Allen Stone: Soulful and Socially Conscious
Allen Stone is an incredibly talented up and coming soul singer and songwriter. Allen started making music as a young child in his father’s church but later broke away from religious singing when he discovered soul music as a teenager. He’s been called a “pitch perfect powerhouse” and his music has been compared to Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers. He’s toured the country in a van selling out shows, been around the world, self released his own albums, and appeared on Conan. He recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington about his newest album, “Contact.” Excerpts of the interview appear below.
* * *
Ron Bennington: You are definitely a do-it-yourself guy, right? You started this outside of major labels.
Allen Stone: Yeah. Yeah, we kind of – not struck gold, but got the start of this whole thing – the snowball rolling. Very much so, independently.
Ron Bennington: And a big part of it was Youtube, right?
Allen Stone: Yeah, well it was a combination of a lot of things. It was live shows and touring a lot. Youtube. The internet was definitely a huge help in that. We got a couple of late night performances – independently, that were huge boosts.
Ron Bennington: Every one of them just kept playing it to itself though, right? As you’re moving along and then another break happens. It’s not like – oh, look – all these breaks happen for you. You’re just out there beatin’ it one after another.
Allen Stone: Yeah. It’s just kind of seeing an open door and walking through it.
* * *
Allen Talks About the Spiritual Aspect of His Music
Ron Bennington: But what I love about [your music] is – there is…and I hate to say “church”, but I don’t know what else will do it because it is soul music. There’s a spiritual aspect of it, but I think when it’s in the pocket – that’s what people want out of church.
Allen Stone: Oh totally. Totally. They want an experience. And yeah, I would agree. I learned to sing in the church.
Ron Bennington: Did you really?
Allen Stone: Yeah, my father was a minister. There’s very much so a very spiritual and emotional element to my live performance.
Ron Bennington: So when you were coming up singing church music, this is out west?
Allen Stone: Yeah, in Washington state.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, so that’s the type of music that you were singing. It’s gospel, but it isn’t black gospel. Is it more of a white gospel?
Allen Stone: Right. Yeah, it was like “I’ll Fly Away” and kind of old hymns…”It Is Well With My Soul”. Not black gospel music, no. Very very much so caucasian. (laughs)
Ron Bennington: Yeah, right. So that’s why it’s hard to imagine you making this transition where you’re so welcome by soul performers.
Allen Stone: Yeah, I agree. It was records.
Ron Bennington: Was it really?
Allen Stone: It was records. I got “Innervisions” when I was about 14 or 15. And that was like the spark that lit this wildfire of me just finding every 60s and 70s soul record I could find. Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and the Pips. I just dug in and I grew up singing, so I knew how to sing. But I wasn’t a soul singer. And it was just locking myself in my room and just always singing. That kind of got me to a point where I felt like it was okay to call myself a soul singer. (laughs)
Ron Bennington: Really? It took a while though, right?
Allen Stone: Oh yeah. It took some time.
* * *
Allen Talks About Growing Up in a Religious Environment.
Ron Bennington: …Stevie Wonder’s a perfect kind of opening door because he does so much type of thing. But just knowing that even like years after he made the record – it could be this light for a kid. And then you had to go out and find those people kind of one at a time, right? Because you didn’t have any connection to music at that time. That kind of music.
Allen Stone: Right. Yeah, I wasn’t allowed secular music in the house growing up. And I grew up in a town of like 1,500 people, so we didn’t have record stores. We didn’t have like an R&B club or a blues club or anything like that. I really had to go out of my way to find good music in the capacity that I grew up in.
Ron Bennington: That is so interesting though because that just goes to show that you can find it. And the fact that one leads to the other. But I would imagine that as you’re finding these albums – did you have any idea who these people were or when they were recorded? I mean what kind of background were you getting to this kind of music?
Allen Stone: Well, I had learned along the way. It always felt like one artist would bring me to another artist.
Ron Bennington: Right. Just by mentioning them somewhere?
Allen Stone: Yeah and even back then it was a lot more proper to cover other people’s music. Otis Redding is covered by everybody. It would always seem to lead me into other artists. And then also just speaking, just talking with people. Like – hey, this is who I’m into. I have an uncle who was very open with me about like – hey, go check out this artist or this artist or this artist. Even though he knew my parents weren’t about having secular music in the house. He would be like – did you ever hear of like Wilson Pickett or you ever hear of Crosby, Stills and Nash?
