Kris Allen’s story isn’t one of a musician and his evolution into a singer-songwriter; he’d always been one. But rather it’s the growth into a songwriter he said he always wanted to be—insanely honest and vulnerable—and it’s this quality that’s evident in his latest album and tour.
Allen, a previous pop-star American Idol Season 8 winner, released a new album titled 10 late September. The album is essentially a re-recording of songs he’d put out in the last 10 years, including fan favorites “Live Like We’re Dying” and “Wave.” It’s a more stripped-down version of each song, though, taking the production style down to nothing else but him and his acoustic guitar. Allen chose to record this album, forgoing a studio production and instead opting for bare bones sessions, an acoustic version of their original. He said he felt it cultivated honesty and intimacy.
“I have been on a quest to be insanely honest with the people that listen to my music,” he said. “Honest to what’s going on in my life. Because I think as a person changing, my life is changing, I’m changing, my personality is changing, my music is changing, but as long as I can stay honest with what I’m going through, good, bad, anything.”
The stripped-down narrative extends to his current tour, 10 Years 1 Night, as well. Rather than a concert with a full band, Allen opted for an acoustic set, one where he said he could be more engaged with his audience.
Allen said he knew what he wanted the show to look like—inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s Netflix special, where it’s just him, a piano and guitar, and he’s telling stories—and that also informed what he wanted the record to sound like.
“This is very different [than other tours]. Usually there’s a band, but purposefully I wanted to do this solo. I wanted to be able to connect with people in an intimate setting and be able to tell stories. I wanted it to be me and the crowd.”
And it’s that intimacy that made his Portland set on Oct. 23 at The Old Church Concert Hall a success.
The small crowd gathered in the dimly lit church hall and watched as Allen shared stories about his music, family, friends and career. It felt more like what hanging out with a friend might feel like—fun banter, storytelling and honest conversation.
When asked about his favorite moment in the show, he said, “When the crowd is singing, either with me or for me, there is something very joyful about that. I didn’t get into this business for people to shoot a spotlight at me. It’s always been because I just love music. I love to introduce it to people, and I love to usher people into a night of music.”
In the acoustic rendition of “Monster,” Allen stepped away from the mic, moving to the edge of the stage. He played with one hand muting the strings and let his voice carry the song through. During his set, Allen turned to the crowd for help, assigning each section of the audience a harmony. When he played the chorus, the audience began to harmonize with him, and with each repetition the crowd sang louder. These small moments felt like an embodiment of his album—a musician fully bearing the weight of his music.
In his album, there is nothing behind it, no backup vocals or mixes or a band. It’s simply the acoustic guitar and Allen. In it you can hear its flaws, it feels more authentic, like playing a song on a record player and hearing the soft static in the background. The lyrics are clear and resonant, and Allen’s voice is its driving force.
“[The album] is stripped down a lot, and I think that’s really important,” he said. “I love that connection of just the artist and their instrument. I think there’s a difference, I think there’s more attentiveness to what the song is, you can’t really mask it. I have no way of masking anything.”
Allen explained why this was different compared to other records he’d done.
“I think I spent a long time not saying things that were real to me,” he said. “I got really tired of making up songs and coming up with stuff that only felt good in my mouth. I wanted to revisit [past songs]…because [I’m] trying to connect with them and trying to reem them into what I am now—what do I sound like now and how would I do this song now.”
Allen said he chose past songs that spoke to him at the time and that people might want to hear. He picked five songs from his first album and picked one song from each of the other records. He re-recorded them in his home instead of a studio in the span of two weeks.
“I was talking with my manager and he said ‘I want you to feel really comfortable. I don’t want you to feel like you’re in someone else’s space. This needs to feel like all of you.’”
“I’ve never felt more comfortable recording music. It was just me and him and I played what I had in my head,” he recalled. “We’d stay up until 3 in the morning, eating Thai food and making music.”
During the show, Allen spoke to the audience about his time on American Idol too. He shared stories about when he had just married his wife, how she came to Los Angeles and slept on a mattress with a friend while he competed, thinking it was only temporary. Two weeks tops is what he thought, not realizing at the time what the show had in store for him.
He also recalled when Glen Hansard sent him a record with the song “Falling Slowly,” the same song Allen had performed during American Idol, as a thank you for singing it on the show. He reminisced about the music he covered on American Idol—most notably his cover of “Heartless” by Kanye West—some of which he sang mashup style as part of his set. The show wasn’t centered around nor did it linger too long on his past success on American Idol, but rather served as a mini trip down Allen’s memory lane. It was a little bit of thankful nostalgia mixed in with a looking forward to the future.
“If you read the back of the record, it’s essentially a thank you to fans: and that’s what this is, a thank you card for fans. Thank you for being here for however long that you’ve been here.”
As the show neared to an end, Allen played a new song he wrote. The song has not been released yet and does not quite have a title either, but he recalled how when he was writing it, the movie Coco seemed to always be on.
His latest album acts as precursor, a sort of thankful nod to his early success, and a preview of what’s to come. Allen said he hopes to write new songs and put out a record some time next year.
“I think that the next step is going to be even more honest. I don’t know what that sounds musically, but lyrically I just don’t care about the fluff anymore. It doesn’t make sense to me. I want to be able to stand on top of the mountain of music that I’m making and go ‘I did this’ and I’m really proud of it, even if it’s killing me.”
Bruna Cucolo contributed to this reporting.