In distressed jeans, tight green T-shirt, flashy sunglasses and bed-head hair, Josh Allan may seem like a typical young musician. But once he took the stage at SOhO in downtown Santa Barbara on Tuesday night, he proved that looks can be deceiving. A classically trained pianist and self-taught guitarist, Allan belted out ballads to piano melodies and showcased his John Mayer-esque acoustics with songs from his two albums. Citing influences like legends Billy Joel and Simon & Garfunkel, Allan also describes himself as a “new music addict,” in need of a constant flow of fresh sounds. This mixture of new and old weaves its way into his songwriting, evident in such songs as “Amber” and “The Millions.”
His melancholy lyrics tell of lost dreamers grasping their last remaining hopes and love lost in the shuffle, but do not worry. While Allan strives to write a convincing story in every song, he does not draw them from his own life.
“I find inspiration from watching other people. I’m a big observer of people,” Allan said. “I had a fairly simple life – nuclear family, typical childhood, nothing traumatic – so I draw from other people’s stories.”
Allan did have a low-key life, growing up in a town with a population of 1,500 in South Dakota. After attending college at Colorado Christian University, Allan established his music career and released his first album, All the Acoustic Pop You Can Drink, in Denver. It was merely two months ago that Allan made the leap to the Southern California music scene, debuting at the hip Hotel Cafe. Now, he’s playing with the likes of L.A. favorite Jay Nash and Peter Bradley Adams, formerly of the duo eastmountainsouth.
As if the new audiences and novel venues are not enough, Allan will release his second CD, The Let Go, this summer. Written, performed and produced entirely by Allan himself, the album has been “one big experiment.”
“It was really fun, the ultimate in creative control,” Allan said. “[The challenging aspect] was to make sure it sounded correct. The artist is his own worst critic, and you have to realize it will never be perfect.”
Allan debuted three new songs at Tuesday’s concert, and, judging by the sound, the album will show a maturity and more complexity and refinement than his past work. Allan’s recent works juxtapose sad lyrics with upbeat tempos, incorporate catchy guitar techniques, and reveal his development in vocal tone. Gone are the harsh high notes of the early songs, as they are transformed into a soothing timbre. He sounds a bit less like the sorrowful Elliott Smith and more like the buoyant John Mayer, a lifestyle Allan admires. He reminisces about the university days, describing the mentality of college students as optimistic and free-thinking.
Speaking of colleges, the SOhO gig was not Allan’s first encounter with Santa Barbara. Before deciding on a school in Colorado, Allan almost spent his four years of college bliss at Westmont College in Montecito. Allan is a self-proclaimed “big dreamer,” and, according to him, SB and L.A. are just one stop on his grand music plan.
“I don’t think I’ve ever not been involved with music,” Allan said. “Music chooses you more than you choose it. I don’t think there will be a time when I’m not writing and performing.”