As one of the most gifted and multifaceted vocalists of her generation, British singer/songwriter Joss Stone is an artist who has always marched, proudly to the beat of her own drum!
Uninterested in chasing trends, or following in the footsteps of her musical peers, the two time BRIT and Grammy Award winner has long maintained an air of independence in both her personal and professional life – successfully managing to sidestep the intoxicating allure of fame, and all of its trappings, choosing instead to take the road less travelled, and adopting a fresh and unique approach to her career, by taking risks and daring to fail, whilst all the while commanding ownership of her own truth and destiny.
“I’ve got a right to be wrong…”
Since arriving on the scene amidst a blaze of publicity back in the autumn of 2003, following the release and subsequent success of her debut album The Soul SessionsJoss has seemingly thrived in the freedom of embracing the limitless power of creativity; managing to continuously use her platform and artistic prowess to break new ground, and push the boundaries sonically to create a timeless collection of music that has effortlessly managed to weave its way into the fabric of millions of people’s lives all around the world.
Fell In Love With A Boy (Official Music Video)
Having developed a deep love of singing in the early 1990’s as a young girl growing up in Ashill (a small village near Cullompton in Devon), Stone was just 13 years old when she took her first tentative steps into the world of show business, appearing as a contestant on the BBC television talent show, Star For A Night – wowing audiences at home, as well as the shows celebrity judges Nigel Martin-Smith (created of Take That) and Dame Barbara Windsor DBE, with her flawless rendition of Aretha Franklin’s 1968 hit (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Commended for her incredible vocal chops, unique delivery and ferociously authentic sense of soul, it wasn’t long before the global music industry began to take notice of the young star, with producers and record executives seemingly bowled over by her innate ability to deliver a lyric with a transcendent sense of understanding, and a maturity wise beyond her years.
Two decades on from those early, life-affirming experiences, it’s abundantly clear from the outset of our interview, that Joss’ enjoyment and love for music is just as strong today, as it was back then…
“I think a world without music would be really sad.” Stone tells us from her home just outside Nashville, Tennessee as we converse virtually via Zoom a week before Christmas. “And I think the last two years have been the perfect example of that, because let’s be real, all of us were given a little glimpse into what a life without music would actually look like in 2020 / 2021… and it was a bit bleak wasn’t it? Live gigs weren’t happening, large gatherings were prohibited from happening and people were encouraged to stay home to avoid catching COVID – and rightfully so – so, something had to give, and for a minute there, live music pretty much disappeared from all of our lives.”
Pausing for a moment to reflect on the changes and struggles the entertainment industry has faced over the course of the pandemic, Stone continues: “I think off the back of not being able to go out, and experience a live show as we all so freely did before, made a lot of people feel really sad and alone; and as human beings we don’t really like to feel sad or alone do we? So coming together to watch a live show, or listen to music as a collective has always almost been like this tribal act of unity – you’ve got the sounds, the lights, the atmosphere, and you’re dancing in and amongst this large group of people, and you’re able to see first hand the music that you love, resonating with others in exactly the same way it does with you… it feels safe, you suddenly feel understood and like you’re no longer alone. It’s a bit like group therapy – it’s colourful, it’s inclusive, it’s all of the wonderful, wonderful things we treasure dear in our hearts. I love that, because music is supposed to make us feeling something, and after tumultuous last few years where a lot of people have been forced to be on their own, I hope to make people feel that little bit less alone with the songs on my new album.”
“Coming together to watch a live show, or listen to music as a collective has always almost been like this tribal act of unity – it feels safe, you suddenly feel understood and like you’re not alone.”Joss on the power of live music.
“Can I remind you about the time…”
As an eternally inquisitive soul, who finds herself galvanized by all different types of types of sounds and styles of music, Joss Stone has never been one to play it safe when it comes to expanding her musical horizons. However when the time felt right for Stone to head back into the studio to begin work on her latest LP, few could have predicted she would follow through with her vision to explore the work of one of her longtime musical heroes.
