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SHATTERING THE MOLD: Def Leppard’s Rick Allen Talks Life, Art and Giving Back!

One of the many striking pieces from Rick Allen's "Hand - American Flag Series"
One of the many striking pieces from Rick Allen’s “Hand – American Flag Series”

When Rick Allen began playing the drums at 10 years old, he had no idea of the impact the instrument would have on his life or the heights his passion for playing would take him. By the age of 12, he became so proficient he began playing with local groups. Before turning 15, a local band, originally called Deaf Leopard, had just lost their drummer and was looking for a replacement. Allen called up, auditioned and got the job. After Def Leppard’s first two releases, “On Through the Night” in 1980 and “High and Dry” in 1981, the band was considered a leader in the New Wave of the British heavy metal movement. In 1983, their hit “Pyromania” became their breakthrough album, selling more than 9 million copies in the U.S. alone.

In 1984, the band was taking a break before working on a follow up album when tragedy struck. Allen was involved in a car accident near his hometown on New Year’s Eve. He was thrown from his vehicle, his left arm severed. His band members stood by him and convinced him to stay with the group. He constructed an electric drum set partially controlled by his feet. By 1987, Def Leppard was ready to perform again with their fourth album, “Hysteria,” which outsold “Pyromania.” The band was beset with other setbacks, but continued to persevere. Today, the band continues to perform to sold out venues and produce successful albums.

Although he is best known for his work behind the drumkit, Allen was always passionate about photography and art. After suffering his life-altering accident, he turned to the arts to help cope with the long-lasting effects of PTSD. Fueled by a creative fire burning deep within, his creative output led him to perform numerous one-man art shows and a clamoring for his amazing pieces. Along the way, Rick Allen and his wife, Lauren Monroe, founded the Raven Drum Foundation and Project Resiliency with a mission to serve, educate and empower veterans and people in crisis. Over the past 10 years, Rick reached out to teenage cancer patients, children with special needs, at risk youth in crisis, families of domestic violence and veterans who served in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded the Humanitarian Award by Maria Shriver’s Best Buddies of CA in 2002 and continues his work through the Veteran Resiliency Project created by the Raven Drum Foundation. Rick, in 2012, was awarded the Wounded Warrior Project’s Carry It Forward Award.

Rick Allen’s art is currently being showcased exclusively in Wentworth Gallery locations throughout the country and will soon be headed to the Washington, DC Metro Area. This extraordinary collection of originals, mixed media originals, limited editions, sculptures and fine jewelry will be on exhibition and available for acquisition in a dual-exhibition presentation at Wentworth Gallery locations in Bethesda, Maryland and McLean, Virginia on Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22, 2016. The gallery welcomes art enthusiasts, collectors and fans of Rick Allen’s works as its invited guests for special live appearances by the artist. A portion of the proceeds from each sale during this event will be donated back to Project Resiliency’s Veteran Resiliency Program, sponsored by his charity foundation the Raven Drum Foundation, and each purchaser of a mixed-media original will receive a limited edition hand-signed Commemorative Purple Heart 15 piece.

Jason Price recently caught up with Rick Allen to discuss his passion for the arts, the positive impact they had on his life and the process of bringing his artwork to the masses. In addition, they delve into the amazing work he is doing through Raven Drum Foundation Project Resiliency Program.

Rick Allen
Rick Allen

You are a part of a band that touched many people’s lives. When did music first come into your life?

Music came into my life through my family. I remember finding a pair of my dad’s drumsticks. He played the side drum in the Boy Scouts. That was one of the things. The other thing that really gave me the bug was my older brother. He used to bring records home all the time. It’s interesting because I was just watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for Deep Purple. One of the first band’s I really got into was Deep Purple and it was really because of Ian Paice, the drummer. I was really lucky to have been exposed to all kinds of music. My dad used to listen to Elton John, Carole King, Glenn Miller and all types of music. I think being around that as a kid really gave me a feel for music.

Def Leppard has been at it for years and shows no signs of slowing down. To what do you attribute the band’s longevity?

