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Rick Allen – From The Stage To The Canvas

Rick Allen

By Lori Smerilson Carson | Photos Larry Marano

Since their first show in the U.S. when they hit the stage with their pitch perfect rock anthem “Hello America”, Def Leppard have been creating metal masterpieces that are still going strong. These extraordinarily talented musicians have sold over 100 million records and have been the recipients of Double Platinum, Triple Platinum and Diamond certifications with LP’s High ‘n’ Dry (released in 1981), ADRENALIZE (released in 1992) and PYROMANIA (released in 1983), not to mention their highest selling record Hysteria (released in 1987) which sold over 30 million copies.

Drummer Rick Allen also has displayed another incredible talent of his, creating outstanding artwork which Florida fans had the opportunity to experience Friday December 9th at the Wentworth Gallery at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Saturday December 10th at the Wentworth Gallery at Boca Raton Town Center Mall and Sunday December 11th at the Wentworth Gallery at Las Olas.

Catching up with Allen in the midst of a very busy schedule and just prior to his art show, he revealed some details about the inspirations for his work, his music career, his foundation, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: You are about to have another presentation at the Wentworth Galleries. What drew you into art? Your artwork is amazing!
Rick Allen: Oh, cool I appreciate that. I started as a kid. I mean, I loved just getting paint everywhere. Probably more on me and the floor, but it took me to a place that it reminds me of the same place I go when I play music. It really keeps me in the moment and I found it to be really, really therapeutic. So, it was more for selfish reasons really, but my youngest daughter, she just turned twelve and it wasn’t very long before the two of us started painting together.

SFL Music: Oh, nice!
Allen: Yeah, so it kind of reignited my passion for painting again. I started young and then I discovered music and you know, the power of music. Then I started getting into photography and then as I said, my youngest daughter, she really got me into painting again. So, yeah, I love it! It’s way less physical than playing drums, that’s for sure.

SFL Music: I’ve seen you play several times. That is quite a workout!
Allen: Yeah, it is!

SFL Music: When I interviewed you years ago in New York, you did the tourist thing. You did the World Trade Center and you were shopping and bought a new camera that you were impressed with the autofocus. What got you into photography?
Allen: Well, the photography came around about the same time I was discovering playing a musical instrument. Around about ten years old. My grandfather actually gave me my first camera and it was just a wonderful way to, I don’t know, just document my life, and that’s become even more apparent as I get older. It’s such a wonderful friend that I can take with me wherever I go on the planet, even if it’s just purely from a personal stand point you know, documenting all the places that I’ve been. Then I realized that the photography was a great way for me to kind of plan out what I’d like to do when I get home. So, that really started to play into how I would prep for different, sort of visual art.

SFL Music: What made you choose music for a career?
Allen: Well, my best friend, he got a guitar for Christmas and I was really quite envious you know, the fact that he got this guitar. So, I went home and the first thing I asked was, can I get a drum kit? Me and John, we want to form a band (he chuckled). The initial answer was no because we didn’t have very much money. I grew up really, sort of working class and they sort of came back to me. They could see I was really passionate about this, about playing music. Even though I wasn’t very good, but one of the first things they said was, “well if you go for lessons, then at least it’s something you’ll be able to get good at. You’re not just gonna say, oh I don’t want to do this anymore.” That, and then doing odd jobs around the house and around the neighborhood. I got a drum kit on layaway. I think I got my first drum kit when I was like probably about ten years old. Then myself and my friend John, we formed a band. We got a couple of other friends involved, and then I was playing with local bands right up ‘til I joined Def Leppard which was around about my fifteenth birthday. So, it’s been quite a journey.

SFL Music: What would you say is the secret to Def Leppard’s longevity and success?
Allen: I think just great songs and also just realizing how strong we are as a team. The idea that we all know our place. We know what our roles are within the band, and I would hope that they think I add something to the band that is really good and again, just really great songs. These songs, they take on a whole life of their own when you play them in front of an audience. You know, these are peoples’ coming of age moments that they’re remembering from the first time they did this or that or whatever. So, there’s a magic that happens. There’s an energy that surrounds the music and I think that’s why people keep coming back. They want more.

SFL Music: Is there anything new coming up with the band?
Allen: There’s always new stuff going on, even if it’s something we don’t talk about. There’s always new music on the go. And then in the not-too-distant future, we’re gonna take Mötley Crüe South of the Border and I think that’s the next thing on the cards for Def Leppard. Then at some point I’m sure during next year, we’re probably going to be doing a European and English tour and hopefully we get to go back to Japan and Australia and New Zealand. So, my next year is shaping up to be busy.

