Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Joss Stone
Joss Stone Joss Stone Joss Stone Joss Stone

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

I’ve 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. Stone’s 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 Aretha’s '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 wouldn’t? After two albums (“The Soul Sessions” and “Mind, Body & Soul”), 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, “Introducing Joss Stone”, 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 biz’s 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 ‘70s 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.

“It’s what I wanted because then I feel it’s a piece of art. I find people nowadays just want the one hit. They work with different producers and then the record doesn’t flow. To me music is a form of art. He is perfect for that” says Stone of Saadiq as we sit cross-legged on a rug on the floor of the cavernous live room.

“When I first met him he was really quiet. Now he’s not like that at all. He’s the first person to really get me” she enthuses. “When I was making my first record I was 15. Second one, 16. The label put lots of money into it, so who’s 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, ‘David I cannot do that again’. It’s exhausting for me. I’m Miss Emotional anyway. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be able to sing the way I do. I asked him to let me make my record the way I wanted to and I’d give it to him. I love him for
allowing me to do that. “Everyone looked at me like I was crazy - even my family” she says. “They said, ‘Joss, you’re doing exactly what they said you would. You’ve had a little bit of success and now you think you can do it by your self. Good luck’. The general consensus, among the producers I’d 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, ‘Just watch’.

“So 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 I’d write to that.”

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 today’s 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 it’s been a whirlwind few years in the Devon teen’s young life. She’s 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 Richards’ has (where ‘records’ become ‘rec-erds’). 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 Dozier’s 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 Stone’s romantic dream wasn’t to be.

“It was so crazy. I’d always call his dad, Lamont for cooking advice” relays Stone. “I’d ask him how to make hash browns because I was always cooking for Beau. I’m a vegetarian, so I’d 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.

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

“I 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.”

And those experiences continued after Beau Dozier made his exit.

“My whole year with men in general has been ‘If you like me, say something and do something about it.’ Men are just woosies. I don’t know what it is about me. Maybe they’re intimidated, so I wrote a lot about that.”

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 “Music” featuring Lauryn Hill, “Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do” with Common and the punchy single, “Tell Me ‘Bout It”, it’s even harder to believe that she is the owner of her voice. As Quincy Jones said, ‘singers aren’t produced, they’re born’. Stone though is modest about her soulful pipes.

“There are songs that I’ve written which I can’t sing. I don’t think I’m a great singer. I have a nice tone but I’m not a real singer like Mariah or a Whitney. They’re amazing. I don’t think I’m in their league. I’m more of a feel type of singer. I get very
emotional when I sing and I’m just basically a raw type of singer, maybe not technically brilliant.”

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

“I wrote the song, “Music” with Novel and he originally made the Fugees track,”The Mask”, which the original version of the song was written to. I said, ‘It would be great to get Lauryn on it.’ In the end the track was changed completely. I called my ex-tour manager who used to be Lauryn’s tour manager for a split second. He was kind enough to give me her mum’s number and her number. She (Lauryn) didn’t 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.

“I was in Costa Rica with my hair guy, Brian, who’s 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 haven’t spoken to her to this day!”

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

“I’ve 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 different” she says as her Yorkshire terrier, Dusty Springfield, runs into the room. “Basically 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.”

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

“Over 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. I’m always at the clubs there. It’s my happy space even if it’s 4 in the morning. I would like to live somewhere and have a home though, but music is my life and I’ll go wherever the music takes me. I want this record to go everywhere. I don’t want one type of audience. I want my own audience made of all different types of people.”

'Introducing Joss Stone' is released on Relentless Records.

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