I think the real answer to that is friendship. I think there have been times, especially with losing Steve Clark, me going through my accident and several other things that were less publicized, where you experience setbacks. When you experience setbacks, you end up with a question. The question is, “Why are we doing this?” We always came up with, “Well, we actually like each other and we are friends.” We still feel as though we make music that is really valid.

Now we get to see a new side of you with your work as an artist. When did art become a part of your life?

I think it really started when I was a kid. I was very young, 4 or 5 years old. I guess my daughter reignited my passion for art. She is 5 years old now. When I see her paint, it is such an inspiration because she doesn’t calculate, she just does it! She is really just in the moment with it. I think that is really the place where I go when I play music. That is one of the beautiful things about music. When you play it, you get into this wonderful zone and are able to be in the moment. When I paint, I go to the same place I do when I play music. It is really a wonderful way for me to wind down from being on tour and it brings me into a really good headspace.

Rick Allen hard at work on one of his art pieces.
Rick Allen hard at work on one of his art pieces.

Did you have reservations about showing this other side of yourself and your artistry?

I always did, yeah. I started with photography and for me it was something that was very personal. I didn’t always like to share some of the things that I did. My wife was very vocal. She said, “It is another way to express yourself. Let people see this stuff!” I started combining the photography with painting. The initial reaction that I got from people was one that was very favorable. I guess it enabled me to get over my fear of what people were going to think. As soon as I got some of those early reactions in from people, all of my fears just kind of dissolved.

What went into the process of finding your creative voice as an artist?

I think it came down to inspiration. I am very inspired by all of the things in my life. Everything I come into contact with, whether it be my immediate family and feeling that connection or my connection to England or my connection to America. I have been here since 1991 and the freedom that comes with living in America is very inspiring. Inspiration really comes from everything from working with our wounded warriors to working with the band to having the opportunity to have met hundreds of thousands of people through the years. I am very inspired by others.

You teamed up with Wentworth Gallery to bring your artwork to the masses. How did you get involved with them and what has the experience been like?

Someone walked into one of their galleries and they were talking about how it would be great if Rick Allen’s art was in this particular gallery. Christian O’Mahony, one of the owners of the gallery, got to hear about this and basically pursued me. He invited me to do some pieces for Wentworth. They have tons of galleries, so it is a great way for me to get the art out to a lot of people. The rest is history!

A piece from Rick Allen's "Angels" series.
A piece from Rick Allen’s “Angels” series.

For those not able to visit a gallery yet, what can they expect from these showings and what has it been like to see your work through someone else’s eyes?

I think that is where everything comes full circle, when you actually present these pieces and how it affects people emotionally and to hear their stories. Then I can share a little of what my thought process was or is while I was doing a particular piece. Between the stories that I have and the stories that other people have and how it affects them, it all makes sense. When people come along to the showings, it is wonderful for me to connect with them in a different way. Normally, I am up on stage, doing what I do, playing drums. This exposes me even more, so I tend to talk about more personal things, things that affect my life and how I move forward. I really like it and I feel everyone goes away really happy!

You have dealt with PTSD for many years following your accident. How has art played a role in managing it?

Playing music has always helped me. The more I stay in the moment, the less I tend to be affected by different triggers in my life. Painting does the same thing. It takes me to a very calming place. It is one of the things I encourage a lot of you warriors to do and that is to find something they are passionate about, something that makes you feel special and try not to be affected by external circumstances. It is easier said than done. I always say I am a work in progress. I don’t have it all figured out yet but I do have some really nice strategies to cope with my PTSD.

Rick Allen's 'Art To Wear'
Rick Allen’s ‘Art To Wear’

You are developing an impressive body of work. What are your thoughts as you look back on the catalog?

I love to be able to do this and every time I go home I work on more and more pieces. Within the last three months, I have probably put together in the region of 35 to 40 pieces. When I look back now, it is an incredible body of work and a lot of content. I feel a true sense of accomplishment and I feel really good about myself! It’s wonderful!

You also branched out into wearable art, in the form of jewelry.

