Radio Personality on Solar Powered KRUU-FM, Music Biz Vet
A Conversation with Joss Stone
Mike Ragogna: Joss, your new album LP1 was produced by Dave Stewart and coincidentally, I spoke with him earlier today about his own new one. We talked about your project as well. What was it like working together?
Joss Stone: Oh my god, it was so funny. Dave is brilliant--obviously you know that because you've talked to him, but he is just so brilliant and so funny and so exciting. I love it. When he called me up, I was in Spain and cleaning my friend's boat--helping him clean the bottom of it, which is a whole other story. But anyway, he called me, and he's like, "Hey Joss. I've got this week free, in a couple days, and there's a band in Nashville that I've worked with." He'd worked with them on his album, which is called The Blackbird Diaries--really cool. And he was like, "This band, they're really wicked, and they're free next week. Why don't you come over and we'll just have a jam and make an album or something." I said, "Oh, okay, cool. I'll be there." So, I go over there, and six days later, we've got an album. It was totally weird...it was really wicked.
MR: He said it was really fun from beginning to end. Six days, wow.
JS: It was awesome, man. We did, like, sixteen songs, just totally going for it. Every single thought that we ever had is just there. It's on the record. It's really cool, because sometimes I think if you think too hard for too long, a: it gets boring, and b: people can't feel what you were feeling at the time of the thought. So, it worked out perfectly.
MR: That live energy is pretty much captured, and what an amazing studio--Blackbird Studios.
JS: Oh...it's gorgeous.
MR: Isn't it the perfect mix between vintage equipment and modern equipment?
JS: Totally. I mean, they have everything, and it was so organized. The thing is, I did an album in a similar way--the last album I did, Colour Me Free!--although we kind of did that one in secret, so it was a bit different and done for different reasons. But I was like, "Look. I want to make an album. I want it to be a little bit of a secret album because I don't want EMI getting on my ass all the time, because they're kind of annoying." So, I asked my mum if I could use this space she was using to have a bar in. She's got a club called Mama Stone's, and she's like, "Yeah, you can use it. But there's no studio." I had to make a studio from scratch, and then make this really cool, quick album. I had all of my band there, and it was really fun, but this time 'round, there was a studio, and it was awesome. (laughs) It had everything you needed. You didn't have to knock any holes through any walls, you didn't have to recreate the whole thing, so it was a bit different for me. And the musicians were impeccable. They were so quick, and then there were these engineers that were helpful, and everything was just sorted. It was so clean and perfect.
MR: So, you punched holes in your poor, sweet mother's walls?
JS: You know, she found it hilarious. She was busy--she was painting on the wall for her club. It's kind of like a tiny, mini House Of Blues, so, you know how they have all that artwork everywhere and all that stuff? She has a mini version in Devon, and at the time, she was painting, and in the little video that we made, you can see her still painting. She's like, "I don't care. Album shmalbum. I'm painting..." She didn't give a damn. It was so funny.
MR: This album is very personal, and you can see the growth as an artist. Do you see your own growth from album to album?
JS: That's nice that you can see that. I mean, I don't know. I feel like I do when I listen back, which isn't often. (laughs) I usually never listen back, though I have done it in the past. I definitely feel a little bit, like, embarrassed at my voice on the first one. Now, I have a lot more control over my voice, where as on the very first one--okay, yes, I was like a little girl, so I kind of have an excuse as I was young--but I feel like, "Oh my god! That doesn't even sound like me." It definitely grows throughout the albums. It's interesting. And then I started to write and stuff, and it's like a little storybook.
MR: As far as the LP1's songs, did you write most of them during that six-day excursion?
JS: I wrote a lot of them, yes. We did have a couple songs that we pulled out of the woodwork because Dave and I had done some before just randomly, for no good reason. We just thought, "Oh, let's write some songs," so we did that in LA. We wrote one song there. And in fact, one of the songs that's on the album came from the Super Heavy sessions. We were writing with all the guys from Super Heavy, and Dave and I, if you can imagine, we're all in one room. There's Mick (Jagger), Damian (Marley), A.R. (Rahman), Dave, and myself, and then a couple musicians, which are brilliant also. So, we're all jamming together, and then there were little lulls in that where there was kind of silence, and people were tuning and making gibberish noises. In that little lull, Dave and I were listening to each other for some reason, and we wrote "Newborn."
MR: The first song on the album. Joss, how did Super Heavy come together? That rostery is pretty impressive.
