almost a year after her passing. The title of his next single, coming off his upcoming, two years in the making album "Table 7 For Sinners & Saints"? "Never Look Back."
The past year has been certainly a journey for the singer – one traced with honesty, jubilation and uplift in his music, both out and to come this summer ("Never Look Back" hits May 4). That path takes him now to the Colectivo Back Room, where he'll perform for Arte Para Todos at 8 p.m. Sunday night. Before then, we talked with Allen about the new record and keepin' it movin'.
OnMilwaukee: Where does the name come from on the new album?
Lex Allen: So "Table 7" comes from I come from a huge family. But at 7 o'clock was dinner, and when you were at dinner, you said everything you needed to say. No holds barred. That was my family in general; you pretty much expressed yourself, evaluated it by everyone else and then you moved past it. So "Table 7" comes from the connectivity and the openness of communication and the openness of sharing yourself.
The seven part has a lot to do with a lot of things. You've got your seven deadly sins and your seven chakras, so we played with that concept a lot. So that's going to be a whole little photo book that comes with the album as well.
What was the process like? I mean, you went out to L.A.
A surprise all the time. I was working with Seann Bowe – he was with Mechanical Kids back in the day – and Steven Keith, he's in the DJ group Antics right now. I was working with him, and he was just A1, pulling a song out of you that you didn't even know was there or just asking you to be an honest artist. But the process was really chill out there. I'd go there, and I'd be in the studio from anywhere from like 7 until sometimes, like, ten hours – and then we wouldn't even start recording until the last three.
We got some crazy stuff, really out of the box, but still in the realm of who I am. Because in music, I had this image of myself that I felt I needed to portray, and it was literally stopping me from creating things I wanted to. I was, like, the world is already pigeon-holing me; why the hell would I do that? It was just that creative release.
I want to go back to what you were saying about getting the honesty out of you. Was there a particular song that sticks out to you for that?
"Mamas Boy." That one was … I've never had such an emotional breakdown in the studio ever in my life. Just the tears – and then we took a break, and everyone was, "We should leave you," (laughs) but in the nicest way. They were, like, we're going to leave you here for a moment. So it was press play and I'm just in there bawling, but it got the best song out, the best track out, the best feeling. And hearing it afterwards and hearing what other people had to say, like "Damn, you could really feel the emotion behind it," and I was like, "That's what was needed."
We got some fun stuff too; I've got this song "Venus and Serena" (laughs). I just like playing around. Because I grew up listening to a lot of pop music, but I also listened to heavy R&B, old school country music, Frank Sinatra, anything. I feel that's another one of those societal things, listening to one kind of music. Of course we're gonna have our preferences, but come on, there's one country song that one hip-hop head would like, and there's one hip-hop song a country head would like. It's all about these perceptions of who we're supposed to be.
This is for Arte Para Todos, so was there a music teacher or art class…
Mrs. Kartz! I actually last year, for Arte Para Todos, I got to go back to my old high school, and she was there. And I praised her like no other. Because she was a hard-ass. She was like kicking me out of choir (laughs).
Why'd you get kicked out of choir?
I was a bad-ass student. I like to say I was ahead of my time (laughs). But for that, it forced me to do other things. And she was fun. She had direction. She let you go into her classroom for your lunch hour. She was that kind of teacher. And we put on some really cool concerts.
Going back to the new album, what were your inspirations going into it – both personal and musical?
Personally, it was getting over just a lot of big changes in my life – like losing my mother, relationships – and getting over the self-doubt. Because all this sh*t came at once.
When it rains, it pours.
Unless you have a really nice umbrella – and I was equipped with a really, really nice umbrella that was the teachings of my life with my family. We were actually taught, like, everyone's going to die. When it's unexpected like that, it just takes a second of "OK, I wasn't reading for this, but I was taught for this. Give me about a year to sulk and be an artist and put everything into that." It was really going through some sh*t, but I'm glad that I have friends and family that were really great.
But it went from that to finding that joy and bliss and people that make me happy and fulfill me – and I fulfill them in some way, I would hope. But it was definitely that moment I had to find within myself that was like, "If you don't get up and do sh*t now, you're never going to do a thing."
So realizing that and going back out to California, that saved my life, having that outlet and being able to leave and really process myself and where I was mentally, spiritually, in my career. Because a lot of sh*t fell off to the wayside, to be honest. But I got it back, and that, to me, is the most important thing. Nobody around me let anything around me sit.
I got really passive with everything and really just felt doubtful about my abilities, and then I was like, "Wait, I'm Lex Allen; f*ck that." I did not come this far. And I wouldn't be doing anyone else a service if I just let all this sh*t fall to the wayside. So that was a big-ass motivation to get my sh*t together, get this project together, get some songs out, make yourself happy. I put out "Keep It Movin," and I knew that wasn't the best thing I've put out, but it was more of a track for me.
Yeah, very much so. Finding and realizing that your feet have to hit the pavement and go. So it was getting over that.
And a lot of the tracks are inspired by a lot of my favorite artists growing up and making it fresh. I was inspired by Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson. I was inspired by British house music (laughs). There was nothing that was off-limits to me, because I feel like when you blend it well, when you've got a good blender, you might as well throw some sh*t in there.
That was thing: just taking the beautiful model that was laid out before, pulling elements from the old-school soul and pop music, and finding a perfect blend for it in today's sound. That's what we did. We did that.
And I want to tell a story, a story about truly letting go. That and embracing everything that comes in between in the story: the good and the bad. You have to allow yourself to have those moments and know that those moments are a part of life and it doesn't make you a good or bad person. It just makes you you. You just have to learn to not let the experience become your whole life. So that's what I want to help people get through and really see themselves and enjoy themselves. Like, enjoy you. Enjoy yourself on a daily basis. Wake up and look in the mirror and say, "B*tch, you fabulous."
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