Allen Stone will be at the Highline Ballroom in New York City for two nights this Tuesday and Wednesday, 9:30 Club this Thursday, Baltimore Soundstage this Friday, and at Merriweather Post Pavilion for Virgin FreeFest on October 6th.
The idea of music “bringing people together” may be exhausted to the point of cliché, but it arguably takes on a new context in an era where we tend to isolate ourselves via uncomfortable, tangled earbuds. Allen Stone may not be the first soul revivalist to emerge in recent years, but he without a doubt channels the charisma and communal spirit of his idols. Stone began singing as a teenager at his father’s church in Chewelah, Washington, and it’s easy to see how his voice could inject a welcome dose of gospel-infused conviction into worship services. In preparation for a few shows in the D.C. / Baltimore area, Stone talked to me about performing, his grassroots path to success, and the state of modern pop music. He may prefer “real” music to button-pushing EDM, but, based on the unbridled vigor he brings to the table, Stone makes a pretty convincing argument.
BYT: So you’re currently on tour promoting your self-titled album.
Allen Stone: Yeah, I’ve been on tour for the last year and a half promoting that record, but yeah, I’m still on tour doing that one.
How has that been so far?
It’s been great, man. It’s been really great. I love playing music. You know, I think when you’re out for as long as I’ve been out you get a little road weary, but getting to play every night makes it worth it for sure.
That’s awesome. I know a few months ago you were at the 9:30 Club opening up for Jukebox the Ghost and Jack’s Mannequin. How do you think the dynamic is gonna be different now that you’re the headliner?
Well those shows…that was kind of like rock music, a little bit of “four on the floor” piano rock stuff, which I love. I love Jack’s Mannequin and Jukebox, those guys are incredible musicians. This is gonna be more of a full soul and jazz kind of thing, R&B and soul from the first opener to the end of my set. And so that’ll be a little different. I mean maybe the demographic of people will be a little different than those shows. But it’s still gonna be a great show in my opinion.
Do you think at that previous show at the 9:30 Club, and on that tour, you won over some new converts who were there expecting piano pop and got something different?
I would hope so, for sure. I think we played two nights at the 9:30 Club when I came through with Jack’s Mannequin. If I remember correctly, we did sell a good amount of merch there, and hopefully some of the people we see at the 9:30 Club this time will be repeat offenders.
I know that you’re also gonna be back in the area a few days later for Virgin FreeFest, where I’ll hopefully be able to see you onstage. Did you get some opportunities to play the festival circuit this summer?
Yeah, I got a lot of really cool opportunities in the festival circuit. We didn’t get all of the big ones, but we got a good amount of them. We did Outside Lands, Sasquatch, the Firefly festival. We just did a festival called Cultivate in Chicago. We’re about to do the Life Is Good festival in Boston. We did a handsome amount of really wonderful festivals this year.
I can imagine that your music is very well-suited to that outdoor, communal environment. When everybody is hearing this wonderful soul music being blasted at them, it can only be an uplifting experience.
Yeah, that’s very tempting, for sure.
Is there anything in particular people should expect from an Allen Stone live show?
I hope that people can just expect an experience. It’s difficult as a singer and musician to really specify what people will experience because soul music, especially for my generation, is different throughout people’s lives. For some people, that’s all their parents listened to, and they were raised on R&B and soul music. Other people are just now getting into it because of the resurgence of Amy Winehouse, The Dap Kings, Raphael Saadiq, and all these soul revivalists. So people are kind of navigating into it.
For me, when I sing and I play a show, I try to create a community. I grew up singing in church, so when you experience music for the first time in church, it’s kind of like everybody’s singing and everybody’s participating. So I really try to create a show that everybody can participate in, even the “cross my arms and go to the show to tell everybody around me that Allen Stone sucks” people. What I do my best to try and create is an experience, an emotion for people that I think is exuded through soul music. When I listen to a good soul show, there’s a roller coaster of emotions that can be involved in something like that, and that’s exactly what I do my best to create.
On the topic of soul music, how do you feel about the state of modern soul? Do think it’s gonna have a cultural resurgence at some point? Will it revert back to the way that it impacted culture in the ’60s and ’70s with Marvin Gaye, Al Green and those guys?
I wake up and I pray every day that that happens. Or if it’s not soul music, some type of music should have a resurgence that comes back and shakes the ground a little bit. It would put the spotlight a little bit less on what I call fake music, and put it on real players, real songs, real recordings. If soul music was the spine of that, I would be thrilled, but if it was a resurgence of grunge music, I would be just as thrilled for the focus to come off of what I’d consider a disco era, where people don’t really care about the music. They care about four on the floor beats so they can go do drugs and party. That’s seemingly what’s popular now.
If you look at pop music and the huge amounts of people creating dubstep, that’s an incredible art. But when I go see a live show and somebody’s just pushing play with a bunch of lights happening—people need drugs to make that experience what it is, in my opinion. When I go to a show and watch Bonnie Raitt sing, all she needs is a guitar and a voice, and that girl can move mountains. A lot of the shows
that are popular now, they need lights, they need drugs, they need big thumping bass and they need a computer.
