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As I enter a small artist guest house backstage at the Bank of American Pavilion in Boston, I walk into a room of people drinking beers and catching up on old times. I look towards the couch and there is this bearded and long haired gentleman who just finished tearing down the stage. This gentleman is none other than Allen Stone. This soul music crooner from a small town in Washington State is known more for his commanding voice and ability to ingratiate new fans nightly than his shaggy beard. Stone performed songs off of his various projects including “Sleep”, “Contact High”, and “Satisfaction”. But the seeming focal point to his set was his sui generis rendition of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”. After his spirited set, I got to sit down with Stone and talk about the difference between sex music and soul music, the excellence of Charles Bradley, songwriting, and air-humping.
Malc: What’s up, Allen? I’m glad to finally get a chance to sit down with you. I interviewed Macklemore last year and I was supposed to interview after but the show got cancelled. I had him ask you a question. His question was “Who would win in a fight between you and Ray Dalton?”
Allen: (Laughs) Oh man, the funny thing is that me and Ray Dalton are the best of friends. It would just be a hug off. But I would say Ray would win that fight (Laughs).
Malc: (Laughs) How do you feel about two “blue eyed-soul” artists having such big records this year. Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke have some of the biggest r&b/pop records this year. What do you think about that?
Allen: I think it’s great. I get a little testy though with the whole “blue-eyed soul” thing. I mean, in reverse we don’t say we have a brown-eyed president. Soul music comes from somewhere that I don’t think people can explain. I don’t think it’s necessarily strictly only for a specific race of human being. I love what those guys are doing, but I wouldn’t call it soul music; that’s sex music.
Malc: Could you explain?
Allen: To me, rhythm and blues and soul music is Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Charles Bradley. That’s soul music. Don’t get me wrong, I love them to death and I love what they do, I’m big fans of Robin and Justin, but what they do is sex music.
Malc: You gain new fans all the time simply through referrals and word of mouth. How did you generate this relationship with your fans?
Allen: Well, I didn’t have a hit (laughs). There’s no real science to music but I believe there are methods you can go by. I look at bands that never had big hits. For example, Radiohead and Phish never had huge hits. Dave Matthews had big records back in the 90s but they never had a Macklemore-type hit that you hear every hour on radio. I love being on the road, I love playing and singing every night with my band. That’s where most of the money is. In this industry it’s about putting on a great live show. I’ve always wanted to cultivate a following of people who know that every single night I am going to go out and entertain. A lot of artists shoot for that one hit and that would be awesome for me but I would rather have my success based on the live show like the Black Crows. They haven’t had a hit in a minute and they tour every year. Real music is made and performed and enjoyed all in the same moment. It doesn’t come out of a MacBook Pro. Don’t get me wrong; that’s art, but it’s not live music. I always want to get better and rehearse and sing.
Malc: You’ve been touring for the last three years non-stop and that’s a big part of your success, what was your favorite show during that whole experience? Tell me about the show that made you feel that you were born to do this.
Allen: I flew into Seattle from Paris at the end of a tour, no sleep or anything and I went straight to the venue to see Charles Bradley sing. You can tell by his aura and energy around him that that man has been in the trenches, that guys been in a foxhole and he comes out every night as a sixty year old and he still goes 110% every night giving love and energy to people.
Malc: I saw him at SXSW this year and he was energetic and thankful for the opportunity. After he finished his set, he jumped off stage and into the crowd and hugged almost every single fan who was watching his show. It was unbelievable.
Allen: The sad part is that not enough people know about Charles because he is such a light. In this day and age we have so many people at the forefront of music who aren’t using their fame and notoriety for positivity. A man like Charles Bradley can lift the roof off a building. People don’t know or understand the positivity he brings; I pray that type of music makes a comeback.
Malc: So you call yourself a hippie with soul…
Allen: Let’s get this straight, I have never called myself that (laughs). I think it got coined from an interviewer who did far less homework than you did and during the interview he asked me “What do you do?” I replied well I’m kind of a hippie who sings soul music. It kinda stuck since then. I’m more of a nomad than anything else. For the last three years of my life I’ve lived in hotels and on buses.
Malc: How has that affected your music?
Allen: It’s affected me positively. I’ve been able to go and travel and meet a lot of people. My favorite thing is going out into the culture of the place we just played and trying to get a read on the people. That’s what I’m in the business for. I’m in the business of writing good melodies but also writing songs that are going to touch people where they are. What are young adults my age facing? Whats your spirit like? It’s not just about singing about my life but positively enforcing a powerful spirit of overcoming for their life.
Malc: How do you approach songwriting when it comes to songs like “Unaware” or even “Quit Callin” — what girl inspired that? (Laughs)
Allen: (Laughs) It’s all different. I want to create a song that people will sing to. I write music for the people. I attempt to. I want to be a voice. I grew up singing in the church, the songs we chose to sing on Sunday, we chose them with the purpose that everybody can feel them and sing along and be touched. Songs like “Unaware”, “Celebrate Tonight”, or even “Quit Callin” were made for people to sing along and connect with me. My whole goal is to connect with the audience. Whether it’s about politics, love, or social media I try to write about something that everybody is going through.
Malc: When are we getting some new music from Allen Stone?
Allen: I will be getting into the studio right after this tour, so hopefully by the top of the year.
Malc: Lets switch gears for a second; you have these dance battles at a bunch of your shows — who started these?
Allen: (Laughs) Well I love the science of uptight people. One of my favorite things to do as a human being is to take somebody who would normally see a person like me and never listen to anything I say and by the end of the show seeing them just geeking out, ganking all over the dance floor, sweating and just losing it. I just love emotion. A show is an awkward place for people sometimes. You go to a show and cram in to this tight space. My music is all standing room, we play theaters but we’ll pull the seats out because it’s really standing music. First of all you’re standing, so that’s uncomfortable and then you’re crammed in with people you don’t know and that’s uncomfortable. I always try to figure out a way to help them relax and reinforce why they came to the show in the first place. The dance battle came from me thinking of how I can make people dance. Fortunately in our culture if you make people compete against each other, it’s on. One day at a show I decided to split the room and put two sides against each other and people went crazy. Once you throw some competition in there people go wild. One time in Atlanta was unbelievable. People were crowd surfing and air-humping. One kid got his friends to hold him up and he was just air-humping in the middle of the floor. Girls were on shoulders and everything. It was great.
Malc: Have you seen any twerking at your shows?
Allen: Absolutely! People really get down. When they feel like they’re comfortable, they have fun. We do it at the end of the set after people have heard all of the songs they wanted to hear. We want to create an atmosphere where you look foolish if you’re just standing around not having a great time.
Malc: My last question for you is: if you weren’t a dope soul singer, what would you be doing?
Allen: I really love animals. I would probably be working with them as a veterinarian. I also thought it would also be cool to own a dog park or dog sitting company. But I’ve always been obsessed with singing. When I was younger I wanted to play basketball but I gave that up fast (laughs). But I really love animals and nature. I love the woods. I also love snowboarding. I can see myself as a ski bum for a couple of years. Honestly though I’ve been blessed as a 26 year-old man to be able to do what I love. It’s never been about the money for me. Life has always been about the betterment of life. You can have a million dollars but if you hate what you do, you’ll be miserable. But to answer your question, I don’t know man, you got me thinking now.
Malc: You can still be a veterinarian…
Allen: Let’s just not say that and put that out there. I’m going to be singing when I’m 40 and that’s it (laughs).
Allen is on tour with OAR for another week and then he plans to record some new music for a new project hopefully dropping at the beginning of next year!