Some people are easy on both the eyes and ears. Andy Allo is one such person. You might remember her as Tee Tee’s girlfriend on BET’s The Game. Or her flawless face is familiar from a Clean & Clear or Kohl’s commercial. Perhaps you saw the singer/songwriter/guitarist perform on The Africa Channel in 2010. You probably immediately vibed with the then-indie artist’s alternative, hip hop and soul sound. But if you’re an ardent Prince fan, you’ll know Allo’s voice from the revamped version of “ExtraLovable” and that she’s a guitarist with the Grammy and Oscar-wining icon’s band New Power Generation (NPG). Last month, she hit the Windy City during Prince’s three night “Welcome 2 Chicago” residency at the United Center and kicked things off at the House of Blues with her own listening party for the upcoming CD Superconductor. Allo’s voice is unmistakably sultry and sweet with a soulful, jazzy edge. Add her guitar playing to the mix and you’ve got the total package here. EBONY caught up with Allo to talk making music, working with His Royal Badness and more.
EBONY: Was “Welcome 2 Chicago” your first time touring as a solo artist?
Andy Allo: It was the first time performing with NPG in the sense that it’s new material that we had been rehearsing for the record. That was the first time debuting all the songs and debuting the band where they’re playing those songs. I played before when I had my own band before I joined the NPG. I guess this would be the first time starting a tour—a major tour—and really promoting a record.
EBONY: There was talk of a September 20 release date for Superconductor. What is the expected drop time?
AA: We just secured a release date: November 20th 2012. The record will be sold on the Allo Evolution Online Store. “People Pleaser” will be coming out; that will be available. What had happened was (she says chuckling) Ledisi is such a great friend and such a beautiful artist. She visited us here at Paisley Park and listened to some of the music from the record. She listened to Superconductor. She loved it. She was so excited. So, I think the next day she posted online how she had listened to the songs and absolutely loved them. She said, at the end of her post, “It’s coming out September 20.”
EBONY: What does Superconductor, the album’s title, mean?
AA: Superconductor, well, it’s all about energy really. If you’re looking to electricity or superconductivity there’s certain things that conduct energy very well. You can think of elements like gold or various elements like that. But one thing is the human body which conducts energy. So, with this record, what I want for people when they listen to it is to really feel there’s some energy in there. Whether you’re listening to music or you’re doing anything–or you meet somebody–there’s a transference of energy, you know? With this record that’s what I want. I want there to be some energy and there is. You can feel it when you listen to “People Pleaser.” Like you were saying you just couldn’t stop moving.
EBONY: How long did it take you to actually complete the project?
AA: Not that long. It happened really quickly. We had been writing together and I had been writing while we were touring. All of last year we toured Europe and Canada. It was really organic. The songs were there. They just needed to be arranged. And he’s, I think, the best arranger. I think it just happened so naturally. It was very fast. We knocked out those songs. We just went into the studio and it was like magic.
EBONY: Superconductor was executive produced Prince. Six of the tunes you wrote, but three you co-wrote, including the title track, with him. In addition to “Superconductor,” you also collaborated on “The Calm,” and “Gone,” am I correct?
AA: Yes. It’s “Long Gone.”
EBONY: Would you consider Prince to be your mentor? I know you’d been in the industry long before you came under his tutelage.
AA: Right. I wouldn’t say that long [in the industry]. But yes, I had released a record before and was doing things independently. Absolutely, he’s a mentor. He’s kind of taken me under his wing and taught me a lot. When he asked me to join NPG, it was a challenge because I was surrounded by these incredible musicians who’re years and years ahead of me. So, in that sense, it was a challenge to kind of be the new girl in the group. And also, I feel like I’m still so new as an artist.
EBONY: What year did you actually join NPG?
AA: Last year.
EBONY: Did you first join as a guitarist? Did he then suggest, “Let’s do an album?”
AA: I joined as the guitarist and vocalist. When we first met, we just jammed. I was playing some of my songs on the guitar and he would play along and we would just jam and listen to music. I came into it as a singer/songwriter. Since I was part of the band, I almost feel it was inevitable for our paths to cross whether we were working on a song together or singing a duet. I guess it evolved into, “Okay, cool. We’ve been writing some songs. Let’s get together and make this album.”
