Amy Allen of Amy & the Engine
FROM reviews and interviews with British-based artists…
it is back to the U.S. and a wonderful New York band. Amy Allen fronts Amy & the Engine alongside Vinny DaSilva (lead guitar) and Manuel Ruiz. The trio has an incredible bond and has taken their music all across America. Previous E.P., TandeMania, represents their talents at a blistering peak – a deeply personal work that announced the arrival or a very special trio. Since then (last year) the guys are putting together new work and performing across the country. I got the chance to learn more about Amy & the Engine’s lead and how the guys came together; the importance Fleetwood Mac are to her and how the new E.P. is coming along.
Hi Amy. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey Sam! I just got back from L.A. a few days ago. Was there for some writing sessions so that was good fun – but I’m glad to be back in N.Y. so I can do some writing on my bed
For those new to your music: can you give us an introduction, please?
We are called Amy & the Engine and we formed in Boston, MA at Berklee College of Music. I write the tunes and have always drawn inspiration from music my dad raised me on – a la Classic Rock and any/all girl groups from the ‘50s/’60s. Right now, we are recording a new record which is more rock-influenced than the first, and I’d say, it sounds like the Cranberries-meet-The-Cure.
Vinny DaSilva and Manuel Ruiz are part of the band. How did you meet them?
We all met at Berklee two years ago through a mutual friend and they’ve become my best friends and brothers. Vinny is a phenomenal guitarist from Londrina, Brazil and Mano is a killer drummer from Lima, Peru. They’re my Rock’n’Roll stud muffins… and will, for sure, be annoyed I just called them that in an interview.
I know there is new E.P. coming up. What can you tell us about it and the songs/themes that will appear on it?
Yes! I started writing the new E.P. last January and it’s actually pretty different than TandeMania – which was our debut record. This new one (still untitled) is a bit darker and heavier than the first. I’ve been referring to the record as the ‘Chasing Jenny E.P.’ because out of the fifty-or-so songs I wrote for it; I’d say probably one-third of them had this Jenny character somehow finding her way to the surface. I was a little weirded-out by it at first (who is she and why do I keep coming back to her?), and then, the more I thought about it, I realized she was symbolising this idea of a person I always felt I should be – whether it’s just on my own or in a relationship. It all started making complete sense to me about halfway through my writing process, so now, looking back on the group of seven-or-so songs I picked to actually track; it’s pretty cool to see how the whole record developed around this one character, Jenny. (To be clear: I don’t even know a Jenny, but if I meet one, I’ll be happy to play one of these songs at her wedding or something… for free – just so I have an actual tangible person to connect it all with)
Having heard a few cuts; your voice is at its most soulful and funkiest. How do you think you have developed as a singer in the last year or so?
We started recording the first record before we were even playing shows as a band (really) so I think having two solid years of gigging as a (Pop) Rock band has helped me heaps. I’ve also grown into my songwriting over the last couple of years so I connect more with my songs now
TandeMania is an E.P. I love and have been listening to in preparation for this interview. It has gained a lot of love and great reviews. Are you surprised by the reaction is gained and how do you feel about the E.P. looking back?
TandeMania will always be one of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever worked on for so many reasons. It showcases the first time I ever stepped into a studio with Mano and Vinny – back when we were still getting to know each other and figure out our sound together. It also captures the first time I ever worked with two of my closest friends in the world (and insanely talented producers) Andrew Seltzer and Griffin Emerson. They produced the record with me; helped me navigate ‘the Engine’s sound and got me through a LOT of shit, haha. The morning we started tracking Patience (my personal favorite song off the record) I had just gone through such a terribly bad breakup only a few hours before we started tracking – pretty funny to look back on now, haha. I was legitimately on the verge of tears that entire day of tracking vocals and I think Griff and Andy were probably terrified to ask me to sing another take – fearing I’d have some crazy breakdown or something, haha. And now, when I hear that song, I’m immediately taken back to Andy’s bedroom we were recording in and a song I wrote about growing up takes on a completely new, wonderful meaning to me.
A lot of media sources feature all-male bands and male-led bands. Do you feel female-fronted acts have to struggle harder? Have you had to face any obstacles as a female musician?
