Andy Allo may be the new girl on the block with Prince’s New Power Generation, but with a number of breakout performances and a growing fan base, Allo is coming into her own with no hesitation. Her sophomore album, ‘Superconductor,’ (produced by Prince) will be out November 20th of this year and features Maceo Parker and Trombone Shorty among many other great musicians. Ahead of the release, Allo sat down with The Revivalist for an exclusive look into the Andy Allo x Prince connection and how that manifested itself in ‘Superconductor’ along a healthy dose of what makes Allo tick.
Andy Allo will be performing with Prince on Jimmy Kimmel Live! tonight. Tune in for a very special live performance!
Can you start us off with some backstory into how you became interested in music in the first place?
Well, as an African child, often you would listen to various animals making sounds and you would learn from that. It’s singing, you know, like if you hear a lion roar or a zebra. It’s the way that they make sounds and communicate. It’s almost like music, so I think I learned a lot about how to sing from that.
I’m kidding! [laughs].
[Laughing] So when did you really get the inspiration to sing?
I think since I was little. My mom played piano, so she started teaching my siblings and me when we were very little. We would always sing in church and around the house we always played records. I was constantly surrounded by music.
When did you move to the US?
My mom wanted me to finish school in the US, so she had my sister and I move about eleven or twelve years ago to Sacramento.
What were you feeling when you moved to Sacramento? Was there a sense of excitement, maybe a little fear?
Not at first. We would always visit during summers, so we’d come and visit my mom’s side of the family every year. But for me, I had my friends and I had my whole life in Cameroon. It was definitely kind of a shock to just move everything and start fresh.
Moving forward to this year, you are planning on releasing a new album, Superconductor, and you just played the House of Blues in Chicago with Prince. How was the show?
It was great. It was the first time kind of debuting the band and playing the music because we had been in rehearsal. It was the first time we performed the songs and it went really well. Unfortunately we got shut down about thirty-minutes into our show, but the rest of the night was phenomenal. Chicago is such a great crowd.
Tell me about the first time you met Prince.
It was great. He has such a great sense of humor, so immediately you are cracking jokes. We were like friends almost instantly. He has a way of just making you feel comfortable. It was like a dream.
What’s so special about the Andy Allo x Prince connection on a musical level?
I thought you were going to ask me what’s so special about Prince and I was going to say, “Well, I don’t think we have enough time.”
But I think the great thing about the collaboration is how well our styles mesh. I think I’m more singer-songwriter and I played acoustic guitar before joining NPG. I played a nylon string guitar. Once I joined the band, I had to learn electric guitar and pedals and funk – such a different style. He and I released some acoustic covers, which are online. So just kind of jamming and playing together where I played acoustic and his style is a little different. I think the styles really just meshed well, just beautifully.
Speaking of styles, UnFresh seemed to have more of an intimate feel whereas Superconductor has a larger sound overall. Is that the direction you’re heading in the future?
I don’t know what’s next, but definitely after touring and listening to different artists, and obviously playing Prince’s music on tour, it really influenced this record. You’re right, it’s a bigger sound, it’s a lot of instrumentation, and it’s big arrangements. So that’s really exciting for me. Now, to say that’s where it’s going next? People will have to wait and see.
What do you think has been the most challenging moment of your musical career thus far?
There have been a lot of challenges. I think the most challenging was being the “new kid on the block.” When I joined the band [NPG], I was the new person and I think it’s almost like high school. You go to a new high school and it’s like, “Oh, I have to make new friends. What if they don’t like me?” It’s almost silly in some cases, but it was a little tougher because these were phenomenal musicians. You and everyone know that the caliber of musicianship, the standard that Prince sets, is extremely high. He always pushes you. He always pushes you to be your best and keep learning. So that’s what I learned. What I came into was: You have two weeks to learn a hundred songs and you’re not going to have rehearsal time with the band. So it was intense and it still is intense to this day. That’s why I love it. I love a challenge.
Did anyone give you any great piece of advice to help you navigate that or were you on your own?