EBONY: Your first album as an independent artist was in 2009?
AA: Yes. I had my own band and they played on the album UnFresh.
EBONY: How long have you played the guitar?
AA: I’ve been playing the guitar for about four and a half years… I was self taught. I started learning by ear, and I’ve had a few lessons along the way. But I didn’t go to school for it or anything like that.
EBONY: You’ve only played for four years, yet you’re with NPG. Your learning curve must be out of this world! You’re performing with Prince and he doesn’t play when it comes to music. You better always be on top of your game.
AA: Yes, absolutely. The level of musicianship is top notch. I’ve said this before but it was really a crash course in music and in funk. I think the biggest thing that I learned, and it hit me when I joined the band, was this is serious. If you really want to do it, if you really love music and it’s a passion of yours, then you’ve got to take it seriously. And I think how I got to where I am is practice, practice, practice.
EBONY: You started as a singer/songwriter. What made you take an interest in guitar? Were you inspired by someone or is it something you always wanted to do?
AA: I wanted to put music to the words that I had been writing and the melody that I was singing. I’d say something that really pushed me to do it was my sister, because she had picked up the guitar and I have a slight competitive streak. Just a little. Just a tiny one. [She laughs.] I wanted to do what she was doing and I did. Here I am.
EBONY: You were doing your own thing before connecting with Prince. How did you guys cross paths?
AA: I put up an ad around town. I was living in Los Angeles. I had posters I put up and I said, “Local guitarist and singer/songwriter looking for work.” I had a little caricature picture of my face with an Afro and my phone number. It was really crazy. I got a phone call saying, “You have a very interesting look. We looked you up and we want to see what you can do.”
EBONY: Now everybody is going to read this and do the same thing, because most people probably dream of playing with him.
AA: You know what? You are so great, because none of that is true. [She chuckles.] That was a joke.
EBONY: I know you’re part of his camp. He loves jokes, too. But I’m thinking, “That story really sounded cool.”
AA: Didn’t it? I know.
EBONY: Seriously, how did you come to his attention? I mean, he sees aspiring artists all the time.
AA: Right. I will say I do strongly believe that when you put something out in the universe like things really come together. Someone pointed out to me that I had done an interview where they asked, “Who would you love to perform with?” And I said, “Prince.” Then I’d forgotten about it and a year later I’m on tour. But I do credit the Africa Channel, which is such a great, great channel. They are a network and they air programs that focus on Africa. They’re huge supporters of my music and they had done a special where they featured my first record. They were also covering his Los Angeles shows. So, they actually connected us.
EBONY: I don’t know if you watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” but the first season winner [Bebe Zahara Benet] was from Cameroon. Now you come along and you’re repping for Cameroon as well. When did you come over to the States?
AA: Cameroonians are taking over. [She laughs]. I came over here in 2001. So, I’ve been here about eleven years.
EBONY: Is “Andy Allo” your birth name?
AA: Why do you ask?
EBONY: People in the industry use stage names all the time, and I’m just curious if your first name is a derivative of something else.
AA: I’m very blessed. My real name is Andy. I’m actually named after my father whose name is Andrew.
EBONY: How do you plan to penetrate the industry? What will make you stand out?
AA: I would say having amazing musicians. And I think letting the music speak for itself. There’s something about these songs that I don’t think has been heard or isn’t cutting through, because the industry is so electronic now and I think it’s harder for artists who are independent. And if they are playing real music with real instruments, it’s harder to get through. I think we’ve become so used to electronic sounds. I think you can hear the soul with this music because it’s real instruments. I think that’s what’s missing, at least for me…I think people will feel Superconductor. I really feel strongly about this music.
EBONY: Is there anything else you’d like for us to know?
AA: Yes. Afros are awesome. Go natural.
Andy Allo will appear with Prince on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on October 23; check your local listings. Superconductor is scheduled for a November 20th release via her Allo Evolution Online Store. Keep up with Andy via her official website and on Twitter: @AndyAllo
Margena A. Christian is Senior Writer for EBONY. Follow her on Twitter: @MargenaXan