Keeping His Cool
A legendary punk trades in his bass for a blog.
DAVE ALLEN HATES the term “elder statesman.” It’s just that, given his unique place in the annals of rock and the perfectly unkempt tangle of gray hair on his head, the moniker fits. For the uninitiated, rest assured that had his old band—England’s angsty 1970s funk-punk pioneers Gang of Four—never existed, it’s likely that neither the Red Hot Chili Peppers nor Franz Ferdinand would have either.
But in Portland, where the youthful rock scene is one of the city’s highest-profile commodities, the 52-year-old’s ability to adapt to a life outside of the spotlight (while never ignoring his artistic urges) might just be a bigger inspiration to guitar-playing upstarts than his bass lines on anthems like “Damaged Goods.”
“I don’t really need Gang of Four anymore,” Allen says, steering the conversation toward his wildly successful music blog, Pampelmoose.com. “With the website, I’m reaching more people on a daily basis than the band ever did.”
The site, which Allen launched in 2004, is one-stop shopping for the music-savvy, a sort of quality controller with video and audio postings from bands that might not get airtime on the radio. Users are free to leave comments about the artists or, more important, support the bands with their cash. And then there’s the blog, usually written by Allen. According to Technorati, which provides popularity indexes for blogs, Pampelmoose’s traffic ranks in the top one percent of all blogs. At May’s Sasquatch Festival, an annual indie-rock smorgasbord in the Columbia River Gorge, Pampelmoose was one of the only music-centric sites broadcasting backstage interviews and live outtakes.
The road to renewed relevance, however, has been a winding one. When Gang of Four disbanded for the first time in 1981 (they’ve reunited sporadically for tours since 2004), Allen kicked around in a few bands in London before spending most of the ’90s running a small record label in Los Angeles that only ever managed to break even. He moved to Portland eight years ago and did what most “punks” swear they’ll never do: He got a job—first at Intel, then with interactive advertisers the Overland Agency. In 2004 he took over as the director of digital media at Nemo Design.
Through it all, the married father of three never stopped making music. Faux Hoax, his new band—and his sixth overall—debuts on the just-released PDX Pop Now! 2008 compilation, the free, all-ages festival’s annual collection of local talent. But even as he beams about his new band, Allen admits that Pampelmoose gives him a more consistent presence in Portland’s burgeoning rock scene.
In fact, Allen says that when he recently announced he would no longer be touring with Gang of Four, it was only in part because of his insistence on using the Internet, rather than a proper label, to disseminate the band’s new music. Mainly, he didn’t want to put Pampelmoose aside to hit the road again.
Today Allen is working on the site from Nemo’s cavernous, ivory-colored Southeast Portland headquarters. As we head back to his office, we pass a series of giant photos of costumed animals re-enacting the more flexible entries in the Kama Sutra. Every other employee looks at least 20 years his junior and is intricately hip; it’s a fact that seems to act as inspiration for Allen.
“You ever go to a PTA meeting?” Allen laughs. “I see guys there my age who’ve already given up. They’re like, ‘How do you go out so much?’ I just look at them and ask … ‘Why don’t you?’ It’s just that finding new music and exposing people to it is massively important to me.”
That quest for the next sonic frontier is what piqued Allen’s interest in playing with Faux Hoax, a collaboration between himself and members of local bands Menomena and Tracker. He says the group will stand as a new-millennium business model: giving away music to create demand on the Internet before ever playing live. To wit: The band won’t actually play at PDX Pop Now!, but will float new songs through their own website, MySpace, and Pampelmoose. “We want to get a body of work out there and then announce shows,” Allen says. “I want it to be an event—ya know, a line out the door and a room decked out with lights.”
Faux Hoax will even put up songs on their website that fans can download for free and remix as they like. But please … don’t try to make any money off it.
“Otherwise,” Allen growls, flashing a bit of that young punk of old, “I’ll come knocking on your door.”