Tue, April 4, 2017
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:30 pmCrescent Ballroom
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With a sound that’s impassioned but sunny, fresh but timelessly organic, Wide Awake centers on songs both gracefully arranged and brimming with the boundless energy of PARACHUTE’s live show. Newly pared down from a five-piece to a trio, the Charlottesville, Virginia-bred band forged that sound in part by shaking off all creative inhibitions. “We felt like we had no limitations to chase this sound that the three of us have wanted to build for so long,” says Anderson. “It was as if we were woken up from some sort of slumber, revitalized and rejuvenated with this new awareness of who we are as a band.” Reuniting with John Fields (the producer behind 2011’s The Way It Was and their 2009 debut Losing Sleep), PARACHUTE were also guided by the purest of instincts in the studio. “We knew a song was working when we were all dancing and having a blast with it,” says Anderson. “And if something didn’t feel good, we just let it go.”
Though that commitment to intuition is beyond palpable on Wide Awake, the album was also born from two and a half years of dedicated writing and exploration. “I don’t know if I’ve ever written more for an album, or worked so much on any specific song.” says Anderson, who came up with nearly 100 songs during that time. “It was just very important to me that we got each song exactly to where it needed to be.”
With every track on Wide Awake, Parachute matches their sublime melodies with a refined sense of songcraft. Showing a complex sensitivity shaped in part by lifelong love of artists like Paul Simon and Billy Joel, Anderson also infuses the album with both carefree warmth and emotional depth. The album’s epic opener “Without You,” for instance, captures what Anderson calls “the feeling of meeting someone and knowing that it’s going to happen,” and harnesses that lovestruck feeling with the help of gorgeous gospel harmonies and soulful horns. The gently devastating “Jennie” wraps its cascading rhythms and wistful vocals around a story of broken opportunity and love lost. “Sometimes you catch a glimpse of they way things could be but end up taking a detour,” Anderson says, “only to realize you’ve lost your chance and can’t ever get it back.”
Shifting from joy to heartache and back again Wide Awake, offers everything from the stomping, fired-up swagger of “Crave” to the sorrowful piano ballad “What Breaks My Heart” to the hushed acoustic reverie of “When You Move.” And in certain moments Parachute brilliantly embodies both bright and dark, such as on the swinging and summery anthem “Lonely with Me” (as in: “Baby if you’re gonna be lonely/Be lonely with me”) and on the moody but pop-infused “Love Me Anyway,” an ode to “knowing you’re inevitably going to mess up, but having somebody who’s willing to forgive you and move on,” according to Anderson.
In bringing Wide Awake to life, PARACHUTE made a point of “dialing back our thought process and just doing whatever we could to best serve the songs,” as Anderson explains. To fulfill that ambition, the trio returned to the same sense of wonder they felt upon launching their first musical project back in 2002. Starting out while they were still in high school, the band quickly began landing gigs locally and soon gained a following at the nearby University of Virginia. As their inaugural release under the name Parachute, Losing Sleep debuted at #2 on the Billboard Digital Albums Chart and climbed to #40 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Over the next few years, along with releasing The Way It Was and Overnight (which shot to the #3 spot on iTunes), Parachute toured with such artists as Kelly Clarkson and Gavin DeGraw, in addition to three sold out headlining tours. “One of the biggest highlights over the years is definitely playing all these venues that we dreamed about growing up,” says Anderson. “Anytime we play a show like that, it’s just mind-blowing for us.”
While PARACHUTE’s indelibly melodic sound packs more than enough power to electrify an arena-filled crowd, each song on Wide Awake comes from much more intimate origins. “Most of my writing process for this album was very solitary.” says Anderson. “I’ve written with other people in the past, but it was fun to go back to the way I used to write when I was a teenager.” And when combined with Parachute’s renewed passion as a band, that approach ultimately allowed for an honesty and heartfeltness that makes Wide Awake their most thrilling authentic album yet.
