Interview: Allen Stone
Dennis Rider hosts Soul/R&B singer-songwriter, Allen Stone, live on KGNU.
This is Dennis rider at KGNU and I’d like to welcome Allen Stone. Allen, welcome to KGNU.
Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me. Appreciate y’all.
Well, a lot of people have called you the hippie soul man, and you have this persona. If someone could just see you have long, blonde hair and wide rimmed glasses. But if they hear you on the radio, people would think, “okay, there’s someone like a Mayor Hawthorne or Eli Paper Boy Reed with that soul song.
I think I’ve, for many years been drawn to his soul and RnB music. But I grew up in the woods. So you know, the, the hippie with soul is not a moniker that I’ve placed on myself, but, somehow managed to always find its way to the surface regarding the description of me.
Well, I want to ask you about your start in music. You started at the age of three singing in your father’s Christian Church, and you later led singing groups and playing the guitar there. But as a teenager you discovered R&B. Was that gradual or how did that happen?
I mean, RnB is genres. Genres period are a tricky thing, right? Because it all comes from the same source. But you know, that era of soul and funk and I was really drawn to was that sixties and seventies era of soul and funk, kind of that era of music seems to be the golden era of any sort of recorded music.
There was just enough creative freedom and artistic freedom. And there wasn’t any executives and A and R’s getting in the way and crowding up the creative process. So the music for that era was just spectacular. But that twas the era that I was really drawn to kind of, you know, 16, 17, 18. A friend of mine plugged me into a, I think it was Innervisions first and then that shortly just became a master’s program in digging deep in those, you know, record bins and finding that soul music that resonated with me.
Well I want to go into your first couple of albums then, and your first recording. I first discovered you with your self titled album in 2011. You had a Raphael Sadiq’s rhythm section and Miles Davis’ keyboard it’s Darren Johnson on it. And it was a, the more punchy side of Rn B of the 70s. To me it was more of a, a folk singer, song writer release. And after the last to speak, how did you move from that first album to the second?
Well, thank you. You know, I had had very much to do with the personnel that I was able to convince the play the music and having and obviously having a rhythm section, as talented as those cats, you know, really does inform the music a lot. I think, every time you put out a record, you’ve got an idea of what you want it to sound like and what you want it to feel like and how people are going to potentially respond to it.
I just sorta think all the stars really aligned on that process. I met a producer by the name of Leo Goldenberg, who really put a bug in those player’s ears and convinced them to come to play on the record. And man. Like I said, it’s when you have really talented musicians as I’ve been very fortunate to have in my orbit for the last 10 years. The music is, speaks to that talent.
That album, Allen Stone became a big hit and it led to national recognition. A lot of TV appearances. How did life change for you?
Well it went from really struggling to get a gig and to get people to pay attention to you, to being busy all the time. And to being away from home all the time, which is just a whole new set of scenarios to deal with and to maneuver around. But, I think any artists when they start getting some sort of recognition at all, I think it’s really, really exciting and it can be confusing at times. It can be terrifying at times.
You do this thing in your bedroom for so many years and then people start talking about it and you have this new precious little gift. You know, and you don’t want the gift to go away. And so, I think that, my tendency in that moment was to tense up and maybe be a little bit more afraid than I needed to.
But all in all, I learned a lot through the process and I’m really happy to still be making records and still be working.
Well, I’d say we’re all glad that you still are. Four years later, your third album Radius came out. It was a collaboration with a Magnus Tingsek, and for me it gets a little funkier and some tunes have that Prince sound for me.
And you moved to Capitol records from the independent ATO. How did that transpire, both the album and moving to a bigger record company?
Well, Capitol was sorta chirping at my heels pretty much ever since the release of my self titled record. You know, when your numbers start start growing and you start moving units, those bigger players come to the table and start,showering you and in steak dinners and promising you that they can help you go to that next step.
So Capitol and Columbia both courted me for a while through that process of my first self-titled record. And at the end of the day, I just felt I felt better about about Capitol. I felt better about the contract they were giving me and I felt like I had a better connection with the. The A and R team president. So, yeah, I went to capital to make that next record.
Made that jump to the major label. I wanted to swing with big dogs.
Well, this turned out to be one of my favorites. I put it in my CD player in the car and listened to it over and over again. It’s a great release.
The next one you went, you went back to the ATO for building balance. So what got you back to ATO?
