Allen Stone is a 24-year-old soul singer based out of Seattle, WA. Stone managed to gain national recognition without any label backing or even help from a publicist. Originally from Chewelah, a tiny town in remote north eastern Washington, Stone first began singing at his father's church, and quickly developed a love for singing. Later in life, Stone developed a love for soul and R&B greats like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, which deeply influence his sound. Stone's sound is crisp and modern, but is unmistakably influenced by the previously mentioned soul and gospel demigods. Stone moved to Spokane to attend college, then moved to Seattle, releasing his debut album Last to Speak in 2009, and following that up with his sophomore album Allen Stone in October 2011. Stone has been covered in a number of national media publications, and his sophomore album hit the number #2 spot on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart.
Allen Stone has got the makings of a soul legend. In classic soul fashion, Stone is the son of a pastor, in not so classic soul style, he grew up in Chewelah, a tiny town nestled in remote north eastern Washington state. The 24-year-old was bit by the soul bug as a teen and hasn't looked back, crafting a style directly influenced by soul greats like Al Green and Stevie Wonder. This guy can sing, aiming his golden pipes on everything from rafter shaking soul pumped with gospel fire, to baby making music that would make Marvin Gaye proud. Stone spoke to us while on the road, coming off as patient and humble, the type of genuinely good guy that actually deserves success. Read on as Stone discusses making his niche in the Seattle's traditionally rainy and depressing music scene, his love of music's best vocalists and how he first got into soul.
Band of the Day: Question: You've had a very exciting last year, what's the most exciting thing that happened?
Allen: Honestly for me the most exciting thing I've experienced is being able to bring the band out on the road with me. For about three years I was out for three quarters of the year in my Buick LeSabre and my acoustic guitar playing coffee shops and college cafeterias and really paying my dues, sleeping on couches and shit. I wasn't ever getting paid enough to bring everybody out. But now it's getting to the point where I can afford to bring out as many people as I do, and pay them well enough that they can leave home and still pay rent and keep the lights on. I've got some incredible opportunities, I've played Conan, but for me what I feel most fortunate about is the ability to keep those people on the road and I feel like a real proper business man now!
Band of the Day: You grew up in rural eastern Washington, not exactly a hot bed of soul. When did the soul bug hit you? Is it something you've always been into?
Allen: It definitely wasn't what I was raised on. I was raised on Christian pop music. The music that my parents had and in the house and that was what I was allowed to listen to. It wasn't until I was about 14 or 15 that I first got into Dave Matthews band really tough. Got into them and that kind of let me just explore secular music more because I was always told not to listen to secular music. Because I liked DMB so much it made me want to explore outside of the Katinas and Steven Curtis Chapman and all this Christian music that I was made to listen to. Then when I was about 16 a friend gave me Stevie Wonder's Innervisions record. I remember just hearing his voice and thinking that's exactly what I want to sound like. For me I started to listen to as many soul records as I could, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. I grew up in a super small town, I never took voice lessons, I never was in music classes. Kind of how I learned was just emulating the records I loved. I loved those old soul records and I'd just put them on and just sing to them all the time. For days. I'd always been able to sing, I grew up singing in church, and I'm still learning, I'm still a student of soul music to this day, but I've never -how I learned chops as a vocalist, vibrato, chops as a soul singer was just emulating the people I loved and the singers I respected so it was definitely later in life, well not later, I was 16, but it was never in my house. I think the closest to soul music that my parents liked -though it was never in the house- was Chicago. My dad was a big Chicago fan when he was in college.
Band of the Day: Did you ever feel like an outsider for the music you were making? Either in eastern Washington or when you moved to Seattle?
Allen: Definitely felt like an outsider. I still feel like an outsider in Seattle. Traditionally Seattle loves depressing music. They love music that sits them in the dumps that the weather brings them to. Seems like most of the music that's gotten big out of Seattle like Nirvana -and not that Fleet Foxes and the Head and the Heart are depressing- but they're not innately ... they're not soul music. They don't make people dance. Now I'm starting to believe that there's a lot of people in Seattle that want to go to shows and be happy and sweaty. Before I was like, man, I don't know if Seattle is the best place for me, maybe I should move to Memphis or somewhere where there's more soul music. And now Seattle is starting to embrace me and make me feel like there's a potential for a really cool soul movement out of this city. It's funny, before Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and all those bands took over the world the soul music scene in Seattle was the best! We had Ray Charles and Quincey Jones and Wheedle's Groove, all these dope soul musicians that were amazing. Kenny G came out of Seattle. Some of the best soul musicians of all time but they were so overshadowed by grunge music.
Band of the Day: Speaking of time and place, if you could play a show any time or place, where and when would it be?
