Interview Rock poet unplugs for
  Catskill performance
Reprinted from:

Shadow plans to push envelope

Daily Freeman By Dan Hudak

Allen Shadow, an accomplished poet turned full-time musician, will be performing live and unplugged at the Catskill Gallery of the Greene County Council on the Arts on Saturday, at 6 p.m. I recently sat down with him to discuss his inspirations, the music industry, and his new album, "King Kong Serenade", a tribute to New York City completed before Sept. 11th.

Preview: What exactly is a rock poet?

Shadow: Well, I've always wanted to be able to marry my voice as a poet with music, and always saw challenges in that. My work as a poet was free verse, not much rhyming, with lines occasionally having different lengths. Thinking as a musician, you recognize inherent music in the lines. I wanted to try and maintain the music of the language. Many times artists allow the music to drown out the words (and therefore the message), of their song. I didn't want the music to compete with the words;I wanted the music and poetry to work together. I feel when I'm writing this material and performing it there's a true sense of my poetic voice being maintained--it's a little offbeat and different, and it's not spoken words, it's singing.

Preview: How does the 'poetry' differ from regular song lyrics?

Shadow: Poetry when you're writing takes more risks than regular song writing. Traditional songs make you try to say a lot in two lines. When writing poetry, you allow yourself to get more lost, and maybe not try to say too much in limited space. Poetry is more free, you're not watching yourself. It's OK to be confused and lost, and then come back, piece it together, find the core of the piece, and discover it's less tied up in the finished product than ordinary song lyrics. Free verse poets come up with things that maybe are a little more out there than most song lyrics-perhaps more startling, thought provoking, maybe not even understandable. "Beck," for example, has a lot of imagery, and it doesn't always make complete sense. Byt you always know the overall effect of the song.

Preview: You started your career as a poet, and a successful one at that. What inspired you to put your words to music? How long have you been a musician?

Shadow: I was a poet through high school and college, studying with various poets. I was playing acoustic guitar and singing a Capella at the same time. Later on, as I was working on the poetry career, I was trying to (as they say) define my voice as a writer. At the same time I was playing music the whole time, broadening my horizons there. I always wanted to write music, and complicated music. Obviously, that was rather difficult. But at one point I decided to write a simple song, and I loved it. I was hooked. After about 10 years of songwriting in Nashville, I got bored with the formula of commercial songwriting. I decided to work on my own stuff, which is what I did with the "King Kong Serenade" project. It's the anti-Nashviulle, in many ways. I've always been a New Yorker, and wrote about New York and brought music to it. It was my passion, and now I could do the more complicated songs I've always wanted to. It took about four years, but it's finally being released, on my own label, Blue City Records.

Preview: Who has inspired you as a poet? Musician?

Shadow: Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Dylan I worked with, and Springsteen always had a sense of real life in his work, which is familiar with my work. Rickie Lee Jones, who was big in the 70's and 80's. William Carlos Williams as a poet, Dylan Thomas because they said he 'leaned on language, pushing it,' which is what I also try to do.

Preview: Is your upcoming unplugged show different than what people could expect from your album?

Shadow: I recorded the album with a full band, all of which have extensive experience as musicians, and fit my style very well. The show will be the same material, but different obviously. I'll have a percussionist with me. There's more presence to the work when it's unplugged, the work can breathe more than it can on CD. The impact comes from the live performance that is unlike anything that can be recorded.

Preview: You've been quoted as saying that you "hope the kind of work you're doing can be part of the development of rock and roll." How do you see your music having a positive affect of rock and roll?

Shadow: People want to hear things that are different, and maybe a little more interesting that what there is in pop music. A lot of performers talk a lot about how tight a grip the industry has on what people are hearing. Five music companies control what is heard throughout the world really. There's no easy way for the listener to find the new artist. Eventually, there are going to be things developed on the Internet that will make it easier for people to search out new music according to their tastes, at which point bands can be more independent and creative, not held down by music companies. I want to push the envelope of the industry, and hope a few of the things I do are of interest to people and catch on.


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