Give Amy Allen a capital "A" for effort while the singer-songwriter also makes an upper case for herself in the Ambition Department.
Backed by the group she started forming in February 2014, Allen is revving up for a promising music career with Amy & the Engine.
That's a bold statement to make about an indie pop-rock group based in Boston that has yet to release a full-length album. But there are six simple reasons to get behind a 23-year-old go-getter with a rhythm guitar, an athlete's DIY determination and the ability to morph her sweet sister act as a teen into a swinging sextet with a world of influences.
And if that's hard to fathom, meet Amy and prepare to jump on what she calls her "bandwagon," which now includes Australians Sophia Christopher (keyboard, backing vocals) and Marton Bisits (electric guitar), Brazil's Vinny da Silva (guitar), Brooklyn's Shareef Addo (bass) and Peru's Manuel Ruiz (drums).
Citing demanding but reachable goals (making relatable music "that I think is gonna be good for years to come"), Allen is preparing for the Sept. 22 release of Tandem Mania, her first EP with the Engine. The six tunes she wrote are filled with groovy girl-group melodies, catchy hooks, peppy pop, classic rock muscle and meaningful lyrics as she takes you on her angst-filled roller-coaster ride over the past year.
"I think it kind of comes from a shared thread in a lot of people," Allen said over the phone on Aug. 24 from Boston as she was moving from one empty apartment to another. "There's just this underlying thing in human nature where we all kind of find the need to be with someone and to have shared experiences with someone whether it's just temporarily or searching for someone to be with for life. Even just to work with as a work partner. And for me it's been something I've been conscious of since I was really young. Just this need to want to work with someone, to have something flourish as a duo or as part of something bigger."
The youngest of the three Allen girls started playing guitar at age 9, writing songs at 10 and performing at age 13 with her middle sister billed as Ashley and Amy, who opened in their hometown of Portland, Maine, for a bluegrass band called Jerks of Grass. But good songs, she humbly contends, didn't emerge until "maybe a year" ago, when the kid sister was completing her education at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
While going to school, the former leader of the Amy Allen Band that included fellow students Adam Kronowski and David Colicchio was enlisting members of her future group by attending shows or through Facebook posts, a process she admits was a bit like "blind dating."
The EP was recorded, produced and mixed by Griffin Emerson and Andrew Seltzer, two of Allen's Berklee besties, in Seltzer's apartment in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, where she commuted every other weekend from early March through late May.
The best track on Tandem Mania might be "Patience," and the lyric video of the heartfelt song premieres today (Sept. 1) at The Huffington Post. With a little help from her friend Tom Freeman, Allen said she spent two sick days from school making the video, which is a compilation of clips of Amy and her sisters, 15 cousins plus numerous second cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents "and other extended relatives and friends" taken by her mother Melissa.
Check out the video here, then read more about what inspired it and Allen's career.
The impetus for "Patience" came from listening to her mom and grandmother around the time Allen's oldest sister Amanda, got married. (The Allen sisters, from left: Ashley, 25; Amanda, 27; and Amy, 23.) "We're all A's," noted Amy of the Allen girls, adding that the wedding was "kind of like a reality check to me that, 'Holy shit, we're all growing up, and time is flying by.' "
Especially for Allen, whose maddening pace is captured in Amy & the Engine's "Love Me" video.
In launching her career, "I've noticed ... I just feel like I'm living kind of in fast-forward," she revealed. "And my mom all the time is telling me like, 'Amy, slow down, you feel like you're in a million places. Take a deep breath, just be present. Like chill out.' ... It is great advice, and I should take it. And I've been trying to. I feel like the last year, I feel I've been a lot better about it.
"But 'Patience' is kind of just this whole perspective I've gained on life, in my 23 years, which isn't long. So it's not any great nugget of gold probably for most people, but for me, it's just about seeing everything I've done so far and the people that I love and the people that I've journeyed with so far and trying to be present and slow down. And not live in fast-forward and not take anything for granted and just take every day as it comes and be happy and grateful for it. So I'm thankful for my grandmother for always giving me words of wisdom and making me see that. And I'm grateful for my mom for always calling me out on living like a crazy woman and running like a chicken with my head cut off."
What do you expect from a Waynflete School overachiever? Allen not only made her first EP (Honey) during high school but also was getting recruited to follow in the footsteps of two college lacrosse-playing sisters (Amanda at Bowdoin in Maine, Ashley at Hamilton College in New York) who still run marathons.
While years of figure skating and a chance to take lacrosse to the next level at Boston College kept those athletic dreams alive, Allen had discovered a deeper yearning during hourlong drives with her dad to and from their Windham home to competitions and ballet recitals.