“Okay so I have always been a big fan of Burt Bacharach!” an enthusiastic Joss tells us as she begins to explain the creative ideology behind the album. “There’s just something about his writing style, and the melodies that he produces that I love! So you can probably imagine how excited I was when a few years ago I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sing with him! It was seriously a huge honour for me, but also… if I’m being totally honest, it was a really daunting experience too, because the style of music that he’s created, is so different from anything I’ve ever done in my own career! And I say that because up to this point, I’ve very much explored the world of soul music, which encapsulates so many different genres – there’s R&B, Blues, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Neo Soul… the list is endless! And what you find with each of those musical styles, is that there’s an element of freedom that comes along with them, so as a singer and a performer, you can really experiment and do whatever you’re feeling in the moment. You can go off and riff and ad-lib all you want, and it’s not going to affect the DNA of the song, if anything it’s probably going to make it better! But with the style of music that Burt creates, it harks back to a time where everything was so much more intentional and in its place, and as much as I love that, it was a little bit of a scary for to collaborate with him, and perform some of his songs.”
Demonstrating her understanding of Bacharach’s musicianship in greater detail, Stone adds: “When you strip back those kinds of songs, what you find at the heart of each of them is a beautiful, beautiful melody that almost transcends time; it’s music that is beautifully crafted. Everything about the composition is deliberate, and serves a purpose – it’s written exactly how it’s meant to be played! It’s not meant to be jammed, it’s not meant to be re-orchestrated or deconstructed to fit a trend, it’s… I don’t know, the best way for me to describe how I hear that style of music is to say, that it’s almost like it’s choreographed like a dance, and written to portray an emotion that speaks to your soul in a different way that other musical genres can. Basically I just feel so in awe of how perfect Burt’s songs are (laughs). I really respect how much love and care has been taken when composing them, to the point that I thought, I’d like to bring some of that feeling back to music today.”
So strong was her desire to create a modern day collection of contemporary standards, inspired by the sounds of the legendary American composer, that Stone wasted no time in reaching out to friend and long time collaborator Dave Stewart to pitch the concept to him.
“I remember the moment so clearly.” Joss muses. “We were actually in the studio working together on another project at the time, a play that we’re writing, and I just felt compelled to tell him my vision! So there we are, focused and making real progress on our play, and out of the blue, I turn to him and say ‘Dave, I really wanna make a record that sounds like classic Burt Bacharach, do you reckon we could do it?’ And he just casually says to me ‘yeah of course we can’, so we did (laughs).”
Never Forget My Love (Official Music Video)
Released back in the November of last year, the sultry and utterly mesmerising Never Forget My Love has already whipped up a sense of excitement amongst fans who can’t wait to hear new music from their idol.
With it’s glorious brass arrangement, unquenchable energy and effortlessly irresistible beat, Joss admits the track ticks all of the boxes when it and gives a good indication as to what we can expect from the rest of the album.
“Think of Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack – long gloves, a beautiful dress and all those kinds of classy, timeless songs that everyone can’t help but sing along too… I’m talking ‘Say A Little Prayer’, ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’, that’s the vibe we’re going for with this album and I hope we’ve managed to make at least a few songs that hark back to that golden era… along with a couple of ballads that will make you want to have a good old cry (laughs).”
“Heartache is never too far…”
As the second single to be released from the album, Breaking Each Others Hearts sees Joss exonerate the emotional demons of her past, by valiantly lay her soul bare, to produce one of the most heart-rending vocal performances of her career to date.
Filled with high drama, beautifully rich orchestration and a gut-wrenchingly powerful melody that spectacularly glides and soars to a crescendo filled with a cascade of emotions, the tracks soul-stirring lyrics tell a story of one persons quest to find resolution in the wreckage of a once meaningful, and tender loving relationship.
“It’s such a sad song!” Joss admits with a knowing smile. “It’s a heavy one for me, and each time I hear it… it makes me want to cry! But in a weird way I kind of like that, because I honestly believe that those types of songs, you know the ones that really pull on your heartstrings, are super important and in a way can be quite cathartic, because they help people to feel like they’re not alone. And for me, that’s the whole point of a sad song, it’s not meant to ruin someone’s day, it’s actual purpose is to help lighten a person’s load.”
