by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
I made a big mistake before listening to Allen Stone. I categorized him before hearing what his music actually sounded like. In fact, I miscategorized him. I was convinced by his appearance that his sound would be reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes, melodic and thoughtfully written folk songs that capture the natural scenery and simplicity of living in the Northwest. Wrong! This guy is funky, groovy, soulful, and bluesy; a complete opposite of what I expected. His new album, Radius, his first recording on a major label, made me want to shake my ass and clap my hands, and it made me want to watch 'Soul Train' and eat hush puppies. There's really good energy on this album, and most of the tracks, such as 'Perfect World,' 'Freezer Burn' and 'Freedom,' are up-tempo and easily danceable.
Stone, who divides his personal time between Seattle and a cabin near his hometown of Chewelah, has performed on 'Ellen' and collaborated with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, aside from jamming at homegrown festivals, Bumbershoot and Sasquatch. To introduce local fans to Radius, hitting music stores on May 26, the 28 year-old artist will play 5 concerts at 5 separate venues in a weeklong period, April 13 at The Triple Door, April 14 at Nectar Lounge, April 16 at The Crocodile, April 17 at Neumos, and April 18 at the Paramount Theatre. Tickets for all shows are available at stgpresents.org.
By phone, I checked in with Stone as he was about to shoot a video for an upcoming single. Here's what this really funky dude shared with me inside The Music Lounge.
Rodriguez: Is it all original material on the new album, Radius, or have some of these songs been released on previous records?
Stone: Yeah, this is all original brand new material. About 80% of the record I co-wrote with other writers, mainly this guy Magnus Tingsek out of Sweden, and then a couple of other writers that wrote like three or four songs.
Rodriguez: Was it recorded in Seattle?
Stone: The majority of it was recorded in Sweden, actually. I really didn't do any sessions in Seattle. I have so many friends and family in Seattle that it seems like when I'm there I can't get any work done (laughs). I end up lollygagging and going out for beers, drinking too much, and hanging out with my best friend. I purposely got outside Seattle, so that I would focus on getting my record done.
Rodriguez: Your music is so funky and soulful, very different than what I expected. Is this the kind of music you've always played?
Stone: Yeah, the last record was a little more soul review, but it's always been funk, R&B, and soul ever since I picked up a guitar. I guess when I picked up a guitar it was more of that James Taylor, Ray LaMontagne sort of thing, but the last two projects I put out were very heavily funk and soul.
Rodriguez: 'Freedom' really caught my ear. Tell me about this song.
Stone: I wrote 'Freedom' after, what I had thought, [I'd] already finished the record. I went to Sweden and worked with Mr. Tingsek, who I've been a huge fan of forever. We wrote probably 25 songs and came back to the label, and, as can be the difficulty in working with major record labels, they're like, 'We don't really hear a single yet.' So, I said, 'Well, alright, let me take another crack at it.' It was upsetting, obviously, because you feel like in your mind you've accomplished something and having someone tell you that you haven't, especially from an artistic standpoint, it can be a little bit trying and painful. But I went back into the studio and wrote 'Perfect World,' which is the first song on the record, and 'Freedom.' Those were the two songs we wrote in those sessions and the label's like, 'Alright, you did it buddy, we can release the record!' I sort of applied this motto to my life, as of recent, of no resistance. So often I would get stressed out about specific stuff, like my art, my music, my shows, and I had to come to an understanding that I'm not saving lives; this isn't brain surgery. I'm writing songs that mean something to me, and releasing them out into the world and hoping that these songs will matter to anybody. So, I evolved a lot through that song, to slowly be free of all the unnecessary stresses that we apply to our lives.
Rodriguez: You'll be performing 5 shows at 5 different venues coming up in Seattle. Will each concert be different, aside from the venue - set list, backup band, etc?
