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Issue 1067

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Feature

Joss Stone: Soulsational Stone

Joss Stone (Photo Davis Venni) @bluesandsoul.com
Joss Stone (Photo Davis Venni) @bluesandsoul.com Joss Stone (Photo Davis Venni) @bluesandsoul.com

This month sees Devon, UK-based Grammy and BRIT Award-winning Joss Stone returning to the forefront with the release of her sixth studio album “The Soul Sessions: Vol II”. Which - consisting of her covering numerous largely-obscure soul songs from the Sixties and Seventies - in turn marks the follow-up to her five-million-selling 2003 debut LP “The Soul Sessions”.

Interestingly, as a co-release between Joss’ own Stone’d Records and (producer of both “Soul Sessions” albums) Steve Greenberg’s S-Curve Records (and licensed in the UK through Warner Music), “The Soul Sessions: Vol II” represents the result of two live recording sessions in New York and Nashville - boasting a stellar cast of musicians including legendary funk/rock guitarist Ernie Isley and the woman who acted as Stone’s mentor for the first “Soul Sessions” set, Seventies Miami soul Queen Betty Wright.

Indeed, having been described as “a collection of soul gems that showcase a young woman at the height of her vocal power”, standout tracks from the new album include Joss’ punchy update of female trio The Honey Cone’s 1969 US R&B hit “When You’re Out Looking For Sugar” (the first single); an intensely brooding makeover of Broken Bells’ cult hit “The High Road”; an aggressive, stomping cover of The Chi-Lites’ 1971 protest-funk anthem “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People”; a string-laden, sultry reading of UK singer/songwriter Labi Siffre’s “I Feel The Blues”; plus an achingly-impassioned rendition of The Dells’ deep soul ballad “The Love I Had (Stays On My Mind)”.

Born Jocelyn Eve Stoker in Dover, Kent in April 1987, Joss’ early love of female singers like Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield would ultimately lead to her, by the time she’d moved to rural Devon in her teens, developing a soulful style of singing that would eventually conquer the world via her aforementioned, critically-acclaimed 2003 debut LP “The Soul Sessions”. Which - finding her collaborating with icons of the Seventies Miami soul scene like the aforementioned Betty Wright, Latimore, Timmy Thomas and Little Beaver on a collection of mostly little-known Sixties soul covers - would go on to attain triple-Platinum sales in the UK and Gold in the US . In turn paving the way for her biggest-selling album to date - the 2004-released British-chart-topping “Mind Body & Soul”. Which, in addition to achieving triple-Platinum success in the UK, also hit Platinum sales Stateside.

Nevertheless, it was after hooking up with California-based contemporary soul producer Raphael Saadiq that Joss would first hit the US Top Ten, with her 2007-released set “Introducing Joss Stone” hitting an impressive Number Two while simultaneously becoming her first album not to reach the British Top 10 - seemingly following a UK media backlash that criticised her for adapting a “fake America accent”. Since which time her ensuing albums - 2009’s “Colour Me Free!” and 2011’s “LP1” - have both hit the Top 10 Stateside, with the latter marking Joss’ first release through her own label Stone’d Records after leaving EMI Records in August 2010 following a protracted and much-publicised legal battle.

Other prominent activities in recent years, meanwhile, have included Joss enjoying an occasional career in acting - prestigiously making her television debut portraying Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleaves in 2009 and 2010 for Showtime’s series “The Tudors”. While, on a considerably darker note, Stone hit the headlines in June 2011 for reasons outside of her career when police shockingly arrested two men near her home in Mid-Devon for plotting to rob and murder her. Nevertheless, later the same year saw her back in the press for the right reasons by releasing an album as one-fifth of the supergroup SuperHeavy alongside Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart, Damian Marley (youngest son of Bob Marley) and Indian musician/producer A.R. Rahman.

All of which pretty much bring us up-to-date, as a decidedly-upbeat and ever-outspoken 25-year-old Joss (whose global album sales of 11 million have unquestionably made her one of the best-selling soul artists of this century, not to mention the fifth-richest British musician under 30!) reacquaints herself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis. As she enthusiastically discusses - in well-spoken English tones from her Devon home - her much-anticipated new album and her well laid plans for her own Stone’d Records label amongst plenty of other things...

What Joss feels are the main differences between “The Soul Sessions: Volume 2” and the first, 2003-released “Soul Sessions”

“The first ‘Soul Sessions’ was done when I was 15 years old, a long time ago. And, though I wouldn’t say that today I know what I’m doing COMPLETELY, I obviously do know more now than I did THEN! Because back then I was a little girl and, while it’s not that I didn’t know how to SING, the fact is I just didn’t know anything about MUSIC! I didn’t know anything about how a song is put together, how to produce… I was kind of just following everyone else and LEARNING. You know, I was basically the student of all those people in the ROOM, especially Betty Wright. Whereas today, while everyone - including me - always has MORE to learn, I do feel I’ve learnt enough to kind of do it my MYSELF now. Which is why I like to choose the people I work with and choose the songs I SING, rather than be TOLD which songs to sing… So yeah, in terms of comparing the two records, the fact is that there is a huge, huge difference in the PROCESS involved. Because today I have my own way of creating music with musicians, and it’s nothing like the way the FIRST ‘Soul Sessions’ was made.”

The selection process involved in choosing which songs to cover for “The Soul Sessions: Vol II”

“Well, Steve Greenberg (producer of both “Soul Sessions” sets) I guess you could say has this obsession with obscure old skool soul songs! Which to me, with him having once been a soul DJ, makes him the best A&R guy you can FIND!... So what happened this time is, he found loads of songs, we all listened to them... And then, rather than choosing them and committing to them there and then, I basically said ‘You know what? I’ll take in 20 of these songs and then, when the band is ready to go and we’re all in the studio, I’ll just pick which ones I’ll do on the SPOT’. Because that’s the way I WORK! To me it’s all about kind of suck-it-and-see and in-the-moment, and ultimately just going with the FEELING. There’s really nothing specific about it. Instead I’d be like ‘OK, the sun is shining outside. So let’s do ‘While You’re Out Looking For SUGAR’!”

