“Don’t you get it, lads?” asks the manager of an aspiring whiter-than-white Irish soul band in Alan Parker’s The Commitments (1991). “The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.”
Allen Stone is not from Dublin, but Chewelah, Wash., and even though he doesn’t sound at all like the Commitments’ raspy singer (Stone is more the Stevie Wonder type), he could’ve perfectly played the part in the movie—just don’t ask him to imitate Wilson Pickett or wear a suit and tie.
“That’s just not me,” the 26-year-old Stone—who once described himself as a “hippie with soul”—told the Current on the phone. “I don’t wear a tie, ever. I don’t understand this whole ‘you’re from Seattle but you sing like you’re from Detroit’ thing. I’m really an outcast from the soul genre. You’re supposed to look sexy and all that, but I just wear whatever I would wear normally. With me, it’s all about the music.”
So far, image hasn’t been a problem for him: Allen Stone (2011), his breakthrough album, landed in the top 5 of the iTunes R&B/Soul charts and No. 9 and 35 in Billboard’s Heatseekers and R&B/Hip-Hop albums charts, respectively. He and his band (two guitars, two keyboards, bass and drums), will be in San Antonio to headline the SAGE Music festival on Saturday at AT&T Center’s Bud Light Courtyard. His late ’60s, early ’70s soul and R&B style is fueled by terrific self-penned songs and an even more impressive voice, capable of disarming falsettos that remind one of both the great vocal groups of yesteryear and solo Michael Jackson. He describes his approach in two words: integrity and chops.
“Unlike punk or EDM or this DJ craze, in order to play even the shittiest form of soul or R&B you need to have some chops,” Stone said. “Ninety-five percent of today’s pop music is made out of the keyboard on your laptop. My feelings about the influx of computers in the music world are similar to the feelings of those who want steroids out of baseball.”
Then, the former church boy that started singing at age 3 takes over the conversation. “At the end of the day, it’s just me judging people,” he said.
In the best tradition of singers like Bill Withers—but unlike many in the contemporary soul world—Stone is more interested in social rather than sexual, commentary.
“I will never ask for immunity/ because I was born and raised in the Caucasian community,” he sings in “Last to Speak,” the title song off his demo-like 2009 album. “We will never find racial unity/ unless we find equal opportunity.”
If Last to Speak was his introduction to the music world, Allen Stone is a much closer image of who he really is: a gospel-tinged soul singer-songwriter that will always swim in the genre, but who is not going to be controlled by it.
“I want to explore new colors now,” he said. “I want to dig deeper and deeper into my folk side, but also my throwback greasy R&B side.”
Whatever he does, he will do it on his own terms.
“I’d rather sell 100,000 by being me than 3 million by conjuring up a character,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong: It’s nice to look good and dress good, if that’s your kind of thing. But I always thought soul music should be transparent. And I have a dirty soul, you know what I mean? I am the counterculture of soul music, and I try getting to the soul of issues that are typically grimey and greasy, not pretty and cute.”
Allen Stone performs at 10:15pm. Other notable acts are Ram Herrera (Tejano 7pm), Tropicante (salsa/Latin jazz 4:45pm) and Mel Waiters (blues, 8:15pm).