Allen Stone is Bringing Consciousness Back To R&B / Soul Music

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Allen Stone vinyl album
(photo above: the Allen Stone vinyl album)

By Nicole Hanratty
November 6, 2012

Allen Stone is a surprise. His music makes you smile–despite some of the serious themes–and brings back the soul sounds of Earth Wind & Fire in a contemporary way. While he’s been dubbed the hippie whom has the voice of Stevie Wonder, Allen Stone is more than that. Influenced heavily by both his mother (a doctor) and his father (a preacher), Allen is a hard-working talented musician with a strong business sense and an acute awareness of what society is missing today: music with content and consciousness. He serves it up with a contagious smile and a heart of gold. Allen’s mother is a breast cancer survivor and Allen donates a portion of every ticket sold on his tour to the Keep A Breast Foundation. His album “Allen Stone” will thrill you with its pop and retro love infused sound.

We were thrilled to get the opportunity to interview Allen and were very appreciative of the effort he made to speak with us given that his voice was half gone and he still had to perform that night. His hard work and dedication are admirable.

Nicole: Hi, it’s Nicole Hanratty, how are you?

Allen: I’m doing good, how are you doing?

Nicole: Good. You sound a little tired…

Allen: [Laughs] I’m in the process of losing my voice and so I’m attempting to save it a little bit. I probably won’t be too wordy on this interview, if you don’t mind.

Nicole: Oh, I don’t mind at all… I’ll do all the talking. [Laughs]

Allen: [Laughs] Thank you sweetheart.

Nicole: I saw tonight you’re singing with Haley Reinhart. I just saw her at The Hotel Café. She’s great. That’s going to be a fun night for you. Are you going to be up for it?

Allen: Yeah, she’s really incredible. She played last night and she’s got a voice–wow!

Nicole: And Selah Sue, I saw you played with her too. She’s also so good, I saw her with Ed Sheeran.

Allen: Yeah, she’s amazing. She’s truly amazing at what she does.

Nicole: Your video for “Unaware,” obviously is what garnered you so much success and attention. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about why you think that song struck a chord with people and why you think it’s so important for your generation to speak out about the state of the economy.

Allen: You know, I believe that that song was probably so popular because of the way that I look. I think that was probably a huge reason why people looked at it and watched our song. I think that it was probably not until after they watched the video a couple times that they actually listened to the lyrics and figured out what the song was about. I think that was probably surprising. I think a lot of people think that song initially is about love or about a relationship or something. I think that it’s incredibly important for our generation to at least be in conversation about the authority we have above us. I think a lot of the times, especially in our country we get comfortable and complacent and I think we fail to recognize potentially where our country is headed because of the choices that our government’s making. I think that especially my generation, my demographic and age group of young adults should be way more proactive in what we do and how we vote and how we talk.

Allen Stone live on Conan (performing ‘Unaware’):

Nicole: You were interviewed by Forbes and you talked about looking at your music like a business that needs investing in and I think that’s a concept that many new artists haven’t quite grasped. Can you talk about why you feel it’s important to have a proper business sense in this industry?

Allen: Well, because it’s a business, first and foremost, you know, it is art, but it’s the business of art and for me, this is all I do and this is how I make money and this is how I survive and put food on my table. So I sincerely have to kind of look at it like, okay, it’s a strategy, so to speak, like, I don’t play markets… Like, I’ll only play Seattle twice a year because if I play it 10 times a year, then my shows aren’t going to be as well attended because people don’t feel the urgency to come out. The artists that I choose to collaborate with, they have to make sense in the specific pathway that I believe my music needs to go. So, you know, there’s not an algorithm, there’s not a science but it’s definitely a game…it’s like a chess game.

Nicole: I know a lot of people talk about who they compare you to vocally and I wanted to sort of go a different direction and talk about Earth, Wind & Fire, and in particular, Maurice White. He is quoted as saying that when that group was born, “I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before. We were coming out of a decade of experimentation, mind expansion and cosmic awareness and I wanted our music to convey messages of universal love and harmony without force-feeding listeners spiritual content.” I see such an enormous parallel between what you’re starting movement-wise and the enormous explosion of growth in the technology industry and in many ways, that experimentation and mind expansion that we’ve gone through now. I’m wondering, has that band been an influence on you and do you sort of see parallels there?