Ron Bennington: You’re like jotting it down – Wilson Pickett, huh? Alright. I’ll look into that.
Allen Stone: But it just took seeking it out really. Where there’s a will, there’s a way for sure.
* * *
Allen Talks About His Parent’s Reaction to His Music
Ron Bennington: How do your folks feel about your career now though? Here you are singing this music. How are they feeling about it all?
Allen Stone: They’ve adjusted.
Ron Bennington: But not an easy turn for them.
Allen Stone: No. No, I don’t think so. I would imagine…my parents are like I said – he’s a minister, very very conservative. My brother’s a minister. My sister is still really very much involved in the church and works at a Christian college. So my family is really really Christian. (laughs) Really religious. And I left the church when I was about 19. I was studying to be a minister and was going to Bible college and then like I woke up one morning and was like – I don’t believe this. Like this isn’t real. This isn’t truth in my own spirit. And that was a tough parting of ways for them.
Ron Bennington: Sure. That had to be devastating for them, but you felt like you needed to be true to yourself.
Allen Stone: Yeah. I couldn’t…you can’t not. I was raised in a specific way that was just kind of like – you’re a pastor’s kid and so, you go to church and you believe the way that you believe. And I could have rebelled, but I live in a community of like 1,200 people. Like I ain’t getting away with anything. They all know that my dad’s the minister of the little community, so like everybody knows. They’re like – this kid isn’t getting away with anything. So it was honestly just easier to follow along and when that break happened, that was tough for them. But I’m not like Marilyn Manson or anything. I’m not trying to out and…I’m not being blatant about my sexuality. I’m still bringing a pretty universally positive message.
Ron Bennington: I would actually sit down and explain to your dad that you are touching souls. Because I felt it and saw it. And that communal thing of whatever happens between an artist and an audience does more good than any of us ever know.
Allen Stone: Totally. And they’ve seen that. They come to my shows. I had a show in Seattle recently. My biggest show that I’ve ever done, in a huge theater – about 3000 people there. And my mom came and she knows it. She knows in her spirit that like what I’m doing for the community is a positive thing. Even though it’s not Jesus Christ. She still sees the element of church and the element of like a spiritual positive uplifting in my shows and in my music. But because it’s not attached to the name “Jesus Christ” – that’s still kind of like a hard thing for Christians to get over. Because they believe it’s an end all – say all kind of thing.
Ron Bennington: And it needs to be done on a constant basis and needs to be pushed over on a constant basis.
Allen Stone: Exactly.
* * *
Allen Talks About Breaking from the Church
Ron Bennington: But that’s such a rough thing for you – to follow your dream when you know that it was bringing pain to people that you obviously love and you care about and you want to also make happy. But that was a conscious decision or one that you just felt like you had to make one day?
Allen Stone: Yeah. I mean it was…I don’t know if it was more like a direct conscious decision that I made or just an evolution that I got to the peak of. I mean I was like – there is no way I can keep this under wraps. Because it wasn’t like I woke up, called my dad and was like – I don’t believe in Jesus Christ. It was like a very slow…not a slow, but it was a progression. It was going to Bible college and learning the actual facts about scripture and all that stuff. And then continuing to dialogue with other people about it. And it wasn’t like a straight up – call him on the phone, this is over sort of thing. It was like a slow progression that they saw. But it was still like…that’s what I was saying – I don’t think it was a conscious decision because I didn’t make it overnight. It was like I woke up and I was like – I don’t know if I believe this “let’s keep nurturing those ideas”.
* * *
Allen Talks About Staying Spiritual Outside of the Church
Ron Bennington: the interesting thing is since you’re a soul singer – so many of those people came from church and so many of those people will still hold on to…Aretha still holds on. Of course, Reverend Al will actually be in church all the time. So that spiritual thing that you were raised with – you’re still around on a daily basis.