Allen: Oh man! I would really love to play, as lame as it's gonna sound, I would really love to play the Monterey Pop Festival back in the 60s and 70s with Janis and the Who and all those people. That to me was the golden age of music, simply because it really had a grip on culture back then. What people did and believed politically, music was really a huge part of the political movement and obviously with the hippy movement and political rights movement. That's the type of music that brought me into soul music was that era. That probably what I'd be into.
Band of the Day: A lot of the features I read about you basically start with the angle, "OMG this nerdy white kid has THAT voice!" Does that frustrate you?
Allen: No not at all. The last six months of my life have come out of nowhere. If people are talking about me in any fashion, I'm stoked about it. I think that the breakdown of our culture is the fact that we're too visual as a society. You get these pop stars who are beautiful but they can't do anything musically, you know, I think that's where it hurts me, I'm perpetuating that music that I hate about the music industry, that it's ok for people to get in the studio and not play live. And do everything in the box, and auto tuning and all this stuff that kills the art of music. It doesn't hurt my feelings. If I wasn't me and I was on the outside and some kid that looked like me opened up his mouth and started singing that would be the first thing I'd say, what the hell! Where did he come from? We're very visual creatures it doesn't surprise me at all. For me the lesson I'd like people to learn is that the visual aspect of music shouldn't be as big of a priority.
Band of the Day: You're saying that recently you got all of these opportunities, so have you ever felt like a celebrity in Seattle or Chewelah where you grew up?
Allen: Definitely where I grew up. I'm like the golden pony where I grew up, it's a town of 1200 people, everyone knows everybody. Really small community. Everyone knows who I am there. In Seattle too though yeah. It's crazy weird. When I was in town, which I only am very rarely, but when I was in town before these Neptune gigs, -I played two sold out nights at the Neptune theatre- I was in town for two weeks before that, and every night when I'd go out at least four or five people would stop me, and it's weird, it's kind of a mind fuck. It happened in New York, I've been in New York several times in the last few months just walking down the street and people say "you're Allen Stone," and I'm like "What! How do you know who I am!?!" But what happens is I get really self conscious and self aware about how I'm acting, how the people around me are acting, because I don't want my name to be ever seen in a negative light. I don't want someone to say, "I saw Allen Stone downtown, he was drunk off his ass being a total dick to everybody." I just don't want that. That's not my spirit. It reminds me of my hometown. My dad was a minister and everyone knew he was a minister, everyone knew I was the pastor's kid so if I did anything wrong out in public, it would always get back to my dad. So I was very self aware growing up in the town I did, and now that's how I feel again in Seattle.
Band of the Day: That sounds like the opposite of your standard rock star who gets famous and then starts doing whatever they want.
Allen: Yeah I think that's stupid. Whoever you want to give thanks to for putting you in the position like me, where people care about what I'm doing and saying and singing, if you're in that position you better use it wisely. You better be intentional about the morals and the example that you set. I don't always set the best example, I'm still a 24 year old young man that's dumb as hell and trying his best to figure out this thing called life. For me I want people to, when they hear Allen Stone to think highly of it. A good human being who does good things for his community and culture.
Band of the Day: What non-soul music influences you?
Allen: I love good singers. I love people who have that craft down. It's an instrument like the guitar or the bass, and I think a lot of people have gotten away with being awful over the years. And so for me I love incredible vocalists, from Maroon 5 to Audio Slave, it's not all soul music, I love Ray LaMontagne, and I love Head and the Heart. Pure, good vocalists. I listen to a lot of folk music, Bonnie Rait, James Taylor, John Denver it's not all just soul music. Primarily soul music, that's where my heart still is. I'll listen to James Blake records, I guess that's kinda soul too. My music catalog is all over the place.
Band of the Day: You said you love singers with good voices, what do you think of singers like Neil Young or Bjork who don't necessarily have classically "good" voices?
Allen: I love Neil Young, I think he's an incredible vocalist. I think there's a difference between a technical singer like someone who's on Glee, and a singer that really does the right singing for the song. I think Björk is like that. She's very non-traditional, but the way she sings is perfect for the music she plays. Same as Imogen Heap. I love Imogen Heap, she's an incredible singer but she's not traditionally, you know like a Broadway singer, but it's perfect for the kinds of music she does. Even Bob Dylan, if you saw him before you knew he was Bob Dylan and he went up on American Idol and sang for those people they would have laughed at him. But he was perfect for the songs he wrote and the music that he portrayed. For me I'm not a huge fan of vocalists who who don't fit into the genre of music they're trying to play.
Band of the Day: Anything else you want to tell the people?
Allen: I appreciate your time, tell the people to stay blessed!