Born in Chewelah, Washington powerhouse singer Allen Stone started singing at his father’s church when he was just a kid. He wasn’t at all familiar with soul or R&B, but once he heard Stevie Wonder’s 1973 album Innnervisions
, he was hooked.
“It wasn’t the first time I ever heard him,” says Stone via phone from an El Paso tour stop as he tours in support of his terrific new album, Radius
. “I had heard his music before but hadn’t had the name put to the music. I think it was ‘Isn’t She Lovely.’ I wanted to know more and just dove into his work and catalogue. I then wanted to discover anything from 1960 to 1970—soul, funk and R&B.”
He moved to Spokane and then Seattle as he launched a recording career in 2010, self-releasing his first album, Last to Speak,
and focusing on playing as many shows as possible.
“When I left Chewelah at 18, I toured on my own and would take any gig I could,” he says. “We would do house shows and barbeques and college cafeterias. I would play anywhere. I was a total slut. For those situations to have an impact, I had to have some product. That’s what Last to Speak
was. I wanted it to be as close to what I was doing live as possible. I would hate for people to like the record and then come to the show and it was just me and my guitar. It was a stripped down record. I put it out and gave it away and got it out to as many people as possible.”
A year later, L.A.-based producer Lior Goldenberg took him on and wanted to do a record with him. When he went into the studio, he didn’t realize who the musicians were but they were members of soul/R&B singer Raphael Saadiq’s touring band. He’d license the resulting self-titled album to ATO Records, which helped it find a wide audience.
“I was like, ‘Holy shit. I’m way out of my league,’” he says of the recording experience. “I was still super green and these cats were mad generous. We did 14 songs together. It was a blast.”
After the album picked up a grassroots following, major labels approached Stone. Eventually, he signed with Capitol, a decision he now regrets.
“When the time came to make Radius
, I felt comfortable enough with Capitol,” he says, adding that Atlantic and Columbia had also approached him. “I had built a good relationship with Dan McCarroll and Michael Howe. They were the president and vice president of A&R. I thought I couldn’t sign with any better people at the label.”
He went Sweden to write with producer Magnus Tingsek, and they immediately wrote the first two songs, the slow jam “Circle” and the funk-driven “Fake Future.”
“Those are two of my favorite songs I have ever written,” says Stone. “We wrote those songs and I knew this was it.”
They brought demos back to Capitol, and the folks at the label liked it. He finished the record and brought the final product back to the label. A week later, McCarroll and Howe left and went to Warner Bros.
“I had this record in my hands,” says Stone. “In my opinion, it was the best music I have ever made in my life. The classic case scenario was the fellow who took it over didn’t hear a hit. To me, that’s the dumbest way to process music ever. We went back to the studio with all these pop producers to try to pull these songs out of me. I’m not going to make singles. I’m a concept album artist. We went down that path of fishing for a single. We did a song that they were happy enough to chuck to Top 40. By the grace of God or the universe or Allah, I walked in and pleaded with them to drop me. They were ruining any foundation I had built by putting me in this lane of artists that I don’t belong in. They let me go. I got the record back from Capitol and we’re releasing it on ATO as the record I had originally created.”
For Stone, who’s touring with a large ensemble, it’s important to keep the music organic and not resort to using electronic samples in place of live instruments.
“For some crazy reason, it’s cool for a computer to be on stage and people are okay with that,” he says. “It’s super terrifying to me as a musician who plays instruments and sings live. There’s this influx of people using backing tracks and click tracks. As artists, we have to be good stewards of what we put out. The food industry is getting revamped because for a good two to three decades, they’ve been feeding us shit. McDonald’s is going out of business because people are finally conscious of what the fuck they’ve been putting in their mouths for the past 20 years. As artists, we need to respect the common demographic and give [fans] real stuff and real energy.”
Allen Stone, Bernhoft, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $22, houseofblues.com.