“Darkness and light fills every aspect of life,” says Allen Stone. “Everything casts a shadow. Searching to build that balance through the back and forth and welcoming the challenge has done me a lot of good.”
In essence, this is Stone’s fourth album, Building Balance, a personal collection of songs that culminated through falling in love, becoming a father, and the aftermath of being dropped by a record label. Soulfully consoled through 14 tracks, Stone reflects on dark times (and lighter ones), and making it out on the other side.
A lot has happened since 2015’s Radius, and in this time a completely new batch of songs flooded out for Building Balance as Stone moved through major life changes.
“I kind of went through a dark time through my last album and this one was written around attempting to dive into my own mental obstacles while trying to explore some new colorings of music,” Stone tells American Songwriter. “I’ve been listening to so much more music that I was inspired when writing this record. I attempted to jump out of the box that I thought I should be in and bring some more spices to the kitchen with hip-hop, rock and roll and folk and funk just to find that center and balance.”
In the end, Building Balance pieced together over a four-year period in between writing with his band and British musician Jamie Lidell, who also agreed to produce the album. Recorded with musicians Mike Posner and Emily King, at Nashville’s Sound Emporium, Stone also laid down four additional tracks in Los Angeles with Grammy Award winning Canadian artist Nasri. Initially, the two met because they both share the same management, but Stone was also a fan of Nasri’s reggae-fused band Magic! and their 2013 single “Rude.”
From their first recording together, everything clicked. There was no drama or ego, just the intention of making good songs, says Stone. “Sometimes when you first meet a new writer or producer it takes a minute to settle,” he says. “Everyone shows up cold to those writing sessions and at times it can take a full day to really find a groove. Nasri and I share the same viewpoint on songwriting and collaboration and that is we both like to attack it. We hit the ground running.”
Stone is innately a soul man. Listening to Stevie Wonder’s 1973 album Inversions for the first time left a 15-year-old Stone forever impacted, and his vocals are often compared to the soul icon, something Stone takes in stride. “I am no where near the artist that Stevie Wonder is,” says stone. “It’s like comparing Happy Gilmore to Tiger Woods. Stevie is a legend and one of my biggest musical idols.”
It oozes out in the ’70s vibes of Building Balance bringing it all to his own present, and life—mental struggles, love, loss, and even technology. “Lay It Down” is Stone’s response to how digital distractions can stress relationships, recognizing its reality in lyrics I wanna be the first thing you reach for in the morning.
“I am just as guilty as anybody with losing myself in my phone,” admits Stone, “and allowing it to distract me from the real fiber of life, relationships.”
Love songs were never Stone’s specialty, and something he’s tried to avoid, until “Brown Eyed Lover.” One of his favorite tracks on the album, the rhythmic opener emits Stone’s sly and soulful vocals digging into his internal struggle of keeping a relationship intact while on the road. “The struggle of having to leave constantly for my career but wanting my relationship to move forward,” says Stone. “It seemed as though I chose a lifestyle that wasn’t lending itself to be shared with partner. That was until I met my wife.”
Collecting the right words and expressing the perfect sentiment has always been a challenge for Stone when it comes to matters of the heart. “Lo and behold, I fell in love with this woman and wanted to marry her,” says Stone. “I was talking to Nasri about the upcoming wedding, and we started to talk about the vows. The idea of having the right words to express the love and commitment I wanted to promise to my future wife was terrifying.” This fear also led to “Consider Me,” which says everything he wanted to tell his wife on their wedding day.
Reflecting on Building Balance, Stone says the music helped him weave through his life over the past four years. There was no special writing formula other than just doing it. “The process is just showing up,” he says. “There’s no right or wrong way to write a song in my book. The only wrong way is not finishing what you started or simply not showing up at all.”
When he’s not on the road, home is Washington State, which Stone says is therapeutic and inspiring in its constant seasonal changes. “Right when you are getting settled into your surroundings the next season comes,” he says. “That change is very nice and always brings with it creative inspirations.”
For now, Stone is exploring music, art, and adjusting to fatherhood. Just closing his three-month U.S. tour, he’s planning to head to Australia and hopes to bring along he wife, a native Aussie, and their nearly 1-year-old son.
Nearly a decade into his career, Stone says so much has shifted, even the way his performs. For a long time, performing was all about getting a reaction from the audience, but Stone says he’s moved on from this one-track approach.
“I want folks to feel comfortable and safe in their own skin,” he says. “When I stand on stage, I’m hoping I’m doing a wonderful deed toward helping people escape from whatever it is they are trying to escape from. The fact that I get to be the vessel to bring that joy to people, that’s the most important role that music is playing for me.”