‘Washington State is my being,” said award-winning soul singer Allen Stone. “Eastern Washington is my heart, and Western Washington is my mind.”
Stone will put that heart and mind on display when he performs at the Knitting Factory tonight.
“It’s always nice coming home,” said 26-year-old Stone, originally from Chewelah, Washington. “There’s an amazing group of people in Spokane and especially the Chewelah area.”
Stone’s upcoming album, as yet officially unnamed, will be his third studio record, following his 2009 debut, “Last to Speak,” and his self-titled breakthrough album in 2012. “I’m a touring artist first and foremost, though,” he said. “I love playing real instruments, in real time, for real people. I’m excited about getting new music out and playing new material live.”
That’s what will make Stone’s Spokane performance – second-to-last in a 17-city lineup that began in San Diego and ends in Portland – so special.
Stone’s album, though, isn’t just a lot of fun; it is also the product of a lot of hard work. Earlier this year, Stone was “off the grid,” so to speak, spending time recording new music in his rustic cabin. “The nonstop pace of touring, which leaves little time for much else, can tempt you to set the cruise control a little too high,” Stone said. And after doing nearly 600 shows in two years, he was ready to return from Seattle to Chewelah, population 2,606.
“To find the balance I was looking for,” he said, “I needed to move out to the middle of nowhere, where I have no distractions whatsoever.” But as he added: “I’m a social person, and, to me, the greatest energy that you can cultivate is a collaborative energy. It feels better when you’ve got somebody to bounce ideas off.”
That’s how he and noted Swedish artist Magnus Tingsek got together.
When “Allen Stone” hit the top of the charts and things started happening for him, he found himself on an 85-date tour, and only two out of three openers booked. “Why don’t we see if Tingsek will come?” Stone’s manager had asked. Tingsek, who had never toured outside of Scandinavia, agreed, and the two became good friends as they traveled throughout North America and Europe together.
Later on, as Stone considered collaborative possibilities for his new album, Tingsek’s name came to mind, so Stone flew to Malmö, Sweden.
It was a perfect fit.
Tingsek, whom Stone describes as “like Prince,” and “one of those Swiss Army Knife musicians who plays everything,” wrote and recorded several tracks with Stone in Malmö. They reconvened in Chewelah early this year to continue work on the new album.
Stone said Tingsek is the ideal co-producer. “He hears music completely different than I do. I’m 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.”
Stone’s new album, he hopes, will reflect the authenticity of his music. Like many soul singers of times past, his love for music developed its roots in a religious household. As a preacher’s son, he was steeped in gospel music, his frame of reference devoid of most secular music until his teenage years, when he began collecting classic records from the 1960s and ’70s. Stone said that’s where his inspiration comes from.
As a result, Stone has something that can’t be “auto-tuned,” or simulated by a computer.
Stone finds it a little unsettling that ours is a world where the genuine expression in music is, to a large degree, he believes, being stripped away.
“The computer is such a nice tool that it’s starting to take the human element out of art,” he said. “So where’s the line? If the computer is doing 85 percent of the work, then whose record is it?” Stone doesn’t work that way: “Every instrument on the new record is real.”
He acknowledges that his approach can be challenging. “I kind of feel like the clerk who’s been working at the grocery store for 20 years, and all of a sudden they start bringing in these self-checkout stands, and you’re like, ‘What the hell are they gonna need me for?’ ” he said with a laugh.
In addition to the new album, Stone said he is releasing a special “Radius Preview EP” surrounding the dates of the current tour. Fans can visit his website and buy a bundle exclusive to each individual city in the tour, including a three-song EP and a download code for the entire album upon its release.
When thinking back to his days growing up in the Inland Northwest, Stone recalled: “Musically, it was pretty limp when I was around these parts, if I’m being honest. For how many talented musicians there were in Spokane and surrounding areas, there wasn’t enough community support to highlight the scene. That’s part of the beast though.”
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