Allen Stone | Opinion, Not Judgment

prof allen-stone smEverybody does have the right to have an opinion, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of people ignorantly speak that opinion and promote that opinion.

Allen Stone has thrust himself in what is being called soul-revival music. Hailing from a small rural town in Washington, he started out singing in his father’s church as a young boy, and now at 24 has evolved into a powerhouse singer reminiscent of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. His eponymous sophomore record was released through Stickystones, his own independent label in October, to much acclaim. Stone has sold out shows in Seattle and New York City, and now he’s taking the rest of the country by storm, opening for Jack’s Mannequin on a three-week run of North America which kicks off in St. Louis, followed by 16 headlining dates.

Throughout our interview, Stone touched on subjects ranging from soul music and politics to drugs and his utter admiration for Jack’s Mannequin front man Andrew McMahon.

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Other than being granted the opportunity to sing in church at a young age, how has being the son of a minister had its benefits?

It taught me to be tuned into my spirit and emotions. It was awesome to see how invested [my father] was in his congregation. There were a lot of different perspectives, and being able to read that in a crowd and in someone’s eyes is a great asset to have.

You’ve admitted to being “kind of a peculiar-looking human being,” sporting bulky glasses and long, curly hair. How much do you think fashion factors into your music and genre?

Honestly, the look has absolutely nothing to do with the sound of anybody. But because we’re such visual creatures, it’s always talked about and noticed, but as far as the actual purity of soul sound, the look has absolutely nothing to do with it. I don’t get offended by people saying, “Man, you just don’t look the way you sound,” because it’s a no-brainer: I look like I should be driving a van with no windows trying to pick up middle-school chicks. My look and my style, whatever it is that you want to call this madness of what I look like, really has nothing to do with my sound or the words I’m trying to portray; it’s just a shell.

Would you credit Amy Winehouse for the growing popularity of soul acts such as Fitz and the Tantrums and yourself?

Definitely. As far as the retro-soul revival, Amy Winehouse was that pivot point, but people have been doing it for awhile. I don’t even know if you could credit Amy Winehouse; maybe more so credit Capital Records or whoever was on her side during that whole rise of Back to Black. People have been doing soul music; it’s not like soul music died, it just hasn’t had the eye of the public. But Amy Winehouse—God, she did it better than just about anybody. The Dap Kings and Marc Ronson… The Dap Kings have been doing their shit probably 10 years before Amy Winehouse even came out. Soul revivalist has been part of American music—and European music—especially for a long time. Northern soul in Sweden and Norway, that’s the music of choice for most people over there. It’s kind of funny how European countries have been down with soul music for a long time. America came around; we’re always like ten years or five years behind. But I would say there’s some legitimacy—the captivation with soul music in the states—that the turning point was Amy Winehouse. I would agree with you on that, for sure.

On your single “Unaware,” you sing about economic issues. What are you trying to achieve with your message?

I tell everybody this that asks me about my political stance and viewpoint. I honestly have no understanding whatsoever on any legitimate level on how to run a country. For me to get on a soapbox and rip and roar and tell everybody “This is what’s wrong with our country, this is what’s wrong with our senators, or Congress, or President, or Vice President, and they’re doing this and this and this is awful,” is clearly very ignorant from my stance. Not that we don’t need somebody to do that for the people; I’m just not that person. I don’t know enough about what it takes to legitimately run the United States of America. I wrote that song from a spirit of feeling that President Obama, I felt, got into office on this whole campaign of hope and change. He really sparked up this fire in my generation that was like, “Something great is going to happen. Obama’s going to come in, we’re going to get out of Iraq, tuition is going to go down, health care is going to be reformed,” and all these things that I believed Obama was going to do. Then about a year into the term, nothing that directly affected me had seemed to change. Gas prices were still super high, we were still in Iraq, tuition was super high, the money going to education was really low, teachers were still being paid less than janitors of corporations—a lot of things that made me think, “This isn’t the President that I was told to vote for. This isn’t the guy that said he was gonna get in there and change stuff.”

Like I said, I have no idea what it’s like to be President Obama. So for me to say, “President Obama, you screwed up,” is incredibly ignorant. I will never be quoted as saying that, but for me to feel like my government cares at all about me, in any fashion beyond my vote, after my vote is cashed…they don’t give a shit; that’s what I was feeling. “Unaware” is about feeling like the people who told me they cared seemingly don’t. If you were to stick me on a debate with Vice President Biden, I would fail miserably. I really do have no concept of what it takes to run a country, as do, in my opinion, the majority of people who rise up and feel like they have a right to have an opinion. Everybody does have the right to have an opinion, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of people ignorantly speak that opinion and promote that opinion, and I think it’s best to have a humble opinion and really soul search before you start pointing the finger.

Your album opener, “Sleep,” has a great moment where you deny whiskey, weed, and pills to sleep. Do you actually refrain from these substances?

Those are the typical substances used by my age group and demographic of people. I’m around a lot of musicians and artistic folk, and most all of them drink and smoke weed. There’s always been a history of pill-popping, especially in America nowadays. That was kind of just a fun riff, though. That’s what people prescribe to: “Well, you should have a little whiskey before you go to bed,” or “Why don’t you smoke this joint? Here, have an Ambien,” or whatever that sleep medication is called. I don’t prescribe to those substances. I drink, for sure’ I drink, but I definitely don’t prescribe to those elements. It was more so just a fun riff type of thing.

You have a show in St. Louis opening up for Jack’s Mannequin and then a headlining show here a month later. Will you approach these performances differently?

Totally. When you’re opening up for somebody, it’s their crowd, it’s their people, and it’s their night. I’m going to go out and sing my ass off and perform the hell out of this thing, but obviously the set is shorter, I’m not the headline act so very few people at the show are going to give a shit about me. It’s my job to try and win them over.

So you recommend attending both performances?

I would recommend it for the sole purpose of seeing Jack’s Mannequin; those guys are incredible. Andrew McMahon is probably, if not my favorite person in the world, definitely top five. [He’s] one of the most genuine spirits I’ve ever come across—a really, really, really, really, incredible person; I can’t stress that enough. Yeah, I would come out to both shows, for my performance, but also for Jack’s Mannequin. Those guys are great. | Alex Schreiber

Allen Stone opens for Jack’s Mannequin and Jukebox the Ghost at The Pageant in St. Louis on Thursday, January 19. Tickets are $25.50 in advance and $28 day of show, with $2 minor surcharge at the door.

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