Country Next: Jay Allen
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Jay Allen.
Jay Allen; Photo by Stephen Dillion
Jay Allen has worked incessantly throughout his life to get to where he is today. Raised in a small town in Iowa, he used to wake up at 4:00 a.m. every day to tend to his family farm before heading off to school. But, long hours toiling away on the farm didn’t stop him from building a promising career in country music.
A talented singer/songwriter, Allen moved to Nashville in 2013, where he quickly became acquainted with the bustling music scene. In a short amount of time, he secured a publishing deal and teamed with SONY/ATV. He was also chosen as “The Highway Find” on SiriusXM for his song “Sounds Good To Me.”
But, all of the highs that Allen experienced during his musical journey were inevitably met with a few lows, as he learned his mother, Sherry Rich, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Allen turned his mother’s battle into a lifelong conversation following her unfortunate passing. In 2018, his powerful country ballad “Blank Stares” – a song he co-penned to pay tribute to Rich – went viral, thanks to a fan, who posted footage of Allen singing the song on Facebook.
Allen is also deeply committed to raising money to fight Alzheimer’s. So far, he has helped raise over $35 million for the Alzheimer’s Association through his involvement with the Rita Hayworth Gala, Brain Ball, and many other events across the country.
Early this year, the singer, who has plenty to share, as evident through his many tattoos, signed on as the flagship artist to Mickey Jack Cones’ Verge Records. In August, he released an uptempo single, “Cool,” as his first outside cut, and later followed that up with the introspective “Lines,” a heartfelt song inspired by his mom.
“Lines” is such a song, a story of lost love, yet also one about roots—the lessons learned and strength we draw from those who raised us.” Allen said of the song in a recent press release, “Life is complicated, and while we may occasionally lose our way, the lines in our life will eventually bring us back and build us up–if we let them.
Allen’s latest release is a holiday single titled, “Christmas Everyday,” featuring country star Rodney Atkins and his wife, Rose Falcon.
Allen caught up with Country Now to talk about his musical background, his special relationship with his beloved late mother, and current music.
Read on to learn more about Jay Allen in this exclusive Q&A below.
Can you briefly share your background and tell us what led you to want to pursue a career in music?
I grew up in a small town in Iowa. I was the typical farm boy, athlete. I also grew up going to church, and when I was about 20-years-old, I ended up in Savannah, Georgia. I became a worship leader at a megachurch, but I later realized that was not for me. So, in 2013, I ended up in Nashville. I got my first publishing deal with MV2 Entertainment, and that evolved into me signing with Sony/ATV. Then, in 2018, I wrote a song for my mother [Sherry Rich], who passed away last year from early-onset Alzheimer’s. She was only 54-years-old. We were out on the road with Chris Lane when she was still alive, and I brought her on stage. I wrapped her arms around me and told this story in front of the crowd. Then, I sang this song, and a fan videoed me singing that song. He put the video on his personal Facebook page, and it ended up getting like 300 million views in just a couple of days! That turned into us playing a ton of shows. Then, I became an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. So, I was able to find a way to incorporate my fun rock ‘n’ roll/country show into also talking about Alzheimer’s and the story of my mother. Through touring, I raised over $35million to help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. That also led to me meeting a guy in the industry named Mickey Jack Cones. He has produced Dustin Lynch and has been a part of the Jason Aldean records. He started a management company, found me, and signed me onto his company. Then, that turned into me getting a record deal. And now Covid-19 happened. So it has been a crazy journey so far!
How does it feel when you see money raised and progress happening in the fight against Alzheimer’s?
It is so rewarding, even if I do not know every single detail on the inside with the Alzheimer’s association. But it is nice when I can find out the facts and see the progress. It’s cool also getting to rub shoulders with the CEO of the Alzheimer’s association or the founder of the Rita Hayworth gala. Last year, they presented me with the Caregivers Award. But what’s most rewarding to me is getting to hear the personal stories. Also, being able to have a song that resonates with someone and gives them a sense of peace and connectivity is enough for me, honestly.
What drew you to the country genre?