She said her father James Allen, a classic rock fan, would blast music by bands such as AC/DC, the Who and Guess Who on the car radio "and I just soaked it all up. We just sat there and ate Good & Plenty and listened to music every single night. Ever since I can remember, from probably when I was 6 to 18, we did that together. It was cool and he loved going to shows, so he took me everywhere, to every show he went to really."
Her most memorable concert was the Rolling Stones and the Pretenders on Sept. 3, 2002, at FleetCenter (now TD Garden). There with her sisters, Allen was 9 at the time and estimates she and her dad attended 13 Stones concerts together, but this "life-changing show" stood out for another reason besides the music.
"I kind of caught one of the Rolling Stones' guitar picks, but then I got clawed down by this huge man" who wrestled away the souvenir, Allen recalled. Still, she never let go of her passion for music.
When dreams of playing lacrosse faded and the biochemistry major at BC fell two years short of a degree and pursuing the nursing profession, Allen appeared on Season 2 of NBC's The Voice in 2012, making it through the preliminary rounds before getting cut. If failing to advance hurt, Allen can take comfort in the fact that her career path was finally paved.
"I probably had the most conversations with CeeLo (Green)," she said of one of stars calling the shots from the big red revolving chairs. "I don't even know if he's still a judge anymore. ... (The Voice is) kind of a strange thing. At least you can name the winners of American Idol but no one can really name the winners of The Voice. So I don't know, maybe now that American Idol's over (after 2016), The Voice might have a little bit more of a following."
Overall, though, Allen chalked it up to "a good learning experience. I got home knowing that I wanted to do that," then "begged my parents to let me transfer to a music school" and went to Berklee for three years, graduating in May as a songwriting major.
Many of her musical friendships were made there, and the Amy Allen Band opened for acts like Salt-N-Pepa and Emili Sande. After Kronowski and Colicchio graduated, she basically had to start from scratch again and decided, "It's really time for me to just fully kick into gear and get my pop-rock band going that I've wanted to forever."
Amy & the Engine made their professional debut opening for Vance Joy at the Old Port Festival in Maine in June 2014, then subsequently shared stages with Rachel Platten, the Veronicas and Kacey Musgraves.
Unlike Musgraves, Allen never thought of herself as a country act, laughing about when The Voice tried to typecast her in that role even though Portland, Maine, is light years away from the music that made Nashville famous.
It's classic rock that's been in her blood ever since "my mind was kind of just blown up" when Allen saw Chrissie Hynde's great Pretenders. Other influences she reeled off included favorite movies such as That Thing You Do! and "anything with Robin Williams," along with artists like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, the Dixie Cups, the Supremes and, more recently, Jenny Lewis.
Though she aspires to develop her own dynamic and style with the Engine, Allen appreciates comparisons made to the former Rilo Kiley songstress who is one of today's leading indie pop-rock voices.
"Patience" best captures the spirit of Lewis' sound and fury but this child of the '90s also was motivated by '80s synth pop and, though she didn't mention it, possibly that era's reigning dancing queen.
Allen wasn't even born when host Dick Clark set up a future musical icon by asking "What are your dreams? What's left?" on American Bandstand in 1984.
"To rule the world," a self-assured high-school dropout named Madonna pronounced with a smile.
Obviously an energetic self-starter who likes to take charge in plotting the band's eventual move to New York, Allen isn't so presumptuous to consider global domination decades after the Material Girl made it happen.
Celebrating accomplishments like landing a song on The Biggest Loser ("Hey Kid" was cowritten with Berklee buddy Adam Friedman), she's hopeful of signing a publishing deal and getting more music into movies and commercials because it would be "great for the band."
Allen may have a one-track mind but that doesn't mean she's on this mission single-handedly. After all, her name for the group "is kind of this metaphor for working together as this one unit even though we could be six separate units not really functioning quite as well as we do when we're all together."
While still needing an occasional confidence boost, the youngest daughter of loving parents has learned what family values -- along with a lot of hard work -- can do. Splendid musical tastes, blonde ambition, a gift of gab and a charming personality are valuable qualities, but this driving force realizes the road to a successful career in today's music industry is fraught with detours.
"We are unsigned, obviously, we're not with a label, we're not with anything," Allen offered, "so we'll see where everything falls in the years to come but right now just to be in front of audiences and connect with those audiences and share our music is what I want to do with this band."
Asked about Madonna's quote, Allen laughed and said, "Well, everybody wants to rule the world. I would love to have this thing blow up and see the world with these guys. Because we're best friends and we love what we do and it would be fantastic to be a raging success and play arenas and do all that. But I've always been kind of a modest person, so I think right now my sights are set a bit lower. ... "
With "Patience" and a little more motherly advice, Amy & the Engine just might capitalize on their delectable debut.
Photos courtesy of the artist.