Q&A with Allen Stone

Allen Stone takes a rare break to reflect on a hectic year that put him among soul royalty.

In the year since America met Allen Stone during his appearance on Conan, the 25-year-old soul singer and his band have travelled 350,000 miles. They’ve played 230 shows, touring the United States four times and Europe twice, and even played in South Africa. That whirlwind year ended with a couple of career highlights: Stone headlined at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, followed soon after by a performance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He rolls into 2013 with a January 3 performance on Ellen and an entire month as the featured artist on VH1 for the channel’s new emerging artist series, “You Oughta Know.” We caught up with Stone while he was in New York preparing to film promos for that series.

You’ve been on the road constantly. Have you had any time to rest?
I just counted it up the other day and I’ve only been in Seattle 15 days in the last year. But it’s good to be busy, brother.

How have you and the band handled the grind of the tour schedule?
What we’ve essentially done is the same as if all seven of us worked every day at Starbucks from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then at the end of the shift, we all go back to the same studio apartment where we live. And we’ve done that for a year. And we can still sit in the same room and look each other in the eyes and say, “I love you.”

What has been the most difficult travel day for you guys?
We did a 32-hour trip to Cape Town, South Africa, and 45 minutes after we arrived, we had to get up on stage and play for the biggest group of people I’ve ever played for in my entire life. It was the opening set of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and it was free to the entire city of Cape Town and there were 19,000 people there. Then we had another set two days later and then we went straight to Europe.

Was it intimidating to get up in front of that many people?
It was different because we were used to playing clubs, like the Crocodile, where by the end of the set I could see every face in the room. Playing in Cape Town, it was like playing to the ocean.

You look like you’re in better shape than you were a year ago. Have you been working out or is that just from stalking the stage?
Is Pabst and weed a workout regimen? [Laughs.] I do some push-ups, I guess. I’m way more mobile now on the set, so if I seem like I am in any form of shape it’s because of that. And I try not to eat too much red meat.

You’ve recently shared the stage with some heavy hitters. Have you been getting any good advice?
I got to do a week-and-a-half tour with Daryl Hall and Sharon Jones. And Sharon Jones, in my opinion, is the queen right now. I was so thrilled to be there and I was so nervous because I was going to be singing right next to Sharon Jones. So close I could touch her. This is a woman who has been doing this for 40 years. And in addition, across the stage was Daryl Hall, a man who has had as much success in soul music as a Caucasian has ever had. I was very humbled and didn’t feel like I belonged on that stage and I voiced that in the tour bus one night. And Sharon said, “Young Blood…”—she always called me Young Blood—she said, “Young Blood, just sing.” That one stuck with me and I’ve actually been contemplating getting a tattoo of it.

What’s the toughest criticism you’ve faced since emerging onto the national stage?
I’ve definitely gotten the comment, “He’s good, but he’s not a star.” That’s been an uphill battle. But mostly I’ve received a great amount of love and even more acceptance than I think I deserve.

Any memorable performances from 2012 that are going to stick with you?
I played the Nob Hill Masonic Center Auditorium in San Francisco two nights ago, the same day as the shooting in Connecticut. I sang Bob Marley’s “Is this Love” and dedicated it to the victims in the spirit of the idea that love will always conquer hate and evil. And about three-quarters of the way through the song, I just started crying. It was nothing compared to the tragedy of that event, but it was very powerful.

Illustration by Tiffany Prothero.