In 2018, Amy Allen was onstage at an event during Grammys week performing “Without Me,” the Halsey hit she cowrote which went on to be the number-one song of 2019 on pop radio, when she started tearing up.
“I realized that I missed performing so badly,” Allen says over the phone from Los Angeles. “That’s kind of when the idea kind of popped into my head [to return to my own work] — and I started writing the summer following.”
Allen, a Maine native who had lived in Los Angeles for the past two years, has found major success in the music industry, turning out hit-making singles for the pop genre, writing for Harry Styles, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and more. Now, she is returning to her roots of writing and performing her original music with Warner Records. Her first single, “Queen of Silver Linings,” was released at the beginning of July; the second, “Difficult,” comes out Friday, and an album is on the horizon.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time — and the world has been going through a lot of changes over the past six months,” Allen says. “So I had to put the release back a few times. But today, I’m just so happy that it’s finally out in the world. It feels good to be hearing from all my friends and family about it. Everyone knows that I’ve been working hard on the album, so it feels really good to kind of have a release, emotionally and physically.”
Allen grew up in Windham, Maine, the youngest of three sisters, raised on Stevie Nicks and Nina Simone and Jimi Hendrix while in the backseat of the car, driving home from sports practice. She and her middle sister started playing guitar together at little pubs and restaurants around town when she was 13; by middle school she was onto the electric bass while her sister kept up the guitar, and they performed in an all-girl rock band.
She attended Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to New York, where she met Scott Harris, who works with Shawn Mendes.
“He took me under his wing and we wrote a bunch, and I ended up co-writing a song that Selena Gomez ended up using called ‘Back to You,’” Allen says. “And that kind of busted doors wide open for me to write for other artists and find a publishing deal and move to L.A.”
She always intended to return to creating her own music, but it wasn’t until that moment onstage during “Without Me” that “everything clicked,” she says.
“People who have known me my whole life are always like, ‘Oh, it’s so exciting, seeing you write for other artists, but do you think you’re going to be putting out your own stuff anytime soon?’ And I kind of always in the back of my head was like, ‘Yes, I know that I need to,’” she says. “But I was so focused on riding this wave that I’ve been having with writing for other people, that when I had that moment on stage, it was this big unveiling of like, ‘Oh, no, I can’t.’ I can’t just be writing for other people anymore. I need my sole outlet of my music into the world coming from my own mouth.’”
Allen says the experience of writing for today’s titans of the pop world have opened her up creatively with her own writing in ways that she wouldn’t have been able to without — but that when it came time to sit down and write for herself, she had to relearn how to connect with her emotions in a way that isn’t as much reflected in the top pop hits of today. Those artists she grew up listening to — who she describes as “storytellers who put a lot of emphasis on speaking for the common human beings on the planet and the emotions they go through” — guided her.
“In a lot of ways, it felt really natural — and then in a lot of other ways, it was pretty difficult, because when you get used to writing for other artists that are predominantly on pop radio, you tend to lean toward what you think is really catchy and hooky and what sounds like a big pop chorus,” she says. “Whereas I started making music not because I wanted to write big pop choruses, but because it was my only way to vent and connect to the world around me and to make myself feel something really deeply. So it was a lot of rewiring my brain to just write emotionally driven and not driven by trying to write a song for the radio.”
She’s taken much of the past year to dedicate to her own work — aside from the occasional project, like Harry Styles’ “Adore You” — and has adopted much of the same approach in recent days, spending early quarantine in Big Sky, Mont., focusing on unwinding and “trying to remember what my life was like before music was at the complete epicenter of it,” she says.
“And I just kind of lived — because anybody that ever asks me advice about songwriting, so much of it is working hard, but a lot of it is also having lived through experiences to write about. And I think that people can forget about that because they want it so badly, that they just hit the road running and never look up,” she says. “But I think for me, it’s been a good reminder to just live life a little bit and disconnect with always worrying about writing.”