Well, I feel like country music found me. My mother loved country music. She used to pick me up from school every day. She had this purple car, a ’95 Buick LeSabre. I hated that car so much! But, she would pick me up every day after school or practice or whatever. I ended up loving the experience because she would crank up country radio, and we would sing every song at the top of our lungs while laughing all the way home. That is why I fell in love with country music. I grew up in a small town surrounded by cornfields. I was a typical country boy. But, in small-town Iowa, my dad was a rock ‘n’ roll guy. He introduced me to what I would consider legends of rock ‘n’ roll like AC/DC, Metallica, and Aerosmith. He always had a motorcycle or a muscle car or a leather jacket. He was THAT guy. So that evolved into me loving all different kinds of music. I ended up loving alternative rock, like 3 Doors Down and Bush. Then, I became a worship leader, which turned into an internship at church and evolved into me being on staff at churches. So I feel like those three different genres have combined to become my writing style, and you can start to hear that in my current music, especially with “Lines.”
How did “Lines” come about?
I didn’t realize what that song was going to be until I sat down and wrote it with Dustin Christensen. We turned it into this powerful thing, and I was thinking about my Grandfather, and when you look at an older person, you see all the lines on their face. For me, when I look at all of those lines, and crevices, and creases, I see life, a story, someone that’s lived a life. I thought about my mom, too. You look in her eyes, and you can see everything that she’s been through, all those lines and the wrinkles on her hands. They are the words that I can’t find when it comes to me loving this girl, Kylie. So it was this big picture thing for me, and it was this cool to see it come together.
How about the music video. Can you tell us about that?
Doltyn Snedden and Chase Lauer directed the video. It was beautiful scenery. All the lines of the telephone wires, the fence, and the big open fields made it all come together to be this beautiful piece. We shot the music video in Leipers Fork, Tenn, right before COVID-19 happened. As I said, I wrote that song when I was conflicted with thoughts of experiencing my mother being sick, knowing that she didn’t have much longer to live, and also falling in love with my girlfriend. So when I was super happy, I’d feel this guilt like, ‘Well, I should be sad because my mom’s sick.’ Then, when I focused on my mom being sick and all of that sadness and heaviness, I would think, ‘I should be happy because I have this beautiful girlfriend, and I feel like I’m now falling in love with her.’ Then, the more I sat down, and these thoughts started coming back again, I realized those feelings come because of everything we go through. The sad things, the breakups, the heartbreaks, but also finding the girl you love and getting a record deal, they’re all things that are tied together. They’re like footprints that lead us to where we’re going. I realized they’re all lines that lead us somewhere. For me, my faith is everything, and I believe that God takes us through things to make us who we are. That’s the reason I have tattoos all over my body. Every piece is a story, and I want to wake up and look in the mirror every morning and be reminded of who he made me be with those stories – all those lines. So that was the concept behind it.
“Lines” and “Blank Stares” are very personal songs. Is it ever difficult for you to showcase that kind of vulnerability with your fans?
I have not always been like this. The whole story of my mother’s passing, for it to be out in the open, and for me to decide to be this transparent, has become a thing of connectivity for other people. They relate to me. I recently did a festival in Key Largo. I have never been there in Florida, but I was like, ‘I am going to perform ‘Blank Stares,’ and if I can positively affect one person, then I did my job.’ So, I rolled up at this bar. It was packed. At the end of it, this lady came up to me. She was trembling and crying. She wrapped her arms around me and told me that her father had just passed away from Alzheimer’s. So, I have realized the importance of being a wide-open book after experiencing that over and over again. We, artists and musicians, have the opportunity to do good by being open and using our voices. So, I feel like it is part of the job.
How did it feel to get the kind of response you got with ‘Blank Stares’?
It 100% makes me feel like I want to write more songs like that. As I said before, I was not always like that. I was pretty closed off, trying to figure out things. As an artist, when you first get to Nashville, you’re usually writing for other reasons or other people because you think that’s what everyone wants to hear, or it’s what’s working right now. I think, when I finally started to make my art and write my art and put it all out there, that’s when it finally connected. So, the reward isn’t getting to be the center of attention; it’s more getting to see my social media have a purpose. I’ll make a post about Alzheimer’s and my mother, and I’ll see people finding a sense of community through my songs on my social media. That’s the fulfilling thing. I’ve seen a little bit of that with ‘Lines.’ I have many more songs to come that are going to be like that. I have big plans for this next summer that hopefully you all will find out here real soon.
Can you share the inspiration behind ‘Blank Stares’?
