Often, music is used as an escape from certain aspects of the real world. Other times, music is used as a way of exposing them. The emerging singer songwriter Anne-Marie Allen largely falls into this latter category, using music to express her observations of the world around her, and addressing important humanitarian topics in her lyrics.
“I really enjoy writing about the human condition”, she says. Having completed her Master’s degree in youth work and community development, Allen has developed a keen interest in the social sciences. “Discussing important humanitarian topics and also using music as a way to expose negative things is definitely something that I do within my music”.
Allen describes her lyrics as “more conscious, as opposed to writing about classic love stories and experiences in relationships like a lot of mainstream singer songwriters do”. She goes on, “I choose to write about issues that relate to the human condition because these are issues that I feel passionate about”.
Allen’s song “Zombie Paradise” is a prime example of this. It explores the idea that, “often, in this consumer-driven, capitalist society, it can sometimes feel like we’re all walking around like zombies and we’re not really paying attention to our experiences”.
It looks at “how humans can often become obsessed by an idea of happiness that society tells them will make them happy, as opposed to just living their lives fully for themselves”.
“And for me”, Allen says, “I’ve found that when I do pay attention to my experiences, that’s when I make the best choices in life”. “Zombie Paradise” is intended to “inspire people, so that they can wake up and live their lives more fully“.
Allen’s newest song, a punk track called “Money“, conveys a similar message. “It’s based on my experience of going to a completely overpriced party. It actually had an Instagram hashtag dedicated especially to it“, she laughs.
“I remember thinking how ridiculous this was, and seeing people posting these fake happiness images throughout the night rather than actually getting on with the night and having a good time more organically. And I guess I just wanted to share that experience with people because I think it’s something that a lot of us can relate to in this digital age, where our screen time is maximised”.
Despite writing songs that are “very exposing”, Allen juxtaposes her solemn lyrics with “an upbeat vibe”. In fact, with such an eclectic, genre-fluid sound, this quirky contrast between lyrical implications and musicality is largely what ties all of Anne-Marie Allen’s songs together.
“I don’t like to stick too much to one genre”, she says. “I try not to be confined by [them]. So for example, my latest song is a punk track, [whereas] some of my tracks are blues numbers, others are reggae, some can be quite folky”.
Despite this diverse sound, Allen’s songs still have a distinctive uniting thread running through them all, which Allen identifies succinctly: “For me, Anne-Marie Allen songs tell stories and take you on a journey. They’re songs that can express situations, or key issues within society, but also have that upbeat vibe that keeps audiences engaged“.
Allen recalls how her music was once described as being “deceptively deep”. “I particularly like that description”, she says, “because my intention is to move people through my lyrics without them initially realising it”.
She goes on, “So that’s why I keep the melody quite upbeat because it gives it that ironic undertone. I just like the playfulness of having dark lyrics […] communicating a particular point, [juxtaposed] with this really upbeat rhythm, because I think it helps the audience to connect and it’s something a little bit different in that sense”.
Allen’s interest in communities is multi-dimensional; as well as using societal issues within the wider community as inspiration for her lyrics, she also looks to smaller creative communities to help make and inspire her music.
She explains how, “Being around like-minded people, and people who have got that creative intuition, has been massive for me in terms of my music”. Throughout her life, Allen has been surrounded by these pools of creativity, beginning with her upbringing in Leicestershire.
“I grew up in a pub as a youngster”, she says, “so I started singing with some of the live acts that used to come on at the pub”.
She later spent time in the Mosley, Kings Heath area of Birmingham after going to university there, a place she describes as a “big creative community. We’ve got everything from dancers, Hula Hoopers to DJs, MCs, producers, and lots of amazing live acts as well”.
While Allen’s time at university also submerged her in a fresh pool of creative thinkers and musicians, perhaps her biggest influence has come from her involvement in a collective called Parallel 7.
“Parallel 7 is a collective of DJs, MCs, and producers, and I’m their main vocalist”, Allen explains. “Their sound is like mystical dub and DnB and electronica, and they bring in loads of tribal world beats as well“.
Parallel 7’s recent EP is called Dirty Toad, she tells me with a chuckle. “I’ve had a go at doing some really weird, trippy, tribal lyrics and chanting and stuff on some of the songs, so that’s been quite a process – a lot of fun to do”.