JS: It is interesting, isn't it? It's definitely a different thing to do. Dave, at the same time, he's got this thing where he just has these ideas, and he just does them. He just randomly has crazy ideas and a lot of people say, "Oh, well you know, he's got thousands of ideas. He's mental. It's never going to work." But then, five minutes, and it's done. He calls me up, and it's the same thing. "Hey Joss, how're you doing? Um, I've got a really cool idea. Do you want to come? Mick Jagger and I, we're going to make a band. Do you want to sing in the band?" "Yeah, okay." The next minute, I find myself in the studio with all these amazing people, and--"wham bam thank you ma'am"--now we've got an album coming out in September. Just look at it! It's really, really wicked. (laughs) The situations I find myself in are just, like, ridiculous. (laughs)
MR: And the song "Miracle Worker" already has a video.
JS: Yeah, we did it just the other day.
MR: What was that like?
JS: I like the video, it's got this whole story that's running through it. At the beginning, Damian and I have this conversation and our conversation is about a love that's in a little bit of turmoil. It's not a love lost, but it is kind of going through something. Then Mick, in the video--and also in the lyrics and the song--plays this character that's kind of like the witchdoctor that puts everything right and, I guess, is a little bit of a love therapist in a way. And then, in the chorus, we all come together, sing it, and everything gets fixed, of course, because that's the only way that it could possibly happen. (laughs)
MR: I wanted to talk about the second song on this album, "Karma." You certainly have good karma.
JS: (laughs) Yes--I don't have bad karma.
MR: You've been associated with so many philanthropic adventures, and one of the earliest ones was Live 8.
JS: Oh my god! That was so scary...all those people in Hyde Park. I almost had a heart attack. But it was really fun. I love doing things like that, especially when it's for a good cause. It makes you feel so much better about everything that you're doing.
MR: Maybe that's where all your good karma is coming from. (laughs) You've also performed concerts for GLAAD and PRIDE--is it hard to be the poster artist for so many causes?
JS: Well, when I'm doing these events or whatever it is that I find myself doing for charity, I'm always asked the same question--"What makes this more important than the other charities?" I always give the same answer--"Nothing does." Because a problem is a problem, you know? If I have the opportunity to do something, whether it's singing a song or spreading the word--I mean, I'm not a brain surgeon, I can't figure out all these problems--but at the end of the day, if I'm in positions where I can stand on a platform and be heard, it's better to be heard saying something that's worth listening to rather than just talking about some gibberish that doesn't make any difference in the world. So, when I get asked, "Why are you doing this charity and not another charity," my answer is usually, "Well, why not?" At the end of the day, if I'm free that day to give a hand, I'll do it.
MR: And, of course, your good karma pays off in things like a Grammy award for singing on the song "Family Affair" with John Legend and Van Hunt.
JS: (laughs) That was funny. I'm glad I did that. All I did was sing a hook--I didn't do very much.
MR: And you've also been Grammy-nominated for your own material. This happens to so many artists--they're nominated for some of their greatest work and then get a Grammy for something else they contribute to.
JS: Yeah, it's really funny. I'm so glad. I can't believe I've got a Grammy! The funniest things have happened to me in this life. My mum has the Grammy somewhere. People say, "Where do you keep your Grammy?" But I don't have anything in my house like that, I don't have the Grammy up on the mantle or a Brit or any of those plaques that you get when you sell records and stuff. I give it to my mum and my dad because they love them and they're really proud of them. I am too, but I can't walk around my house looking at this Grammy all day long. I'd get really big-headed, so I just ignore it and then I get really excited when I remember.
MR: If you're not careful, it's just another thing to get attached to?
MR: Now, LP1 was released by your own label Stone'd Records in association with Surfdog.
JS: Yeah, that's the one. We kind of combined forces to release the album together because Surfdog Records is Dave's record label and Stone'd is mine. So, we kind of did it together, which was fun.
MR: Which gives you independence from the major labels.
JS: Exactly. Isn't that nice? God, it's so nice?
MR: Is that a luxury for you?
JS: Oh god yeah, it's a luxury. The thing is, is that when you have to fight for something that hard, there's no way you're giving it up. Like, I could easily go back into that world pretty quickly and endlessly, but it's just not right, man. Some people need that, and I can understand why, but it really depends on what your want is. What I want to do in my life is, I want to make music that I enjoy making and enjoy singing afterward. I hate to say it, because I don't want to make people think I'm ungrateful in any way--because I'm certainly not, I'm very grateful for everything that I've ever experienced because it all kind of comes to this one, wonderful thing where I can actually be wise to certain things. But I just don't really focus on the whole "I need to sell millions and millions of records and I need to be this celebrity" and all this kind of stuff because I do find it quite boring. I know some people wouldn't, but I do. I prefer to sit in my house and write songs and then go out onstage and sing the songs rather than walking down red carpets and putting on makeup every day. That's just a different life. So, that being said, I don't really need a major, major record label behind me. If I wanted that, I would need that. But what I really need is an independent label to help me get my music out there and it doesn't have to be on a vast scale. It's not important.
