While the rising country star says fighting Alzheimer's will always be his true purpose, he wants to show that he has more to say
He penned “Blank Stares” as a tribute to his mom Sherry Rich, who is currently in the late stages of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. While the song is one that is close to his heart — and has simultaneously become the launching point for his career — it’s not the type of song he ever expected to be singing for crowds.
“‘Blank Stares’ was honestly never meant to be that song that was on the radio,” Allen tells PEOPLE exclusively. “That just kind of happened organically, and obviously it’s a big part of my heart and my story and people caught onto it, but we didn’t put a lot of work into that track. It’s not actually what I want to present to the world as my actual sound as an artist.”
During his live shows, the Iowa native and his band, The Stallions, actually put on an upbeat performance — often sparking dancing and drinking from the crowd during their set, and when they get to “Blank Stares,” Allen has to pause and inform the crowd he’s going to “take them to church for a few minutes.”
“If you look at me and my band, we’re all tatted-up dudes,” Allen says. “We’re in boots and leather jackets and snapback hats and we’ve got drinks in our hands. We’re having fun. We’re putting on a badass time, fun time, but I think ‘Blank Stares’ is like a foundation.”
“I’m not just some new cocky kid coming out of the woodwork,” Allen adds. “This is my heart and I have a story and there’s meaning and depth and purpose to me. I will always play that song and tell that story, but I wanted to translate into ‘also, we have this other sound that’s fun.'”
So Allen teamed up with Mickey Jack Cones to produce a new single, "Whatcha Say," an uptempo track that mixes pop melodies with a rock vibe and Allen’s southern accent. Allen says the vibe of the song, which is closer to his true sound, was influenced by his work as a worship leader and bands he “obsessively” listened to as a kid, such as Matchbox Twenty and 3 Doors Down.
“I write country music but it has more of that alternative rock flare and sound to it,” Allen says. “I can confidently say I don’t think anyone is doing that on country radio right now. So I wanted to do something that was completely me but also that was completely unique, which I think we’ve achieved.”
In writing the song, Allen drew inspiration from his relationship with emerging singer/songwriter Kylie Morgan, whom he met during a writing session years ago.
“For me, love at first sight was a real thing,” Allen says. “So I wanted to write about it, but in a fun way. It’s not a super deep song but if you really dig in and listen to it a few times, it has that emotion that takes you to a place and I really feel like we captured that.”
“Whatcha say we get out of here / take a slow ride / 10 songs out of this town,” he sings in the song’s chorus. “Whatcha say we go find a spot / get good and gone / watch the sunset burn out.”
However, while sonically, the song achieves what Allen is going for with his music, he admits it was harder to write than many of his other tracks.
“For most artists, It’s easy to write fun songs for the live show, but they struggle to write songs that have a lot of meaning and depth,” Allen says. “For me, it’s the opposite. It’s really easy to write songs that have meaning and depth. I’d rather write like that. I’d rather dig in and tell a story that has some heart and has some pain in it. So it’s almost harder to write songs that don’t mean a lot but have a really good, fun feeling. But I’ve found those are a necessity for your live show.”
“In Nashville, all of these industry people want songs that mean something — that have depth — but when you go out on the road as the artist, people don’t really care about that, especially as a new artist. If they don’t know your name, they just want to have a good time and dance and drink.”
Allen says “Whatcha Say” is one of his favorite songs to play live, but he’s most excited for people to stream the song and listen to it while driving in their cars or walking into work.
“I hope it’s a No. 1 hit but it might not be that and I’m okay with that,” Allen says. “For me, it’s about giving people a look inside of what we’re trying to accomplish. We want to be that band that’s always putting out fun songs and helping you forget about your worries and your stresses of the week. Just grab a drink and take yourself to a place.”
And while “Blank Stares” will always be a song he performs, and Alzheimer’s will always be a disease he fights to cure, Allen feels like “Whatcha Say” is truly his first “soft splash” into the country music genre.
“I’m trying to find a way to translate from being just the ‘Blank Stares’ Alzheimer’s guy to people realizing, ‘Okay, now he has something else to say.'”
"Whatcha Say" is available for streaming now.