Freshman Haze: Allen Stone
Buzz is forming around rising soul singer Allen Stone. He's drawn the inevitable comparisons to Stevie Wonder and Justin Timberlake. With his unconventional look -- long, curly hairy and glasses -- and smooth falsetto, he reminds us more of a pre-"Evolution" Robin Thicke. Comparisons aside, Stone is building his own following through tours, YouTube videos and albums. He will follow 2009's "Last to Speak" with a self-titled effort tomorrow, Oct. 4 on which he tackles personal experience ("Sleep") and politics ("Unaware") over a retro sound.
Allow us to introduce you to the newest artist of The Juice's 'Freshman Haze' series: Allen Stone.
Statistics: Allen Stone, 24 yrs. old, @allen_stone, Chewelah, Wash. native, Stevie Wonder super fan.
Resume: Singer, songwriter, musical jack-of-all-trades (guitar, piano, bass)
Body of Work: Albums: "Last to Speak" (2009), "Allen Stone" (Oct. 4, 2011)
A Few Words…
The Juice: When did you know you wanted to do music and how did you get started?
Allen Stone: My dad was a minister so I grew up in church just singing all the time since I was 3 years old. It was the highlight of church. I think I was about 13 [yrs. old] I picked up a guitar and started writing goofy little love songs for the girls in middle school that I had a crush on. I think I was about 15 [yrs. old] when I was like, 'Man, I would really love to do this.' I had a really close friend of mine who came out with a record when she was 14 [yrs. old]; Stacie Orrico. She was all over the place. She was traveling, singing everywhere, and recording. She was just a year older than me and I was like, 'Man that would be so much fun to do, sing and actually have people listen.' I decided that that was what I wanted to do. After I graduated high school, I moved to Seattle and started plugging away doing it independently, playing live and trying to meet as many people as possible. That's kinda brought me to where I am now.
Did you always want to do soul music?
Yeah. I grew up on soul music and R&B. I'm from the country and so it's not a real natural fit. There's not a ton of R&B clubs in this little town that I grew up in but that was always the music that I really loved, growing up. I grew up singing gospel. The songs progressed into gospel R&B and then from there it went to early '60s and '70s soul music. That's when I was like, 'This is where I belong lyrically. This is where I enjoy the music the most.'
Who are some of your influences?
My favorite is Stevie. I love Stevie Wonder, big time. I'm waiting for the day to meet Stevie. As far as '60s and '70s soul -- Stevie, Marvin Gaye, The Meters, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight. [As far as] new soul, I really love Jamie Lidell and James Morrison.
How was the recording process for your upcoming self-titled debut, "Allen Stone"?
It was a dream come true. I got to record with this guy Lior Goldenberg [producer]. He's from L.A. and he's worked for Ziggy Marley and Macy Gray. He brought in Raphael Saadiq's guys and band to play on the record. This guy Darren Johnson played keys for Miles Davis for awhile. It was all these incredible soul musicians that I don't even belong in the same room with [who] came in and just blessed the music so much. Six of the songs Lior did and then another four of the songs this guy Andy Rose did. Same thing, he brought in a couple players… the bass player played with Fitz & the Tantrums for a while.
I co-wrote some of the songs with Andy and a portion of them I had and brought in. We arranged them and recorded them and they are what they are now.
Editor's Note: Stone also co-wrote with Andy Grammer, Heidi Rojas, Audra Mae and more.
What can fans expect from "Allen Stone"?
I sing because of conviction, for whatever it is, whether it's politics or relationships. It really iswhat I'm dealing with personally in my life with my convictions, thematically. Sonically, it's a soul record. It's my attempt to not revitalize it because a lot of people are doing it -- Janelle Monae, Raphael Saadiq and Amy Winehouse; it's been done before -- but it's the music that I really love making. It's not my attempt to cover all this soul music, it's just really to fit in there and play the music that I love. People will listen to it and be like, 'Oh, this is a soul record.'
Who did you collaborate with on the new album?
I got to co-write with Andy Grammer ("Keep Your Head Up") on this record. My first record, I wrote all by myself. I liked that and I enjoyed writing all by myself, but the process of having somebody else involved, it helps me to think outside of myself and what I normally like and hear. When you're a solo musician and it's just you, you don't have a band to say, 'No, that's stupid, don't do that.' Having somebody come in and co-write with you is a good filter.
Are you still an independent artist?
I have management and booking but haven't signed a deal yet. I'm still holding out trying to find the right one. I'll eventually sign a record deal. There's a ceiling on independent music at this point where you can get so far and you just kinda stop. You can get all these things going for you and if you don't get radio then you don't turn into Taylor Swift. If you're shooting for the moon then you really have to have a record label involved, but I don't want to sign too early. I want the deal to be right and I want the label to be excited about it. Nobody's selling records nowadays, so in order to get a deal that is really good, you really have to come in with your shit together.
You recently played at NYC's SOB's. Are you planning to tour?
I've been touring for probably about three quarters of the year for the last three years, playing as many markets as possible, playing in the West Coast quite a bit. I do really well in Seattle and the West Coast. I still haven't done too much on the East Coast besides New York. I'm trying to cultivate that cult following that you get [from] people discovering it on their own. It's really just coming from getting the record out there, getting in front of people and just playing shows as much as possible. My passion is playing live. If I could play three hundred and forty days out of the year I would be the happiest man alive.
Did you really record the YouTube video for "Unaware" live from your mother's living room?
Totally. We wanted something different, something weird. I'm kind of a peculiar looking human being that sings soul music so we were like, 'Let's not do it from the basement or the warehouse. Let's go to some peculiar place and just make a live video.' We went to my mom's and set up and it turned out ok. People seem to enjoy it. Hopefully they didn't get turned off like, 'Does this weirdo still live at his mom's house?'