Yeah! Really, all of the pieces are inspired by the art in one way, shape or form. For a lot of people, especially some of the women, they like to be able to take the artwork with them, as opposed to it being hung on a wall at home. I think it was a nice addition adding the jewelry to the roster. I feel really blessed!

The best part about your work is it is going to help a great cause. What can you tell us about the Raven Drum Foundation and Project Resiliency?

The Raven Drum Foundation was set up by myself and my wife. Project Resiliency is one of the programs. That program is a way for us to inspire some of our wounded warriors. A good portion of the proceeds from the art go toward funding Project Resiliency. A year doesn’t go by where we don’t do something very significant. Some of the retreats are really fantastic. There is drumming, equine assisted therapy and good old fashioned therapy sitting around a campfire and talking about our experiences. These are all ways for us all to come up with different ways to cope with PTSD. In a way, it is a very selfish thing because it really helps me but then it becomes a two-way street because it is something that is a shared experience.

Where are you headed in the future when it comes to artwork?

I think the artwork kind of tells me where it wants to go. Every single day, something new comes up. I will see something that serves as inspiration. For example, with this last round, I started leaning more heavily on the peace sign. Seeing what was going on in the media and in the world, I just felt like we all needed to calm down a little bit and get a little more of that peace in our lives, rather than this very polarized way of communicating with one another, especially when you look in the political realms.


What is on tap for Def Leppard in the months to come?

Well, the shows we are doing at the moment are shows we had to postpone unfortunately. We were able to reinstate all of the shows, so that is fantastic. We are embarked upon this tour and still out promoting the new record, which is the self-titled Def Leppard record. That has been really successful for us, so we are going to continue promoting the record throughout the year. I think I am going to be out on the road until October. It is going to be nearly Christmas by the time I get home!

Looking back on your career with the band, how have you most evolved?

Initially, coming back after losing my arm, to me was a huge milestone. I think the thing that helped me more than anything was to not compare myself to myself. What I mean by that is comparing myself to the way that I used to play and then moving into a place of celebrating my uniqueness. I don’t play like I used to play but I play differently but I am comfortable with that now. It is really fun to be able to do something that nobody else can do.

Rick Allen: An Unstoppable Force!
Rick Allen: An Unstoppable Force!

You have seen the music industry change exponentially through the years. What is the best part of being an artist in today’s climate?

We are very lucky because we have the history, so we have a really strong fan base. They are so loyal and they love this band so much. I think that is one of the things that we have going for us. In this day and age, it is quite difficult to create that kind of audience or demographic, so we are very fortunate. We have really young people coming along to our shows and also the die-hards who are as old as us, if not older. We are really grateful to have them all on our side.

Many people can look to you as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take away from your journey so far?

To count your blessings! For me, it is about realizing what I can do, as opposed to what I can’t do!

That is terrific! Any chance we will see an autobiography out of you in the future? I am sure you have some great tales to tell!

Oh, I do! I do! I actually started writing a book but then kind of lost interest but, yeah, there is always that possibility!

You have plenty of irons in the fire. Where is the best place for fans, both old and new, to keep up with your adventures?

A good place to go, a good resource, is www.rickallen.com. You can find out pretty much everything about what I am up to and all the different things I am involved with there! That is a good place for people to go!

Awesome! Thanks for your time today, Rick! I look forward to seeing you and all your work at the Wentworth Gallery in Washington, DC.

I look forward to meeting you there! Thanks!

Rick Allen will make two special appearances at these two charitable events at both Wentworth Gallery locations: May 21: Wentworth Gallery: Tysons – McLean 6 PM to 9 PM and May 22 Wentworth Gallery: Montgomery- Bethesda 12 PM to 3 PM. A portion of the proceeds from each sale during this event will be donated back to Project Resiliency’s Veteran Resiliency Program, sponsored by his charity foundation the Raven Drum Foundation, and each purchaser of a mixed-media original will receive a limited edition hand-signed Commemorative Purple Heart 15 piece. Get more information on Wentworth Gallery events at www.wentworth-art.com.