Andrew Allen was only 12 or 13 when he first realized how powerful music could be. Though he’d been playing piano since kindergarten, Allen soon found himself restless with his classical repertoire and began dabbling in pop tunes – many lifted from Disney movies. “Everyone knew them and would sing along,” he says, recalling his early performances for family and friends. “It was the greatest feeling in the world.”
It was also the moment Allen realized that music was not only allowing him to express his emotions – but that he could use it to help other people do the same thing, too.
Now 35, with four EPs and an album under his belt, Allen, signed to Sony/ATV, is still guided by the same principle: He writes honest pop songs that express genuine feelings. It’s an approach that’s seen him top the Adult Contemporary (AC) charts three times in Canada, share stages with Bruno Mars, OneRepublic and Barenaked Ladies, and build a loyal fan base, especially among women.
Born and raised in Vernon, BC, Allen first began writing songs after buying himself an electric guitar (“against my parents’ best wishes – they wanted me to get an acoustic”) and starting a band while in high school. A few years later, at 21, he married his now-wife, Julia Allen, after an eight-month courtship. “My bandmates were, like, ‘Oh man, this is your Yoko Ono,’” he says with a laugh. “But I remember thinking, ‘I don’t see why I have to stop music.’”
But he did, and after settling into a nine-to-five life, it was Julia who – noting Allen’s restlessness – pushed him to consider returning to a career in music instead. Buying himself a computer, Allen decided to record an album using GarageBand software. “I wrote the whole thing while working a full-time job,” he says. Still in his early twenties, he then turned his attention to touring, “anywhere from night clubs, to churches, to house concerts. I just went for it,” he says.
“You can’t write about life if you aren’t living it.”
It was during that period that Allen wrote a song called “Not Loving You,” one he describes as an apology letter to his wife in recognition of how little time he had to spend with her. Impressed with the song, Julia contacted producer Jeff Dawson to ask about recording an album, but Allen didn’t have a budget for him. He decided to borrow enough to record an EP, entitled Andrew Allen.
It was a gamble that paid off when the music landed on the Canadian Top 40 AC charts. Not long after, Allen connected with a representative from EMI and was flown to Nashville for his first studio co-writing session. There, Allen remembers thinking, “Is this what you do? Just sit down and write a song together?”
But he clearly had a knack. Allen, who says he writes “a lot of songs about genuine love, not about hooking up,” walked out of one four-hour session with a demo for his 2010 hit, “Loving You Tonight.” It went on to sell more than 100,000 copies, remained on the AC Top 10 chart in Canada for 22 weeks, and ultimately landed him his Sony deal, catapulting him into the U.S. radio market.
In 2012, Allen and his wife re-located to Los Angeles so that he could focus his attention on writing for other artists. And while he was able to write a few hundred songs, and valued the many opportunities he was given to work with strong producers, he realized that he didn’t love writing for other people.
“I came to the conclusion that the reason I was writing, originally, was to express an idea or a feeling that I needed to get out,” he says. “When I got it out, it resonated with other people. It was like writing Hallmark cards for other people – I could express what they couldn’t.”
By contrast, Allen says he struggled with trying to channel just what it was that other artists wanted to say with their music: “I was like, ‘I want to write my words, and if that makes sense for you, by all means, you can use them.’” Still, he kept at it, with some success. Allen’s writing can be heard on American electronic artist Kaskade’s 2013 Grammy-nominated record “Atmosphere,” English singer-songwriter Nick Howard’s sophomore release, and Italian Marco Mengoni’s double-platinum record “Ad Occhi Chiusi” (“my music is finding a home in different languages, which is beautiful”), to name just a few.
Now based in Port Moody, BC, and a new father (he and Julia welcomed their first child nine months ago), Allen is clearly most at home when he’s onstage before an audience of fans. He’s on the road again this summer with drummer Dan Oldfield (and a selfie-stick – the tour is being well-documented) playing festivals and house concerts. He’s also looking forward to a return trip to Ethiopia this fall, his second with the Canadian charity Canadian Humanitarian (the first was run as a contest: two fans got to join him for the trip, during which Allen put on a concert with and for local kids).
As for longer-term goals, Allen doesn’t want to tie himself down to anything too specific. “The music industry changes so quickly,” he explains. “So I have goals, but I don’t want to put so much pressure on myself – because if I do, I might start to bend and force things that aren’t real.”
While Allen dreams of playing some venues (Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, for example) and loves the idea of filling concert halls on the strength of his music alone, he’s also quick to add that he doesn’t want the stress of chasing the dream to keep him from enjoying life’s moments.
“You can’t write about life if you aren’t living it,” he says. “I’m in a place where I need to be real and write what I want to write. Right now, I want to stay focused on what matters.”