JPR Live Session: Allen Stone

Sep 9, 2016

Allen Stone started working his dazzling vocals as a kid, thanks largely to his parents’ influence. “My father was a minister so I spent about half my childhood in church, watching my mom and dad sing together and lead the congregation in song,” he recalls. By the time he was 11 he’d picked up a guitar and written his first song, and soon began self-recording demo tapes to pass along to classmates. Although Stone enrolled in bible college after high school, he quickly dropped out to move to Seattle and kickstart his music career. “I had an ’87 Buick and I’d drive up and down the west coast, playing any gig I could get just to try to put my music out there,” he says.

At age 22, Allen Stone self-released his debut album, 2010’s Last To Speak. But it was his self-titled follow-up (on which he joined forces with former Miles Davis keyboardist Deron Johnson) that ended up earning him serious recognition. Along with entering the top five on iTunes’ R&B/Soul chart after its digital release, Allen Stone prompted him to score appearances on such late-night talk shows like Conan and grace the pages of publications like the New York Times (whose chief popular-music critic Jon Pareles praised Stone for possessing “a tenor voice with the eagerness and frisky syncopations of [Stevie] Wonder”). And upon partnering with ATO Records for a physical release of his self-titled album in 2012, Stone soon turned up on the likes of the Late Show with David Letterman and landed a gig as the opening act for soul legend Al Green.

Along with immersing himself in a songwriting approach that involved unflinching examination of “some very dark and negative moments in my life,” Stone shaped the sound and feel of Radius by pushing himself to “get past the boundaries of what I felt comfortable with, so that I could progress into a whole new level of creativity.” Despite that sometimes-daunting process, Radius wholly reveals Stone’s easy grace in blending everything from edgy soul-pop and earthy folk-rock to throwback R&B and Parliament-inspired funk.

Radius first began to come to life back in the fall of 2013, when Stone headed to Sweden to join in a writing session with Tingsek. “His musicality is so outside-the-box, and it really stretched me as an artist,” says Stone, who’d tapped Tingsek as one of his opening acts for an 85-date headlining tour in 2012. “We just kept on throwing a wrench into the works and tried to create something that’s the complete antithesis of what you’d expect from pop music.” After recording the bulk of the album in Sweden, Stone rounded out Radius’s production at his own studio in the woods of northeast Washington and in L.A.-based sessions with producers like Benny Cassette (who’s previously worked with Kanye West) and Malay (a co-producer on Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE).

And as evidenced by Radius’s lush yet raw sonic landscape—wherein the only hint of synth comes from a Moog analog synthesizer—Stone stayed true to his pledge to “keep fakeness completely out of this record” and rely entirely on live instrumentation.