She goes on, “for me it’s really beautiful to hear my lyrics over electronic music, because it helps the songs take on a completely different quality and a completely different tone which keeps things interesting for me creatively”.
As well as shining a new light on her lyrics, Parallel 7’s influence can also be seen on Allen’s most recent EP, Intuition.
She highlights the track “Vibe Attracts A Tribe“, explaining how, “Parallel 7 came up with that song title and I wrote my lyrics around that concept as a stimulus. It was originally going to be just for Parallel 7, and then I decided to put it on my EP as well“.
She explains, “this song grew out of the idea that often when you meet with other musicians and like minded creative people, you give off a certain vibe. This vibe then helps you to attract your certain tribe and before you know it you’re surrounded by inspiring artists, which gives you so much happiness and joy”.
Allen notes that this concept is very much how the members of Parallel 7 view the music-making process. She says, “that’s the reason we’ve managed to keep making music together over the past couple of years“.
“We want to […] create a vibe, and we want to write lyrics that are conscious, we want to share music and experiences together, and really enjoy the richness that life can offer, with the festival scene, and being out in nature, and connecting. I’d say this has definitely heavily influenced a lot of my song writing and lyrics”.
Allen’s powerful song writing talents have not gone unnoticed, with multiple radio plays and award shortlists under her belt.
“I think it all started really with ‘Zombie Paradise’, because it got played on quite a few different radio stations”, she says, “and then ‘Vibe Attracts A Tribe’ and the title track of my EP, ‘Intuition’, both got played on BBC Introducing in two consecutive weeks as well which is amazing for me as an artist”.
Even more impressively, another track, “I Like“, was shortlisted and performed at the Thame Town Music Festival 2019 Songwriter’s competition. Allen says, “I totally wasn’t expecting to be selected; I applied for it on a whim and I was just delighted to be a part of it really”.
Whilst at the competition, Allen was able to meet top industry professionals like John Leckie, who has worked with the likes of like Pink Floyd, Stone Roses, John Lennon and Muse. “Meeting John Leckie was massive”, Allen says, “I was a little bit star struck when I met him!”
Allen also won the opportunity to perform the closing set at the Songwall ‘Songs in the Sky’ event. “It was in front of a specially selected audience of music fans and it took place at the very top of the iconic Rotunda building looking down across the whole of Birmingham city”, Allen recollects.
“The performance was professionally filmed, and it included an interview, press release and a gig review which led to more exposure for me“.
These achievements, along with the completion of her UK tour, performing to over 70,000 visitors at the Stratford River Festival and playing internationally in Berlin’s artistic quarter, Neukölln, have made 2019 Anne-Marie Allen’s most memorable and successful year yet.
She hopes to continue this success with her upcoming project. “This summer, I’m hoping to film another music video for the release of my upcoming track. It’s a track called ‘Papa Brian’ and it explores how I processed my step dad’s near death experience which happened three and a half years ago”.
The track, which she plans to release in September time, will stay true to Allen’s playful sound by marrying “serious” lyrics with an “upbeat” vibe. “We’re going to have a proper bluesy hoedown in that video – I’m really excited!”
In terms of live performances, unfortunately the recent developments in the COVID-19 outbreak have impacted Allen’s upcoming plans. “Due to the Coronavirus at the moment, some of my gigs have been cancelled”, she says.
“I was meant to be playing at Beacon Festival in the Brecon Beacons, but that’s been postponed until 2021. But let’s look on the bright side”, she says cheerfully. “I’m aiming to be playing back in Berlin again this summer at a really cool little venue at the heart of Berlin, on August 24. So providing we all make it through the Corona, that’s where I’ll be!”
During her live shows, Allen currently performs with her percussively inclined guitarist Dominic James Hyde, with occasional brass and wind sections if it’s practical to bring in her full band. “We’ve got bass, guitar, drums, and occasional flute and keys”, she says.
“I absolutely love playing as a full band, and I wish we could do it more. It’s an amazing feeling to have dedicated team of musicians that can play my songs for me. It’s just so much harder to coordinate a full band than it is a duo, so that’s the reason why I don’t go out as a band full time. But if I could, oh my gosh, I definitely would“.
Allen also has plans to perform at Whirl-y-Fayre festival in Somerset with Parallel 7 on the 7th of August, as well as at the Wakes in Telford on the 26th of September “so watch this space!”
Words by Jodie Sheehan