Stone: There will definitely be a different set list, at least a different combination of songs. When you're coming out with a new record, you're obviously wanting to play a lot of it. But every night is going to have a different set list, different vibe; the venues won't be too different. I felt like the venues needed to stay the same to reflect the time and place in my career that I played those venues. Going back to The Triple Door and the Nectar (Lounge) was intentional to give fans the opportunity to see me in a specific platform again. I haven't really played smaller venues in Seattle for a minute; I think my last two were Chateau Ste. Michelle, which there was close to 4,000 people there, and then the Paramount, which is about 3,000 people. I just wanted to get back in the small rooms and feel the energy in Seattle in those tiny little places; when you go in those small rooms, it's concentrated, only people in those small rooms want to be there. You just don't crowd into the Nectar Lounge if you don't want to be there.
Rodriguez: What is your favorite coffee or coffee shop in Seattle?
Stone: I used to live right down the street from Zoka in Seattle. I love that place. The girls in there are really sweet and the coffee is killer.
Rodriguez: In Tangletown?
Stone: In Tangletown, yeah. That place is my jam in Seattle. And, when I stay at the cabin - and the cabin is about 10 miles outside of a little town called Chewelah that I grew up in as a kid; it's like 1200 people, it's tiny - but there's a coffee shop there and it makes killer coffee; it's called Paul's (A Coffee Bar). I go there every morning when I'm in Chewelah. But if I'm in Seattle, I'm at Zoka, or Caffe Vita. I love Caffe Vita, too.
Rodriguez: And, what about bars?
Stone: I go to the Alibi Room, down by the waterfront. But I also used to frequent the Seamonster, in Wallingford. I kind of lived down the street from it, and there's always funky good music blasting at the Seamonster. I frequent that a lot, and I also have a bunch of friends that work at The Crocodile; I've been there quite a bit, too.
Rodriguez: Where do you buy the majority of your threads?
Stone: (laughs) To be totally honest, they're given to me by different sources. But I shop a lot at second hand and vintage stores across the country. I don't have too many readily available shopping centers when I'm out at the cabin. Then again, I get my socks at Target and underwear at Costco. (laughs)
Rodriguez: Have you had any personal experiences or close alliances with the LGBT community - good friends, volunteer work, fundraising performances?
Stone: I haven't done any specific charity work with the LGBT community yet, or done anything musically with the LGBT community. But obviously I have a lot of friends and loved ones whose lifestyle would coincide with the LGBT community. I moved back to this small town of Chewelah, where I grew up, and the first two guys that I met had moved in from Denver and they were a couple. It was great, in this small, relatively conservative town and these guys are here out in the open, and everyone knows it. The world is changing and evolving, and it's beautiful to have. But still, to see it really happening, we're finally seeing the tide change. I really do believe that consciousness is starting to take hold of people and the world is turning.
Rodriguez: How many songs from Radius will you play at each show, the whole album?
Stone: We won't play the whole album, simply because the record won't be out yet and I want people to be entertained, so we're obviously picking songs that people know, like songs from the last record (self-titled, 2009). But I think we'll probably be shuffling through about nine or ten songs from the new record, so a good amount of them.
Rodriguez: If we peeked into your iTunes library, what guilty pleasures would we find in there?
Stone: I really don't have guilty pleasures, because I let go of that part of my life a long time ago; I don't feel guilty about any of the things I enjoy anymore. But I'm into old Sia, her earliest stuff. Some people have a real problem with that record, but it's one of my favorite records of all time. I've been bumping that since I was in high school. I have all the Maroon 5 records on there; that's probably something most people wouldn't think of me having, but I love them. I got all of their records; I'm really a big fan of their first two records and the most recent stuff I'm not into as much, but the first two records I love.
Rodriguez: I think you would kill a cover of 'Animals,' though.
Stone: (laughs) We could probably find a way to do that, but I'm not sure I want to. When I cover songs, I always want to cover something people wouldn't expect. The next song I cover will probably be a country song, or something that I can funk out and make cool.
Rodriguez: Hmmm.... you could either do 'Jesus, Take the Wheel' or maybe 'All About That Bass.'
Stone: (laughs) 'All About That Bass' could be cool. But 'Jesus, Take the Wheel' would be fresh as shit, though! (laughs again) We could really funk that out!
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