Best known as the drummer for Def Leppard, Rick Allen recently took an artistic swing in another creative direction. Instead of banging away with a pair of wooden drumsticks, he picked up some lightsticks and in place of sound he gave birth to colorful images, a process that invigorated his passion. With eleven of his pieces now on display at his website, Allen recently took MY ROOTS on a journey through his art-inspired beginnings just prior to the start of Def Leppard’s current tour with Poison and Lita Ford.How did you discover that you could create this new kind of art with your drums?
Cory Danziger and Ravi Dosaj with SceneFour approached me with this idea that instead of using paintbrushes we could use lightsticks to create visual art. So we quite literally turned rhythm into a visual, into a light, and it was wonderful to be able to use the air as a canvas, as it were. We set up in my studio, turned all the lights off and they gave me these lightsticks to play with. It was so profound when I actually saw the finished result. Being able to capture entire performances really in one frame using long-exposure photography and being able to reveal these sort of hidden worlds, these hidden realms, things that I knew existed in my imagination, but imagery that I’d never really brought into this reality as it were.Were you amazed when you first saw what was happening?
I was because immediately I recognized the style and the hidden realms. It was almost like a window into the soul. It was like looking at all the things that I’m passionate about and it was lovely to actually bring that into this reality in Technicolor.How many pieces did you create?
We did about eleven pieces and we picked the ones that were our favorites. Then we held a few back and then released the second part of the collection quite recently. The response has been insane. You know, there was a certain amount of fear around expressing myself in a new way, pushing outside the boundary of music. But I really believe that art is interchangeable. If you can play an instrument, you can probably paint or you can probably cook or you could probably write. I really believe that art is interchangeable in that way and I think we can express ourselves in so many different ways. So it was really, really exciting for me to be able to express myself in this way and have people really connect to it.
Was it easy to title them?
Very easy. Electric Bird/The Raven, that was a very easy one because of the Raven Drum Foundation. With Wild Horse Spirit, I had been working with a completely starving, sort of broke filmmaker that makes documentary films and he was making these films about the plight of the wild horses and he said, “Well, I can’t afford to pay you any money for the music but could I use some of your music?” And I said, “Yeah, use it and see how it goes.” Anyway, he’s becoming very successful, his message is very clear and a lot of people in Washington are starting to get the message about the terrible things that are happening to our wild horses. Just another example of something that I am passionate about.Wild Horse Spirit really spoke to me personally. It has such a freedom and spirit to it, like you’re rushing towards something exciting. But I’m not an art expert by any means.
You know, I really appreciate you saying that. There really is no right or wrong answer. When you are looking at a piece of art, I think it’s fantastic that everybody views it based on their own unique perspective and I think that’s a beautiful thing. Just because I named something that reminds me of a part of myself, it doesn’t mean it can’t remind somebody else or that they can’t get something out of that that is completely unique to them. Just like if you listen to the same song as me, your interpretation of the song may be completely different based on your life experience. I love art for that. It’s wonderful because it’s open to interpretation.Do you have a favorite piece?
Shape Shifter was originally, believe it or not, NOT my favorite. I wasn’t quite sure about it. I really didn’t know what to do with it and then Ravi from SceneFour, the art director, said, “Well, let’s start messing around with some colors.” So I tried some things at home and he tried some things and once we started to change the color and the contrast, I realized that I really liked it and in reality we are shape shifters because we’re different people today based on our experiences of yesterday. It’s wonderful to be able to see yourself, to experience yourself in new ways, literally from moment to moment. And that’s what that piece did for me. I realized there were so many different aspects to that piece. You know, I did four or five different versions of it and I liked all of them.Were you always artistic as a child? Or was music your only creative outlet?
I remember just getting paint everywhere (laughs). It was actually pretty intense. It was really music that ignited my passion but as I said before, I really feel like art is interchangeable. You can be good in other areas if you’re artistic in one area. Maybe it was just me remembering a part of myself that was passionate about color and expression. It was in there somewhere, obviously. Was your family artistic in any way?