To each his own, everybody has tools, but I would love for the culture of the music industry to turn its headlight toward that resurgence of soul, just like Marvin Gaye with “What’s Goin’ On” and Stevie Wonder with “Living for the City” and Aretha Franklin with “Freedom.” There used to be power in soul music, and now seemingly R&B music is about going to the club and grinding. And so, I’ve just ranted about how much – hopefully you can hear the passion in my voice – how much I would love to see a resurgence of true, conscious soul and people coming out and listening to it.
I think there’s just as much social turmoil in the world right now, we’re just waiting for that next group of voices to step up and tell the story. But I guess you’re a part of that.
I would love to be a part of that. I just wanna write one that makes people think differently. If could have one song that can move people’s spirits toward progression and change in their own personal lives, then I’d feel like I’ve moved mountains. With how much stimulus is in our culture right now, keeping anyone’s attention for more than five minutes is a feat.
How do you feel about the digital age and how that interacts with popular music? Do you think that new technology can be incorporated into the authentic, real music you referred to and still have this moving quality?
Without a doubt. A guitar is a tool, just as much as a computer is. Now I think it takes much more skill to play a guitar well than it does to program a beat on a computer well, but I think they’re both tools that can be used for the right reasons. But I believe, more often than not, computers and the digital age, are not being used correctly, and people are not choosing to utilize those tools for conscious progression in our culture and building up positive energies. But that’s just my perspective. That’s the light I see it in, and in no way, shape or form am I the pope for the music culture nowadays.
It’s been a big year for you, getting signed by ATO and really kicking things into high gear and seemingly touring forever. Did you see this coming, or was it a more sudden turn of events?
I’d like to say I saw it coming. I would never have picked up a guitar and started singing for a living if I didn’t see it moving toward something like this eventually. Did I see it moving as fast as its moved? No, no way. I’ve really sincerely been blessed in the past year to have experienced the things I have. It kind of came out of the dark a little bit, but I think anybody would be a fool to say they would drop
out of college and sleep on couches and eat pizza for four years and not think that something like this would happen.
It’s happened very rapidly in the last year, but there were four years of me touring around in a little Buick LeSabre with an acoustic guitar playing colleges and cafeterias and libraries and anywhere where people would listen. So sure in the last year it’s progressed quite rapidly, but there’s been a lot of foundation that’s been laid to get to this point.
It’s quite a big jump from playing those small libraries to being on Conan and Jimmy Kimmel. Was there one moment in particular where it turned surreal for you, where you really felt like you made it?
It was probably opening for Dave Matthews Band at The Gorge [Amphitheater] over Labor Day. I’ve been to that show five years running. The only year that I missed was the year before this one because I was playing a festival in Seattle. But two years ago, I was on a little band trip, with a completely different lineup besides my organ player, and on the way back to Seattle we stopped by The Gorge and watched Dave play that night.
I said to my organ player, “Man, you know I would really love to play on that stage in five or six years.” And he said, “No, I give it two. Two years and you’ll be on that stage.” And literally two years to the day, I was playing on that stage opening for Dave Matthews. I think at that point, that was very surreal for me. Meeting Dave and every member of that band and also feeling respected and validated by them was extremely surreal for sure.
I can only imagine that was an incredible environment to be in, with the beauty of The Gorge. And Dave Matthews’ fans probably ate everything up and really embraced what you had to offer.
Yeah they do. It’s a weird thing, The Gorge – have you been?
I’ve been to Seattle, but I’ve never actually been to The Gorge before. I’ve only seen pictures.
If you get a chance to go to The Gorge you should. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful venue in America. The seating in the front for about 200 rows doesn’t fill up until Dave plays because those people have reserved seats and they’re not in a rush to get there. But the lawn is always packed, and so it was a wonderful challenge for me. Normally, I’m used to playing small clubs, and the people are right there and you feel like you could touch them. You play at The Gorge, where the bulk of the fan base is 300 yards away, and you’re like, “I gotta work. I gotta get up on that hill and find a way to really impact these people.” So it was a really cool challenge, coupled with an amazing opportunity to be on the same stage as those guys.
Do you have any big plans for after this tour ends? Have you started working on a follow-up?
I’m definitely writing all the time. I’ll be hopping back in the studio probably mid next year. We’ve got plans to do some Australia touring, some touring in Japan. There have actually been talks about another summer tour opening for – I can’t tell you who it is, but it would be really cool if it happened. For me, my passion is playing live, and I want to build a career that’s based upon my live show. So any chance I
get to get in front of people and convince them I belong here, the better for me. It’ll be a lot of touring, but we’ll definitely be back in the studio soon.
Any final words of wisdom for the BYT readers?
Oh man…I don’t know if you want any wisdom from me. Be blessed, man. Just live your life and be blessed. Hopefully that’ll be good enough.