Sometimes when you’re in the heat and tumult of living, it’s hard to know exactly what a particular time of your life might mean. Toronto-based folk rocker Gary Edward Allen captures the beauty and confusion of youth in his warm, reflective new single “Understood” – Check it out on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/dsfYWYsOds0
Featuring the very steel guitar used on Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” Allen’s “Understood” is jangly, melancholy, and journeying through the years. The song begins with a beautiful walk home, one that the narrator can still see vividly in his mind’s eye:
The trees they dance and sway
The traffic rolls by
We live in complicated times
From the floor of an old friends house
…pictures hanging upside down
When writing the lyrics, Allen flipped through his old diaries, settling on a time in 1993 when he had just moved to Halifax as a young man in his 20s.
“I still have a memory of walking those streets near my apartment, no street lights in a lot of the city so it’s very dark and lonely,” Allen recalls. “The lyric ‘the pictures hanging upside down, halfway from me to the ground…’ is also such a strong memory. It’s about arriving in Halifax and sleeping on a friend’s floor, staring up at the pictures on the wall. Feeling lost in the world, in a new city. Scared but excited.”
Never mind what you fear
The signs they are so clear
And I know what I know….
The seasons change and so do I
Still livin’ large behind these eyes
The song is philosophical, about the ways in which we change – and also don’t change – as human beings. “It’s about just watching time roll by and trying to remain true to what you believe in, in the things that bring you joy, in the things that make you YOU,” Allen muses. “That’s a constant thing in life, not just specific to that time. Ultimately, ‘Understood’ is about having faith in confusing times.”
Listen on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/track/0giMpaF7GFSKmflkOrub8x?si=4e87c898259c44f1&nd=1
Most of the song was recorded in one session with industry veteran Tim Bovaconti, who has worked with Burton Cummings, Leonard Cohen, Ron Sexsmith, and more. “Initially, it was just two tracks of acoustic guitar and me singing. Tim put some piano on after the first verse and then added a track of pedal steel guitar,” Allen explains. “Tim owns the actual pedal steel guitar used on Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’, played by Pee Wee Charles.”
It made for a very appropriate tribute. “Gordon Lightfoot passed away the week we were set to record ‘Understood,’ so it seemed fitting for Tim to use it,” Allen continued. “Tim is a pro. His pedal steel track is the first and only take he did. He just nailed it immediately and it really makes the song.” The track also features Mishka Gogitidze on bass and Andrea Ciacco on drums.
Allen started playing guitar at seven years old before falling in love with it as a teenager after listening to Queen and KISS. After a brief stint in a music class, he taught himself different guitar playing styles using his love of different music genres. By his early 20s, he gradually overcame his performance shyness by playing live in Ottawa at various clubs.
After moving to Vancouver in the mid ’90s, Allen took a hiatus from performing live, but never stopped playing the guitar and singing. When Allen entered his 40s, he decided to return to performing music after meeting indie artist Robb Hill. Not long afterwards, he would record his first songs with producer Doug Fury before meeting AJ Ottaway andJake Broder and recording their debut album Ottaway Broder Allen. This would lead to a local tour in Vancouver as well as a second album, Invictus, that was made and released in 2015.
Sometime after Allen moved from Vancouver to Toronto and met his partner Tara (also from Ottawa, but as fate would have it, they didn’t meet while in the city), the band called it quits. By 2017, Allen would become a solo artist that collaborated with his former bandmate AJ mixing new songs and recording with producer Tim Bovaconti.