Drummer John Allen may be the new kid in town for SR-71, but he feels right at home.
The Baltimore native, who joined the band in the closing days of its first U.S. tour in 2000, went to high school with the group’s tour manager. He also has direct connections with singer-guitarist Mitch Allan, guitarist Mark Beauchemin and bassist Jeff Reid.
“Mitch and Mark both worked with my old band when they first came into the scene, in roadie capacities,” Allen said recently. “And Jeff’s first band opened for my old band all the time. The last band I was in, I would always take my recordings to Mitch. He was a recording engineer in Baltimore and I would have him mix everything for me.
“They called and gave me the opportunity to audition; I won the gig, and it’s been sweet. Playing drums and being in a band is awesome, one of the best jobs in the world.”
It sure beats Allen’s old beat: Web designing for a government contractor. Being in the corporate world and dealing with political backstabbing just wasn’t his thing, and he had just about given up hope of having a full-time music career.
“I finally had figured out, ‘Okay, I’m probably going to have to get used to having a day job that I can deal with for the rest of my life, and maybe have to forget about the dream of playing music for a lifetime,’ ” he said. “I was ready to put it away, which is really hard to do.”
Now he’s pounding the sticks for a band whose debut RCA album, “Now You See Inside,” was certified gold in 2000 and spawned a major modern-rock hit (“Right Now”).
Their second album, “Tomorrow” (released Oct. 22), debuted at No. 138 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart in early November, and the title track is slowly climbing the modern-rock tracks chart.
“Since joining the band, it’s been a whirlwind,” Allen said. “It’s been fantastic to taste the success that this band has had. I came in during the tour right after ‘Right Now’ had been a hit. We were playing big clubs and small theaters for about a month, and then we jumped on an arena tour. Then I got to go to Germany and play. I’m getting to see the world … I mean, how cool is that?”
Allen quickly ingratiated himself with his band mates. He contributed lyrics to three tracks on “Tomorrow” – “My World,” “Truth,” “Lucky” – and wrote the words and music to a fourth track, “Broken Handed.”
“I was really lucky,” he said. “I wrote some songs and the guys liked them. I couldn’t believe it; I was really surprised.”
Mitch Allan wrote the bulk of “Truth,” but Allen helped with the song’s vivid imagery of a post-Sept. 11 New York City.
“I don’t know how to put it into words, how I feel about what happened that day,” Allen said. “But some of the lines I wrote for that song got some of my feelings out. It’s not pretty, but I felt like it conveyed that message with emotion.”
Now that the United States is bracing for a possible war with Iraq, Allen is trying to keep an open mind.
“I don’t know what to think,” he said. “I’m a musician, not a politician. I watch the news, and ever since the events of last year, I would watch CNN and Fox constantly and go back and forth to get different takes on what is happening.
“I understand we have to take care of some bad people in the world, and I think maybe we should if it’s going to help us sleep at night.”
To show support for American troops, SR-71 will make a tour stop at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., on Dec. 19.
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Probably ‘Destroyer’ by KISS. There were older kids in my neighborhood who were all into KISS, so it influenced me. Once I got my first KISS record, it was like, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do.’ ”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Judas Priest and Iron Maiden at either the Baltimore Arena or the Capitol Center, I can’t remember which, back in 1984 or ’85. I remember thinking that Rob Halford must’ve had his vocals on tape because they were so perfect.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I was a courier for like two years, and that was a suckass job. If you’re working in an office anywhere and you see a UPS guy or a FedEx guy or a local courier, be nice to him. People just don’t understand what a physical toll it is to be on the road all day.
“I owned a van, that way I could make more money hauling heavy shit. I’m only 5-foot-6 and back then I was about 130 pounds. I’d have to haul like 2,000 pounds of Xerox paper, about 20 boxes. By the time you’re on that 16th or 17th box, your back is paralyzed.”
ORDER “TOMORROW”: Click here.
ON THE WEB: www.sr-71.net.