In His Own Words: Allen Stone Breaks Down His 'Radius' Album
A track-by-track breakdown of Allen Stone's 'Radius' album. You're welcome.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a math whiz to appreciate Allen Stone’s Radius. Simply a metaphoric reference, the title of the soul singer’s latest album is less an equation and more a revelation of his self awareness. Dubbing the record a “coming-of-age” project, Stone aims to make the connection between his soul and his flesh.
“The radius is the distance between the center point of a circle to its exterior,” he explains. “This record really is a description, a definition, a correlation – whatever you want to call it – between the center of me and my being, to my exterior.”
As one might imagine, the voyage between Stone’s inner and outer selves is paved with a range of emotions. From pulling at heartstrings to striking conversations about the state of the world, along with confessions of love and dealing with the pain of loss, Radius comes full circle by way of potent instrumentation and the singer’s rich vocals. At one moment, Stone is contemplating the existence of a utopia. At another, he is reveling in an unhealthy relationship. At other turns, he is encouraging unabashed honesty and professing an unconditional, sacrificial love. Rich in content and complete in theme, the album requires but one pre-requisite: openness.
“We as humans have a really great ability to define something before we have any understanding of it; that’s kind of like a survival mechanism,” he said. “But hopefully people can come to the table with an open mind and spirit and heart and just let the music take them where it leads them. Whether it’s moving their ass, or crying.”
From tears to twerking, however, Stone is here to help you digest it all. –Iyana Robertson
“A lot of my music is very heady, it’s very muso. The stuff that gets me hard is the stuff that nobody likes, that nobody can understand. And I really wanted to make a song that – for lack of a better term – that white people could dance to. I go to Coachella, and the music that everybody seems to be into is like David Guetta. So we had this idea to a song that had elements of funk and soul, and that throwback Bee Gees vibe, but also easy and attainable enough for white America to get it.
“It was also at a point in my life where I was coming to an understanding that nothing is going to be as I want it, and that the world around me will always have elements of darkness and light in the sense of good and bad, and right and wrong. Regardless of all that, though, it’s not gonna bring me down. To me, a perfect world is only attainable only through your own personal understanding of the world around you and your own perspective. There is no perfect world outside, but inside there can be one.”
“This track is about the encroaching presence of technology in art and my disdain for that. Live music has evolved into something that I don’t think people fully comprehend. Technology, in my opinion, can be a huge asset to the world around us, to medicine to engineering to communication and the ability to do so, but it can also be an enormous crutch to everything we do. And if we utilize it too much – in things that should have a human element: art, writing, philosophy – if we utilize our technology and computers too much, you rob the human element, and thus relieve the beauty of those particular things.
“The beauty of art is humans. The beauty of art is the imperfection of humanity. And when you get tracks that are just all made on a fucking computer, you rob it of the human element—it’s too perfect. Not only is it putting musician who have worked their ass off to be good at a specific instrument – who spend countless hours jamming with other bands – not only does it completely rob them of their jobs, but it also robs the listener. But they don’t know it. And I think it is our duty and our job as artists and purveyors of art, to make sure we don’t lie to the consumer. I think the future’s fake.”
“I think that if you are blessed enough to have anybody listen to what you’re saying, you better be careful about what you say, and you better make it worth it. A lot of people say ‘Talk is cheap,’ but words through music can be very powerful in my opinion. When I think about the artists that inspired me the most when I was growing up – Stevie, Marvin and Bill Withers – they sang about things that mattered. I want to be one of those artists. I want to be somebody who inspires thought, who talks about things that should be talked about.
“It’s so easy to be formulaic and say, ‘Everybody likes to party, so let's sing about partying. Everybody likes to have sex, so let’s sing about sex.’ Not everybody likes to talk about American privilege. Not everybody likes to talk about the fact that no matter what color you are, if you’re born in America, you are of the one percent. Nobody wants to talk about it. We have all of these ancillary issues in our country between Republican and Democrat, heterosexual and homosexual, and race problems. And we fail to understand that we are the most fruitful, most powerful and most lucky and fortunate nation in the world. We could be so great if we just came together as one and got over our issues. I know it’s tough, it’s impossible, it’s very easy to say.”
“I was in Malmo, Sweden. [Magnus] Tingsek had this riff on his guitar, and it made me feel pretty desperate, just the way the music sounded. And it brought me back to that emotion of desperation where you feel trapped, you feel like your emotional freeze is cyclical, and you can’t get out of it.
“For me, when I dig a ditch, I dig it deep, and forget to bring a ladder or a rope or anything. I get down into this ditch, and I just start throwing dirt on top me, I can’t even reach the top of the hole. It feels like I’m burying myself. So ‘Circle’ is about feeling like you’re in a circle, and there’s no place to hide, no place to go, and your mind can’t comprehend the emotion that you’re trying to get rid of.”
“‘Upside’ is a love song to love, or more so a dialogue about my experiences with love. Love is an incredible emotion, and it encompasses both sides of the line. It can be extremely gratifying and fantastic, and wonderful. My greatest experiences and highs in life have been based on the emotion of love. But also my lowest lows have been experienced through that emotion as well. It hits you upside the head. It’s either a good upside the head, or a bad upside the head.
