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Issue 1084

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LIKE A ROLLING STONE

Joss Stone
Joss Stone Joss Stone Joss Stone Joss Stone

Joss Stone bounds energetically into the control room at New Yorkâs Electric Lady studios, ashtray in hand, a dizzying mix of burgundy and mauves that now include her highlighted hair. âAlright, babe, how ya doinâ?â she says, reaching out for a peck on the check, as if we weâre old pals meeting up at the local pub for a pint and a gossip.

Iâve never met Joss Stone before. She is, though, upon first impressions, disarmingly down to earth. It immediately separates her from the over-guarded, over-protected media-trained mannequins that the US music biz trots with predicable regularity. Stoneâs story, of course, is hardly the same as many of the PR processed acts she will be competing against in the charts this year and neither, for that matter is her music.

Raised initially in Dover and then rural Devon, she adopted a fascination with vintage soul by the likes of Aretha Franklin before she hit her teens. At 14, armed with a voice modelled, through years of bedroom singing, on her soulful American idols, she sang Arethaâs 'Natural Woman' on a UK talent show and thus impressed a visiting American music biz figure, who wasted no time in whisking the youngster back to the States where she promptly signed a record deal. Well, who wouldnât? After two albums (âThe Soul Sessionsâ and âMind, Body & Soulâ), the rigours of international touring and a high media profile under her belt, at the ripe old age of 19, Stone experienced her moment of artistic rebellion, demanding for her newly completed third album, âIntroducing Joss Stoneâ, complete creative control. With over 7 million in record sales under he belt, her label, EMI, were in no position to refuse.

In an age where internet downloads and CD burning have diminished the music bizâs once mighty roar to a whimper the powers that be lavished Stone with the kid of old school recording excesses that would befit a rock band from the â70s rather than a blue-eyed soul singer from the modern era. Firstly, they holed her up with her own crib in the Bahamas, ferrying over a slew of writers for her to collaborate with. Then, they suggested ex-Tony Toni Tone front man Raphael Saadiq produce the whole thing. To put the icing on the cake, the final mixes are being done at the famed Electric Lady Studios, the place where classics from the likes of Jimi Hendrix ('Welcome To Electric Lady Land') and Stevie Wonder ('Talking Book') were honed.

âItâs what I wanted because then I feel itâs a piece of art. I find people nowadays just want the one hit. They work with different producers and then the record doesnât flow. To me music is a form of art. He is perfect for thatâ says Stone of Saadiq as we sit cross-legged on a rug on the floor of the cavernous live room.

âWhen I first met him he was really quiet. Now heâs not like that at all. Heâs the first person to really get meâ she enthuses. âWhen I was making my first record I was 15. Second one, 16. The label put lots of money into it, so whoâs going to listen to a 16 year old? They know I wanted to be soulful, based on the type of music I listen to but I really had no power or say in the music I recorded. There were certain songs on the record that I wish were not on there. I told David Mann, the head of EMI, âDavid I cannot do that againâ. Itâs exhausting for me. Iâm Miss Emotional anyway. If I wasnât I wouldnât be able to sing the way I do. I asked him to let me make my record the way I wanted to and Iâd give it to him. I love him for
allowing me to do that. âEveryone looked at me like I was crazy - even my familyâ she says. âThey said, âJoss, youâre doing exactly what they said you would. Youâve had a little bit of success and now you think you can do it by your self. Good luckâ. The general consensus, among the producers Iâd worked with before was that all artists do this. They get to their third album and fuck up. My dad supports me, even though he was doubtful. I told him, âJust watchâ.

âSo my management sorted out a house for me in the Bahamas and all the writers would come down. I wrote about 60 songs just to pick 12. We basically just had a room with Pro-Tools, keyboards and a mic. The writers would come in and lay down some music or a beat and Iâd write to that.â

Upon her return to the US she and Saadiq sifted through the rough
demos she had and collaborated on a few new songs, an old school process unheard of by todayâs recording standards, where the demo is the final version and writers who contribute the music are, by default, titled as the producers of the song, too. Saadiq and Stone ended up back in the Bahamas to cut the final vocals.

Needless to say itâs been a whirlwind few years in the Devon teenâs young life. Sheâs been living in the US on a semi-permanent basis now for the best part of 5 years, now calling New York home. Her accent has a subtle trans-Atlantic hue in much the same way as Keith Richardsâ has (where ârecordsâ become ârec-erdsâ). A couple of years ago her mother rescinded her role as her manager and returned to Devon, leaving the young and impressionable Stone alone on the road. Loneliness, invariably influenced some early bad affairs of the heart. And they invariably influenced the lyrics on the new album. Perhaps her most public relationship was with Motown legend Lamont Dozierâs son, Beau. On paper it seemed like a match made in heaven, a soul crazed teen from Blighty dating the son of a living American soul legend. Kind of like a glamour crazed kid from East London actually becoming a Hollywood actor. Unlike David Beckham, though Joss Stoneâs romantic dream wasnât to be.

