20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
“I was trying to fit a mold and do what other people were liking at the moment. So if I could transport back to young Allie in the poodle skirt I’d tell her she’s cool and to not care so much because that’s where the magic happens.” Rising singer/songwriter and New York City via Nashville transplant, Allie Dunn believed her path was initially to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a doctor. She was at college learning biology when she decided to take a leap of faith to pursue her musical dreams. She was ironically discovered by her manager while working at an optometrist’s office where he was having eye surgery. After learning she was a musician and hearing her demos, he decided to manage her immediately after.
Dunn has always drawn inspiration from the Laurel Canyon classic folk-pop singers and songwriters that she has admired her entire life. From discovering the Eagles via her parents record collection in her teenage bedroom to listening to her records over and over in her dorm room in New York City, she has since become a go-to songwriter for up and coming artists in Nashville. With Good As Gone, her first EP out everywhere October 15th, Dunn makes her singer/songwriter solo debut with an expertly crafted, fully realized work that blends sounds across heartland rock, modern Americana, and Nashville’s own brand of radio-ready pop country.
I had the chance to chat with Allie for this week’s edition of 20 Questions, where she told me about her musical origins, creative progress, what inspired her debut EP, and lots more.
What is your earliest memory of wanting a career in music?
Oh man, I think it had to be when I was given the part of Tracy in Hairspray in my elementary school play (it wasn’t even a play—it was like a combination of songs sung by each grade) and I sang “I Can Hear the Bells” in my little poodle skirt with my awkward as hell 10-year-old posture. It was definitely NOT pleasant to listen to (and/or watch) for anyone in the audience but I remember being on stage and feeling a wave of electricity I have never felt before. Since then, music (especially performing) has always been what my life is worth living for. Thank you, Hairspray.
Which artists did you grow up listening to?
Being from an Italian-Irish family born and raised in NYC, the rat pack was always on in the background of family parties/dinner/honestly any gathering of more than three people. To prove my point, when I call my Uncle Anthony, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin plays before he picks up. Besides that, my dad always had on Billy Joel, John Mellencamp, The Eagles, Faces, Tom Petty, Van Morrison, The Band, Bob Seger, and all that fun classic rock dad stuff. I eventually ventured off in high school and would listen to the Wombats, Bleachers, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, City and Colour, John Mayer, and the Lumineers.
Who are your biggest influences, both musically and stylistically?
The Eagles, John Mayer, and Tom Petty. Hands down. I would have to say that the Eagles influence me sonically, aesthetically, and stylistically. John Mayer and Tom Petty definitely weigh heavy on my lyrical influences. The way they can both say something so clean cut yet leave the listener painting their own picture with the lyric is what I strive to do.
Out of all the songs you’ve released so far, which one stands out the most to you?
This is hard, I’ve got a BIG amount to choose from (just kidding). Right now I only have out “Tom Petty” and “Lines of that Vinyl” and am releasing three more in October. I would have to say out of the two, “Lines of that Vinyl” stands out the most to me. Reason being is because it’s the first song where I finally discovered what I want to say as an artist and what I want my songs sonically to sound like, providing a good base for the rest of my career to grow off of. Not to mention that it is also about my dad, so I have a soft spot for that.
Best song you’ve heard in the last year?
It’s gotta be “Starlight” by Yola. That song is by far the jam of my century, her vocals are so pristine and her lyrics describe a feeling that we all feel and no one has yet to pin down. Hats off to that talented woman.
The last book you finished?
Oooh, Jeff Tweedy’s Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). Highly recommend this to anyone hustling in the music industry.
One piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
BE YOURSELF. I would have avoided years of confusion trying to figure out who I am as an artist and what makes me different. I was trying to fit a mold and do what other people were liking at the moment. So if I could transport back to young Allie in the poodle skirt I’d tell her she’s cool and to not care so much because that’s where the magic happens.
What time of day are you the most inspired?
I would say around 3 p.m. which is odd but I think it’s because I have had enough time of the day to figure out what I am feeling and allow my brain to fully function.
One movie that will always make you cry?
Toy Story 3, no shame. Waterworks the whole time. Probably because it’s about Andy leaving his family to go to college and I am 1000 miles away from home and miss it a lot. Another soft spot.
How would you characterize your debut EP Good As Gone?
Hmm, I think I would say it’s a small summation of my experience with love and longing for home. I hope it gives the listener a big hug through the speakers and welcomes them into my little world.
One vice you wish you could give up?
Definitely binge-eating my whole kitchen after going out at night, I wake up more hungover from the food than the drinks (if that’s even possible).
The last series you binge-watched?
Peaky Blinders. Tommy Shelby is the only man I would leave my current boyfriend for.
You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you and why?
This is a good one. World-famous would have to be Billy Joel because I would sing him every word from “We Didn’t Start the Fire” so I can convince him to let me sing it with him at his next MSG show. (Cannot explain the reason for my desire for this to happen.)
What inspired the songwriting process for the EP’s first single “Tom Petty”?
Well, this was my first co-write in Nashville ever with my buddy and now close confidant Kyle Sturrock. I explained to him how I was dating someone for three years who claimed they loved Billy Joel. So I bought him tickets and halfway through the show I noticed he didn’t know the majority of the words to the songs. Kyle then laughed and picked up the guitar and sang, “Do you even like Billy Joel?” I was like, “Woah woah woah, hold on a minute.” So we started writing to that idea and melody and eventually we changed it to Tom Petty because it sang way better than Billy Joel and also because I love that man and then voila! “Tom Petty” was born.
Biggest pet peeve?
It’s between people who care more about the “hype” than the actual music they put out, or when people tell me Nashville pizza is just as good as New York City pizza.
One song that you will never be sick of?
“One Headlight” by The Wallflowers. Forever JAM.
Ambition or comfort?
Ambition for sure. I think following that feeling of ambition brings you to places creatively that you would never have thought of venturing to before.
One artist you’d love to collaborate with one day?
Natalie Hemby. I’m in love with her writing.
One thing that has been keeping you sane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
Going for a run outside and making family Italian recipes I haven’t ever gotten the chance to before.
In a perfect world, where would you like to see yourself five years from now?
Ideally, on my second or third full-length album, touring and selling out decent sized theatres and having a couple of mainstream cuts by other artists under my belt AND to have my own doggo—red fox golden retriever named Gilly to be exact. Just successful enough to have an apartment here in Nashville and a home up in the Northeast closer to my family and bounce back and forth. Can’t wait to read this five years later and see where I am at.
Follow Allie Dunn on Twitter and Instagram, stream her single “Tom Petty” wherever you listen to music, and look for her debut EP Good As Gone out everywhere October 15th.