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R&B past, present and future

American singer-songwriter Allen Stone performs at the Pemberton Festival



Jackson, Mississippi.

R&B singer-songwriter and "hippie with soul" Allen Stone is on his tour bus dozing, waiting for the gig ahead.

He performs hundreds of shows a year and 2016 has been no different.

"We've been touring on our latest record for close to two years," Stone says.

"Our luck for festivals recently hasn't been great. We were on the mainstage at Sasquatch in a good time slot, but the wind was so crazy that they cancelled our set — they rescheduled it for a smaller tent later the same night.

"It was a little hairy because I brought the whole big band thing."

Stone's full band of five will be coming to the Pemberton Music Festival on Saturday, July 16.

His third full-length album Radius came out a year ago, but Stone laughs that "nobody knew," and it was rereleased with seven further tracks in March.

It was made in collaboration with Swedish soul singer Magnus Tingsek.

"I attempted to make a sound that felt like my own on this record. I looked for somebody who had their own feel and vibe, that's why I chose to work with Tingsek on it," Stone says.

"Not only is he one of my favourite musicians, the records he works on have his unique sound. A lot of pop music sounds the same, all pulling from the same sound libraries and the same programs on their laptops. To me it melds together — there aren't many artists that I listen to on the radio and think it is unique."

Stone says he gets annoyed when musicians created the same album over and over, so he avoided this in Radius.

"Another thing that is missing in pop music, missing from music in general, is people singing about social issues," he says.

"Especially in R&B. R&B, to me, is throwaway music now. It used to be an extremely powerful, social styling of music. It would bring up social fuel and social rhetoric. Now it's just sex and clubbing.

"It just breaks my heart, man!"

Clearly passionate about his genre, Stone continues:

"You think of where R&B comes from, it comes from the gospels, from the church. And was the blues and then there was jazz... it was all extremely folk-oriented, community-oriented music.

"Now it's just sex music. I'm not opposed to sex, but I feel something when I sing R&B music. I feel it in my heart! There is power in that music."

He says rap has replaced R&B in terms of this responsibility, and he likes hip hop, but what he hates more is that R&B has become "fast food."

Based in Washington state, Stone has performed in Vancouver, but never hit the road north to Whistler or Pemberton before.

Stone fell in love with R&B thanks to Stevie Wonder.

"When I was about 15, somebody showed me Innervisions by Stevie Wonder, I thought, 'Oh my goodness!' and got into that '50s and '60s funk-R&B movement that was into social justice," he says.

"The Nina Simones, the Marvin Gayes — these records that meant something. It's unfortunate that we are in the same place that we were back then."

In his own music, Stone tries to follow this inspiration — the times being what they are it can be a little disheartening to fight injustice.

"It gives me a lot write about, but I'm also in between it because I'm, like, man, nobody cares. The reason cotton candy bullshit music is popular is because people want to escape," Stone says.

"You've got 24-hour news on all the time. You've got Facebook, Twitter, Instagram... where people are constantly sharing their opinions about happened where, and which McDonald's employee got fired... it's all chatter in people's faces."

Trying to attempt to make a living off music means this can be a battle for Stone.

"I sometimes wonder if I should write what I love to write, or write this kind of music that is Kumbaya," he laughs.

It's not all doom and gloom, Stone's powerful personal choices means he has stayed in touch with who he wants to be.

"I write music because I want to inspire thought and provoke change," he says.

"We play feel-good music. Some of them are heavy topics, but they are topics worth looking at. I don't try to alienate or call out anyone. It's self-reflection, too, but the majority is fun-loving good times."


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