Andy Allo's independence revolution

The Sacramento expat talks music, open-mics and touring with Prince

Andy Allo got her musical start playing open-mic nights at the Fox & Goose.

Andy Allo got her musical start playing open-mic nights at the Fox & Goose.

photo by darin smith

Download Andy Allo's new EP at For more information, visit

Andy Allo was born in Cameroon; there her mother taught her piano and Allo explored her dad’s extensive record collection. A move to Sacramento at 13 expanded Allo’s musical breadth and by the time she was 20, the singer-songwriter (who’s also done some modeling and commercial work) was playing guitar, performing at open-mics and working on her first album, 2009’s UnFresh. In 2010, Allo moved to Los Angeles and eventually nabbed a gig playing guitar in Prince’s band, the New Power Generation. The pair struck up a musical friendship and in 2012 Allo released Superconductor, which features three songs co-written by Prince. These days she’s on her own again with a new EP, Hello, which finds the singer digging deep into her love for rock. On a recent visit to the 916 to visit family, Allo chatted with SN&R about influences and finding herself immersed in Prince’s musical boot camp.

Tell me about the new EP.

This is my first project since leaving the NPG and I’m venturing into a different sound. [It’s] pop-rock. It’s a little grittier and there’s still some soul elements but it’s definitely reconnecting me with the music I listened to when I was [younger]: Arctic Monkeys, Grateful Dead, the Strokes.

You grew up in Cameroon. How did that shape you?

I think it grounded me, in the sense that we didn’t have everything available to us at the drop of a dime. It was mostly focused on community, family and the arts. … My father had this epic record collection and we’d always listen to music: reggae, African music or even country.

Why did you move to Sacramento?

My mom is from Sacramento. She … wanted my siblings and I to finish school and get a better education.

When did you start playing music?

My mom was a pianist and so when I was 6 or 7, she started teaching me. … In my late teens, that’s when I was introduced to guitar because I wanted to have an instrument that was a little more portable. … It was [also] a chance for me to enhance the songs I was writing, to step forward and … put them forth [for a band].

How did you find like-minded musicians?

I would go to this rehearsal space off El Camino [Boulevard] and that’s where I … created my first band, Allo and the Traffic Jam. We played Second Saturday. … It was awesome. … It was my first crowd experience. It was fun because these are songs we had written together.

Did you record your first album in Sac?

Yes, at Paradise [Recording] Studio. I wanted to go there because Tony! Toni! Toné! recorded there. It was one of the most difficult [things I’ve done] but exciting. I was 20 and … financing everything and being the force that was pushing it forward.

You moved to Los Angeles in 2010—what was that like?

I had to figure out what I was doing and where I was living and things like that. I just took a chance. I took the risk of going to a place I didn’t know at all. There was this little theater that has open-mic poetry night once a week and I went there and I sang.

When did you meet Prince?

Real quick, about the open-mics, the reason I did them is because that’s how I started here.

You performed at the Fox & Goose, right?

Yes, and for me that was the cycle. It’s more an open, supportive space. … The first [open-mic] night at Fox & Goose was so crucial to what I’m doing now because I only had two songs written. They said I needed three songs. I had half of a song written. … I sang that song and improvised and finished it on stage.

So then, you come to L.A. where you have at least an album’s worth of songs.

And because of that I was featured on The Africa Channel. They had heard of the music and wanted to do a special with me. … A year or two later, they reached out to me and said we’re working with Prince and we’d like to introduce you.

What’s your reaction?

“Ahh! Is this real?!” [But] I didn’t go crazy with my imagination. I just went to the concert where they were working with him. They [had given] him my first record. I think he liked one song on it. Then he asked me to jump on stage and perform with him at the after party. I sang “Waiting in Vain” by Bob Marley. This was no rehearsal, nothing, I just met him and this was my audition to see if I was real.

I take it that it went well.

I had been preparing for it. All those open-mics, all those performances. I was ready. It’s what I was born to do.

What did he say after?

He didn’t say anything. It was a party, so it was more like I performed and then I went back to being a guest. Later on, I played more songs. We had a one-on-one jam session.

What kind of feedback did he give you?

It was more that he just listened. He would play some songs and we were just two musicians singing. He hadn’t yet become a mentor. It was still him testing me out and seeing. Then I performed two shows with him and a couple of weeks after that he asked if I would join the band. … He had the “Welcome 2 Europe” tour and the “Welcome 2 Canada” tour all set. Those were my first major tours and I had two weeks to learn a bunch of songs.

He can play forever, too.

Yeah … shows were about four hours. Then we’d have an after show. We’d take, like, an hour break then perform until 4 a.m.

That seems like a school of rock right there.

It was boot camp. I was challenged every day and the night before, because I didn’t know all the songs. The night before [Prince] might write down some of the songs he might do the next day. I’d figure out the chords or he’d show me what he wanted me to play or I’d call some of the other band members and ask for help. Then I’d spend most of the night practicing.

What happened after the tour?

In between [shows] I was writing and I would share my new songs with [Prince] and it organically happened where we ended up having a collection of songs that I had written, some that he and I had written together. When we had time off, we would just go into the studio.

Where did you record?

At [Prince’s Minneapolis studio] Paisley Park; then some of the music was recorded at a studio in Switzerland. I was working with some of the best musicians out there. Maceo Parker, Trombone Shorty, Prince. They were taking charge and I was involved in the process but I was also watching and observing how he led the musicians.

Did it change your approach?

I think I was more careful and just not so much analytical but looking at the songs overall and thinking about how they could be the best song possible. … There were times I finished a song and I’d share it with Prince and he’d say, “I think you need one more verse.” And I’d say, “Ah, man, really!? I thought I was done.” Then I’d go back and I’d write it and share it with him and he’d say, “Yeah, that’s it.” It pushed me to not accept the first run-through or the first draft.

What’s happened since then? Are you still on his label?

I never was signed. Everything we did was just as a collaboration. I created my own company, Allo Evolution.

Why did you stop playing with his band?

At the time we had finished touring and Superconductor had just come out. I wanted to promote the record and [Prince] was also changing bands. … It just was right.

Are you still working with him?

His recent record that just came out, Art Official Age, we have two songs [together] on it.

Did he work with you on any of the new stuff? Or is this independence?

This is independence! This is me, venturing out on my own.

How does it feel?

I love it! It’s been a humbling experience and readjusting to me saying, “What’s my voice, truly and what do I want to say?” It’s been a trusting experience of learning how to listen to myself. I still have a lot of what [Prince] taught me, I can’t not have it. That’s what gave me the confidence to say, “OK, I can do this.”