Allie Dunn was a sophomore biology major and collegiate athlete when she quit basketball at the College of New Jersey and transferred to St. John’s University to make more time for her musical pursuits. Listening to vintage records in her New York City dorm room while studying for science classes, she wondered if she still wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. After graduation, the New York native headed south to Music City.
A fateful run-in with her now manager Stuart Berk—noted for his work with artists including Brandi Carlile—while she was temping at an optometrist’s office, pushed her in the direction of her dreams. Berk was there for a scheduled eye surgery appointment. After they struck up a conversation about music and he learned that she was a musician, he requested she emailed him her demos and he signed her almost instantly.
On Friday, September 10, Dunn shared a new song “Tom Petty”—the first song she co-wrote in Nashville. Penned with her now-dear friend Kyle Sturrock on an early 2019 visit before she moved, the wistful lyrics chronicle the fateful moment when a relationship began to unfold. Her songwriting highlights a slight, yet pivotal moment with poignant detail as Dunn discovers the “deal breakers” that have been there all along.
“I barely knew Kyle but I poured my heart out about how I bought a former boyfriend of mine tickets to see Billy Joel because he told me he was a fan. When we got to the concert, Billy started playing ‘Scenes From an Italian Restaurant’ and I looked over and my former boyfriend did not know a single word,” Dunn tells American Songwriter. “It was in that moment that I realized that after three years of being together, we barely even knew each other anymore.”
Listening carefully, Sturrock began humming the hook, Do you even like Billy Joel? Dunn’s eyes lit up. She continues, “We finished the song and substituted Tom Petty because it sang way better—and because I love that man.”
As Dunn began work on her forthcoming EP release, Good As Gone—due out October 15—this song presented itself in her memory. With three years in Nashville, and more than 500 songs under her belt, something about “Tom Petty” still felt right. Dunn adds, “So we polished some of the lyrics and I brought it into the studio and the rest is history.”
Beyond Petty, Dunn credits, her father, mother, older brother, and The Eagles for her draw to music from a young age. She began writing and performing as a high schooler. With several re-directs along the way, the quickly emerging artist sets the tone for her new collection with relatable humor and unlikely poise for a young artist.
“Tom Petty” introduces Dunn as a singer-songwriter to be taken seriously. Hypnotic rhythm and soft rock tones leave plenty of space for her candid storytelling to shine. Authenticity remains a driving force of her songwriting practice. Though the creative process varies, Dunn feels it’s critical to remain honest with yourself and co-writers.
“It’s hard to go into a room at 11 am with strangers or folks you barely know and crank out a tune that is truthful to who you are as an artist. So if I’m going into a write like that, I tend to ask myself what is weighing heavy on my mind and heart and write a chorus or at least a hook that we can all bounce off of,” Dunn shares.
“Other times,” she says, “I am alone on my couch eating pizza rolls and an idea will just pop into my brain and I will run to the nearest instrument and hash it by myself or I’ll call a close writer to come over and help. Overall, I just try my hardest to write songs that are as truthful and authentic as possible, because I think that is what resonates most with folks.”
Being vulnerable is not easy, but having others find solace in her shared experience feels like a reward. Dunn recalls a woman who approached her in tears after playing this song some years ago during a set at the Bluebird Café. “She explained that the song strummed some of her heartstrings since she was going through a divorce and thanked me for writing something relatable,” Dunn shares.
“In that moment I realized the songs I write are bigger than just me, my little ole guitar, and my college heartbreak stories,” Dunn adds. “There are people out there going through the same thing and so being able to write tunes to help others during those times is a gift I will cherish for life.”
Listen to Allie Dunn’s “Tom Petty,” here.
Photo Credit: Libby Danforth