Singer-songwriter Allen Stone, who hails from Chewelah, Washington, will be gracing Augusta with his presence again on Saturday, Oct. 14, as part of the Westobou Festival. The soul artist earlier this year released his third full-length album, “Radius,” made in collaboration with Swedish soul singer-songwriter Magnus Tingsek. Stone recently caught up with the Metro Spirit to talk about life and his upcoming show at the Imperial Theatre.
Metro Spirit: I was listening to some of your music, and I was wondering, how did you develop such a soulful sound?
Allen Stone: Just like anything, repetition and study, I guess. I’ve loved soul and R&B music for the better part of 25 years of my life. I’ve always sang; growing up, my folks and I would sing together… but yeah, just like any craft or any art form, it just comes with practice and repetition, for sure.
Spirit: What in the world has been influencing you lately?
Stone: You know, that’s a good question. I think everything in the world influences us whether we like it or not. Whether it’s directly or indirectly. I think influence is weird. There’s direct influence that you invite and that you seek out and look for; you harness that specific type of influence as much as you possibly can, but I think there’s a ton of direct influence that you just have no control over. Whether it’s obligations, whether it’s finance, whether it’s environment, how close you live to a freeway. I mean, jeez, there’s so many elements that can dictate creativity in everyday life. It’s funny how sensitive we are as human creatures, we think we’re so incredibly powerful, which we are, but we’re also super sensitive.
Spirit: I have a question that, if you don’t want to answer it, it’s OK, but I was reading your bio and it said you had struggled with depression. At a time when people are being more forthcoming with mental illness struggles, what has helped pull you out of the dark times?
Stone: Exercise, that really helps. Yoga, meditation. Community is a huge one. Find a group of people that you feel good around, and try to be around them as much as possible. And do your best to quit thinking about yourself. When I was pulled into my depression, it was because I was so focused on my own life. I was focused on my sorrows and my lows, and I go back there, and I will continue to go back there until the day I die. That’s just the pathway of my brain that’s unfortunately been (a part of) the last 30 years of my life. I think it’s much easier to fall into those foxholes than it is to rise above and fight the battle. But I really do believe in exercise and meditation — eating right. Diet is a huge one, in my personal opinion, when it comes to depression. What you’re putting into your body is really the only energy that you’re giving yourself. Besides water and Vitamin D in natural sunlight, what other element are we adding into our bloodstream that executes energy? That’s food. You know, it’s tough nowadays to eat right and get back to nature and just things that have the positive amounts of nutrients that we need, but I always tell people if you’re feeling depressed and you’re feeling down, that’s usually a shadow of something deeper that’s going on inside of you. And unfortunately, thinking negatively about yourself is essentially the shadow of what’s actually going on. It’s your body going like, “Yo! Help me out here, man! I’m struggling.” For so many years, I didn’t eat right; I was drinking Red Bull up the yin yang and not sleeping well, and eating processed food for every meal, and not moving my body, drinking shit-tons of alcohol, like constantly. And it’s just not good for your body. I mean, if you can do that, go for it, but don’t think you’re gonna be this beacon of hope and inspiration if you just treat your body like shit, you know?
Spirit: Right, that’s good insight. Well, something else I’ve been wondering is, have you ever been through Augusta, Ga., before?
Stone: Yes, I have, yeah. One time, I played (the Westobou Festival) with Amos Lee at y’all’s James Brown Arena. My good friend Sharon Jones was living in Augusta at the time, and I saw her. We went out for shrimp and grits, I think, at some restaurant nearby.
Spirit: Shrimp and grits? What’d you think?
Stone: It was awesome. I mean, I was sitting with Sharon Jones. I mean, she was such a character. You can’t really put that woman into an Instagram post. I mean, she was just everything all at once, she was amazing. Such a wild human being. Never again will there be one like her.
Spirit: How do you feel about playing in the city where James Brown was born and grew up?
Stone: I’m so amped. We’re thrilled. I mean, one of the pioneers of the music that I loved growing up that I attempt to play homage to. If not the greatest entertainer of all time — I mean, I think he was probably the pioneer of what pop music and pop culture is today. He was the pioneer of that like showman, when it comes to how we receive music today. We don’t receive songs anymore, we kind of do here and there, depending on what you like, but as far as pop and R&B goes, it’s a lot of like, a spectacle. It’s dancing, it’s like the Cirque du Soleil. I think that James Brown was probably like — James Brown and Elvis, and I don’t know my music history as well as I probably should, but James Brown for sure was definitely a pioneer in that landscape.
Spirit: Something I meant to ask earlier, how old are you now?
Stone: I’m 62 years old… no, I just turned 30.
Spirit: Oh, welcome to the club of 30s!