Well the great thing is, once you get to know everybody, we became a family. So Shelby or Cassie or John (the drummer), we’re all family now. And even in the beginning, if I sang a song or something they would come up to me and say, “Wow, that was really good” or something. Or when I played them some of the new songs I had written, there was encouragement. If I played something cool on the guitar, John would say, “Hey, that was nice.” Sometimes I feel like a little kid and there are these so incredibly talented musicians surrounding me.
Performing with NPG and now with your own band, the audience size has been going up and up. What is the best part about performing for larger audiences?
When you see 60,000 people all clapping or singing, it is the most profound experience ever. I can’t even explain it. I remember singing one song – it was for about 60,000 people – and they were all silent. It’s insane! It’s surreal, it’s unreal, there is nothing like it.
It seems like a lot of fans are infatuated by your image and your style. How important is appearance for female artists in general and for you in specific?
I think it’s really important. It kind of shows your personality; it’s a way to express yourself. I’ve had a lot of fun just playing with different looks and just kind of going crazy with experimenting. One of the outfits I wore – and I’ll wear it again sometime – is this amazing vest. I’m obsessed with fringe. I’m absolutely obsessed with fringe right now. So it’s just a fringe-crazy vest. It’s leather and it’s just awesome.
How would you describe your style?
I’d say it’s like rock-bohemian-fringe.
You’re an amazing songwriter, who were some of your influences on that style?
Nina Simone. Recently also Joni Mitchell and Sly Stone. The way they wrote lyrically and melodically how they placed various things was amazing. You can learn so much from where someone places emphasis. Those are some artists that I really admire and I listen to a lot. And of course Prince, his songwriting.
And then on the production side, when you went to make Superconductor, did you have any reference recordings that you were really going for sound-wise?
I really did go into it with an open mind. Epic. The songs are big and they warranted having great big arrangements behind them to do them justice.
What’s the working relationship like between you and Prince? He is a producer of the album; did he give a lot of input?
It was a true collaboration at its core. It was just such a great environment where I could suggest something if I had an idea or if he had an idea likewise. It was really quick. It was just really fast. We’d go into the studio and it was just like, “Alright, cool. We have this song; let’s lay it down.” It just flowed and it was easy.
You had the legendary Maceo Parker on the album as well as Trombone Shorty. What went into the decision to bring them in?
Maceo had joined us on tour in Europe and that was the first time I met him. He had actually played on some of the songs when we performed live in Europe and also in Canada. So it was kind of a given. He loved the music and he added so much. When he said he would be down to perform on the record, that was just amazing. I think having Maceo on the album helped have Trombone on it too. What was great was on one of the songs I was watching them in the studio and it’s Maceo and Trombone. They were side-by-side and you just see them going back and forth doing these riffs. It’s like watching this legend and this legend-in-the-making both trying to up the ante. It was definitely a historical moment.
Have you had a good reception thus far to what you’ve released?
Absolutely. I can feel that people are really anxious and I know they’re dying to hear the music. I’m dying to share it with them. It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming! I’m so happy that people are open to a bigger sound. I think that’s what it’s about when it comes to music. The concept behind Allo Evolution is that we’re always evolving. We’re constantly changing.
Do you have a craziest moment from your journey thus far?
When I dressed up as Prince on the Europe tour. I dressed up as him and it was really dark. I wore his light-up shoes and I walked backwards to the front of the stage and everyone thought I was him. The whole crowd just went crazy! I had tied up my hair and then the lights come on and I went into “Foxy Lady” by Jimmy Hendrix. So yeah, it was dope.
Whose idea was it?
I think we came up with it together. We actually shared each other’s clothes on tour. It was kind of just a running thing where I would wear some of his clothes and he’d wear some of mine. So it kind of just came about.
You’re on tour with Prince, coming out with an album, playing crowds upwards of 60,000. What keeps you grounded?
I’d say my surroundings. Prince helps keep me grounded. The whole band, we’re all pretty grounded people. Like I said, as a family you kind of look out for each other. If anyone starts acting crazy we’re pretty quick to reel it in.
Any aspirations for the future you’d like to share?
A goal that I do have is being a Cameroonian artist and I think one of my biggest goals is to make some sort of a change. I would love to at some point go back to Cameroon and set up a festival where it really showcases how amazing African music is and African art. I want to promote positivity.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)