Allen: You know, I definitely am a huge fan of Earth, Wind, and Fire. I think anybody who’s into soul music is into them. I think his mind expansion was maybe a little differently induced than my generation’s mind expansion. [Laughter] He was coming out of an era of LSD and acid and I’m coming out of an era of laziness and people using their remote control and their space bar more than their minds. You know, for me, I just want to bring thought and consciousness back to R & B music and I’m a true lover of R & B and especially the R & B like Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder and those artists that I grew up with. There’s not, in my personal opinion–especially in R & B–there’s not any content anymore. It’s all sex, it’s all partying, it’s all clubbing. It’s a very sexy style of music traditionally but, for me I look at my song, “Unaware,” it’s a very sexy sounding song but the content is one that’s completely different. So I think by the means of how popular that song has been for me, there is a demographic of people who truly want content and consciousness and want to think when they listen to music. It doesn’t matter if it sounds sexy or if it doesn’t, they just want to think and they want to progress spiritually and emotionally and mentally. So that’s the type of music that I want to bring to the table. So, yeah, there may be a little bit of a parallel between that and Earth, Wind & Fire, a little bit in that sense and regard but I just want to come forth with a new entrée, maybe something that especially my generation is not used to. We’re used to either kind of the pissed off music of the ‘90s, like that grunge movement or that early rock & roll, Blink 182, Sum 41 kind of stuff or like the overt pop music. I don’t think we’re really used to smart pop music. I would say that probably the smartest pop music that’s come out in the last 10 years is something like Deathcab for Cutie or Radiohead and these artists are still not on the forefront of pop radio. For me, I think it’s possible to write songs that are very, very poppy and easy to sing along to and easy to get, but that also have a subliminal message that is powerful and that’s my goal, is to try to bring that to the table and see if that’s not some bait that the big fish of culture will bite onto.

Allen Stone live on Letterman (performing ‘Sleep’)

Nicole: I know that you were raised on the gospel music and your music is obviously not gospel but I’m wondering, do you see parallels in which your music sort of does the same thing in that it brings people together in congregation for the messages that you’re promoting, of love and having smarter topics?

Allen: Yes, totally. This is my ministry and I remember telling my dad that actually one time. My dad was supposed to be a farmer. My grandfather has a 2500 acre farm and my dad was the only son so he was supposed to take over the farm. It was his junior year in college, he decided that he was going to be a Pastor and he left the family business behind to go make $30,000 a year and preach and nobody really understood it. I sat my dad down and I was like, “You know, this is kind of like the same crossroads because when I decided I was going to do music, I was primed to go do music in a church and be a Pastor and be a worship leader and I stopped and I gave that up. I said, “I want to be a song writer and I want to go out and sing to everybody,” and that was a little bit hard for him to grasp. I think essentially because I had left the church as well but I said, “Dad, this is my ministry. I’m going to the people and I’m bringing a positive message and I’m attempting to shed light upon culture and that’s, in a sense, what you’re doing. You’re just giving it a more singular pathway.” …And he got it, so, yeah, I think to a degree this is kind of like, every night when I get on my microphone, it’s kind of like church, sure.

Nicole: You know, there is a lot of talk about your dad in interviews I’ve read but your mom, you’ve said, was an OB-GYN and in a very small town. I’m assuming that makes her quite a strong and intelligent woman and I’m wondering how your mom has influenced you.