SFL Music: Typically, you show your artwork in South Florida. Are there any other showings elsewhere?
Allen: They have quite a few galleries around the country. They don’t have enough galleries. I wish they had more galleries, but one of the things that I’ve really enjoyed doing is, I started going out on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, but this year it fell in an odd sort of place, so I can’t do it this year which I’m really quite disappointed. That was the closest thing to sort of a pop-up show where the gallery, they would have representation and a team of people. They set up the art and they present it and light it and do all that stuff, and that was a great way to come into contact with more people, but they’re probably Def Leppard fans, so the hope is that they would want to own some really beautiful art that they can take home with them.

SFL Music: You have the foundation Project Resiliency (Raven Drum Foundation). You’ve worked with teenagers with cancer and children with special needs and youth in crises. How did you get involved and what inspired you to start that foundation?
Allen: Well, back in 2001, 2002, my experience of extreme trauma and my wife’s background in the healing arts. I think the two heads and the two hearts together, we realized that we had incredible potential to help other people that had gone through any kind of suffering. So, as you suggest yeah, the demographic or the different groups of people that we would help in the early days was one thing, and then in 2006, I did a tour of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and I realized the need for helping our Veterans. There was a lot of suffering going on in that community and I saw a lot of parallels, even though my trauma isn’t combat related, it is very similar in the way it manifests in our daily lives. So, I suggested to my wife that we get more involved with the military and that’s when we started with Project Resiliency and that was more focused on our veterans and first responders, and it’s been immensely successful. It’s helped a lot of people, so that’s something that we continue with to this day.

SFL Music: If somebody wants to reach out and help out?
Allen: Well, there’s a lot of organizations that we work with that can help. We used to do a lot more workshops than we do now. My life’s got quite busy. Obviously, there are restrictions in terms of what I can do because I’m out working with the band, but right now, we’re actually busy with a project. I got a bunch of my friends together. A bunch of world class drummers and we’re busy with what we call 12 Drummers Drumming, and if people want to find out what’s going on with that, they can go to 12drummersdrumming.org and they can go check out, there’s an active auction going on at the moment. It’s been going on since the 11th of November and it goes through the 12th of December, and there are all these unique items that all these drummers donate and all the proceeds go toward veterans’ programs and first responder programs. So, that’s something that we’re busy with right now. I encourage people to go and see if there’s something that they might like.

SFL Music: Is there anything else for people to look forward to with your art show this weekend?
Allen: You know, it’s one thing when I’m out with Def Leppard and we do meet-and-greets and what have you. It’s great to get to meet people, but its normally pretty brief. A hand shake, a photograph, you know a few words, whatever, but then when I get involved with the art shows, its way more intimate. I’m able to spend a lot more time with people that go to the shows. So, it is a nice opportunity to get to meet me and see the artwork in person and hopefully people can find something that they love, that they’d love to take home.

SFL Music: Are you based in South Florida?
Allen: No. I spend quite a bit of time there, but no, I’m based central coast of California.

SFL Music: When we spoke years ago you mentioned going to the beach, but you were funny, you said, “I don’t take in the sun, I just reflect it.”
Allen: No, it’s true. I still do. I used to have a place in Tampa. I haven’t had that place for years, but I still love going back to Florida. It’s always fun to enjoy the beautiful weather, and now I’m blessed because of the fact that there are three galleries there, so I get to spend a good amount of time. I get to spend a week down there. Do all the interviews that I need to do and then that culminates in the art shows. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to coming back there.

SFL Music: Does that have any influence or inspiration for your artwork? What would you say does?
Allen: Everything I do. I mean, prior to coming to the States, the first time I came to the States was 1980, so a lot of my work is based on my life experience whether it be flags or telephone boxes or double-decker buses, and then pushing into legends, musicians, American and English. People that inspired me over the years. So, everything. Everything I do in my life; it’s normally reflected somehow in the artwork. I did the endangered species and I think there were some turtles that came up and that was probably inspired by being around the gulf coast.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to an up-and-coming musician from like you said, these experiences you’ve had throughout your life?
Allen: Listen to as many different kinds of music as you possible can. Try not to compare yourself to other people, and I think one of the most important things for me especially now you know, going through what I’ve been through is yeah, try not to compare myself to how I used to be. Celebrate that uniqueness. We all have a different take on how we express ourselves and it’s not right or wrong. It’s what it is and I think it’s our uniqueness that really brings us to the surface. I could take a handful of different drummers and ask them to play exactly the same thing, and they would all play it in a unique way. One person’s playing would never be exactly the same as somebody else’s playing. So, I think the takeaway would be, celebrate your uniqueness.

SFL Music: That’s great advice. Is there a new album in the works or any new videos or anything like that coming up?
Allen: There is a new record coming up which is really interesting. I’m not sure I can really talk about it right now, but If people keep their eyes out with defleppard.com, and there’s always new things being introduced on rickallen.com or Raven Drum Foundation. Like I said, the big one at the moment is 12drummersdrumming.org. If people go there, they can see what we’ve been up to. There are plenty of ways that people can find out what we’re doing and if I can’t talk about them now, it’s probably things that will be revealed.

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