Though Breaking Each Others Hearts is very much written from Stones’ own personal perspective, with the tracks introspective verses referencing and reflecting upon a doomed romance of the past, it’s the lyric in the chorus that serves to pose a bigger, more poignant question as to why we as human beings demonstrate the same behaviour patterns time and time again when it comes to dealing with matters of the heart.
“It’s basically asking, ‘why do we do this to ourselves?’“ Joss explains. “Seriously, why when we know the outcome isn’t going to be good, do we as people continue to behave in the same way? It’s hard to understand, and it’s hard to comprehend and… I don’t know why we do it? (Laughs) I’m hoping I’m able to figure out the answer one day.”
Breaking Each Others Hearts (Official Music Video)
As we discuss the complexities of trying to maintain healthy and nurturing relationships, both romantic and platonic, it strikes us that more often than not, the majority of people all too easily tend to forget, and neglect the most important relationship of all, that being the relationship we have with ourselves.
“Oh that is so true!” Joss exhales, seemingly exhausted at the notion that so much of emotional turmoil we face in life could be less jarring, if we were just that bit kinder to ourselves. “It’s like the one thing that’s said time and time again isn’t it? It’s on every t-shirt, every billboard, every wellness card and on the front cover of every self-help book ever written – LOVE YOURSELF! And yet somehow we forget the importance of doing it, and learning to care for ourselves! I mean… seriously, how many of us take that message on board and can actually say, hand on heart that we really do love ourselves? I know it’s something I’m guilty of not always doing; but unfortunately I think that’s normal. I wish it wasn’t, but it is.”
Sensing the mood begin to slip, pondering such a problematic, psychological issues, Joss quickly snaps herself out of feeling such negative thoughts, and attentively begins to contemplate the ways in which people of all ages can practise the art of self care and self love.
“Okay, so some little tips and tricks that I use in my own life when I’m trying to foster that idea of self love, into my everyday way of thinking are… when I’m making a decision for myself, I think about it like I’m making a decision for, or on behalf of the person I love the most in my life. So that could be my daughter, my partner, my Mum, my sister or my best mate, and I think to myself, ‘would I make this decision for them?’ And by doing that, what I’ve found is over time, and especially when it comes to relationships, is that its really made me think about what I want, and how I deserve to be treated.”
Clarifying her thoughts further, Stone continues: “So for example, I love my sister! And if I’m being treated badly by somebody who’s supposed to love me, I think to myself ‘oh my goodness, if Lucy told me this was happening to her I would kick OFF!’ So why when I’ve found myself being treated badly by someone else, don’t I feel or do the same? Why would I put up with accepting that kind of treatment for myself?”
“I know that might sound a little odd so some people (laughs) but I’ve found it’s been a really great way of helping me find my road, to believing actually I do deserve to be treated nicely, and that I don’t need to accept any kind of unhappy or unhealthy relationships in my life. I’m not going to lie, and say it’s been easy to come to that conclusion, and I still have my wobbles, but I think you’ve almost got to almost trick your brain a little bit for a while there and force yourself to think that way. But once things click into place, I promise you’ll find yourself feeling a lot happier and a lot less accepting of those who maybe don’t treat you as they should.”
“How many of us can actually say, hand on heart, that we love and care for ourselves? I know it’s something I’m guilty of not always doing.”Joss on the importance of learning to practise the art of self-care.
“I’ll be leaning on you, and a picnic for two…”
Serving as her first solo studio album in over 7 years, and following on from 2017’s collaborative EP Project Mama Earth – an Afro-pop, funk and soul-influenced record that saw Joss team up with drummer Jonathan Joseph, guitarist Nitin Sawhney, Cameroon-born bassist/guitarist Etienne Mbappé and keyboardist Jonathan Shorten, to produce a collection of songs inspired by the sounds of music around the world, Stones’ as yet untitled eighth LP will no doubt offer longstanding fans an insight into Joss’ world in 2022.
