"You don't have to be from a certain time or a certain place, you just have to be part of the music" - hmv.com talks to Joss Stone
Joss Stone has only been 28 years old for a couple of months, but she's already packed in more in her career then most artists do in a lifetime.
She rose to fame in 2003 when she was just 16 with her debut album The Soul Sessions, an album of classic soul covers that went on to sell over two million copies and made her a household name, especially for her re-telling of The White Stripes' classic 'Fell In Love With A Girl' and Soul Brothers Six's 'Some Kind Of Wonderful'.
In the years that followed she worked relentlessly, taking her career sales to over 14 million and producing a string of hit singles, including the ever present 'You Had Me' and the simmering soul hit 'Spoiled'. Now, after parting ways with major label EMI back in 2010, she is on her third album with her own label Stone'd Records and seems to be relishing her independence.
Her new album Water For Your Soul is another musical left turn with Stone this time embracing reggae wholeheartedly, a decision partly inspired by working with producer Damian Marley, who she met while working as part of SuperHeavy, a project that also included Mick Jagger, Eurythmics' Dave Stewart and composter A R Rahman. As well as Marley, she also worked with reggae great Dennis Lovell and offbeat folkers The Urban Folk Quartet to create an album that's full of verve, spark and discovery.
We chatted to Stone about Water For Your Soul, her approach to making music and why she plans to tour every country in the world with this new album...
Your new album is out today, is it odd having it come out on a Friday?
"I've never really known what day my album has come out, I know it used to be Tuesday, but to me it's been done for a while, so any day is fine."
Do you still get nervous before your albums come out?
"I don't get nervous, I do think a lot about them, but it's more hoping people like it. Not nervous, I know what nervous feels like and this ain't it. It's my seventh time doing this and I know now there's nothing I can do. I hope people like it, but all I can do is think about the next one."
When can you trace back starting work on this record to? It's been quite a journey...
"You know I'm not exactly sure, I think it was the song 'Wake Up' and I was in my kitchen. I wasn't in my house I live in now, I was in the holiday cottage next to my house, I remember that song and dancing around in this tiny little kitchen, coming up with it. Now that must have been over five years ago so it's been with me for a long time. I started it, then I did the SuperHeavy thing with Damian (Marley), while we were doing that I played it to Damian and he loved it and he encouraged me to continue the reggae sound, it really blossomed from there."
Was it a bit daunting to try and take on that sound? Reggae has a rich history and a lot of very passionate fans...
"Sort of, but I've spent my whole life doing that. I was 14 and entered into the world of soul and I went over to America, this little white girl from Devon and they all embraced me. Having that encouragement from people like Betty Wright (legendary soul singer) and Little Beaver (the iconic soul guitarist who played on Stone's debut album The Soul Sessions) really gave me a lot of confidence and made me feel okay, it was music I knew nothing about and I still don't really know anything about. But I also realised from that experience that you don't have to be from a certain time or a certain place, you just have to be part of the music.
Did you get the same encouragement this time?
"Having Damian and Dennis Bovell (Barbadian reggae musician) with me really helped in that way, they were so supportive."
What's Damian like to work with? You'd done SuperHeavy with him before, but there were a lot of famous people in that room, this is really his world right...
"He's so sweet and so great to be around in the studio. He's pretty mellow, but he's quite definite too when it comes to making decisions, he knows what he wants to say. I've learned that the secret to any good collaboration or writing session is to get out of each other's way and be part of each other's way. You fill in the gaps the other person leaves and it creates a really nice musical environment."
It's fair to say that reggae is the dominant influence on the album, but there are lots of others, soul, R&B, world, gospel, Latin and more. Do you ever worry that you're trying to do too much?
"No! I was quite conscious of keeping it as one continuous flow of feeling and keeping the vibe good, but not about sound, I never put anything in for the sake of it, everything needs to be there. The way I work is quite specific, I have an idea and until I hear it coming out of the speakers, we're not finished."
Have you grown into that role during your career? Have you gotten more and more decisive?
"Totally. I've got real confidence in myself and I've now learned that it really doesn't matter if it goes wrong, it doesn't matter if people don't like it, you just have to have the balls to do it. If you're worried about people liking what you do then you're in trouble, big trouble, it stops you from doing what's in your head. You obsess over things you can't control, I used to worry more that everybody would hate things, but now I'm a lot more relaxed."
You've come into this record on the back of doing a second Soul Sessions collection, does this feel like the start of something new for you?
"All my records have been different and whatever I do next will be different again, so they all feel a bit like fresh starts, certainly new chapters."
This is your third album on your own label Stone'd Records, how are you finding being your own boss?
"It's good, I really like it this way, it's way less stressful, I'm a much happier person now, I don't have to fight people anymore, occasionally I have to fight for someone to listen to me, but not very often. Not everyone finds it easy to listen to the girl who dances around a lot. It's a great place to be because if I find someone who is making me feel s***ty then I just stop paying them and then they're gone. Everyone who is working on this record is working on because they want to, not because their boss is making them do it."
Is it more work than you imagined it would be?
"Not more than I imagined it would be, I knew it would be a lot of work, I do a lot, but I can't do it all, I have a lady called Sarah Silver who helps me run it. People get involved from time to time, just when they're needed, I like that idea, it's like being a family and asking one of your family to fix a car, if they're not doing anything of course they'll help, it's that kind of vibe."
So what are your plans to take this album out on tour?
"I'm trying to do one gig in every country in the world and when we get to each country we try and make a music collaboration with each country, usually in conjunction with a charity. It means we can learn a lot about a place quite quickly and get some great collaborations out of it. It's so rewarding, I get a lot from it and hopefully so the people we meet."
Is that the plan for the rest of the campaign? No big US or UK tour?
"No, I don't think I'll do that, I'm going to keep on this path, I know it's a bit the opposite of what you're supposed to do, but it's what I want to focus on. I had the idea for this back when I was about 20 and I wanted to do it for so long. It's a big job and the booking agent I had when I first broached the idea I realised after a while they were just humouring me and weren't actually sorting anything out. We're doing it now though, we've got a new booker and we're going to Vietnam, China, Japan, we're going to Africa in November."
It must be really exciting, lots of places you've never been to...
"Oh god yeah, it's incredible and really interesting. It's by far the best tour I've ever done, it's crazy tiring, but so rewarding. It was inspired by a show I did at Fuji Rock, I was playing and I realised how far away I was and that the only reason I was there was because of music and that was the only reason people could understand me. I realised the power and the connection of music and I wondered why I couldn't do this everywhere. So I looked into why people don't tour every country and it's basically just because it's expensive, everything comes down to money and there are countries that just don't pay. But I've decided that I'm going to go and play everywhere, I'll probably come back pretty broke, but I'll have an amazing experience."
Are there any places where it might be impossible to pull off?
"Nowhere's impossible. If there are people living there, there's a way to do it."
Joss Stone's new album Water For Your Soul is out now and available to purchase here in our online store.