Kris Allen making music on his own terms

‘American Idol’ winner looks at his split with RCA as a positive development




If you go

What: Kris Allen, in concert.

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 16.

Where: Mississippi Studios, 3939 N. Mississippi Ave., Portland.

Cost: $15 for 21 and older.

Information: 503-288-3895 or Mississippi Studios.

This past fall, Kris Allen joined the likes of Lee DeWyze and David Cook as former “American Idol” winners who no longer have deals with RCA Records, the label that has signed many of that television show’s winners and top contenders.

Many will see this as a sign that “American Idol” is not producing the kind of talent that can sustain major popularity after their stint on the show. Some also speculate that Allen, DeWyze and Cook — as well as recent champions Scotty McCreery and Phillip Phillips, all essentially guys-with-guitars-style singer-songwriters — simply aren’t the right fit within a major label world that has had much of its biggest success with R&B, hip-hop and frothy dance-pop.

Allen was just two albums into his career when he split with RCA (some reports have said he was dropped by the label). His second album, “Thank You Camellia, “ was only released this past May.

But if Allen is discouraged by the turn of events or bitter toward RCA, he wasn’t showing it in a recent phone interview.

“It was pretty much a mutual thing, it feels like,” Allen said of his departure from RCA. “I had a great run there. They did a lot for me at RCA, and I have a lot of really good friends and also mentors there and people that I really respect. But I think just for the place that I was going into and kind of the artist that I wanted to be, I’m not going to say we didn’t butt heads at all, because we did. But I don’t think that’s very uncommon when it comes to artists and labels.

“There’s just a nice feeling now. It sounds cliché, but like a (feeling of) freedom that you can make your own music,” he said.

Allen is certainly not slinking away into the sunset now that his days on RCA are over. He’s starting 2013 with the most extensive headlining tour of his career, a run that continues through February and also includes a few dates set for April.

The tour, Allen said, is part of a shift in strategy for building his career, away from trying to get radio play to generate hit songs and more toward building a grass-roots following by touring.

“I feel like doing live shows is the thing that I’m best at,” Allen said. “People come out impressed. And we put a ton into our live show. So that’s kind of the deal to gain new fans right now and keep the (existing) fans happy.

“That’s how you build real fans anyway,” he said. “When you’re fans of someone like a singer-songwriter, when you go see them play, you become a bigger fan.”

Playing in a format that allows Allen to sing and play guitar and piano, his show is tailored toward making that kind of connection with his concertgoers.

“It’s just a little bit more personal, it feels like, personal and intimate,” Allen said.

In addition to the tour, Allen is writing for a third album. He might start recording as soon as March, and he hopes to further define himself musically and lyrically with that next release.

As it is, he feels “Thank You Camellia” offered a better picture of his songwriting and style than his 2009 self-titled first album did.

With the second album, Allen co-wrote all 12 songs and had far more input on how the songs were produced, making it a better representation of the music he wants to make.

Allen said he wants to carve out a niche as an artist who can write strong material in a variety of styles. “Thank You Camellia” hints at that approach, as its songs include the gently grooving, soulful pop of “Better With You,” and the breezy Jason Mraz-ish pop of “My Weakness” and “Loves Me Not.” There’s also a funky, hip-hop laced tune called “Rooftops,” folky acoustic pop on “Teach Me How Love Goes,” a more expansive U2-ish style of pop on “Out Alive” and a bit more tense style of rock/pop on “Monster.”

“I’m not trying to write in a genre,” he said. “I don’t even know if there are genres anymore, honestly, except for pop and country. ... I think I’m just trying to write great songs. If it ends up sounding like a country song or if it ends up sounding like a pop song, then that’s what it is.”