His musical journey and why he’s passionate about SEA’s music program
Washington-state native and R&B singer Allen Stone had passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) on their feet grooving to his soulful jams as they enjoyed a concert in SEA’s Central Terminal. The concert, presented by the Airport Dining and Retail Concessionaires, helped celebrate Stone’s new album, Building Balance, and the airport’s expanding music program.
Since the Port of Seattle launched the SEA music program in 2012, more than 115 musicians have performed in the airport. The airport is expanding its music program in 2020 with the addition of two permanent performance spaces in Central Terminal and Concourse A, followed by a third and marquee performance stage set to open in 2021 with the completion of the North Satellite Modernization Project.
Stone and SEA first collaborated in 2012 when he recorded an overhead passenger message to welcome travelers to the airport. We had a chance to catch up with him before the show and learn about his background, what inspires him, and why he’s so excited to perform at SEA.
Tell me about your background growing up singing in your father’s church and how it fueled your passion for music.
Growing up and singing gospel in Dad's church was kind of the seed that really taught me the love that I still have — and almost an addiction — to singing. It wasn't necessarily the church that informed my connection with music but the connection of singing with my family. I found that singing with my family, specifically in the congregation of a community that I felt comfortable with very much informed the way I perceive music. Singing in front of people is very therapeutic for me. I'm a music-feeler more than a music-listener, I think really. There's just certain music that really speaks to me because of the feeling it brings.
What factors have contributed to your success as a musician?
The inspiration behind thinking that I could write songs for a living and pay my rent, I think about that quite a bit. A lot of people ask me, “Would you try to pursue a career as a musician again with everything you know now?” And I totally wouldn't do it, but not because I don't love it. I really do love it and I'm so glad I pursued that dream. But I'm so lucky and privileged to have been able to find a fan base and groups of people to support my music that I don't know if I would take the chance again. I don't know if I knew how much luck is involved in getting to where I am in music. I think growing up in a small town helped. I didn’t fully comprehend how many people there are in the world, how many talented human beings exist, and how hard all of them work in comparison to how hard I work. There are a lot of factors and a lot of chance and a lot of luck involved in it. With music, it's not about how good you are. You could graduate from Berkelee with honors and be the most epic guitar player to ever walk the face of the planet and still be playing three hour sets at your local watering hole, which is not a disrespectful way to make a living. But it can be a little bit harder.
How do you hope the music you create impacts your audience or fans?
I hope that my music makes them listen. Especially now with streaming, music has really taken a backseat, becoming background music for people. There are really active listeners, people who sit down and put headphones on and digest an entire album. They think about what is being said, what is being sung, why the instruments matter and why the studio matters. Then there are who I would call most music listeners, just very passive. Music is just a different thing to them than what music is to me. I would hope that if somebody heard my record, they would take the time to just listen to it, consider it, and think about it. I hope it would make them feel something, whether it's joy or grief or just some type of emotion. To be able to pull that out of somebody I think is a privilege.
Tell us about your new album, Building Balance.
Building Balance is a record that I just released. It's a fresh look on my music and it's kind of tough to summarize all into one quick note. But the reason why I called it Building Balance is because of all the ingredients that went into making the record, from the songwriters that were involved, to the producers, to the musicians, to the styles of music that were involved. For this record, I took my preconceived expectations for myself like, “I have to make a record like this, I have to sing like this, I have to sound like this, and I have to dress like this.” I kind of took all that and thought, "No. I don't care. However it's going to come, it’s going to come.” That mindset, connected with the growth that I experienced as a man, went into this record. I got married. I had a child. I brought all of those things in, not the chaos, but just the newness of all it, and learned how to balance it and find my center. That's really what this whole record is about lyrically, musically, and emotionally.
As a Washington resident, how does it feel to be performing at SEA?
SEA has always been almost like solace for me because it's home. And when you go and travel, your first introduction to the trip and the outro piece is the airport. SEA, for whatever it's worth, has always held this very homey feeling inside of me. It's been a safe place really.
What is the value of the SEA music program and why is it important for both the local musicians and the traveling public?
I'm really excited about this partnership and excited to be here. What SEA is attempting to do with music and this campaign I think is a very cool thing. I go to a lot of airports. I live in airports and hotel rooms and the airport is the first impression that people get when they come to Seattle. So SEA’s decision for the first impression that people get when they come to Seattle to be local businesses like Sub Pop Records, Caffe Vita, Beecher's Handmade Cheese, and also to promote the artistic ventures of the city, I think is such a wonderful way to introduce people to what the city has to offer. They are putting that first foot forward that this is a place of community and we really uphold our businesses and our local artists. I think getting behind that and just being a part of it is a cool thing.
What was the idea behind that about having a concert in the airport?
Due to the nature of traveling, it takes time. Passengers have time to spare and they are trying to find things to do. Usually it's just mindless flipping through your newsfeed on your phone. I think it's so cool and generous of SEA to utilize their space as a venue for local artists who are starting out, to come and play music for a couple hours, make some money, and be introduced to people who are traveling from all over the place. I think that SEA is doing a really brilliant thing promoting local art and local businesses. The airport is creating a first impression of the city that they are bringing people in to and sending people out of. I've played a lot of gigs in a lot of different places. And an airport is up there on unique places to play. I played up on top of the Space Needle recently. That was a little bit terrifying and a lot of fun. Doing something that's a bit out of your comfort zone that helps a community build, that checks all the boxes for me.