Spend a bit of time with [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Andrew Allen[/lastfm] and it quickly becomes clear why this singer, songwriter, and musician has already become a successful recording artist in his native Canada: sheer force of will. Outgoing and good-natured, with a quick, comic wit, Allen is a hurtling ball of positive energy — he just doesn’t hear the word “no.” Exhibit A: When he found himself broke after his band imploded, he and his wife, contacted Carnival Cruise lines, told them they had lots of emcee experience (which they didn’t), and landed a year-long gig as social hosts on the ship. (More on that later.) Exhibit B: When a booking agent told Allen he couldn’t possibly tour full time and still book his own shows, Allen’s reaction was: “Actually, I think I can.” The couple sold their house, bought a minivan, and set off on tour across Canada that lasted two months. All the while, Allen planned a UK tour by searching for venues on UKPubFinder.com and emailing the proprietors to ask if he could come perform. Their response? “Sure, why not?”
[photogallerylink id=75526 align=left]Allen’s DIY ability and optimistic attitude have served him well. He has scored two Top 10 hits in Canada, 2009’s “I Wanna Be Your Christmas” and his current single “Loving You Tonight,” which has been lodged in the upper reaches of the singles chart for 10 weeks and counting. A lilting, sunny tune about an ideal romance, “Loving You Tonight” got Allen noticed by Epic Records, which signed him to a recording contract in December 2010 and will release his debut album in 2011.
Though Allen is still in the studio writing and recording with producer Ryan Stewart (who has worked with a host of Canada’s top singer-songwriters), the album is shaping up to be a stellar collection of upbeat songs that showcase the sweet clarity of Allen’s voice, as well as his impeccable ear for pop melody and fondness for beachy, acoustic grooves — an influence Allen attributes partly to his time working on the cruise ship. “We traveled to the Caribbean islands and I became very enamored with the spirit of the music,” Allen says. “They’d have Caribbean bands performing on deck, and sometimes I’d jump onstage with them and do a couple songs to get a feel for their vibe.
Allen also points out that all of Canada, is not actually an endless frozen tundra-like landscape. In fact, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley where Allen grew up is known for its California-esque climate. “My town, Vernon, is surrounded by lakes,” he says. “It’s kind of known as the Canadian desert. The mountains and hills dry out in the summer because it’s so hot, and these tan-colored hills flow into the beautiful, purplish-blue lakes. It’s very relaxed there, and I think that has definitely influenced the feel of some of my songs, like ‘7 Days,’ and ‘Sooner.'”
Allen began taking piano lessons at the age of five. “I can still picture myself sitting at the piano with these big Coke-bottle glasses and a vest that was sewn onto my shirt so I wouldn’t lose it,” he says, shaking his head and chuckling. “I was that quintessential nerdy kid.” Allen came up through Canada’s Royal Conservatory School, but preferred to play his own compositions, which he began writing at age 10. He also took up the saxophone, after his parents rejected his request for a drum kit, and joined the choir, even though his friends called it social suicide. “Glee did not exist then,” he says with a laugh, “but I absolutely loved it.” Recognizing his natural talent, one of the school’s music teachers steered Allen toward the drums, and also introduced him to bass and trombone. “He just kept throwing different instruments at me to keep me challenged,” Allen recalls. At age 15, Allen bought a guitar and formed his first band. “We were called Liable Cause,” he says. “I don’t even know what that means.”
The experience playing to crowds during his Carnival Cruise ship days would come in handy when Allen eventually set out on a tour across Canada in 2008 in support of an album he had recorded entitled The Living Room Sessions. “The album was about life, love, and connecting with people, so we made good on that by saying, ‘If you want me to come play in your living room, I totally will. All you’ve got to do is guarantee there will be between 40 and 60 people there, let us crash at your house and maybe you’ll make us dinner.'”
In this way, Allen was able to build a sizable grassroots following, ensuring that his shows were packed the next time he came through town. “At our first showcase in Toronto, these label guys were like, ‘Why are there people here? And why do they range in age from 18 to 80?’ Allen recalls with a laugh. “And it was because people invited their friends, their grandparents, everyone they knew. And those people were like, ‘We’ll support that guy. He’s nice. He played in my sister’s living room.'”
Thanks to The Living Room Sessions, Allen was able to stay out on the road for two years straight. Which brings us to 2010. Last June, Allen released “Loving You Tonight,” which eventually got added to every single AC Anglophone station in Canada. He hit the road from June through August, taking only four days off, and signed with Epic Records at the end of the year. Now he’s looking forward to launching his career Stateside, a winter 2011 tour with Joshua Radin, and the release of his major-label debut album.
“I was always the kind of person who, if I’d step into a house and it had a piano, I’d play it,” Allen says. “If I had a guitar with me, I’d play it. And if there were people around to listen, I’d love it even more. I’d grab a guitar and go busk on the street because I wanted people to hear it. Now it’s just turned into more people wanting to listen. It’s grown organically. I’ve never had to think very hard about making music, it just comes naturally to me. But the best part is seeing how it connects with people. I’ve already seen the effect it can have, so I can’t wait to see what kind of effect I can have at the next level — to see how lives can be changed in a positive way.”