Allan Rayman holds things close to the vest: “I don’t want to give too much away,” he says.
It’s a sentiment that has persisted throughout his career, and it’s something he notes more than once throughout our conversation. It’s not necessarily because he’s determined to keep up living up to his oft-referred to label as the most mysterious man in music–although, that certainly is part of it. But it’s more so because he wants listeners to form their own interpretations of his work, as he cares so much about the art.
Behind every music video (and short film), every quote, even every Instagram post, there’s a meticulous effort to tell a story that speaks for itself. There are endless book and movie references, from Slaughterhouse-Five to Pump Up the Volume, spanning his discography, living and breathing in each of his albums. There are also intimate personal reflections and musings on love and death that are stitched into every song with an incredible amount of care.
With Roadhouse 02, his latest installment in the Roadhouse trilogy out on March 18, the album serves as a bold second act—think of the albums in order with Roadhouse 01 coming first, then Roadhouse 02, then Hotel Allan—and as an ominous warning to his younger self. It’s filled with a new array of sounds and textures, spanning melancholy R&B, hypnotic, ambient hip hop and even acoustic music—the stripped-back track “Ghost” sees him trade in his growly vocals for piercing falsetto.
But, how do you make the second album in a trilogy, when you’ve already released the last? To Rayman, it’s all about perspective, which is informed by the dilation—and illusion—of time.
It’s yet another layer to an artist who is the very definition of an enigma—he tweets in paradoxes and most people know next to nothing about him, aside from the basic puzzle pieces: Rayman is based in Toronto, he has different personas (there’s Allan Rayman as fans know him, then there’s the actual Allan Rayman behind it all, and we can’t forget about his alter ego Mr. Roadhouse, too), and he’s passionate about experimenting with new sounds to push his musical boundaries into spaces we haven’t yet discovered.
With the release of Roadhouse 02, he keeps up his chameleon-like ability to keep transforming and evolving his sound, and in doing so, informs one of the most concrete things about his artistry: his journey is ours to decipher. All of this is to say, the most interesting part about Rayman isn’t rooted in the mystery of the who, but rather in the what—what he will do next.
We spoke with Rayman about gearing up for the release of Roadhouse 02, staying in the shadows on the internet, and being visited by ghosts.
How are you doing?
I’m doing great, thank you. Yeah, just kind of gearing up for the release of this, and yeah, it’s good, it’s busy, which is nice for a change.
Yeah. I was going to say I bet, because I know with the pandemic and everything, you haven’t really been able to tour. And then you announced your tour, so all that’s happening this year.
Yeah, I know, it’s still kind of surreal, but it definitely feels like, you know, we’re out of that narrative for now.
So obviously for this album, your alter ego, Mr. Roadhouse is back. Why was now the time for this album and for him to make a comeback?
Funny that you put it that way. I think he never really was gone. I think now it’s all coming back, and it’s time for Allan to be in charge, [that’s] kind of what is how I see it. So it’s a bit of the opposite.
“I think because art is so subjective, there really shouldn’t be any competition other than with yourself.”
I think getting signed and having all these bigger conversations caused Mr. Roadhouse to take control and put Allan in the back seat a little bit because it was a lot to handle. And I needed a different kind of personality for those conversations and for that time in my life. So now that I’m more freed up and back in control of my life, it feels like Mr. Roadhouse has actually gone, which is good for a change. Healthier.
I was going to say, because I know I’ve heard you talk about it before in other interviews, about how it was always kind of the plan for it to be sort of a threequel, I guess, with Hotel Allan and the first Roadhouse and then this one, and then the story kind of ending there. So I was wondering if you see this album as being part of a threequel or an extension of that.
It’s a trilogy, and this would be the second part of the three-part act. So Roadhouse 01 and then Roadhouse 02 and then Hotel Allan. Hotel Allan is essentially just the name of the place that Allan goes to hide in his mind when Mr. Roadhouses is taking control. It’s kind of like, I guess, if you want to use a reference like Fight Club and the cave that he goes to when he’s in a panic or when he’s nervous, he has this common cave that he goes [to]. And I guess you could say it’s like the reclusiveness, and then Tyler Durden takes over. It’s the same kind of aspect where you create a version of yourself that can handle a situation that might otherwise be difficult to go through on your own.
Sort of touching on that and the reclusive bit—you’ve kind of talked about that in songs like “Rider” and “Lost Springs” and just in the past in general about disappearing and getting lost in the woods and that storyline. But you have actually done that when it comes to your writing, right?
