Allen Stone wants to give R&B back some of its depth
Whether fairly or unfairly, R&B and soul music often get typecast. Much of the music is groove-inducing and has an overtly romantic, sensual or sexual side to it, and the suggestive lyrics only reinforce this mood. That is fine and well, but for R&B and soul singer Allen Stone, it is not enough.
“I love music that’s about love, and I love R&B songs, but I also like songs that have influence on culture,” Stone says. "I believe that if you’re given a microphone you need to use it in a positive way, and I feel like pop culture, more often than not, doesn’t. I think that [pop stars] are very bad stewards of the microphone they’ve been given, and the voices they’ve been given, and they tend to talk about pretty futile and shallow things, rather than subjects which uplift the children in our culture, or the teenage culture, or the young adult generation. If you’re given a microphone, you should say something that’s deeper than, ‘I’m going to the club and I’m going to drink cognac.’”
On Stone’s eponymous 2011 record, he combines the passion and funkiness of R&B and soul, but puts a socially conscious bent on some of the tracks. The soulful, fun-sounding “Contact High” talks about finding a deeper purpose to life than chasing money or security, and the deep funk of “What I’ve Seen” belies the song’s message of mistrusting politicians and the crippling effects of greed. But Stone’s lyrics cut deepest on “Unaware,” where he talks about deficits, taxes, and being stretched to a breaking point just to make ends meet.
“‘Unaware’ isn’t necessarily a protest song, but more of a conversation song,” Stone says. “Like, ‘Does anybody else feel this way, or am
I the only person who doesn’t believe our government is being honest with us?’ I like to write about things that are current and have cultural weight.”
But the fact that he calls this a “conversation song” is key because he is not pretending to have all the answers.
“It’s incredibly unrealistic to think you know everything,” Stone says. “I don’t understand what it takes to run a country, to be president, to be a senator. So to be 23, 24 years old, stand on a stage and act like I have it all together, to me is ridiculous.”
For all Stone’s awareness about serious issues, he is not above having some fun on the record. On the lively gospel/soul opener “Sleep,” he runs through reasons why drinking, smoking, taking pills or counting sheep don’t help him sleep, and “Say So” is an upbeat love song that doesn’t resort to talking about sex or cheap thrills. And “Celebrate Tonight” is a perfect example of how Stone can make music fun and meaningful all at once.
“I wanted to write a song that everybody could sing along to and be happy doing it,” he says. “I pictured a big group of people singing a pretty hooky, easy, positive chorus together. What better phrase than ‘celebrate tonight?’ Just have a good time. Forget about the menial darkness in our fast-paced lives and focus on how incredibly lucky we are. In Western culture we tend to stress out about things that don’t have much eternal weight, and it’s good to be reminded to let it all go and celebrate instead.”
More often than not, Stone chooses to focus on the positive, and he has every reason to. He knows he is blessed and that his success could all disappear tomorrow, so he tries to remain humble.
“Eighty percent of my life is very surreal right now,” Stone laughs. “I hope I don’t ever get used to it, and I don’t think I ever will. I hope I’ll always be able to maintain a grounded spirit.”
Allen Stone will perform a sold-out show at 9 p.m. Friday, May 10 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. For more information, call 479-1854.
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