Q&A with Amy Allen (of Amy & The Engine)
by Mackenzie Nichols (Journalism), published February 12th 2015
Amy Allen is the Twiggy of bluegrass. Originally from South Portland, Maine, Allen grew up playing guitar and bass with her older sister’s band “No U Turn” when she was just 9 years old. After appearing as a contestant on The Voice, Allen migrated to Boston, eventually dropping her Boston College nursing degree to study songwriting at Berklee College of Music. After releasing two solo EPs, she debuted as the vocalist and primary songwriter for Amy & The Engine. With a new single entitled “Last Forever” set to drop on Valentine’s Day with an accompanying music video, as well as an EP release slated for spring 2015, this band is poised to make waves. Amy & The Engine’s ’50s-inspired folk-rock ditties will have you dancing and smiling from ear-to-ear. Tastemakers Magazine caught up with Allen to discuss her band and her love for pop.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): When you’re writing, do you prefer writing melodies before lyrics or lyrics before melodies?
Amy Allen (AA): When I’m doing my own songs I just do it all at once. If I have an idea, I’ll just start playing guitar and I’ll find chords and go from that so I can get into the vibe of what the song feels like before I actually start putting words to it. The guys in the band are from like four different continents and all very great influences themselves.
TMM: So do they help you with songwriting, too?
AA: None of them really help with songwriting, but when we go to arrange the songs and figure out everyone’s parts they all have a style of their own. That helps a lot. Mano, he’s from Peru, always brings a Peruvian flare to his drum parts. The rhythms and the beats he comes up with are so different than anything I would think to do of myself.
TMM: Your songwriting reminds me a lot of Brandi Carlile.
AA: She’s my favorite artist of all time. Brandi Carlile has been one of my biggest inspirations. I’m one of three sisters, so every girl pop artist that’s been around I have loved. I think it’s really cool, learning from other female rock/pop artists. Sheryl Crow, she has had a really prolific writing career. Even the Indigo Girls. Everyone brings something different. I’ve always preferred female artists over male artists because I’m always trying to learn from them and their vocal technique. I’m a pop-head. I love pop.
TMM: I really love the addition of the strings on your cover of Estelle’s “American Boy.” Do you do covers often?
AA: The cover that we’ve been kind of playing is “Dreams” by The Cranberries. I’ve played a lot of motown-y covers and I’ve always been a fan of girl bands from the ’50s and ’60s – they’re probably my biggest influence. I also love girls’ ’90s pop. We started practicing “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis.
TMM: There’s a mandolin player in your band and you took lessons when you were younger from a bluegrass banjo player. Do you draw a lot of inspiration from bluegrass?
AA: I think that’s why I was so drawn at first to our mandolin player, Ben. He was actually the first person I interviewed to be in the band. He said that he played guitar and his primary instrument was jazz mandolin. It was kind of was a match made in heaven because I was used to playing with mandolin players, banjo players, upright bass players.
TMM: The ’50s inspired teaser for your “Last Forever” video is awesome – I’m a huge sucker for ’50s cars.
AA: All of the elderly people dancing in the video are students of my uncle who teaches exercise classes to the elderly in Portland. So my grandmother’s in it and all of her best friends are in it. The man who built the first house I ever lived in is in it with his wife.
TMM: You wore “pink high-tops and a trucker hat” when you were in No U-Turn. Do you have a certain aesthetic that you try to bring to your shows? Do you try to pick certain outfits beforehand?
AA: I love dressing in vintage clothes. Twiggy is my fashion icon. I love that era of clothing. The mod pastels.
TMM: Do you have any particular stories, from tour of from the Voice?
AA: We were playing “Last Forever” at Oktoberfest in Harvard Square this fall, and all of a sudden the crowd kind of cleared and there was this little old man – so adorable – breakdancing in the middle. Like, getting down to our song. The cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It made me reevaluate “Last Forever.” I had written it with a friend about being in a relationship with somebody, feeling a certain way and not knowing if they feel the same way back. But when I saw this old guy dancing it recolored how I saw the whole song. I immediately drew this new connection that “Last Forever” is more like wanting your youthful spirit to last forever.
TMM: What are you listening to right now?
AA: “Electric Love” by BØRNS. I’ve also been listening The Preatures. They have that ’80s pop I really like that Haim is [also] doing.
TMM: If you were stranded on an island and could only have three albums, which would you pick?
AA: Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, and Stay Gold by First Aid Kit.