Q&A: Paul Allen on His Star-Studded Album

The Microsoft co-founder (and Blazers owner) releases a benefit record today with the likes of Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, the Eagle’s Joe Walsh, and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. We’re kind of jealous.

By John Chandler Edited by Aaron Scott August 6, 2013

Paul Allen in the studio

It’s good to be the king. Or at least the modern day equivalent. After you’ve co-founded one of the world’s biggest tech giants (Microsoft) and made a name for yourself as a sports team owner (the Blazers and the Seahawks) and a philanthropist (over $1.5 billion donated), when you want to make an all-star record, you get to go all out. Such is the case with Paul Allen and his band the Underthinkers’ major label debut, Everywhere at Once. The roster of rock legends sharing the spotlight includes Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Joe Walsh of the Eagles, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Derek Trucks, Doyle Bramhall II, and Ivan Neville. And all proceeds go to fund educational programs at the Allen-founded EMP Museum in Seattle, which is dedicated to music, sci-fi, and ideas.

The album comes out today, but chances are you’ve heard one of its tracks already. The first single, “Divine,” (featuring lead vocals by Amy Keys) appeared in the vehicle for Channing Tatum’s abs, Magic Mike, last year.

Allen’s been playing the guitar since he was 16—the same year his life was changed by seeing Jimi Hendrix live at the Seattle Center Coliseum in 1969. We caught up with him to ask what it’s like going from the boardroom to the studio with all your musical heroes.

Culturephile: Did you have any "rock star" hallucination moments during the making of this album? For instance, "Holy cow, I'm playing guitar with Joe Walsh! I'd better bring my 'A' game!"
This album is unique in that it brought together a lot of amazing musician friends that I’ve made over the years to help realize this vision I had. But it’s always surreal to play with such pros, and I do often have moments where I can’t believe I’m jamming next to them.  

Care to share any tales of whiskey drinking or late-night partying in the studio with members of rock royalty? Any hotel rooms get trashed?
Maybe times have changed.  At least while I was around, we were pretty focused on making great music.

Any plans for a tour or shows in support of Everywhere at Once? MusicFest Northwest, perhaps? Do the Underthinkers have a suitable rock 'n' roll wardrobe for such an occasion?
We are considering some options and hope to do a few live shows in support of the record, including an album release party at EMP Museum in Seattle. I am sure we can come up with something cool to wear that suits the occasion! I have a slight weakness for purple.

There's a lot of blues tunes on the record. How does one of the wealthiest men in the world tap into that sorrowful, soulful mindset?
I have always loved the blues, and so much of my favorite music comes out of that blues tradition: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and new guys like Gary Clark Jr. and Derek Trucks. All of them have deep roots in the blues.

Speaking of, if you had a "wish list" of guest stars (living or dead) to record with, who would be included on that list?
Well, the ones we have on the record are pretty special, but maybe Matt Bellamy from Muse, Freddie Mercury, John Bonham, Thom Yorke, Dave Grohl, Stevie Ray Vauhn and, obviously, Jimi Hendrix.

Are there any current or historical Portland bands that you're a fan of?
I was fortunate to play with Curtis Salgado at the EMP Founder’s Award show for Buddy Guy and really thought he was great. And I think the Shins are great.

The proceeds from the record sale will go to fund educational programs at EMP Museum. Why choose it?
I have always believed music and the arts aren’t “extras”—they are a vital part of every community. That’s why I think it’s important to give people opportunities to have more access and exposure to them. EMP has some really innovative outreach programs that are helping inspire personal expression and fueling creativity, and I’m excited the record can help support that work.

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