Interview: Allen Stone’s soul music influenced by Stevie Wonder, religious upbringing
October 18, 2012
Written by Roman Gokhman
Whenever Seattle soul crooner Allen Stone happens to find himself in San Francisco at the beginning of a week, he makes time for Motown on Monday. Typically held at Madrone Art Bar near Alamo Square, this is where you can go to hear a DJ spin some classic R&B.
Stone, who will be in town Sunday and Monday, performing at the Great American Music Hall, remembers the first time he was taken to MOM, as it’s known. A DJ transitioned from Stevie Wonder to Bobby Womack.
“Dopest mix ever,” Stone said.
But the last time Stone was in the City, he made an even better memory. As he arrived to Golden Gate Park for the final day of the Outside Lands Music and Art Festival, he got to listen in and watch as Wonder sound-checked.
“I’ve never seen him live before; this is amazing,” Stone said. “Stevie Wonder is the reason why I sing soul music. Innervisons was given to me when I was about 15, and I said, ‘This is what rings true to me.’”
From then on, the scrawny white boy with long and curly blond hair, thick-framed glasses knew what music mattered most. He began listening to the likes of Marvin Gaye, James Taylor, John Denver and Al Green.
When asked about modern influences, Stone speaks about the likes of Billy Joel. There is no Kanye West shocker in his list of inspirations.
“Hell, no. Hell, totally, no,” he laughs. “Yeah, none of that.”
Coincidentally, Stone opened for Green this past summer.
“To be able to see Stevie Wonder and Al Green in the same month, for me, it’s like, ‘OK, I can quit. I don’t have to sell another record,’” he said. “This is amazing.”
Stone is the son of a former East-central Washington preacher who took over the family wheat farm three years ago, after 35 years in the ministry. While there is a gospel element to the crooner’s music, Stone is no longer a Christian, having fallen away in his late teens.
“I don’t preach to people on stage or anything … but it’s definitely my roots,” he said. “That’s where I grew up, how I learned to sing, and where I learned to love music. Any time you live through any experience it’s going to add to who you are as a person.”
Because of his upbringing, faith is still an important part of his music and his identity. While he no longer attends church, he points out that he has not turned away completely and joked that he’s not like Marilyn Manson.
“But you’ll see the show – it’s definitely a little too sexy, a little too pelvic-thrusty for church,” he said.
It would be sinful to ignore the first thing people notice about Stone: Those glasses. They aren’t a fashion statement. He said he is nearly legally blind and wore contacts through high school.
“When I decided to become a musician, there was a period in my life where I was broke as hell,” he said. “I didn’t want to pay a hundred bucks a month for contacts. So I got the most durable, thick glasses that I thought I could get. It just kind of became me I guess.”