Warner Records has signed in-demand songwriter Amy Allen to a recording contract. The deal was inked last July when Allen began cutting back on session work with other artists (her past collabs include Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello) and focusing on her forthcoming solo debut. Not only did she co-write all of the songs on the album, she also co-produced nearly every track.
The first release, “Queen of Silver Linings,” is due out July 1st but a bop it’s not. Allen co-wrote the country-tinged single with fellow seasoned hitmaker Dan Wilson of Semisonic fame, who has worked with everyone from the Dixie Chicks to Adele. “Being a major label A&R, my instinct was: ‘You need to get this produced,’ ” says Allen’s co-manager, Gabz Landman, whose day job is VP of A&R at Warner. “We tried and we tried to get a production done on the song but nothing had the magic of the demo.” Still, she adds, “It’s a big risk putting out literally what they wrote that day without changing anything.”
But Wilson shared a story that strengthened her resolve: The same thing happened with “Someone Like You,” the stark, unadorned ballad he cowrote with Adele. “It makes me proud that Amy stuck to her guns and didn’t give in to pressure about how music typically sounds today,” says Landman.
In an industry where the vast majority of producers are male, Allen’s insistence on creative control is as bold as as her lyrical content: “I don’t give any f–s about what words I’m saying or what stories I can’t tell,” she says.
But then that is kind of Allen’s thing. Take, for example, “Adore You” by Harry Styles, which stood out as a relative anomaly on channels like Sirius Hits 1 not only because it was that modern radio rarity (an unabashed love song) but also because of its throwback classic rock sound, complete with an indulgent guitar solo. A No. 1 in the format, it went on to become the former One Direction member’s biggest solo hit in America and helped solidify his artistic integrity.
“I think of ‘Silver Linings’ as an evergreen song that my grandkids will sing someday,” adds Landman. The same could be said of “Adore You,” too: “It’s a timeless record — not a flash-in-the-pan single.”
Warner Records’ CEO and co-chairman Aaron Bay-Schuck shares that optimism. “I think artists could spend their entire career trying to write a song as good as Amy Allen’s ‘Queen of Silver Linings,’ ” says the executive. “Every melody is memorable and addictive. Every lyric is important. Every line keeps you in suspense while you wait with anticipation for what the next line will be. And when the payoff and resolve of the chorus hits, there’s nothing left to feel except the hair raising on your arms because it’s just so good and powerful. It leaves you breathless.”
Not that anyone is questioning Allen’s cred as a hitmaker after she co-wrote Halsey’s “Without Me” — the No. 1 song of 2019 on pop radio — but even she initially had some doubts about transitioning from behind the scenes to the spotlight. But that all changed the night she was invited to perform a few of her hits at a NARAS-sponsored singer-songwriter event held during Grammy week last year. “I remember getting up on the stage and I was playing bass on ‘Without Me,’ ” she says. “I got about three notes into the song and I started tearing up.” For Allen, who describes crying as “a weird bodily function,” it took a career epiphany to open the floodgates.
“All of my friends know that I never cry,” she says. “The whole time I was performing I was like: ‘What is happening? What is going on in my body right now?’ And as I was walking off stage, I realized how much I missed playing live. It had been weighing on me — but I’d pushed it so far back in my mind to be able to focus on writing [for others]. I was totally neglecting the fact that it’s what I love to do. And so that was the moment when I said, ‘I need to be the artist singing my songs — and not giving all of my songs away.’ “
Bay-Shuck was already well-acquainted with Allen; in fact, he’s responsible for her big break — and one of Selena Gomez’s biggest hits — in his former position as a senior A&R executive at Interscope. “One of the early songs that I wrote in New York with a couple of my friends was ‘Back to You,’ says Allen. “It was a really small acoustic demo with me singing and somehow it got to Aaron Bay-Schuck. The next thing I knew, it was coming out as a Selena Gomez song, which for me at the time, and still is now, a really big deal. She’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world. So that jump-started my whole career writing for other people. It meant a lot to me that he took a chance on a song that didn’t have, you know, a massive songwriter behind it.”
“A lot of times A&R look for the big names, but Aaron has a reputation for giving crazy opportunities to new writers,” attests Landman, who says that Allen took a similar shot by signing a publishing deal with APG, where Landman was working at the time, despite interest from some of the biggest publishers in the world. “She and I connected and Amy stuck with me through my job transition [to A&R at Warner],” says Landman. “She’s just a very loyal person who would rather work with those who feel like family rather than worry about credits.” Which explains why she signed with Warner. “I believe in my heart of hearts that if you did a poll of every songwriter in LA and asked which A&R has been the most supportive, it would be almost unanimous: Aaron Bay-Schuck. He is known for it in the community. But he doesn’t advertise it, which is similar to how Amy doesn’t broadcast her activism [on social media]. But that is why I wanted to work with him to be honest.”
Landman was referring to Allen’s history of fighting for social justice — and the fact that she wasn’t willing to pause her activism leading up the arguably the most important moment of her career. “If anything changes, it will be that Amy’s not going to be as available for promo because she’s prioritizing that she’s out there protesting,” says Landman, noting that Allen has been marching in the streets nearly every day for the past several weeks. “But you wouldn’t necessarily know that because she hasn’t been posting about it. She has been sharing resources because she wants to make sure that those following her are taking the time to educate themselves.”
To that end, Allen describes her second single as “anthem for being a woman right now” because, she says, “it’s all about being quote-unquote difficult. When men disagree or put up a fight about something it [viewed] as good. And when a woman takes a stand, it’s taken a different way — like she’s being a bitch. So that’s me making a satire and calling myself ‘difficult’ because I’m running from love and towards independence. That’s something a lot of people will turn away from and don’t want to hear,”
Another song, “Heaven,” was inspired by several family members struggling with dependency but doesn’t glamorize drug abuse in the storied tradition of sex, drugs and rock and roll. “A song that is so blatantly about addiction wouldn’t be able to be the radio in a few radio formats,” says Allen. But at the end of the day, she values authenticity over airplay, which is the recurring theme in her work. “Obviously it’s a heavy topic,” she says, “but it was important for me to tell this story and to express how I feel.”
Landman, who co-manages Allen with Jonathan Eshak at Mick Management, emphasizes that Allen’s drive extended to the studio and she was “instrumental” in the production process. “She’s a multi-instrumentalist, she is in every session, she’s picking the mixes,” says Landman, who doesn’t want her client to be confused with “the many male artists who allegedly produce their own music and nobody bats an eyelid — Amy actually sat in the [control] room and produced these songs.”
Not surprisingly then, the album sounds like the sum of Allen’s influences from the classic rock she was raised on to the artists who ruled radio in the ’90s — Alanis Morrisette, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge and Meredith Brooks epitomized a distinctly female brand of aggressive pop-rock — she refers to as “the women who raised me.” But it’s a distinct departure from the music that is associated with Allen. “It’s definitely in the singer songwriter-songwriter tradition but it’s still pop,” she says of her album. “I’m not ashamed of pop music and I’ve absolutely loved writing Top 40 songs for a bunch of different artists. I don’t necessarily think my album perfectly fits into what might be considered Top 40 today, but I tried to write what I would love to see — a lot more live instrumentation and women being represented.”