Well, Dan McCarol and the A and R team that I had at Capitol right before pretty much right as I finished recording the record radius, they all left as many as many A and R’s do nowadays. They, got another job somewhere. And I’ve always been weary of that. You know, I had heard that from so many people.
You know, going from Capitol to Warner, to over to Sony to while they’re jumping into the Amazon and Apple world. Nobody sticks around for more than, two and a half years. It’s like the same shelf life as a NFL player. So, I went with Capitol because my A and R team, you know, sort of like my my bloodline, into the concern of the label and the budgets of the label and the release cycles of the label.
That bloodline, had just signed a new contract, like a five year deal. So, I jumped. I gotta trust this contract. You know, they’re, they’re telling me they’re not gonna leave. And sure enough, 12 months into the process of my relationship with Capitol, they all took off. So a new A and R team took over and they weren’t invested in my project at all. They didn’t sign me. They didn’t hear the commercial viability of Radius by any means., I don’t know if technically I got dropped, but like because ATO is a Universal company and they’re under the same umbrella as Capitol,I was able to get released to ATO , rerelease Radius with like a big bonus album. You know, like another eight tracks or so on ATO. We repackaged it, we took it to Europe, we did like a proper tour. And getting released to ATO, the deal that we’ve set up was that I would give them my next record.
So yeah, coincidentally, I ended up back on ATO, which is a great, great label. And I’m so fortunate that they would have me back and work with me on this, on this newest release its, in my opionion, my best
Let me ask you about Radius, and then building balance and listening to some of the tunes on Radius. You’re talking about looking forthe love of your life for, or maybe how love affects your life on a a number of tunes.
And then you get to building balance, and you had just gotten married with your wife, Tara, and the album sounded like a Valentines to your new wife. A lot of great songs, like sunny days, Taste of You. And you could see it like get E-town. You could see from the stage. That everybody just enjoyed your singing.
You had an acoustic set at E-town, but, I don’t know if you could see it from the stage, but a lot of couples seemed to get a lot closer together when you saying gives you blue. So what besides your marriage, seems like that really was an epiphany or just the big spark to your life?
I think for many years I was super opposed to writing about love. I felt it was kind of like the easy topic and especially like romance and my aritstry, I don’t like to feel like I’m in a box. I don’t like to feel like I’m defined by the mold, which is the blue eyed soul crooner. You know, “the lets dress him up in a suit let’s teach him how to dance and let’s sing about the club and sex and romance and we’ve got to hit right here.” I just really, and maybe to my own disadvantage, have always been opposed to that. I don’t feel the urge to look a certain way or dress a certain way. I come from the woods in the Pacific Northwest and, and my style is my style and it is what it is. The music that I love is the music that I love. I’ve always been a little bit, not completely opposed to writing about romance or love, but I was weary of it.
Whenever I would be in a writing session and it would start going that way, I would definitely try to turn the tide and write about something heady, like something that made more sense to the public, like about the influx of technology, like mental health. Just anything, anything besides love and romance and you know, so happened to be, that I was falling in love with my wife and starting a life together with her right around the same time I was writing Building Balance. The majority of the work reflected that.
it was kind of the, kind of that coalescing of feeling comfortable in being vulnerable with my life and what I was going through. And also feeling comfortable as an artist to not force any sort of rhetoric too much, but to just sing what I feel and sing what was true.
On Building Balance, that process was the love I have for my family.
Well, when I first heard “Consider me,” I thought a lot of your fans were going to use it as their marriage vows and the video that you put out kind of showed that. And then later I learned that, you had that same trepidation about writing marriage vows, and you use that song for your wedding and then you had a contest for fans to send in their marriage vows.
Yeah,those marriage vows, man. That can be a sticky thing. Cause your same sort of thing, trying to sum up into words the emotion and the feeling that you have inside and also being honest about it.
The little thing with my marriage vows was I remember I was up all night with my dad like the night before my wedding trying to write these vows. Because you’re standing in front of all your friends and your family and you want the vows to be powerful and creative, almost like, it’s not really a performance, but it’s almost like a performance, right?
You’re vowing and committing to your partner in this moment in front of all these people. My vows ended up being like, look, “I’m gonna mess up. I’m going to drive you crazy. But the love and the commitment that I vow to you in this moment and kind of all these people, I promise to hold true to that and work towards the betterment of both of our lives and our relationship from now on until the day I die.”