“I find it funny how love can do that to you sometimes. It’s this thing that we’re all taught: that love can save the world. Yeah, but love also destroys the world. If you think of all the wars that we’ve fought, and the connotations behind some of them, love definitely could’ve been a part of that.”
“Her love was like ‘Freezer Burn;’ it was so cold that it was hot. It was a personal experience. You know, those relationships that people have that have been so terribly bad for them, but so exciting. I definitely had one of those. She’s a wonderful woman, and I’m glad I made it out alive. I mean, I made a song out of it.”
“‘Love’ is about the cyclical pathway of love. That the love you share, the love you give comes in return, I believe. The chorus is, “Love what a reflection, love it’s a natural fact, every bit you create, you get back.” And I believe that. I’ve applied it to my life, for sure. The love that you present, and the love that you give, comes back to you in times when you don’t expect it to.
“I’ve had so many weird and poignant experiences in my life that I don’t deserve. I feel like somehow, the love that I cultivated and created to the situations around me, manifested itself in these moments. I got to hug Stevie Wonder in France a couple months back; I opened up for him at this huge amphitheater. He’s the reason why I sing. I don’t deserve that by any means. I don’t deserve for that to happen. Millions of people would kill to do that and countless other situations I’ve been presented with. I truly believe that the love you present to the universe somehow manages its way back to you.”
“Where You’re At”
“I pray that the song doesn’t become a huge hit, because it’s a total cop of [The Impressions’ ‘Get On Board.’] I wrote the song, and then we recorded it, and I was like ‘Damnit.’ It’s funny how music can do that to you, where you feel like it’s a different song. But that’s what I wanted to create, an old feeling, to make people feel like “keep your dirt on the surface” was a timeless saying. Somebody said that to me one time, I think it was a girl I was dating. I tried to explain myself or something and she was just like, ‘Look, if you want to find dirt, dig.’ Everybody’s got dirt right? And if you dig deep enough, you’re gonna find it. So I’ve always tried to incorporate into my life since then to just keep it on the surface like, ‘Here’s my shit.’ And that way, nobody has anything on you.”
“Symmetrical love. It’s about a relationship, it’s a desire to have a love with someone that’s parallel, that doesn’t cross, that is adjacent. I got really obsessed with shapes and geometry and math and shit on this record. The first line is, ‘The radius of your heart, multiplied by the girl you are, divided by the man I can be, equals perfect symmetry.’ And I was stuck on that lyric like, ‘That’s cold, man.’ I just thought it was clever, and for some reason I was on this incredible math tip, which is funny ‘cause I flunked math. Geometry, I don’t know how I passed that class.”
“This song came to me in my room back in Seattle. A good friend of mine became really, really famous, really, really quick. Everybody loved him. And then, at the drop of a hat, turned on him. Just said terrible things about him. Not everybody in Seattle, but a good amount of people in Seattle. They went from worshipping the ground under his feet, to just saying the worst things. And it broke my heart, because that’s what I want to do: I want to be somebody that’s revered. I want to be well-known, I want to be a household name.
“It scared the shit out of me, because I see how incredibly brutal people can be when they don’t know somebody they don’t know, and how extremely brutal people can be with people who are famous. There’s a disconnect when you see somebody on a magazine or on a TV screen; they don’t comprehend that they’re actual, real people. They feel they can just add any form of description or definition, without any sense of knowledge of them whatsoever.”
“I lost my grandfather about six or seven months ago, and this production group, Blended Babies, had this chorus and they had a little bit of the beat. It was around a time where I had written like 70 songs and none of them were cutting it, apparently. This song came up and I was like ‘Wow, you know that really hits home.’ I lost my grandfather recently, and he didn’t know all the aspects of my life. He was a farmer for his entire life, and for some reason, throughout my situation, or my emotional ditches, or the habits that I formed over the last ten years – after leaving the house and leaving the religious circle – there’s always this kind of feeling of safety based upon my family, specifically my grandfather. And losing him made it feel amplified.”
“That song is very special to me because it came at a point where I had written 65 songs for this record, and none of the songs were good enough quality for radio yet, is what the label was telling me. It got me in this circle were I was like, well, maybe I’m just not good enough. Maybe I can’t write a hit song – whatever the fuck that means. And it was really just about dying to that intrinsic chaos of trying to be liked, trying to be something that I’m not, and just being myself and being free.”
“Love should be sacrificial. When you sacrifice – me personally, as a man – you sacrifice your desire to be with every woman in world. I’m in a relationship now that I’m very serious about, and just because I love this woman, does not lessen my desire to be with other women.
“There’s a sacrifice in joy, in general. If you want to be a good musician, you have to play your instrument, but if you enjoy playing your instrument, that sacrifice is easy. If you want to be a really good basketball player, you gotta go lift weights, but of you like being a good basketball player, then that’s just part of it, and you should enjoy that. So it’s this weird catch-22 in certain aspects. But that song was just attempting to be as joyfully dark as possible.”
“I Know That I Wasn’t Right”
It’s a song about understanding your weakness and understanding your faults and admitting when that’s the case. Coming to terms with your own weaknesses and coming to terms with your failures. It’s okay to fail, it’s not okay to not admit when you fail. I think there’s a safety in that: being able to understand and admit when you’re wrong, and being safe in that admittance. Unless it’s terrible, just don’t do terrible things. Don’t kill a puppy.”