My father was an avid music collector. He was always playing new stuff to me. I remember him playing Glenn Miller to me when I was a kid. Then he introduced me to like Elton John and Queen. He was really instrumental in that part of my development. My brother was really artistic. The family, in one way or another, expressed themselves in different ways so it was a very healthy environment in that way for me to grow up in.Where did you grow up, Rick?
I grew up right in the middle of England, close to a city called Sheffield. The sort of outlying areas were very rural so I got a good sense of wilderness, just beautiful countryside. That was very powerful and that really stuck with me.You also have an interest in photography. What do you favor most: shooting photographs or collecting them?
Collecting photographs, yes. I need to put more of it up on the walls, that’s the problem (laughs). I tend to hoard thousands of photographs and it would be really good of me to put them up on the wall. And one of the reasons why I worked with SceneFour was because they presented to me a way to go from start to finish with this project as opposed to just taking pictures and then not knowing what to do with them (laughs). Are your children into art? Have you passed this on to them?
Yeah, my eldest daughter, she is just about to become fifteen and she’s really into dance. She has been dancing since she was about three. She can play drums in a pretty proficient way but really her passion is dance. Academically, I don’t know where she gets her brains from (laughs) but she’s really smart. But I guess anybody would say that about their own kids. But we do the best we can with the tools that we’ve been given.Where can people view these pieces of artwork?
It’s really just on www.rickallenart.com. We realized that was the best way of presenting them for now. It’s very intimate for people.Is this something you want to do again?
I would love to. I was a little afraid at first of doing something outside the boundaries of music but now that I’ve done it it’s like, wow, I really love this, this is fantastic. It’s a really nice way to express myself and a wonderful way for people to connect with it, which is very exciting for me, for people to connect with the art just as much as they do with the music.I asked Phil Collen this question earlier this year: When you look at something like the Ross Halfin book of photographs that he put together about Def Leppard, does it hit you that you’ve actually been in this business for as long as you have and been as successful as you have?
Yeah but it’s not until you see it; it’s kind of in a blink of an eye. Time just seems to disappear, to just go so quickly. So when you see a collection of moments in time together like that, it kind of makes you realize how precious all those moments are and how nice it is to be able to look back and really be grateful for that.There is one photograph in the book of Def Leppard with Ozzy Osbourne’s band and you’re standing next to Randy Rhoads. Is there anything you can share about him?
He really was an amazing guitar player and I didn’t know him that well. He was actually quite shy but again he inspired through what he did, through his talent and it was very pure. Just to be able to be around that and be inspired and listen to how damn good he was. He is probably inspiring many up & coming musicians still today.Are you ready to go back on tour again?
I never am until I’m on the plane and I don’t have a choice (laughs). You know, I really enjoy being around the family.When you had your accident, having that strong connection with your family and with the guys in the band, was that the strength you used to keep going?
I think, yes. At that time there was a strong bond and I would hope that really continues. It is the driving force behind why we do this, why we make music together. I’m just very thankful for them and for my family and the people that reached out to me from all walks of life from all over the globe. I think collectibly they gave me the inspiration to want to go on.That must feel really good because some people don’t have that.
No, they don’t and if you have that support system in place it really does help. I didn’t necessarily realize that I had that support system in place until I went through something so terrible. But in reality, even that’s become a blessing – my experience of it and being able to inspire others. It’s wonderful to find that resiliency inside yourself and just be inspired again and a lot of the work I do with the Wounded Warrior Project and that kind of thing and being able to take my life experience and sort of pull somebody up and then be able to help them through whatever they’re going through.Grace Potter has just released her most mature album to date with her band The Nocturnals and she took time recently to talk with MY ROOTS about her organic beginnings, her love for feathers, an unusual encounter with Iggy Pop, and why an old-school Flying V is the sexiest guitar out there.