Seattle-based songwriter, Allen Stone, writes jams inspired by Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and Bill Withers.
He’s released two albums: “Last To Speak” (2010) and the self-titled “Allen Stone” (2011).
TSJ caught up with Stone to talk touring, KFC, and classic soul.
The Smoking Jacket: I’ve been enjoying listening to your stuff.
Allen Stone: Thank you, I really appreciate you taking time to listen to it.
TSJ: How did you get into soul, or music generally?
AS: I got started singing when I was a kid. My father was a minister, so I just grew up kind of in the church, and that was when I initially knew that I loved singing — I couldn’t do it very well. But it’s when I knew that I loved it. And then when I was like fifteen, somebody gave me Stevie Wonder’s Innerversions and that was like the point in my life that ignited everything, that turned me on to soul music, and really made me a student of that era and that style of music. I grew up in a really small town in Eastern Washington so there were no blues clubs–
TSJ: But there was the Internet?
AS: Well, we didn’t have much of the Internet out there, either! There was a lot of like just researching R&B soul greats from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Picking up Donny Hathaway records and Marvin Gaye records and kind of learning to love and learning how to sing through that capacity of just listening to their music.
TSJ: So when your dad was a minister, did your church sing gospel-y kind of music?
AS: No, no. It was horrible music, actually. If I look back on it now, if I had gone back to my church today and listened to the music that I grew up on — in comparison to the music I’ve been able to experience now that I’ve been on the road for three years — I would have to leave. It’s that kind of contemporary Christian bullshit. All the musicians — they’re not really musicians, they’re just people who go to church who have a drumset or who have a guitar, you know.
TSJ: How do you feel about this “blue-eyed soul” label people are throwing at you.
AS: What it stems from is blues music was culturally a black ethnicity of music. Raised from slavery and the civil rights movement and all that stuff, and that turned into jazz music that rose from the old speakeasies and the black musicians in that time. It’s a way of paying homage to that history in reality, white people are not responsible for soul music. And I truly love soul music, and I love R&B music and I love jazz music, but in no way, shape, or form is my heritage responsible for that form.
TSJ: When you were talking about the old school stuff that you like, like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, they’ve got some sexy songs in their repertoire, but they were also writing about their political climate. Is that something that’s important to you as well?
AS: I definitely try to be conscious in my writing. I feel like I’ve been given a huge gift, and an opportunity to say something that more than one person will hear, and I truly want to be a good steward of that. I write about love, for sure, there are definitely love songs on my record. People focus a lot on love — it’s a huge part of anybody’s life. But just like the soul greats that I love — Stevie Wonder sang “Living for the City,” but then he also sang “Part Time Lover.” He really touched on everything. That’s how I want to be. I don’t want to be the type of artist who only writes about sex and partying. I love sex and I love partying, but the legacy that I want to leave is a little bit different from that. So I try my best to bring my own level of political commentary to the music.
TSJ: You’ve been touring for a while now. Where have you been going?
AS: I’ve been all over the world with my band. In the last year we’ve done probably about three national tours. We’ve been on the road straight — I’ve been home, the last year and a half, maybe for a month total. We’ve been all over the United States, we went to South Africa and played a jazz festival there. We did about three weeks in Europe and in the UK. And we’re out on another worldwide headline tour that does about 60 shows in the US and about 20 in Europe and the UK.
TSJ: So the PR people told me you love basketball. True fact?
AS: I love what?
AS: Yeah, yeah, I grew up playing basketball — I played four years varsity basketball in high school. Granted, I grew up in a small town and so there weren’t a lot of people trying out to be on the team. I could have played college basketball, but I decided instead to be a broke-ass musician and live on couches and eat pizza for a couple of years.
TSJ: You just got to put in the time when you want to do something in the arts.
AS: Without a doubt.
TSJ: So the pizza route sounds like it’s worked out.
AS: And I no longer sleep on couches! I actually have my own hotel room right now.
AS: It’s amazing, right? Unfortunately I’m eating Kentucky Fried Chicken right now. It’s the only place close to my hotel room.
TSJ: So you’re on tour?
AS: Yeah, we started off our tour a week and half ago with the Dave Matthews Band.
TSJ: That’s not so bad, kicking off your tour with Dave Matthews — were you playing to some big crowds?
AS: Dave sells out every show he plays. And he only plays amphitheaters. So, like, the Gorge was about 25,000 a night. We played each night to probably about 10,000-15,000. I kept telling the guys, “You know how crazy this is because sincerely, we will play for more people in these seven shows than we’ll play on the rest of our tour.” It was an amazing opportunity.
TSJ: What are they like to hang out with?
AS: Dave Matthews is one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met. Every member of the band is super nice, super endearing, will look you in the eyes and seem like they really care about you. When someone’s at the top like that your natural reaction is to think, “They must be a dick, they must have cut many throats.” But [meeting] somebody at the top who is sincere and nice makes me excited to be a musician, and it makes me excited to move forward in this business. Because I’m like, “I’m never going to make it to the top because I’m not a dick.” But when you meet people at the top who are just genuinely wonderful people, it’s a great thing.
TSJ: What does it feel like to play to an audience of 15,000 people?
AS: I’m not a gloater, and I don’t puff my chest ever, but I got on stage and I went, “Shit, I’m proud of myself. Like, this is fucking cool.”
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