Listening to Allen Stone live reminds me of a scene from that seminal film, "Anchorman", where Ron Burgundy finally beds the woman of his dreams, Veronica Corningstone, and the intimate exchange sends them on a wild ride into Pleasure Town, where they gallop on the backs of gleaming white unicorns, down rainbows amidst a star-filled sky.
For better or worse, I venture to say a similar sense of elation and pleasure is obtained by listening to Allen Stone live.
Seattle Weekly music reviewer Todd Hamm's review of Stone's self-titled sophomore album, says himself that Stone's "vocal chords… were surely forged from a golden harp's wistful strings, cured in angel's tears and brushed gently with a flying unicorn's softest feathers." Whether liken Stone vocals to gilded angel tears or sex for your auditory senses, you understand the point being made here.
With a stack of performances at various music festivals (like last weekend's Bumbershoot), fans awaiting his upcoming album release on October 4, and a national tour in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to catch up with the singer as he heads across the nation. (And for those of us in Cali, you have one more chance to see him in Hermosa Beach before he heads out of the state.)
Assumptions based on Stone's large amber rimmed glasses and long blonde locks could blindly lead one to believe that this musician fronts an indie band or something of a bohemian nature. But the Chelewah, WA native is an unabashed soul singer.
"I am not trying to look or be anything different than I am," he explains. "Soul and R&B, they are at the core of me." When asked whom he would choose to perform with, living or deceased, his top pick is Donnie Hathaway. Even his playful renditions of songs like "Bare Necessities" can't help but exude soulfulness.
For starters, Stone's last album was produced by Lior Goldenberg, a man whose discography includes Macy Gray, Alanis Morissette, and Ziggy Marley. When Stone first got a call from Goldenberg, the producer told him that he liked what Stone stood for and how he sounded. And now, Stone can say he had Raphael Saadiq's entire rhythm section on his last album. For that album, Stone says, "I had about a month to write as many songs as I could." He came into the studio with 25 songs, ready to go. Not an easy feat, even for most veteran musicians.
Thank goodness someone took notice — it takes a qualified group of musicians to play alongside Stone's tremendously deep and emotive voice. This, set to the backdrop of funky, soulful rhythms and your current level of appreciation for music will be completely destroyed.
While Stone's voice emits the profoundness of someone who has weathered his share of battle wounds, he says his life hasn't always reflected that sense. "I actually haven't been through, you know, anything really horrible or tragic or devastating in life," he says, "I mean, when I think of someone like Ray Charles — he has felt anguish and grief." Instead he believes his familiarity with old hymns sung in the church has enabled him to sing with such passionate vocals. "[Worship] music and that kind of music displayed in the church is where the feel of music came, for me," he says. "But maybe when I am met with hardship, my music will be taken to a whole new level."
For someone his age, with a growing list of impressive accomplishments and burgeoning notoriety amongst music fans, he has spent a great deal of time reflecting on how he would like to see his music affect his audience.
"I just wanted to bring music into venues that make people happy and make them think," he explains. It's a fine line to walk, especially when "thinking" is not the most interesting thing to do these days. "There's a lot music out there that makes people think but I don't think there is a ton of music that is at the forefront of social change," he says. "Back in the civil rights time, there was a lot of music associated with those times but that hasn't been translated to my generation. Change and progression is necessary unless you want to die."
Listening to Stone and his band live, you can tell clearly from each of their faces that this is what they love to do: play music they love and watch people love it. His phenomenal band is an incredible force, one that undeniably brings the music to life. The two keyboardists make "Unaware" a tender, hymn-like melody, something that could bring the most unconvinced bystander to eternal salvation. On the other end of the spectrum, the neck-breaking basslines and heavy funk guitar grooves in "Satisfaction" are so concentrated, they could leave your spine broken and your face looking bitter. That's just what happens when you listen to soul. It messes you up.
There is a sweet, old fashioned side to Stone that you don't see much (at all) amongst the Bruno Mars and John Mayers of the music world. At one point in the interview, he calls me a "peach" after I gush about the thought-provoking lyrics behind "Last To Speak." It was almost as refreshing as hearing him choose Kermit the Frog, his other top pick to perform with. "'The Muppet Movie' was my favorite musical of all time," he says. And on that note, I decided it would do our generation a great deal of good to get a few more Allen Stones in the music universe.
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