Allen: Oh, my God, my mom…my parents both are huge influences on me and I look up to them exceedingly. My mom has the work ethic of a horse, incredible. My mom–and I think that’s where–we’ve played, I think, close to 280 shows this year and we’ve got about 40 more before the year is over, plus radio, plus interviews and all that stuff. For me, I think that’s potentially a little bit different as well in regards to other artists that I know, that I meet that are doing the same thing as me. But me, I just want to get out and I want to work and I want to be in front of people every single night and I want to physically in person make them fans of mine. I think a lot of people, because of how easy it is to use the internet, that’s how promotion is big now. But I feel like when you gain fans through the internet, and you don’t give them a tangible experience, like a real experience to look at, they forget about you really easy because it’s just like a recycle entertainment system. You know, like, “Oh, here’s a cool video. I’ll go to his show and then I’ll forget about him because he didn’t give me any real experience in a live context.” I think what my mom taught me is that, was more from working her tail off. She made an enormous impact on a ton of families in the little town I grew up in and it was working her tail off and still being Sandy Stone and a beautiful human being and loving and caring and emotionally giving. For those families, that’s what made it–that’s what made her impact. It wasn’t that she just showed up to work every day. It was that she showed up to work and she loved what she did and she appreciated those families and she wanted to be an impact on them. So, yeah, my mom was an enormous impact and still is. My mom is a breast cancer survivor and she went through breast cancer about three years ago, and the entire time she went through breast cancer, she still did 40 hour work weeks and was doing like, you know, 3:00 AM and working until 12:00 in the afternoon, delivering a baby. It just blew my mind, and I think it really gave me a sense of work ethic and the power that we have as human beings.

Nicole: I did want to ask you a little bit about that because I always ask artists if there’s a charity that’s close to their heart or to which they donate their time and I had read that you are involved with the Keep A Breast Foundation. I know that’s due to your mom, but do you want to talk about your involvement with them and why the charity is important to you?

Allen: Yeah. That’s essentially why, is because my mom’s a survivor and when my mom was diagnosed, I moved back to my little hometown of Chewelah. I was living in Seattle at the time and my parents had adopted two little girls about two years prior and they kind of needed some–I felt like they needed some help and so I packed up and moved back to Chewelah for the time being, kind of helped mom through. Just helped out as best I could. I’m not sure if I was that much of a help but I did my best. [Laughter] But I saw the incredible destruction that that disease can bring to a family and even though my little conspiracy theorist mind believes that there is a cure out there and there is potentially a reason why cancer is so rampant in our country and not others, but I personally believe that you need to give back as an artist and somebody who is blessed and I’ve been exceedingly blessed in the last year of my life and on this tour, we’re giving a portion of each ticket to Keep A Breast and so that’s kind of like my little way of giving back. It’s not going to cure cancer. I’m not giving the Bill Gates sized charitable fund, but I’m doing my best to give back in as many ways as I can.

Donate to Keep A Breast charity.

Nicole: And you’re raising awareness, which is huge.

Allen: Yes, that as well.

Nicole: I was just going to ask you a few of your favorites just for fun for your fans… What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Allen: My favorite flavor of ice cream is the banana flavor at Cold Stone and I get it with gummy bears.

Nicole: [Laughs] All right, what’s your favorite sweater in your wardrobe?

Allen: My favorite sweater? I’ve been kind of switching lately and I wear what I call a slacket and it’s a jean vest and sweater sleeves sewn together and that’s kind of what I’ve been rocking lately. I call it a slacket.

Nicole: I like it, okay. Last question and then I’m going to let you go rest your voice. What’s your favorite place to take a date?

Allen: I love going and having a nice conversation over some sake and some sushi and just taking a–I’m not like–I don’t know–I’m a very, very hopeless romantic human being but I’m not good at being a hopeless romantic, if that makes sense. Like, I don’t know what women think is cute and adorable…

Nicole: If you ever figure it out, I’m sure you could make a lot of money selling it. [Laughter]

Allen: [Laughs] I’ll try. Maybe you can give me some notes. Yeah, my favorite place is–probably sushi, that’s like the typical place that I–you know–I try to be original every time though when I get the opportunity to go out. I haven’t been on many dates though in the last couple years. I had a really long relationship with a girl and then I’ve been on the road for, like, probably 85% of my life for the last four years, so I don’t get too much time to be in one place and take a lady out on the town.

Nicole: I just ordered one of your vinyls so I’m anxiously waiting for it to arrive in the mail and I’m hoping I’ll catch one of your shows soon.

Allen: Okay, cool. Thank you so much, Nicole. I appreciate you.

Nicole: Feel better!

ALLEN STONE SUPPORTS CHARITY:
Donate to Keep A Breast

ALLEN STONE ON THE WEB
AllenStone.com