With a lot of life lived in between those two records, we wonder how, if at all, Joss’ creative process and approach to sonrgwrtitng has changed in that time…
“Erm… I don’t know if it has really.” Stone ponders. “Lyrically I don’t ever have a plan going into the studio, I just tend to find my way through the music or the conversations we have whilst thrashing out ideas for songs and I quite like doing things that way, it feels natural and organic.” Pausing for a moment, her eyes suddenly widening, Joss animatedly adds: “Do you know what, there are some writers that come into the studio with a book filled with all sorts of concepts and lyrics for songs, and it’s just wonderful because it gives them this kind of superpower almost, to go off in any direction they want, and explore any thought that comes into their imagination because right there in front of them they have this well of endless ideas. I often think I should have one of those magic books, but I never get round to buying one (laughs).”
“Do you know what though? Maybe I don’t need a book, because I’ve got Dave (Stewart)!” Joss smiles. “Dave is such a dear friend of mine, and I find that writing with a friend is one of the best ways to create a song, because when you have an ongoing relationship with the person you’re working with, it means you’re talking to them all of the time, not just when you’re together in the studio, so someone like Dave knows me, almost better than I know myself, is always going to understand where I’m coming from because every big moment in my life, he pretty much knows about because I’ve told him everything there is to know about me, and vice versa. Sometimes all we need is a melody to get us started and the story of the song becomes obvious, and the lyrics tumble out of our conversations.”
“Songwriting wasn’t really that much of a challenge on this album though.” the now Mother of one ponders. “It was the recording process that threw up a couple of problems…”
SuperHeavy – Miracle Worker (Official Music Video)
Arriving at a recording studio in Nashville towards the tail end of her pregnancy with her first child, a tired but excited Joss Stone was once again ready to step up to the mic! Excited to be back singing her own material, and working with a live orchestra, Stone says she was in her element. Happy with the session, and feeling utterly content with the work she and her team had produced, Joss left the studio and headed back to the U.K. for some rest bite ahead of what was set to be a hectic few months ahead as she prepared for the birth of her baby. An anxious phone call from her producer a few weeks later, was to quash all of those calm and serene like feelings, as it was revealed all of Stone’s vocals were heavily distorted when played back in the mix.
“I was like, ‘fuck! I cannot believe this has happened!’” Joss says, half laughing, half grimacing. “Everyone was so apologetic and feeling just as disappointed as I was but… it was just one of those things, it’s no-ones fault, it’s just life isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I was really gutted to begin with, because those performances and vocals were recorded with a live band, and I always think there’s something actually quite special about recording an album that way. I mean, it wasn’t easy, there I was seven and a half months pregnant, with my whole body smushed, my lungs squashed and most of my insides re-arranged all over the place to accommodate my bump, but I was happy with what we’d done.”
“However, what this little hiccup provided me with was more time! Time to sit with the songs, time to really feel them and the opportunity to go back and make different vocal choices and decisions, which is something that you very rarely get to do when making an album… plus this time when we recorded them, I had my lungs back, so really it was a blessing (laughs). And it’s done (the album), it’s mixed, it’s mastered, we have the artwork and I’m beyond happy with it all! So now we just have to get it to the people…”
“Dave Stewart knows me almost better than I know myself!”Joss on her special relationship with friend and long-time collaborator, Dave Stewart.
“Take good care, please, life’s so precious…”
Let it be known that Joss Stone has never been the kind of artist who endeavours to sell her music. As a true lover of the art form, and the sense of kinship it provides, Stone is still more than happy to write, create, and sing songs for those who happen to discover them as and when, the time is right.
20 years into her career as a recording artist, Joss admits her outlook is unlikely to change anytime soon…
“Honestly, when all is said and done, I make music for people to get some sort of emotional release from it.” Stone concedes. “I’m not doing it so I can listen to it – that would be weird (laughs) – I’m doing it for all those people out there who just need to feel and believe in something. We can all get so caught up in the negative aspects of life can’t we? We all know loss, we all know heartbreak and we all know what it feels like when everything around us just feels hopeless. So I just want to remind people that no matter what they’re going through, there’s always love there, there’s always love behind the next door, you’ve just got to find the strength to walk through it.”
“What I believe to have learned through all of my experiences, is that the reason why we find ourselves feeling sad or in floods of tears sometimes is because of the love that’s there, it’s not because of the lack of love, it’s because of the love – and I think there’s something good in remembering that.”