MR: Joss, you're in the same DIY mode as most new artists at this point.
JS: Yeah, I think that that's the happier environment. It's like, you do it, you make your music, you put it out, you promote it for as long as you feel is necessary. When you get completely bored and exhausted of all that gibberish, you go make some more, and then you make some more, and then you make some more. And if I want to go and become some kind of Korean rapper or whatever, I can do that.
MR: Speaking of new artists, do you have any advice for them?
JS: It really depends on what it is that they want to do, but I would say just don't forget why you started. That would be it, really. I mean, everyone has a reason for what they do. So, if you just figure out why you're doing it in the first place, write it down on a piece of paper, fold it up, put it up behind a picture of whoever it is--grandma--and then go back to it. And just remember why you started doing it. And don't get confused as to what the point is. The point to me--well, to most musicians--is music and nothing else. But sometimes, the point is something different. So, you know, write it down, don't forget what it is, and then go towards whatever that focus was. Hopefully, that focus doesn't get swayed.
MR: You've been in several things--Eragon, The Tudors, American Dreams, and American Dad among others. How important acting is acting in your life?
JS: I think it's fun. I definitely love doing it--I have a laugh doing it. It's a very enjoyable thing for me. I don't know how good I am at doing it, but it doesn't really matter. As you probably can tell, I can't really take life too seriously, so it's not just that I can't take the acting too seriously. I just think it's a good, fun thing to do.
MR: I was at lunch today, and I told someone that I was about to interview you, and they said
they thought you were the re-incarnation of Janis Joplin.
JS: Oh, that's nice. I love Janis Joplin.
MR: Who would you say are your major influences?
JS: Well, Aretha Franklin is my big, major one. I was kind of obsessed with her when I was young. I got her record when I was about ten from my Uncle Porridge. Oh, he's the best. He was cool because he was like the cool uncle that's not really my uncle but is just a really good friend of the family. He would call up every Christmas, because he'd come down and be with us, and be like "So, what do you want," and he'd always get it! (laughs) There are a lot of people who have you write down a list and then you'll get whatever, but he was always the one who got exactly what I wanted. So, I thought about it really carefully, and I asked him for The Greatest Hits Of___ or The Best Of___, and I think it was Aretha Franklin, because I saw her on a television commercial. I didn't know her, I didn't know who she was. My mum and dad had never played her in the house for some ungodly reason. I remember having to run up the stairs and get a pen so I could write down her name. I had no idea then, but my goodness, she's been such an inspiration to me. She's the best thing in the world, in my opinion. She's a big one.
MR: How did you make the transition from being an admirer of such soulful singing to the approach you've now got? You're one of the most soulful vocalists out there.
JS: Thank you, that's very nice. That's very, very nice of you.
MR: I think it's true. As an artist, how did you make that transition from knowing and loving and studying it to absorbing it, it becoming your own self-expression?
JS: I just don't know. I think that maybe because I looked and listened really carefully, and because I was so--not deliberately, like at school when you're taking notes--but got so into it. You get so sucked into what they're doing it's like you can feel--when you listen to someone like Aretha or James Brown or Gladys Knight or somebody like that--you feel what they feel and that's the whole point. That's what a soul singer does to you. They make you feel. Because I was very emotional as a young girl, I guess maybe I felt a little bit more and I got really emotional when I listening to songs. So, when I'm approaching a song, I try to do what they did to me. So, I guess maybe that's how. I don't know.
MR: There are some artists who, when they emote in song, you get its meaning before knowing the lyrics, and I think you're one of those artists.
JS: Yeah, I hope so. I just want to make people feel something. Anything is good, as long as you feel something. I would be so gutted to hear that people heard my records and were just like, "Yeah, it's whatever." Hate it or love it. I don't want you to be like, "It's whatever." I want something, you know! (laughs) I want something emotional to happen.
MR: Joss, I appreciate your time. And apparently, we could have gotten into a whole show on your midwifing. (laughs)
JS: Oh my god, yeah, I was a midwife to a rottweiler. I have to tell you. We could have talked for hours.
3. Don t Start Lying To Me Now
4. Last One To Know
5. Drive All Night
6. Cry Myself to Sleep
9. Boat Yard
10. Take Good Care
Transcribed by Claire Wellin