Interview: Hoodie Allen goes pop-punk on new breakup album

Hoodie Allen, Steven Markowitz

Hoodie Allen, courtesy.

When indie rapper and producer Hoodie Allen went to L.A. to write and record songs for a new album with his friend Nick Anderson, of The Wrecks, he didn’t anticipate having to live with him for five months.

Hoodie Allen
Arden Jones

8 p.m., Monday, Aug. 15
The New Parish, Oakland
Tickets: $30.

This was in early March 2020—right before lockdowns began and flights were canceled.

“He was kind enough to bring me in, especially during that time when people were, like, ‘You can’t go on a plane. That’s not a thing,’” said Hoodie Allen, whose name is Steven Markowitz, in a video call from New York. “We kind of became roommates and collaborators and very, very close friends as a result.”

Another result? Hoodie Allen’s first full-on pop-punk record, fueled both by an unsettling breakup, his always-present interest in the genre and Anderson’s expertise in that type of music. The eight songs on the new album, the name of which is yet to be revealed and will arrive later this year, came from this time period, and Markowitz said the two grew “a lot of brainwave twin energy” in Anderson’s home studio. He called the Wrecks’ musician an underrated writer and producer.

“I wanted to delve into his world more than bring him into mine. This sound definitely is his wheelhouse,” he said. “But it’s also something that has been part of my musical DNA. Since growing up, this sort of music—this pop-punk, pop-rock indie/alternative—has really shaped my artistry in different ways, as well.”

Hoodie Allen points out that he’s recorded a song with State Champs and has toured with Fall Out Boy and Wiz Khalifa at the same time—which he thinks is the perfect intersection of his sound. Still, it took having his heart stomped on (breakup anthems are a staple of pop-punk) and then getting stuck with Anderson to jump all the way into that pool.

“It was such a great opportunity to finally full[y] commit and say, ‘Let’s go for it; let’s do something that feels honest and real,’ even if it’s not what the typical fan might expect from a new release of mine,” he said.

The Brooklyn musician, and former Google employee when he briefly lived in San Francisco at the turn of 2010, made a big splash without the help of a major label. His 2012 EP, All American, hit the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top 200, with two platinum singles. Two years later, he collaborated with Ed Sheeran and released full-length debut People Keep Talking, which debuted at No. 8 on that same Billboard chart. Three more albums followed. While it wasn’t traditional hip-hop, it very much lived at a crossroads of rap and dance music.

This will be his first album since 2019’s Whatever USA. The two-year gap since he’s made the album is the longest amount of time he’s ever waited to release new music.

“I didn’t want this album that meant a lot to me to sort of get lost in that depressive pandemic cycle that we all sort of endured for a long time,” he said.

That also means that while he wrote the album at his lowest after his breakup, he’s had time and space to finally recover. He credits making the album to helping him get to that point. Still, if you listen to the eight songs, there’s no healing taking place.

Single “Call Me Never” is representative of this collection, with bassy beats, crunchy guitar and emo vocals detailing various aspects of sadness, denial and anger.

“They were being made very much in the vulnerability stage of feeling all the feels and wanting music to be the outlet for communicating it,” Hoodie Allen said.

The songs tell the story of the end of the relationship in a linear fashion. He compares it to going through the stages of grief.

“There’s the denial, the acceptance, the bitterness, the spite,” he said. “There’s so many factors that come when you’re in that weird in-between stage where you’re not quite over something, but it’s also not done entirely.”

But instead of giving the album a happy “Disney ending,” it ends abruptly on track eight, with him still feeling insecure and uncertain of the future.

Part of this is because he didn’t want to exhaust his fans.

“I just felt like we should tell what we need to tell and make it matter the most,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of those 18-song, 16-song albums. Especially when it’s sort of like a concept.”

Hoodie Allen is better now that enough time has passed. But he’ll have to wait until his tour kicks off in August to figure out whether performing those songs will be a happy, cathartic experience, or like picking at old scabs. He hopes it’s the former.

“I put a lot of rawness and honesty into this music, and I feel like when you’re performing, a lot of times, you tap into a lot of the emotions that a made a song,” he said. “Are we going to get a crying video on stage? I hope not. … We’ll have to see.”

Even in the name of his summer tour that kicks off next month, With or Without You, he not only invites his fans back to concert halls, but addresses his ex one last time.

“I’m saying, ‘I’m ready to be here and do this, whether it doesn’t look like it looked like last time; whether you’re going to be at the show, like I used to have, by my side. I’m still here. I’m still doing it,’” he said.

Hoodie Allen also plans to continue working with Anderson—“He’s like my go-to guy”—and continue to incorporate this new-for-him sound into his music. He sees other artists not putting genre restrictions on themselves as the future. He wants to work with artists like Simple Plan, New Found Glory and All Time Low.

While he entered the music industry as a poppy rapper, he grew up on emo and pop-punk. And there’s more influences yet to surface.

“I fell in love with hip-hop and I love the storytelling that I could write with raps and rhyming, but that sort of rock side has always been in the DNA,” he said. “This is definitely not a pitstop for me. It’s very much what I love.”

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