Tonight, in a concert series called Evolution of an Artist, Allen Stone begins a five-night run of performances at five different across Seattle. Tracing the arc of Stone's ascendance, it's an appropriate forum for the young soul singer: His local rise catapulted him from upstart to international stardom and a multi-album deal with Capitol Records, which releases Stone's new album Radius in May. After a year of almost constant touring, Stone settled into a temporary Airbnb on Capitol Hill last week, where we spoke to him about his new album and this week's shows.
Do you live in Seattle these days? Do you live anywhere?
I'm on the road a lot, probably 300 days a year, and I did this record in Sweden. So I was there a lot for this record. And I did a little bit in Washington as well at the cabin. I'm there a week or so every month.
I built a studio in a cabin in Northeast Washington near Spokane. It's humble but it's nice. It's my Shangri La.
Tell me about Sweden. You worked with a Swedish producer, yeah?
Magnus Tingsek is his name. Tingsek's an artist and I found his music in like 2006 or 2007 and fell in love with it. It's super fresh, it's not the same recycled soul music but it's a new flavor of funk and R&B and soul. It's gorgeous. So I had my manager holler at him and asked if he wanted to go on tour kinda selfishly—we'd never met. I met him in 2012. We went out for about 70 or 80 shows in the states and 10 in Europe. And we were total dudes, like the best of friends.
I kept touring in 2012, but I needed to prepare myself for making a new record, so I was doing the artist-producer thing with well-known names. None of them felt right or comfortable, none felt like I'd be pushing the limits. Just the recycled thing that people have been doing that didn’t excite me: "Let's look at the Top-40 charts and see who's popular and try to make a song like that!" Nowadays that’s what people do in this business.
So I went to Sweden to do some writing with Tingsek and the first few songs we did were awesome, "Fake Future, "Circle" and "American Privilege." After that I was inspired, I really wanted to sit down and write a record. So we did the whole record together, 15, 20 songs together. I think I did about four months overall in Sweden. Malmo, Sweden. Of all places.
How was Sweden?
Awesome, man. The quickest way toward feeling really dumb is living in Europe for a week. Everybody speaks English and hasn't been inundated with American-filtered history. It’s a whole other world over there. In Sweden everybody was like, "I don’t get this religion thing in America. How do you people believe in this mythology?" That was refreshing to me. I've never been anywhere where religion didn’t have a stronghold on most of the populace. It seemed more forward thinking, not caught up in the bullshit of what Kim Kardashian is wearing that day. I didn’t wanna leave.
I don’t mean to talk shit bout America but I think we've got a lot of growing we can do. If you get a chance, go to Sweden, go to Norway.
The album is called Radius; there are songs called "Circle" and "Symmetrical." What's up with the circular imagery?
The last five years, my life has changed drastically—I went from sleeping on couches and struggling to pay rent to actually having a career and paying my rent and paying for a band to travel with me and a tour manager and a bus. I've gone from not having a single responsibility in the world to feeling very responsible for the people who surround me. This record is a culmination of that evolution. It’s the definition and the distance my heart and my exterior. There's no straightforward theme on the record other than the overwhelming circular characteristics that are within me. There's a lot of shapes involved in the record.
"Circle" is s song about ending up in that tornado of life where no matter how hard you try you find yourself back in that orbit. And also I see that shape in everything—lifestyle choices, art. I've been noticing the circle a lot and how the moon orbits the earth as the earth orbits the sun and the reason why life is possible based on these orbits. The way an electron orbits a proton. I've noticed that a lot more in my life as well, departing greatly from religion that provided this beautiful moral compass I'm filled with, but also being bitter about my upbringing that I departed from. Coming back to that in my 20s and finding that road map was all true the entire time, unfortunately buried under all this bullshit. The circle has been an incredible guideline for life stuff the last couple years.
It's like this crash course. We all feel like we're floating through time and space in randomness, but if you break it down to a molecular value it's very orchestrated, even organized.
It seems like you and the label are pulling out all the stops with this album—the Swedish producer, the string section, the five-night run of shows…
Yeah, totally. First off, we wanted to make sure it was good! I've never had a budget or a team behind me. The last record we recorded cheaply on a producer contract and released it to the world and the cosmos aligned in this weird lucky fashion that made it get noticed. So I've never had a calculated strategy. But when you deal with a team of people and big companies and big expectations, I want to be calculated in how I release it.
Music nowadays is very deliberate. Same with the Evolution of an Artist series—it's a deliberate attempt to do something different, something that might spark people's interest. There's so much distraction and so much good shit out there, to think that Id be able to push my way through cat videos on YouTube and get people's attention—that’s ridiculous. So being deliberate with how we release the music was really important with this record. To really give back to the fans and allow them to experience the show from that venue they first saw me play at. And let me get back to those venue sizes where I can actually touch and communicate with everyone in the venue. When you play the Paramount or a big spot at Bumbershoot, it’s a sea of people. If you play at Nectar you see everyone in the building. I feel like I can look everyone in the eye at one point, create a moment with an individual from the stage. I get really excited about that kind of thing.
Allen Stone's Evolution of an Artist series begins tonight at the Triple Door. All shows are sold out except Saturday's performance at the Paramount.