I have. Yeah.
“Ever since I started Allan Rayman, Slaughterhouse-Five, that novel, it’s kind of been always there in the background because it’s about time dilation.”
So tell me a little bit about how that helps you and how that informs the art.
I think, you know, before any success, if you’d like to call it that, that’s kind of just how we worked. I like to be… I spent a lot of time up north in Canada and obviously in the States, where I’m from. So it’s a nice place for me to kind of go and escape anyways, not just for writing, just when I feel stressed out or when I feel like life might be getting the upper hand. You can just kind of detach for a little bit. And I think when you go to L.A. or New York or London, busier places to work and write with your producers and stuff, you can get caught up in a false sense of competition. I think because art is so subjective, there really shouldn’t be any competition other than with yourself. So it kind of all circles back in this whole narrative of you really are just competing with yourself. And when you start competing with yourself, you create more of a realism to the other part of yourself. It compounds and becomes more and more real, the more you feed that.
So for me, it’s a good kind of grounding experience to just get out and get away. And I mean that both in the physical sense, in the metaphorical sense too, just to kind of not get too caught up in things, you know? Anything that’s a trend, or anything that you might think is cool right now, instead just focus on what you want to create that is cool. So I think that being alone is important for an artist every now and then.
Yeah, definitely, I think you can definitely do some of the best things when you’re just alone with yourself, with your thoughts, and all of that.
“I like to always keep an air of mystery and leave things a little vague, because it gives the listener a lot more creative freedom to kind of create who Allan is in their mind and what the story is to them.”
So, Slaughterhouse-Five was a big source of inspiration when you were working on this. Was there a specific or particular theme that really resonated with you?
Ever since I started Allan Rayman, Slaughterhouse-Five, that novel, it’s kind of been always there in the background because it’s about time dilation. Sometimes when I was writing Hotel Allan, back in 2015-16, I’m speaking more to the version of myself now than I was to the version myself then. Back then I hadn’t toured. I hadn’t had any kind of success. I didn’t know [if] even two people were listening to my music, but I was writing from a place that was assuming I was already the biggest artist on the planet and going through, I guess, all the trials and tribulations of that kind of success. So I was speaking to a different version, a future version of myself, but writing from a version of myself that hadn’t gone through any of it.
And now I’m writing to the version of myself back then, as a warning of “Hey, you know, careful what you get good at and careful going down this road.” As much as you think that it’s a beautiful thing, it could be a very dangerous terrain and there’s no real roadmap for it, to navigate it, and you can get very lost along the way. So it’s kind of a more… what I mean by this time dilation thing is that this album’s more of a warning to my younger self. Whereas Hotel Allan, written back then, was more of a realization. I guess I get both of them are warnings, but [with one] the perspective changes from an established artist to a non-established artist.
Yeah, so kind of looking forward and looking back.
Yeah, right? But as you’re looking, you’re looking forward from the past, or you’re looking forward from the future and past from the past.
Yeah, that makes sense.
Yeah, it’s confusing, but it’s like being unstuck in time. A lot of the time I’m kind of moving around these moments.
You’re being Billy Pilgrim.
Exactly, just like Billy Pilgrim.
“[I’m] not a terribly religious person myself, but I’m religious when it comes to the music, I guess.”
That’s funny that you mention that too, because not that long ago when “Rider” came out, we did a write-up on that, and then when I’d reached out about a quote, it was: “All this happened, more or less,” and I was like, “Oh my God, I remember that from the book.”
That’s exactly it. I mean, I like to always keep an air of mystery and leave things a little vague, because it gives the listener a lot more creative freedom to kind of create who Allan is in their mind and what the story is to them. So if I can come out swinging and kind of defining everything, it might take away from that and ruin that moment. But yeah, that’s what that quote was. I didn’t want to seem like I was being lazy or something to you guys, I just want to keep within context. I’m glad that you knew.
Yeah, I got it. It’s funny because I haven’t read the book in years, but now I’m like, hmm, maybe it’s time for me to reread it.
Have you seen the movie?
No, I haven’t, never.
It’s phenomenal. Kurt Vonnegut actually said that it was one of the best adaptations of a novel to a film that he’s ever seen, he fully blesses it, so it’s definitely worth watching.
Damn, OK, if it’s got his blessing, I’m all for it. I’m in.
Right on. I’m sort of just branching off what you were mentioning before, about how there’s kind of a different set of challenges that come with the sort of career path that you’re on in the sense that it can be a bit uncertain. You don’t always have a roadmap. How do you find a balance between the parts of it that you love, like making the music, with the parts that you don’t love as much?