Allen Stone: Oh yeah. I mean I feel the same – when I sing on stage, I still feel the same things that I felt in church singing. And that was one of…I think for me, the greatest take away from growing up and singing in service – was even though I’m not part of those ideals anymore. I don’t hold to all those ideals which is Christianity. I learned how to feel music growing up in the church. And a lot of people learn music on a technical side first. And then the feeling of it kind of comes later once they’ve learned how to play. Whereas me, I learned how to sing through an emotional and spiritual feeling, I mean in church. And I still feel that same thing every time I get in front of a mic on stage now. I still will feel that warmth and it’s almost therapy for me to get up and sing notes and sing a song. Every time I sing, I mean even in the little recording area which is me and my guitar player and a mic in a little glass box. Like I still can close my eyes and go back to that same spiritual and emotional state that I grew up so entwined in.
Ron Bennington: And it happens immediately for you? As soon as you jump in.
Allen Stone: Yeah. It happens immediately.
Ron Bennington: Now the thing that’s mind blowing is that you can do that, but at the same time – you can take other people to that place. So it’s not like you just go to that place and you’re on your own. You can bring a lot of people to a state that they probably have a difficult time to get there on their own.
Allen Stone: Yeah. That’s what we try to do as musicians, right? We try to get people outside of their mind.
Ron Bennington: That’s the perfect way of putting it. You are outside of who you normally are. And that also has to do with everyone being together on that, but can you do that every night or does it happen some nights or some nights does it go further?
Allen Stone: Well, some nights I think…what’s funny is the nights of the week we’re playing. If I’m playing on a Monday, people are a little less loose then say if I’m playing on a Friday. And so, I’ve noticed the difference for sure, but I haven’t had any trouble accessing that. We went out – August 31st, we started with Dave Matthews at The Gorge and since August 31st, we’ve played 80 shows. My last show was 2 days ago on the 16th. And that’s like 80 shows in less than a hundred days. And the whole time, there was maybe a couple of shows that were just like – man, that was a really hard show for me. But every show basically – I can’t think of a show this year where I didn’t have like – where I didn’t feel that. That expression and that emotion.
Ron Bennington: And can you tell when the crowd’s getting it as well? Can you feel when the room is lifting up? Because to me, the great thing of when a show is really on or the music is there – is you look around and suddenly you feel closer with all those people. Everyone seems more attractive to you. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, but in that thing and it’s as close as you can get to magic. I think as close as you can get to magic.
Allen Stone: Yeah, I know. I agree. And I’m with you on that. I can definitely feel that spirit when people are locked with me. I can tell when people aren’t and I can tell when people are, for sure. That bridge of how I get them there – there’s no like science to it because I’m just doing what I’ve grown up doing – which is singing from a part of my spirit that I have the ability to access. Some times it goes off really well. Some times it doesn’t go off as well. (laughs) But yeah, there’s definitely an aura and a feeling in those scenarios.
* * *
Allen Talks About Writing Music
Ron Bennington: And what about with writing music? I mean it’s one thing that you grew up that way, but when did being able to write and being involved with music all come together?
Allen Stone: Well, I’m still trying to get a handle on that whole writing music thing. (laughs) I think everybody’s their own worst critic and I still haven’t written my best song. I started writing when I was like 13. My dad taught me a couple guitar chords and I started writing little love songs for my middle school girlfriends. And then that kind of progressed, once I got into soul music into like actually trying to write songs. Like just good songs. And I did a couple of recordings. It was like Christian music at the time. And so, I went to Nashville and did a couple of recordings with some producers over there. Nothing too serious, but just kind of dabbling – getting my feet wet. And then once I graduated high school, it was like – okay, I’m going to go to college, but I really want to do this music thing. So once I got a job offer at a studio in Seattle and that was like – alright, I’m dropping out of college. I’m moving to Seattle and try to do this. And that was kind of the beginning of me like really…I mean I had written a lot of songs up to that point, but that was the point where I really got serious.
Ron Bennington: Right. This has to be something that I want to show to the world. It’s not just goofing around anymore.
Allen Stone: Exactly.
* * *
Ron Bennington: It’s so strange. I mean it’s been a completely strange trip for you. But if you look back at it – and if you were putting this recipe together, it really makes a lot of sense – how all these things work to your benefit. You’re a great kid, man.
Allen Stone: Thank you, Ron.
Ron Bennington: And I really really love the music. And I wish you nothing but the best in every thing you do. And I guarantee, you’ve got a fan for life in me. I’ll be watching every thing that you’re doing.
Allen Stone: Thank you very much.
Ron Bennington: And I want to see you the next time through. Alright, my friend?
Allen Stone: Alright brother. Thank you so much.
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews atRonBenningtonInterviews.com.