For sure it is possible to fly solo through this life, and to be a completely formed and wonderful human being, but, I’ve found in my marriage and my commitment to my wife that,it builds me as a man. It challenges me as a man. It challenges my perspective and I love that. I love having somebody around who can hold me accountable and challenge my way of thinking and challenge my perspective.
As somebody who gets to travel around and gets to have their name on marquees and have fans adoring them, like myself, you can really, really quickly fall into a rut of narcissism and really, really quickly think you are the cat’s Meow. And my marriage and my relationship with my wife and also the relationship I have with a lot of really close personal friends has kept me in check and kept my perspective, I believe, very grounded. Coming from a place of gratefulness and graciousness versus, “I deserve this, or, it’s about time, or, there’s all these feelings that I can imagine people falling into when admiration and success happens to come their way.”
I think a positive balancing relationship, whether it’s a partner, whether it’s a friend, whether it’s a love is a very, very good thing. I feel pretty, lucky to have found a partner.
You’re a family now, including a little one. Well, a lot of your songs have a socially conscious themes and you mentioned that just now, and they sound personal and heartfelt, and I think your audiences feel like they’re not seeing a performance, but hey hear you talking to them. One thing that you did say along the way is “I believe that being happy should be the majority of life.”
And I think that really comes across, at least at E-town. It just, you felt that happiness just seeing you on stage.
Thank you, man. Well, I’m a happy person most of the time. You know, I think that your emotion and our sense of balance comes from, it’s a verb, right? So happiness is not this thing that happens to you, it’s this perspective that you chase. To me, that that’s really where building balance comes from. It’s like the word building is this constant motion, right? But balance sort of bounds like this stationary position. Life to me is a constant uphill excursion. You’ve got to push that rock up the Hill.
I think the food you eat, the things you focus on, the headlines you choose to read, the people you surround yourself with, the places that you give your time to — it might sound elementary, but they matter– everything matters and everything has an effect on the balance that you cultivate in your life.
I think you gotta be really careful with it. It was really not a good steward of that my entire life, and I’m learning in the last four years how important it is to really be precious with the things you injest mentally, physically, emotionally, the things that you focus on and then give your time to are super important.
You’re on the road right now on your current tour, it started in February and it just seemed like a ball burner. Show’s every couple of days, and you’re winding up, toward the end of April in Australia. It’s a really, kind of a hard tour. Seems like keeping you away from home a little bit.
Yeah, you know it’s tough being away from home, especially with a young baby. But, you know, in the attempts to build balance and to actively put a positive foot forward, it’s kind of the constant dialogue that I have with people, “but dude. Must be hard being away from home so much. You know?” And it is, of course, it’s definitely difficult traveling as much as I do. I travel nine months out of the year pretty much.
I’m gone and I’m pulled away from my home quite a bit, but when I’m home, I’m home. I probably get, between two and three months of present home time with my family every year. I finish the tour and usually got about three, four weeks off after we stay in Austrailia.
And so we’ll finish this tour and then we’ll have a month in Australia with family and grandparents. We’ll go over to Bali and we’ll have a couple of weeks over there.
So, you know, there’s a balance there, right? Like, yeah, go and I worked my tail off and I travel a lot and I’m uncomfortable in a lot of scenarios. I know I can’t find a routine, but you know, the takeaway is that I get to be home and present with my family and my friends I think a lot more often than most people work in the nine to five thing.
In sense to practice what I preach, I’m going to choose to focus on the positive.
It’s all about building balance.
All about building that balance.
Well, I want to let everybody knows that you’ll be here in Denver on March 20th at the summit music hall. Are you touring acoustic or do you have a band with you?
We’ve got the full meal deal, man. It’s me and it’s the full band and we’ve got two openers and it’s a great show. It’s a really, really great show.
Whether it’s a little bit of the new release, a little bit of the older release, you have horns with you this time?
No, no horns. But, we’ll be playing, music from all of the catalogs.
That’s a great range of music and I look forward to being there. I’ll see you there and I hope we get a big turnout for that show and that just want to let everybody know that the E-town taping that you did a couple of weeks ago, that’ll air here in Colorado and across a E-town in the near future. So, look forward to that.
Right on. Me too.
Alan, thanks so much for joining us here at KGNU today. We appreciate it.
Alan, thanks so much for joining us here at KGNU today. We appreciate it.
My pleasure. Thank you for your time, Dennis. You take care of brother and we’ll see you at the show.