âIt was so crazy. Iâd always call his dad, Lamont for cooking adviceâ relays Stone. âIâd ask him how to make hash browns because I was always cooking for Beau. Iâm a vegetarian, so Iâd have to ask him how to cook fried chicken. I was too young to be dating his son. Not too young, just too alone. I was on the road and from 16, 17 my mum stopped coming on the road with me. She was in England. Now I was meant to be an adult. I took myself around the world.

âI had a bad break up with Beau Dozier but now Iâm still on good terms with him. I wrote a song with him for this album. âI Wish I Never Met Youâ is a song about himâ she says, somewhat belying her previous statement about being on good terms etc.

âI went through a lot of shit in such a short space of time. All that allowed me to write these songs. I love that movie, Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. I wish sometimes the hurt and anger could just go away. That I could have the memory erased. Actually that was Beau and my favourite movie. I love weird movies like that, like
Vanilla Sky. But I need these experiences.â

And those experiences continued after Beau Dozier made his exit.

âMy whole year with men in general has been âIf you like me, say something and do something about it.â Men are just woosies. I donât know what it is about me. Maybe theyâre intimidated, so I wrote a lot about that.â

Listening to Stone talk about her bad break-ups and various
relationships, you could be forgiven for mistaking her for a gin-soaked, Betty Ford-treated old school Hollywood broad writing her memoirs instead of a fresh-faced 19 year-old. However, listening to songs from the album such as the gritty âMusicâ featuring Lauryn Hill, âTell Me What Weâre Gonna Doâ with Common and the punchy single, âTell Me âBout Itâ, itâs even harder to believe that she is the owner of her voice. As Quincy Jones said, âsingers arenât produced, theyâre bornâ. Stone though is modest about her soulful pipes.

âThere are songs that Iâve written which I canât sing. I donât think Iâm a great singer. I have a nice tone but Iâm not a real singer like Mariah or a Whitney. Theyâre amazing. I donât think Iâm in their league. Iâm more of a feel type of singer. I get very
emotional when I sing and Iâm just basically a raw type of singer, maybe not technically brilliant.â

A love song not influenced by her rocky romantic life is âMusicâ which features Lauryn Hill. It is an ode to her love for music. However, cajoling the rather reclusive and apparently âunhingedâ Hill from her sanctum was brings to mind the old blood from a stone adage - with Joss of course, being the latter.

âI wrote the song, âMusicâ with Novel and he originally made the Fugees track,âThe Maskâ, which the original version of the song was written to. I said, âIt would be great to get Lauryn on it.â In the end the track was changed completely. I called my ex-tour manager who used to be Laurynâs tour manager for a split second. He was kind enough to give me her mumâs number and her number. She (Lauryn) didnât pick up. I sent her a long e-mail - nothing! Her mum picked up and called her pretty much everyday for a month and a half.

âI was in Costa Rica with my hair guy, Brian, whoâs my best mate. He told me to let it go. He thought it was a dis. Even my management said I should try someone else. I called her mum again and I got her new management. She got the track and liked it and went in the studio and did it. I still havenât spoken to her to this day!â

Despite a high profile in the US, it can be safely said that Stone hasnât really broken there. Sheâs not a household name and she herself acknowledges that she has an uphill struggle on her hands.

âIâve been back and forth in the US since I was 14. In England and the music is a lot better. Here, in the US they are just scared if your music is too differentâ she says as her Yorkshire terrier, Dusty Springfield, runs into the room. âBasically in the US the record companies have decided to make what they want to make - popular - which is basically the cheapest thing they can make. All the old school records would cost a fortune to make these days, with live string sections, so instead the labels have decided to make stuff like the Pussycat Dolls and stuff to be the most popular, so they promote it more. I feel like a lot of music today, on the radio is just embarrassing. You can tell when people are just writing for money, trying to have a hit.â

Does she, I wonder miss her home? Does she even consider England her home anymore?

âOver here you get spoiled because you can do whatever you want. Bleeker Street (a street in Greenwich Village with a lot of bars and clubs) is my home. Iâm always at the clubs there. Itâs my happy space even if itâs 4 in the morning. I would like to live somewhere and have a home though, but music is my life and Iâll go wherever the music takes me. I want this record to go everywhere. I donât want one type of audience. I want my own audience made of all different types of people.â

'Introducing Joss Stone' is released on Relentless Records.
Words JEFF LOREZ

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