I think you’ve got to have a little bit of that blind faith. [I’m] not a terribly religious person myself, but I’m religious when it comes to the music, I guess. And in a sense of, I just believe a path that I’m on to be the right path for me. And it doesn’t always mean that it’s easy or healthy or smooth. I think it just comes down to right or wrong, and I feel like I’m on the path I should be on, it’s just difficult sometimes. And you have to remind yourself that you’re in the right space and that this just feels much like Billy Pilgrim; I had no choice, this is something I was always supposed to do and that maybe I’ve done before. And, you know, then we start breaking down into different conversations about, you know, spirituality and stuff like that. But that’s kind of how I keep sane through all this. It’s just knowing that, yes, it feels right, and that’s faith at the end of the day.
That’s a very grounded answer.
So also going back to the point that you made earlier about, you know, letting the music speak for itself. Obviously, you have a pretty… I guess the word I would use is, intense, fan base. Do you ever lurk online and see some of the theories that they’ve come up with when they’re interpreting your work?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I do. Very recently I’ve been put onto that. I didn’t know there was a subreddit for it. And I’ve been put onto that now, and it’s amazing how some of these theories are so spot on and so well-written, that it helps me put things into words better than I could have before I read what these theories are. So in my mind, it’s more jumbled and it’s understood, I guess, for myself, [but] it’s hard to put it into words. But then they’re putting it into words that are so… almost like a movie script. It’s a lot of fun obviously, to dive into that. I just don’t like to interact because I don’t want to… I feel like if I started opening up the character and presenting myself more and more and then speaking out more and more, then it would ruin that lore. So I don’t know, I just stay in the shadows.
That’s OK. You can be a...what do they call it? I was going to say, a passive observer.
That’s right. Yeah, I see it, and I take it into song and into performance. So, yeah.
That’s very interesting. I was also going to say to because you’re on TikTok now as well, which is I guess kind of unexpected.
Is it? TikTok is just another part of social media. So I do have Instagram and Twitter. I just thought it was the next thing to do. I do see the differences between the apps, obviously in the store and the endless scrolling on it. But yeah, I think it’s just another way to create content, not content that is normal to TikTok users. It’s another medium for me to drive the story along and then to and to do a little bit of the stuff that I’ve been asked so much to do and have stayed away from, which is just kind of showing my face more.
And showing that part of me, a bit more. But as long as [I] can find a way that I find is fun to create, I think on tour there will be a lot of use for TikTok for sure.
It’s another bonus to the fact that shows are happening again, so there you go.
It’ll come in handy, I’m sure.
“I’m about to start a completely different thing, where there is no more Mr. Roadhouse, there’s just Allan Rayman, and what does Allan do now without Mr. Roadhouse?”
So speaking of Twitter, actually, that just reminded me, you tweeted the other day, “It’s a lot of weight taking this over from Allan to be the next Allan. It’s a lot.” So tell me your feelings on that.
[Laughs.] What time does it say I tweeted that?
Oh God, I don’t remember.
I think it was like 4:30 or 5 in the morning, and it’s sort of, like… I don’t want to give too much away here, because a lot of the stuff I’m on right now is a 10-year plan kind of. And what I see Allan Rayman is, or what Allan Rayman is becoming, and label 512 and where that’s going, it’s a lot of that. So a lot of recent emotion and weight has been thinking about, you know, where this goes now, especially after Roadhouse 01 because once this trilogy is done, because even [Harry Hard-On] and Christian and Courtney were all part of that same story.
So now I’m about to start a completely different thing, where there is no more Mr. Roadhouse, there’s just Allan Rayman, and what does Allan do now without Mr. Roadhouse? So that’s kind of the next chapter, and I honestly, I just don’t want to talk too much on it because I don’t want to give too much away. And not just for fans and listeners, but for anyone who may be watching and inspired. I’d love to inspire people and there [are] certain things I would just not want to see other people do.
No, that’s fine. I feel like it serves as a little teaser so that works.
So I mean, again, I know you don’t like to speak that much on the specifics of the music because you like to let it speak for itself, but I was curious about “Ghost” because I was listening to the album, and it’s a very interesting one because it’s pretty different, I would say, just compared to the rest of it. So I was just curious about that one specifically, if there is anything you can say about that.