The new album’s lead-off single - Joss’ punchy take on female soul trio The Honey Cone’s 1969 US R&B hit “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar”

“What I particularly like about it is that it’s got that upbeat, summery feel but at the same time the lyrics are not what the MUSIC sounds like! Which is something that always appeals to me for some reason. I mean, when you listen to it it’s actually a pretty sad song, where the girl is basically saying ‘Hey, you’re CHEATING on me, you little shit!’. And I also like the fact she’s saying it kinda NONCHALANTLY, like ‘You’re an IDOT!’. You know, it’s really got some SASS about it, and it’s certainly not a song sung by a victim of a man! She’s basically just calling it what it IS. You know, ‘You’re a KNOB! You’re gonna lose something really GOOD here! What a SHAME!’.”

Joss’ aggressive tackling of The Chi-Lites’ 1971 protest-funk anthem “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People”

“Yeah, that was a really tough one to do. Like the reason I was worried about my version of that particular song was because of the way I’m screaming on it - and at the end of the day I don’t wanna put people off or SCARE anyone! So, because of that, I did kinda play it to various people once I’d recorded it. And while some were like ‘WOW! That’s fuckin’ AWESOME!’, others were like ‘Oh, I prefer it when you sing SOFT’… Which at the end of the day I guess just proved that everyone likes something DIFFERENT! But yeah, the thing that really attracted me to the song itself is that I’m totally down with the LYRICS. I think they’re brilliant, and I think they’re TRUE. Because I do think everybody should stand up and everybody should be HEARD - and if the powers-that-be listened more to the people, then the world would be a lot happier PLACE!”

Her foray into deep soul balladry with her impassioned cover of The Dells’ “The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind)”

“Yeah, that’s basically a kind of traditional soul ballad. And for me that was a funny one to do. Because the original was actually a duet between two singers, where one guy sang very low and the other guy sang very freely and strong. So for my version I had to represent two different PEOPLE - which is actually a really cool and quite a fun thing to DO! And I also like how the lyric of that song kinda takes me to that place where, if you’re making a big decision in your life, sometimes you PENDULUM. Because I’ve been told I do pendulum a LOT - I go from ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s fine, don’t worry about it’ to ‘Oh, but it’s so sad, I can’t TAKE it’! You know, you kind of get a little bit schizo about things sometimes, and that song to me definitely ILLUSTRATES that!”

With “The Soul Sessions: Vol II” being a co-release between Joss’ own Stone’d Records and Steve Greenberg’s S-Curve Records, what she feels are the main benefits of now running her own label

“I think the biggest benefit for me of having my own label is that I can now do whatever I WANT. I can make whatever song I wanna make and put it out, and I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to DO so. You know, I don’t feel any PRESSURE anymore because I’m my own BOSS. I haven’t been given a lot of money by a record-label and then therefore feel I have to be ANSWERABLE to those people… So yeah, it’s the FREEDOM really that just sells it to me. The fact that I can be whatever artist I wanna be, and that it gives you the chance to be truthful in your music and to be honest with your fans by being who you ARE. Because I think if you’re being pushed into being someone else then the public are not receiving the TRUTH. Which is just STUPID.”

Joss’ long-term plans for Stone’d Records

“Well, while I do have my own personal, selfish reasons for having my own label, I would also like to use it help other ARTISTS. Which is why I’ve put in place the right people with the right heart to do the JOB, instead of choosing the TRADITIONAL type of record-company people. You know, it’s like we don’t want to be the standard, because the standard is SHIT and it doesn’t WORK and it just UPSETS people and it makes the artist SAD. And if I ever did that to any one of MY artists I’d just be so GUTTED with myself! I mean, when I was younger I was told left-right-and-centre ‘No, no, no. I’m sorry, we can’t sign you. Because you sing SOUL music and you’re WHITE and you’re 14!’… You know, that was a bummer that lasted for a quite some TIME… Until Steve (Greenberg) came along and said ‘You know what? I LIKE that she’s different! In fact, I think it’s a really GOOD thing!’... So yeah, basically it just takes someone like Steve to come along and DO that - you know, take on the new THING! Which is what I’M now trying to do with MY first act, Yes Sir Boss. Because I think they’re very different, there’s nothing like them, and they’re lovely PEOPLE. So hopefully - fingers crossed - everyone will get to hear their MUSIC! You know, that’s my PLAN.”

What we can expect from her next album of all-new material

“Something I’ve had in the pipeline for ages is a REGGAE record that I’ve been working on with a guy I’ve done tons of stuff with before called Jonathan Shorten. Mainly because I haven’t made a record like that yet, plus I’ve been hanging out with Damian MARLEY a lot. You know I was like ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to kind of do like a mish-mash of soul music and reggae?’ - just because I LIKE it, really. I mean, to be honest Pete, what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years is really only doing things just because I LIKE it and not getting STRESSED about anything. I basically decided I’m just going to make fun MUSIC. So, as I say, if I do happen to come out with a reggae record next don’t be SHOCKED!”

You can read more of this fascinating interview with Joss Stone, including her thoughts on singing legend/mentor Betty Wright and what Joss cites as the highlights so far in her already illustrious career, in our printed edition out now - check below to order now.

The album “The Soul Sessions: Vol II” and single “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” are both released on July 23 through WB Records/S-Curve Records
Words PETE LEWIS

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