March 11, 2016
The follow-up to 2014's Horizons, Letting You In builds off the soulful musicality Allen first showcased with his platinum-selling 2009 single "Live Like We're Dying." But with its sophisticated songcraft and vulnerable lyrics, Letting You In reaches a new depth of feeling that infuses each track with undeniable emotional power. "Looking back, I think I tried to put off dealing with my feelings around the accident for as long as I could," says Allen. "But in the past year I've realized how much it all affected me, and that definitely came out in the writing of this album."
Allen recorded in Nashville with producers Konrad Snyder (Mat Kearney, Owl City, Milo Greene), Ian Fitchuk (James Bay, Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, Griffin House), and Grammy Award-winner Brown Bannister (Amy Grant, Kenny Rogers, Steven Curtis Chapman) and made a point of exploring both the bright and dark elements of everyday life. "There's almost two different sides to the record," Allen notes. "On one hand you've got these happy love songs, because that's my life—I'm a happily married guy, everything with my family's really great. But internally I was going through some things and trying to figure out my life, and the rest of the album very much came from that."
The latter category of songs includes "My Time Will Come," whose lyrics reflect on Allen's struggles with self-doubt ("Lately I've been making friends with the doubts in my head/Hanging on every word that they've said"). But with its lilting guitar melodies and soaring vocals, the song ultimately emerges as an anthem of gritty perseverance. On "If We Keep Doing Nothing," Allen offers a poignant look outward. Written in the wake of the mass shooting at Oregon's Umpqua Community College, the song's throwback-soul arrangement of stark guitar tones and stirring organ lines provide a powerful backdrop for a determined meditation on gun violence.
While Letting You In takes on its share of weighty matters, the album radiates a hopeful spirit that's got everything to do with Allen's easy warmth and open-heartedness as a songwriter and vocalist. One of Letting You In's most uplifting tracks, "Way Up High" blends cascading guitar lines, breezy melodies, and slice-of-life storytelling that came to Allen while flying back home after spending days away from his family. "Usually when I'm writing a song I start with the music, but with 'Way Up High' the lyrics all came to me in poem form," he says. "I just tried to get down all these thoughts that were rolling through my head at the time, in a very stream-of-consciousness sort of way, and it all felt really natural." And among the love songs that make up much of Letting You In is "Waves," whose gospel-inspired harmonies and spirited piano work perfectly capture the tenderness in Allen's opposites-attract serenade to his wife.
Allen first picked up the guitar at age 13, after spending much of his childhood singing in church in his hometown of Jacksonville, Arkansas. Writing his first song in his late teens, he self-released an album at age 22 and auditioned for the eighth season of American Idol the following year. Several months after his Idol victory Allen put out his self-titled major label debut, with lead single "Live Like We're Dying" climbing to the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. In addition to releasing his sophomore album Thank You Camellia in 2012, he spent the next several years sharing stages with such artists as Maroon 5 and Keith Urban, as well as landing Billboard, Teen Choice and People's Choice Awards nominations.
In the aftermath of his accident, Allen devoted himself to relearning guitar, adjusting his technique to adapt to the lack of movement in his wrist. "At first I thought I'd never be able to play again," he recalls. "But once I got my cast off, I spent more time playing than I ever had in my life. Through all that I realized that I shouldn't take my craft for granted, so I really focused on developing it and becoming even stronger as a guitar player than I ever was before."
Along with rebuilding his guitar skills, Allen revamped his approach to songwriting and soon saw a resurgence in his creativity. "When I've made albums in the past, there've always been other artists and songwriters that I was using as reference points," says Allen, who names Stevie Ray Vaughan and Stevie Wonder among his earliest inspirations. "But this time I shut myself off from all that, and just focused on making music that was completely true to me."
That process proved both thrilling and daunting, but in the end instilled him with a new sense of purpose as an artist. "When I first started making music, it was very much coming from a place of 'Are people gonna like this?'" he recalls. "But as I was making this album, it really became more about being genuine and writing songs that feel good. My hope is that if those songs mean a lot to me, they'll mean a lot to the people listening, and that they'll get some of that hopeful feeling too."