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Allan Rayman Is Creating a Universe to Get Lost In

The Toronto crooner shies away from the spotlight but can’t keep the flames at bay with the release of Roadhouse 02.

by Adriel Smiley

Photo by Tara Newell

Allan Rayman has found a hack when it comes to stage fright and his overarching anxieties around fame: become somebody else. According to the Toronto-based crooner, Mr. Roadhouse, the titular character behind his album series of the same name, is just the more confident version of himself. “I’m normally a shy person. So to do something like starting a music career I had to find confidence somewhere.”

When Rayman released the first iteration of Roadhouse in 2017, Rayman had said that he brought Mr. Roadhouse into the world to justify his selfish and dickish behaviour. But now, as he rolls out Roadhouse 02, his tune has noticeably changed. Roadhouse 02 had been in the works since the creation of the original, with his team having some direction of where the story would go. And with the new album, his universe is expanding with characters weaving and intertwining, akin to a certain Disney-owned collection of superheroes.

His previous album, Christian (2000), saw him sporting a set of angel wings on the cover. Rayman dyed his hair blonde, making him almost unrecognizable to some fans. He addresses this on the RH02 song “Good Enough”: “Change my name, feel more tough, Bleach my hair, shave my scruff’ referring to his look on the cover of Christian. This theme of transformation is front and centre for Rayman. “I always change my look, just because fame is something I’m afraid of, and I think it’s a key factor with what I do. I always just change my look up so people can’t really get settled on one look and know who I look like, so people don’t know what Allan looks like,” says Rayman. “And I think by keeping people at an arm’s distance, they develop creative space which can breed obsession and all because they don’t know who Allan is or what he looks like.”

Rayman selectively avoids widespread notoriety while encouraging obsession from his followers. The deliberate nature of this choice is surprising, but Rayman has always embraced unique ways of sharing his music. In September 2021, he partnered with Pabst Blue Ribbon for a vinyl release of his singles “Waste My Time” & “Books.” This collaboration seemed like a no-brainer considering his affinity for the beverage. “I grew up on Pabst. Easy beer. I used to say, ‘I like a beer I can drink 30 of.’”

RH02 is inspired thematically by Kurt Vonnegut’s use of an alter ego in his classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five. This project is driven by Mr. Roadhouse’s manipulative nature towards Allan, picking up where Roadhouse 01 left off. Mr. Roadhouse has full control of Allan’s waking life. The latter retreats to a space in his mind he calls The Woods, leaving Mr. Roadhouse to control the career they’ve set up together. Rayman goes into more detail and alludes to the end of Mr. Roadhouse. “Here, he writes, and delivers it to Mr. Roadhouse, and they gain more success off that and then Mr. Roadhouse keeps him there by saying that if he does these albums for him, he’ll give his girl back his love that he lost. Allan’s a little bit of a weak minded individual and Mr. Roadhouse manipulates him using that to his advantage and makes him a deal.”

This story has the depth of an allegorical film series, the kind of storytelling that has been missing from music, however Rayman’s attention to these complex storylines doesn’t take away from his beliefs on importance of the quality of the music. He sounds off on branding yourself, a cautionary tale for upcoming artists putting their brand ahead of their actual music.  “It’s important not to get lost in it and to focus more attention on your brand and that your music lacks… I’m just trying to say it’s enough to be just an artist.”

RH02 signifies the end of Mr. Roadhouse and the emergence of the real Allan Rayman. With more than 250 million streams to date, Rayman has accomplished a lot, but he still sees a breakthrough in his future and is preparing himself for what comes next. “I think we’ve laid such a strong foundation so we are protected, should this thing decide to take off. And if it does I only see it as an opportunity to create on a bigger canvas.”