So, the first time my dad brought my mother to Nashville, it was real for us. I was already living in Nashville at the time, and he called me from this little town in Iowa. He said, ‘Jay, your mom is getting worse. I feel like it’s my responsibility as your dad to make sure you and your mother get some time together.’ So my parents made that nearly 11-hour drive from small-town Iowa to Nashville. My dad called me every two hours! He was like, ‘Jay, prepare your heart because this is going to be tough.’ When my mom came walking through the door, she legit stared at me like I was a stranger. She looked right through me. It crushed me. I was like, ‘This can’t be happening to us.’ I was like, ‘Forget this. Let’s go out and drink and have a good time, dance, whatever. I don’t want to do this.’ So my dad got my mom all dolled-up, and we took her out to The Sutler. That’s when I first experienced the power of music. When we opened the door, my mom heard that music and completely lit up. That glossy look in her eyes went away. She started tapping her foot. So, I grabbed her and pulled her to the front of the stage, and we started dancing. She heard that music, and I felt her take this big breath. She leaned in, and she said, ‘Jay, I’ve missed you, son. I love you, son.’ She was awake, and it was crazy to me! So, that’s what inspired ‘Blank Stares.’
To this day, do you feel a sense of closeness to your mother when you’re performing those songs on stage?
Oh my gosh! Yes. You have no idea! It is pretty wild for me to express. I was raised by a mother who was so selfless. I remember being a little kid and asking her, ‘What do you think your purpose is? Why do you think God made you?’ I asked big questions like that, and every time she would say, ‘God put me on this planet to be your mother. I love you.’ That’s how she raised me. She truly believed her sole purpose was to be my mother, to take care of me, and to love me. The one time I felt like I could be selfless toward her was when I was fighting for her with ‘Blank Stares.’ I think it’s almost comical that she found a way to turn it around and help build a career for me in the music industry through this song. It’s like she still found a way to be selfless and utilize the thing that I was trying to give her to give back to me. So that was the kind of human she was.
Aside from your vulnerable songs, you have an upbeat, lighthearted one called ‘Cool.’ Do you find it difficult to transition your emotions when you perform those songs live?
‘‘Cool’ is like the only song that I released that I’ll probably ever release that I didn’t write. Ben Burgess, a buddy of mine, was a writer on ‘Whiskey Glasses.’ He was a writer on that song. That song was presented to me a couple of years ago. So, I started playing it live. And, when it comes to our show, I have a four-piece band, and we’re all tatted up. We’re flying around the stage, trying to get everyone to have a good time.‘Cool’ fits into that. Then, we bring it all down and play sentimental songs toward the end with ‘Blank Stares’ and ‘Lines.’ So, when I heard the song, I was like, ‘This will work for my live show,’ but I didn’t think the label was going to push for me to release it. So it was an interesting road for me, but I’m thankful we put it out there. I wanted people to see that there is a fun side to me, a light-hearted side, and I love the energy of that song. So, there will be a few more songs like that, but most of them will be songs that come from just living life, especially after I’ve expressed all the good that came from ‘Blank Stares.’ I think that’s my niche.
Just in time for Christmas, you also recently released “Christmas Everyday.” How did that one come about?
Yes! We dropped a Christmas song! I wrote that song with Rodney Atkins and his wife, Rose. It was Rodney’s idea to have me come over to the house, and we became good friends. I became friends with Rose two years ago because Rodney was doing writer’s rounds. Then, I opened up for them, and they stood side-stage and watched my whole show. So Rodney came up to me afterward, hugged me, and told me he heard my story and was a fan. He invited me over to their house, and we’ve written a couple of times. He ended up reaching out to me and said we should do a Christmas song. He said it would be cool if we wrote one and released it together. So, it is Jay Allen featuring Rodney Atkins and Rose Falcon, and I think it is a very pretty song. I am excited for everyone to hear it!
Have you been able to get back on stage in front of the fans during Covid-19?
I’ve been doing a lot of private things, Zooms, and Lives, wherever I can play safely and make everyone happy. We recently did our first socially-distanced show, where people were to be in pods. We showed up, and they had a film crew and a local news station there. They interviewed me and showed off what they were doing. So, they had painted these huge 10X10 squares on the ground, and everyone, who attended the show was required to stand in their square the entire time. And they did. There were probably six or seven thousand people there. Everyone abided by the policies for the most part, and I was impressed. We played the show that we always do, and everyone had a blast! So I think people are trying to be open-minded and trying to figure out how to do everything safely. That was my first time experiencing it, and it went well! Last year, I was on the road pretty much full time. I was gone every weekend, and for us, that’s our bread and butter. So, I have to get creative and figure out how to make money.
Fans can keep up with Jay Allen on Instagram.
Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Country Now, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.