Thursday, April 24, 2014

IN SESSION: An interview with JOSS STONE

Joss Stone laying it down.
Photo by Cynthia Serenissima 
Mid-way through recording her seventh album, soul pop icon JOSS STONE takes some time out to bring ANDY HAZEL up to speed on resurrecting lost songs, the Spice Girls and her ambitious touring plans.

When Joss Stone plans a world tour, she really doesn’t mess around. “The idea is to play at least one show in every country in the world,” she explains keenly and without a flicker of doubt. “After Australia and New Zealand, we’re in Dubai, then Europe. We’re in the process of booking everywhere else. I want to play a show, look about the place, see what good we can do while we’re there, and see what music we can listen to while we’re there. In Australia, I’m hoping to find some music that originates in Australia. Rather than sitting in my hotel, I’ll get out and about and see what’s going on.”

Playing with Archie Roach and the Black Arm Band last time she was in Melbourne (an experience she describes as “really wicked”), this monumentally ambitious tour may not be as farfetched as it seems for someone with the career trajectory of Stone; TV talent contest winner at 13 and multi-million seller at 17. “I’d like to go further into Australia. Dive right into the middle of the country and see what happens. The whole tour will be documented on my website every two or three days. We’ll post a short video from each place, maybe put a documentary together later, but for now it’s just something fun people can follow.”

Having taken nine months off from a hectic touring schedule, our interview finds Stone taking a break from recording her forthcoming album in her newly finished home studio. “I’m in the process of recording it right now,” she says happily. “In fact at the moment I’m cutting violin - they’re in the other room. After I chat to you we’re back to it.”

Still unnamed and unfinished, Stone says the album will be “a lot more groove-oriented. There are lots of ideas going round, and I don’t want to say what they are yet. It’s got a reggae backbone. It’s a bit hip hop and RnB. It’s not really the usual wailing vocal thing I’ve done in the past.”

While Stone may be focusing more on rhythm than before, she won’t be abandoning her first love anytime soon. “Soul music is an expression of emotion. It’s feelings, and whether or not you like the notes being played is irrelevant in soul music. Actually, as I get older it bothers me more, but soul music is just music that’s meant. That’s what I like about it. If it meant something to me as a little girl, it will never not mean something to me. It’s the same with pop songs. Some of the Spice Girls’ songs I danced around to aged 10 still make me smile, and they mean something, that’s never going to change. A lot of pop songs now, they don’t really sit close to your heart in the same way.” Would collaborating with Mel C be out of the question? She laughs loudly at the suggestion. “Wow! That would be a laugh! I’d love to hear that! Mel C has an amazing voice and she’s really lovely. Ha!”

In a career marked by lending her youthful energy and rich voice to revitalising obscure soul songs or duetting with other artists, Stone still has many unfulfilled ambitions. “There are a lot of people I want to work with, but there’s not one person I think ‘fuck I want to nail that person down and just do it’,” she explains. “If the person wants to collaborate with me, it’s going to be a really good piece of music. If that person isn’t passionate, forthcoming, or hard to find then it was never meant to be. But, if you don’t ask you don’t get,” she qualifies, before considering Music, her duet with reclusive neo-soul icon Lauryn Hill. “That took a long time not because she was holding out, but because it’s hard to get hold of her. I knew she was right, and I knew it was in the stars, so I kept trying and she did it. It was a beautiful thing. I felt very honoured.”

The songs Stone is most famous for singing, she reminds listeners, aren’t hers. This role of interpreter is something with which she is wholly comfortable. “In interviews, I always made a point of saying ‘this song is not my song, it’s by the Isley Brothers, or Womack and Womack or whoever’ because it’s important people type that in and see where this song came from, why it’s lived for so long and who inspired it,” she says avidly. “Super Duper Love was a song we hardly changed at all. Sugar Billy wrote it and he’d lived his whole life pretty much unknown and almost no one had heard it. Because I did it and people heard it, he died a happy man and I hold that close to my heart. I didn’t know half of these songs for very long before I recorded them either. I was shown something by [producer] Steve [Greenberg], and I showed it to someone else, so it’s a circle really.”

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