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 ñpitch-perfect powerhouseî 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 wouldnÍt have been nearly as much fun.
ñIÍm a social person and, to me, the greatest energy that you can cultivate is a collaborative energy. It feels better when youÍve got somebody to bounce ideas off of,î explains Stone.
While heÍs 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 hadnÍt been digging around online for new music.
ñI was like his number one fan for three years,î recalls Allen. At that point, things started exploding for Stone. His self-titled album shot into the Top 10 of BillboardÍs Heatseekers chart and entered the Top 5 of iTunesÍ R&B/Soul charts shortly after its release. Soon the unsigned artist was appearing on shows like ñConan,î ñJimmy Kimmel Live,î ñLast Call with Carson Dalyî and ñLive from DarylÍs House.î NPRÍs Ann Powers hailed the album as ñmeant for those of us who like our R&B slightly unkempt and exceedingly feelingfulî and Forbes ran a feature focusing on his remarkable success as an independent artist. The New York TimesÍ Jon Pareles praised StoneÍs live show, noting, ñhis music reached back four decades to the late 1960s and early Í70s, when songwriters like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers brought introspection and social commentary to soul music.î
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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 VH1Í ñYou Oughta Knowî artist. He opened for Al Green and Dave Matthews and performed on ñLate Show with David Letterman,î ñThe Ellen DeGeneres Showî and ñThe Tonight Show with Jay Leno.î
With an 85-date headline tour planned and two out of three openers selected, Stone asked his manager, ñWhy donÍt we see if Tingsek will come?î Tingsek, who had never toured outside of Scandinavia, agreed and the two became good friends as they traveled across North America and throughout Europe.
ñMy 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,î says Stone. ñBasically my job is to throw a party for people every night when weÍre on tour.î
The non-stop pace of touring and promotional appearances makes it tempting to ñset the cruise control a little too high,î Allen notes, which can take its toll over time. After doing nearly 600 shows in two years, Stone was ready to turn from touring to recording. He moved from Seattle back to his hometown of Chewelah, WA _ population 2,606.
ñTo find the balance I was looking for, I needed to move out to the middle of nowhere _ where I have no distractions whatsoever,î he says.
As he considered who he might like to collaborate with, Tingsek came to mind. Stone flew to Malm_, Sweden in November of 2013 and, after just a day in the studio with Tingsek, he knew it was the right pairing.
ñMagnus is like Prince _ he plays everything! HeÍs like one of those Swiss Army knife musicians,î says Stone. ñHe hears music completely different than I do. IÍm more like a classic soul/classic blues kind of singer and he is able to hear music in this new, weird, disco jazz nuance that totally challenges me to broaden my ear and my vocality.î
They wrote and recorded some tracks in Malm_ and, in early 2014, reconvened in Chewelah so they could work with members of AllenÍs band. Stone is a big fan of recording with real _ rather than virtual _ instruments.
ñThe computerÍs such a nice tool that itÍs starting to take the human element out of art. So whereÍs the line? If the computer is doing 85% of the work, then whose record is it?î he asks. ñEvery instrument on the new record is all real.î
Seeing the preponderance of DJ acts at the festivals he has played has been a little unsettling. ñI kind of feel like the clerk whoÍs been working at the grocery story for 20 years and all of a sudden they start bringing in these self check-out stands. And youÍre like, what the hell are they gonna need me for?î says Allen, laughing.
As his music makes abundantly clear, Stone isnÍt likely to be replaced by a laptop anytime soon. After all, heÍs got something that still canÍt be simulated: soul.