I think it’s pretty funny actually because we are still in that age where if it’s an all-girl band or even just a female-fronted band: a lot of people/press will hyper focus on that aspect, saying ‘FEMALE-FRONTED Rock group Amy & the Engine’; as if ‘female-fronted’ is some type of music genre or something, haha. I’ve never read an article or heard someone say “oh yeah, this ALL-MALE group is fucking awesome; I love them“, haha. I think there are still FAR fewer women in the music industry as a whole but someday – not too far off I hope – there will be just as many female producers, engineers; managers, etc. as (there are) male.
Your guitar skills are particularly impressive and varied. How long have you been playing and which guitarists are especially influential to you?
Ah, thank you! I started playing in 4th grade so that I could join the Jazz band and I faked my way through rehearsals for about three weeks before they realised I wasn’t actually reading the sheet music (because I had no idea what I was looking at) – so then I got booted. BUT later that year I took up electric bass so I could join my older sister’s Rock band (no sheet music needed there…) and then eventually found my way back to guitar (when I started writing songs) As for my favorite guitarist: I think probably Lindsey Buckingham. My life changed the first time my dad put on the Rumours record in the car.
Over the years, you (and the band) have been labelled as one of the finest new bands to watch; you have gained award nods and achieved a lot. Which accolades have meant the most or has it all been a bit dizzying?
Hmm. I think for me there are two standout experiences we’ve had:
1) Opening for one of my all-time FAVORITE bands, Guster. I’ve known every word to every song of theirs for as long as I can remember and we got to play with them in this beautiful theatre in Massachusetts with our family and friends there.
2) Our Sofar Sounds Midwest tour last spring. We had so many insanely funny, eye-opening bonding moments on that trip… Oy.
You are based in New York but hail from Boston. How does the music scene differ (between the cities) and what is New York like for a young, ambitious musician?
Boston was very kind to us and we will always be a Boston band at heart but New York has a lot more of a scene for us at the moment. Very happy to be here and still just a short drive away from our O.G.s in Boston The music scene is obviously just much bigger in N.Y., and of course, with more people comes more diversity; so there’s more of a thriving Pop-scene which is great for us. In addition, I also do a lot of writing sessions for other artists so that is much more accessible here as well.
I notice Fleetwood Mac are big in your life. I am a huge fan of Rumours and Tusk. When did you first discover the band and have you any favourite albums/songs of theirs?
I have two older sisters and my dad raised us all on Classic Rock. He started playing Fleetwood Mac, The (Rolling) Stones; The Who, The Guess Who; Rush etc. – on our long drives home from figure skating and ballet lessons.
Rumours will always take the cake for me. I could listen to that record for the rest of my life on repeat, haha. I saw Fleetwood Mac live two years ago and my hands legitimately seized when they played The Chain. I’m aware that sounds a little aggressive but it was clearly very impactful on my body, haha.
In that vein: which musicians and albums were important you growing up?
Dionne Warwick; The Guess Who; (Bruce) Springsteen; George Harrison; ABBA and Everclear, haha. Mixed bag! What can ya do?!
Going a bit off music for a bit, I see you have run half-marathons are quite sporty – I have run a few marathons myself. What is it about running that attracts you and have you run for any charities?
Haha, woah! This has never come up in an interview before! Props to you for doing your research, hahah. I love running because I can clear my mind from my own writing and listen to new music that inspires me.
My oldest sister and her husband are professional runners (she was in the Olympic trials for the Marathon last winter!) and the rest of my family is really athletic as well – so, by default, I find myself agreeing to sign up for marathons, half-marathons – though I can’t say I particularly enjoy them while I’m running them; I do love the feeling after, haha. And, yes, I have done races for charities! The one that’s particularly important to me is called Team Kroot!
Back to music and you have been performing a lot of great gigs lately. Which ones stand out in the mind and which cities/states do you love playing the most?
I love getting back to Maine (my home state) for shows because I get to see family and stay at home! We also had some pretty memorable shows in Toronto and Nashville
You’d get a lot of love in London. Have you been to the city before and can we expect to see you here in the coming months?
I have been before for writing sessions but never for shows! We are hoping to get over there for a run of shows in 2017!
For any new musicians coming through: can you give them any advice or guidance?
Make music that YOU love. Don’t give a shit about what’s hot right now . Great songs last forever.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song (rather than your own as I’ll include it) and I’ll play it here.
Woo! Ok. My friend Luke just turned me onto this group from the late-‘80s/’90s called the Cocteau Twins. I’m 100% late to this party but I LOVE it. All their records are a good listen, but if I have to pick one song, probably Heaven or Las Vegas.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez