Amy Allen began her music career at 9 years old when she became the electric bass player of her older sister’s band. The group members eventually went their separate ways, but Allen’s love for music persisted and inspired her to pursue songwriting at Berklee College of Music, where she formed Amy & the Engine. Today, flanked by her “engine” of four guys from all over the world, Allen is making waves in the music industry. Amy & the Engine’s newest single, “Last Forever,” a song full of soul and rock ‘n’ roll, was released on Valentine’s Day this year. Be sure to look out for her EP, which is also in the works to be released later this year!
Cliché: A lot of artists in the industry choose to forgo college, but you’re currently studying songwriting at Berklee College of Music. Why do you think it’s important to study music at university?
Amy Allen: For me, every day at Berklee has been nothing short of crazy and eyeopening. I transferred to Berklee after studying at Boston College for two years in the Nursing program. Switching from classes in organic chemistry to classes in music theory was like walking into a school where everyone spoke Mandarin… and I didn’t. For my first semester, I smiled and nodded like I knew what was going on around me, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until my second semester that I realized I had to buckle down and actually learn this stuff in order to get to the classes I really wanted to take in songwriting. I’m definitely still not a theory guru, but now I have a much better understanding of how to manipulate chords, melody, and lyrics in order to write better songs.
I know you met the “Engine” at Berklee, but how did you all start playing together and decide to form the band?
I fell in love with music because of two things: 1) writing and 2) feeling the energy of a band around me. In my first band experience, I was the 9-year-old electric bass player in my older sister’s all-girl band and after that, there was no turning back—I needed to be a part of a band. As I went through middle school and high school, I played with a bluegrass band called The Jerks of Grass and went on to gigs occasionally with a rock band in Portland. When I finally found my way to Berklee, I knew it was time to create a sound of my own by forming my first personalized band. A year into my time at Berklee, my friend Kaylee urged me to jump-start the band-forming process, and at a place like Berklee where you can throw a rock and hit 15 guitarists, we turned to the only place we knew to turn to: Facebook. Shockingly, we got a ton of interest and started meeting with lots of players, but it wasn’t long before I found my core group. We’ve been together for just about a year now, so I’m secretly wondering if any of the guys will get me a one-year anniversary gift… Probably not, but here’s to hoping… Or maybe they’ll read this and buy me food or something… I’ll let you know.
What has been your best memory with the band so far?
Oooh… that’s a tie. The first was probably jumping around the stage with them at CMJ last year. I think it was the most fun I’ve ever had performing because the guys were all revved up and ready to move after a long car ride, and we were all just excited to debut our sound in NY. It was amazing. The second best memory was actually last week. The night before a showcase, we were trying to practice and as usual we were denied a practice room because everybody and their mother signs up for practice rooms at Berklee. We went and got drinks at this place near campus called Little Steve’s and somehow got onto the topic of “stress dreams.” Listening to them describe their most recent dreams was one of the funniest things I’ve experienced in a long time.
You have an EP to be released later this year. What can we expect from that?
The next single is all cued up and ready to go, so we can’t wait to share that with everyone. The rest of the EP will be recorded next month in NY with the help of two of my quirky and fantastically talented friends, Griffin Emerson and Andrew Seltzer. My personal inspirations have always been girl groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s (à la The Ronettes and The Dixie Cups) mixed with some classic rock influences from bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Pretenders. You can expect to hear those retro influences channeled into a modernized pop/rock, girl-fronted and harmony-heavy record.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration for songwriting?
My sisters! Being the youngest of three sisters, I am never lacking juicy material. When one of us is in a good relationship, the other is breaking up; when one of us loves our job, the others want to change career paths completely. It’s like the three of us are on the exact same cycle but off by one degree, and we’re so close, it’s like I’m experiencing all of our ups and downs at once. It can be a blessing and a curse, but it’s mostly a blessing.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would you choose?
Ever? The Dixie Cups, Lindsey Buckingham, or TLC, though both are highly unlikely. Today? Probably First Aid Kit.
What are your hidden talents?
I used to figure skate competitively. You watch Dance Moms on TV… Dance Moms have nothing on Skate Moms. Thankfully my mom was not one (love you, Mom), but it was epic. I’ll leave it at that. I’m also a “Master Diver,” whatever that actually means. Basically I’ve gone scuba diving a lot, and I have a nifty little certificate because of it.
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Amy & the Engine Interview: Photos courtesy of Shervin Lainez