Stone: I love it, man. I’m so glad that I’m not stuck in my mid-20s anymore. It’s so rad. Not having to worry about the, I think it’s just growing out of those social pressures that plagued me when I was in my 20s. Learning, learning effectively every day and to be excited about learning, but when I was in my 20s I thought I knew everything, which is so weird.
Spirit: How long have you been touring with your music?
Stone: Since I was 18. I did it on my own for about four to five years, and then when I was about 25 or 26, I could afford to hire a band and did a lot of touring with my band for the last five years. We’ve been on the road probably 200 days a year, 250 days a year.
Spirit: What do you like about playing live shows vs. recording in a studio?
Stone: It’s funny, because recording in a studio doesn’t really get my (juices) going. The studio is actually kind of a tough place for me because the studio’s so heady. It’s like you’re creating this thing that you’re trying to manufacture. I’m starting to get it down a little bit easier, but you’re essentially trying to hijack human desire, like “What sounds good to people? What’s clever?” But also popular. And there’s nobody in the room. So like, you can’t try something out and be like, “Oh, that actually worked — that person liked that.” Because there’s nobody in the fucking room. So a show, you do something in real time, and you see people react to it, and you’re like, “Oh, that actually worked.” … In the studio, no. It’s almost like you’re sitting in the dark. You have your instinct to go off of, but every time your instinct tells you something is great, 10 people tell you it’s awful.
Spirit: Do you improvise a lot on the stage?
Stone: For sure. There’s elements of improvisation. We’re just there to have fun; we travel all over the place, and we don’t get paid very well, and you just do it to have fun. If you love the craft, there’s nothing better than a whole gathering of people getting naturally stoned off of musical frequencies. It’s kind of a crazy thing, like we create these sound waves — scientifically, if you look at it, we create and organize these sound waves in a specific way that make people excited, and like pull up emotion and energy in these sort of chemical dopamine releases. And we’re like drug dealers, essentially, but we do it in this beautiful, natural way. It’s incredible that somebody before my time invented this mechanism called music that I can jump into and utilize to make people happy. And it makes me happy, too.
Spirit: How would you describe your music? Like what style would you say you have?
Stone: People place it in like a soul, R&B category. Soul, R&B, funk, whatever. It doesn’t really matter what you call music. I understand how like, you know, because you have to describe it to people who want to know what it is, but it’s just like, go listen to it. It takes just as little time to just listen to a song as it does to try to explain to people what it is, you know? And everybody’s got their phone in your pocket, just listen to it. Like, why do we have genres anymore? It’s like, oh, it’s called Allen Stone, that’s the genre. The genre is Allen Stone, go listen to it. Because when you put out your frame of reference, maybe you think he sounds like Jason Mraz — that’s not funk and soul, you know what I mean? The description thing and the genre thing is kind of outdated. … It’s not like the people who came up with it are terrible, it’s just like it’s outdated and it’s stupid.
Spirit: How do you think you’ve grown as an artist compared to when you worked on your first album?
Stone: Oh, man. Too many ways to list, it’s continual. Continual growth when it comes to life. Life contributes to music, and music contributes to life. And when you’re an artist, it’s funny because like I said, influence comes from all these different angles. You can’t really just say, “Oh, well I’m gonna think about this and not think about this,” it doesn’t happen like that. I’ve probably grown immensely in how I take care of myself and the energy that I bring to any situation. I think I’m probably more confident than I think I’ve ever been, when it comes to my musicality and who I am as an artist and being OK with my flaws. … You know, I would hope to grow up to be a better person, a more stable, emotional person than I was when I made that first album. It’s hard to tell, you know, like I haven’t had any mind-altering surgeries or incredible — I’ve just had life. Whenever you have five years of life tacked on to anything, a person’s reality, there’s bound to be a bunch of changes. Whether they’re drastic or not. I mean, I didn’t lose a parent or I didn’t have a baby, or all these huge, life-altering experiences. But I’ve definitely changed in that I’ve grown and I’ve learned a lot, and that’s been applied to my life.
Spirit: Well, is there anything else you’d like to say, maybe about your upcoming show in Augusta?
Stone: I just hope to see the Augusta community out in full; it’s gonna be a lot of fun. Give it a try. I promise if you come and give it a chance, that if you leave early, then no harm, no foul. But you might just really enjoy yourself. So, why not come? Why not give it a chance? Come out.
Spirit: All right, well, we look forward to having you in town, Allen. Thank you so much for taking time to talk to me.
Stone: Hey, I appreciate you. Thanks.
Allen Stone will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Imperial Theatre. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m. Visit imperialtheatre.com or call 706-722-8341. Visit allenstone.com to find out more about him and to hear his music.