Allen Stone’s two LPs (2010’s Last To Speak and 2011’s self-titled effort) proudly draw upon classic soul and R&B. Labelling something a ‘rip-off’ would imply mercenary motives, but even though Stone’s music closely channels his stylistic forebears, the intention seems far purer.
“The last record was definitely my attempt to try to recreate the classic albums that I grew up with,” he says. “That styling of music of the late ’60s, early ’70s. [It] was me paying homage through songs that I’d written. Definitely a lot of the arrangements and a lot of the tones were attributed to paying homage to that era of music.”
The 27-year-old American songwriter has managed to attract a considerable following while actively honouring his musical inspirations. His growing popularity is additionally impressive given his first two records were self-released. Stone’s third album is almost ready to go and he’s now in cahoots with a record label.
“I took the big leap into the big machine and I’ve signed with Capitol Records,” he reveals. “I just finished my new record. We don’t have a release date yet but you’ll definitely be seeing a single out in the near future.”
With Capitol’s hefty wallet backing him up, Stone might’ve been tempted to repeat the tributary format with grander production details. But it seems he had something else in mind. “On this record it’s probably more of a signature sound that I’m going for. I want to find my voice. Music is kind of all recycled, I think. We’re all doing the same notes that we’ve always been doing, but I think that you can keep it current by attempting to find your individual voice. So this newest record is more along the lines of that.”
Obviously, attempting to find your own voice is not as simple as just opening your mouth and letting rip. Rather, it necessitates honing in on what’s uniquely yours.
“When you’re heavily influenced by Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder,” Stone says, “there’s always that [thought]; ‘Hey, what would Stevie do in this situation? What would Donnie sing in this scenario?’ When I’m attempting to find my own voice it’s like, ‘What am I going to do?’ It’s not so much trying to figure out the blueprint of what somebody else did, it’s more attempting to find your own intuition.”
Being self-reliant involves jumping into the unknown and thus facing some intimidating decisions. The other side of the coin is that, when no longer determined to pay direct tribute, one has greater freedom to explore creative possibilities.
“If you’re paying homage to somebody you never want to fuck it up,” Stone says. “You don’t want to mess up what they would normally do or cause them any dishonour. When you’re trying to find your own voice, obviously there’s self-doubt, but it’s also very freeing because you’re like, ‘You know what? This is just me and hopefully people like it.’ And if not, then you’re shit out of luck – but at least I was true to my own self and my own spirit.”
Stone is a native of rural Washington town Chewelah, which he still calls home today. He grew up with his father, a Christian preacher, and being around the church from a young age has greatly informed his major musical ambitions.
“Even though I’m not still a part of a functional religious church I take my music as almost a ministry as such. I want to play songs every night that people can participate in and sing along to and enjoy with me. I don’t want to get up onstage and have everybody be silent and everybody just listen to me. I want it to be a congregational event.
“Really I’m just throwing a party for people every night. Obviously they’re there to be like, ‘I’m coming to enjoy myself. I’ve paid money to come and have a good time.’ You’re just ushering in that energy every night. It’s a privilege – it’s one of the funnest jobs there’s got to be.”
Stone brings the party to Australia next month to perform at the Bluesfest 25th anniversary festival. As always, the Bluesfest lineup includes artists from several eras of popular music. Stone might primarily draw on classic sounds but he is also well aware of his contemporaries.
“It’s always really special to get to play festivals. I’m definitely pumped for Erykah Badu. India.Arie, I know her actually; she’s a Seattle compadre but I’ve never actually gotten to chance to see her live. Gary Clark, I’ve seen him many times and he’s a buddy of mine – always a good time. I’ve never seen John Mayer live, actually. Say what you will about the guy’s personality, but as far as a musician goes he’s unbeatable on his guitar.
“I’m more of a fan than I am a performer. I’ll go fangirl-out to seven or eight hours of music after I’m done playing. That’s the most exciting part for me.”