Presented by First Avenue
While the buzz was building in early 2014 about the Internet of Things, Allen Stone was recording in his rustic Washington State cabin and extolling the virtues of an old-fangled kind of connection – the one that exists between people playing music together. The 26-year-old soul singer, praised as a “pitch-perfect powerhouse” by USA Today, was working on the follow-up to his self-titled breakthrough album, which he released digitally on his own stickystones label in late 2011. Sure, he acknowledges, he could have written and recorded his new set of songs alone on a laptop – but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.
“I’m a social person and, to me, the greatest energy that you can cultivate is a collaborative energy. It feels better when you’ve got somebody to bounce ideas off of,” explains Stone. While he’s not keen on creating music with computers, Stone nevertheless considers technology to be an enormous blessing. In fact, he might have never met his co-producer, Swedish musician Magnus Tingsek, if he hadn’t been digging around online for new music.
“I was like his number one fan for three years,” recalls Allen. At that point, things started exploding for Stone. His self-titled album shot into the Top 10 of Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and entered the Top 5 of iTunes’ R&B/Soul charts shortly after its release. Soon the unsigned artist was appearing on shows like Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Last Call with Carson Daly and Live from Daryl’s House. NPR’s Ann Powers hailed the album as “meant for those of us who like our R&B slightly unkempt and exceedingly feelingful” and Forbes ran a feature focusing on his remarkable success as an independent artist. The New York Times’ Jon Pareles praised Stone’s live show, noting, “his music reached back four decades to the late 1960s and early ’70s, when songwriters like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers brought introspection and social commentary to soul music.”
A partnership with indie label ATO Records, which later released the album physically, opened new doors. Stone was voted one of mtvU’s “Freshman 5” and named a VH1’ “You Oughta Know” artist. He opened for Al Green and Dave Matthews and performed on Late Show with David Letterman, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. With an 85-date headline tour planned and two out of three openers selected, Stone asked his manager, “Why don’t we see if Tingsek will come?” Tingsek, who had never toured outside of Scandinavia, agreed and the two became good friends as they traveled across North America and throughout Europe. “My number one joy is playing live, so when I write records I really just think of what song I could write that would be really fun to play live,” says Stone. “Basically my job is to throw a party for people every night when we’re on tour.”
Seeing the preponderance of DJ acts at the festivals he has played has been a little unsettling. “I kind of feel like the clerk who’s been working at the grocery story for 20 years and all of a sudden they start bringing in these self check-out stands. And you’re like, what the hell are they gonna need me for?” says Allen, laughing. As his music makes abundantly clear, Stone isn’t likely to be replaced by a laptop anytime soon. After all, he’s got something that still can’t be simulated: soul.
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