Yeah, there’s a lot to say about “Ghost.” And I feel like if I went into it, the whole interview would be about it [laughs.] “Ghost” is… originally I was going to call it “Barry Talks” or “Barry Speaks.” It’s about a friend of mine who passed away when we were 24 and there was a brief moment in time where I was on tour and I was having these dreams about my friend, and one of them—one of the first ones—was he showed up to a house party in a red tuxedo. So I told a couple of my friends about it who were also in the same circle, and they were kind of just shocked because he never told me about buying a red tuxedo, but he told them about it. And so it was this moment of, maybe there’s something about dreams and speaking to dead relatives or friends where it’s more it’s easier communication because you’re already so open to the unreal happening. Whereas if my buddy popped up right now in the middle of the day, I’d have a heart attack, terrified, you know what I mean?
So it’s based on the fact that maybe dreams can be a medium for us to speak to lost ones. And that specifically went to a secondary dream where I was sitting on the floor of a bedroom with him while he’s making bracelets and hanging them on the end of the bedpost. And without going too much into my theory here, but he kind of explained to me what happens after you die. And that’s kind of what the song’s about a little bit.
Heavy. It’s a bit heavy, obviously. And it makes me sound a bit insane.
“Much like an athlete, when you get signed as a rookie, you know that no matter how good you are off the bat, you will get better, especially if you keep playing and learning the sport. So I think it’s the same thing for artists.”
No, no, I don’t think you sound insane. Without me trying to sound very, I guess, “woo-woo,” I fully believe there’s something to that. I lost my grandma a couple of years ago, and she’s been showing up in my dreams lately, and I don’t know what she’s trying to tell me, but she’s there, so…
It’s so rare, and it hasn’t happened in a long time. And to be completely honest, it was [so] incredible. I woke up, I had a show in Dallas that day, and I woke up just [sweating], like freaking out. I went immediately, spoke to my manager about what had happened. And one of the things he had told me in the dream was, don’t tell our buddies that. And the first thing I did was get on the phone and call them, and what’s crazy is I haven’t had a dream about him since. It’s been three years. I just didn’t listen! [Laughs.]
It’s just that moment of magic. And that’s fine.
Yeah, it was. And that’s why I think the song is just, you know, it’s definitely a deep cut, but I think it might grow to be people’s favourite off the album just because it’s raw and it’s a different style of singing on falsetto.
Yeah! You know, I was very surprised. Not in a bad way, I mean that there’s no song like it, and I was like, “Who is this man?”
I know I don’t have the prettiest voice in the world and I don’t even have a proper singing technique. I just I’ve always just been kind of comfortable with how I sing and I like it, and I’m so lucky that people like it enough to give me a career behind it. But yeah, I’m going to keep pushing it in different directions and keep growing as an artist. So that’s just a good example of trying new things.
Yeah, I was going to say, if there’s one thing you’re known for, I feel like it’s experimenting with different sounds because like you fully cannot put you in a box—there are no labels. I’m thinking about how I’m going to do it when I write this, and I’m not sure yet how I’m going to fully put it together, but I’ll figure it out.
That’s probably my downfall, you know. But I think to start pushing music in a different direction where it hasn’t been, I think you’re that a lot on the map here of genreless and we’re kind of in that era of the one name era where it’s one artist, one name. And if you are a fan, then you will support them growing in a lot of different directions, which is good. I think that, you know, much like an athlete, when you get signed as a rookie, you know that no matter how good you are off the bat, you will get better, especially if you keep playing and learning the sport. So I think it’s the same thing for artists. It shouldn’t be an expectation that you only have four years in this thing. I think that this name artist generation that we’re in is a great shift to getting away from the idea of a one-hit-wonder or something like that.
The one upside to the whole streaming era is you really don’t have to just be tied to one song anymore these days.
It’s true, it’s true. Just do what you want and explore.
Who are you listening to right now? Are there any Canadian musicians on your radar that you’re really vibing with these days?
I will open it up to everyone, but I usually like to keep it Canadian-specific.
For Canadian I will say Terrell Morris, I just really, really love his cadence and his writing and [he’s] just a good dude. And his music’s amazing, so that’d be the Canadian I’d say. Obviously Jessie Reyez I’m always a fan of. I’m super excited for the year she’s about to have.
In terms of like, globally, I listen to so much old music and stuff. I love Kanye West. I just love Kanye because he’s super… I don’t know, he’s just crazy. I love that. I think artists should be crazy. The crazier, the better. I think if you’re a pretty straight edge artist and like living comfortably within a box or something then your music’s not really going to resonate with me at least. I just like how he collages things and puts things together and the movements.