Lifestyle

Joss Stone On Fame, Motherhood, New Music, Adele, Joni And More


Like any artist who enjoys stratospheric fame so early in their career, British soul singer Joss Stone has enjoyed a wild ride on the roller coaster of the music business.

After releasing her debut album, The Soul Sessions, at the age of 16, Stone followed that up a year later with another multi-platinum smash, Mind Body & Soul, which garnered her a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

Stone kept that success up, working with Mick Jagger, Damian Marley, Dave Stewart and A.R. Rahman in the supergroup SuperHeavy, with Jeff Beck and more. But, as she tells me here, she also was understandably overwhelmed by the fame, especially coming at such a young age.

So now Stone has a compelling new album, Never Forget My Love, on the way in 2022, as well as a co-headlining tour with Corinne Bailey Rae, and more. But most importantly, as a new mother, the 34-year-old Stone has a whole new perspective on music, fame and what’s important to her.

I spoke with Stone about the new music, how making the album while pregnant allowed her to open up emotionally, why she admires Adele’s handling of fame and much, much more.  

Steve Baltin: Where are you these days?

Joss Stone: I’m about a half an hour from Nashville. It’s very lovely here. It’s like living in farmland, but kind of suburbia. It’s really cool. My garden’s like a forest, and all the leaves are on the floor. It’s all crunchy and very cool. It’s lovely here.

Baltin: I’m a big believer in how environment affects writing. So do you feel like then you have now made a suburban country album?

Stone: No. I’ve written here, but the album that we’re about to release was written in the Bahamas. Dave Stewart lives here in Nashville, as well, so he’s decided that he wanted to live in the Bahamas, which was lovely news for me, because I write with him all the time. We were writing for a play called Time Traveler’s Wife that’s coming out, I think next year. And we were just writing songs about time travel, which was a bit of an odd experience. So we did, and then I told him about my idea for the album and then we wrote that. And then we finished it when we were recording here in Nashville. So we did have a little bit of both.

Baltin: I’ve also spoken with artists about the fact that there can be certain foods that fuel a record. So was there a heavy amount of plantains, for example, on this record? Or jerk chicken?

Stone: Maybe. I was five months pregnant when I wrote it. Actually four months, so I was feeling quite sick at the time. So as far as food was concerned, it was like, “What can I eat? I don’t know. I’ll try it.”

Baltin: So there were a lot of elements that went into making this record?

Stone: Yes, I suppose being pregnant makes one slightly more emotional. That could be partly why the songs are so deep. It’s more dramatic than any record I’ve ever made. So that could be why actually.

Baltin: So when you go back and listen to it are there elements of vulnerability that surprise you? Because as you say, it’s a very emotional time.

Stone: Yeah. I think so. Some of the songs are sadder than I would normally allow. So usually, I think if you were to pick a song from my past, a lot of the sadness that I had was counteracted with a sort of defiance or anger. I definitely had that vibe with all of my lyrics. It was, “You’ve hurt me, but I’m gonna be f**king fine.” That was part of the concept to pretty much every song, “Don’t worry about me, I’m alright.” And I don’t think that that’s the case in these songs always. I think it’s just, like you say, it’s more vulnerable.

Baltin: Most people get more comfortable as they get older. So did you find that, as well, even before the pregnancy, that you were opening up more as a person?

Stone: Yep, I agree with you wholeheartedly. And actually, I do think getting older, once you’ve crafted the person that you are, once you’ve gone through your ups and downs and you’ve stood up for yourself a few times, you realize you don’t have to fight. You’re the master of your own destiny, really. And if ever you feel like you’re not, you’re wrong. So it’s nice to have that confidence in your choice that is present for everyone. They’re just not always aware of it. And I think I wasn’t always aware of it as a youngster. I felt I had to fight for it. And actually, it’s here every day, every morning when I wake up, it’s with me. So I can just feel the way I want to feel.

Baltin: It’s different too now that you have a child. I spoke about this with Natalie Imbruglia not long ago, and we’re talking about her success in the ’90s, and all the stuff that in the past you think is worth fighting for, you realize doesn’t matter.

Stone: Yeah, it’s so true, isn’t it? Now everything revolves around her. I always say in any decision “Violet wins. She always wins.” [chuckle] I used to say, “Mother Nature wins.” But now, “No, Violet wins always.” So all the decision-making processes are based around my little baby girl, and it makes it so much easier ’cause you don’t feel selfish. So if you say, “I don’t want to do that gig because it’s a little bit far to drive or there’s too many planes. There’s too many connector flights or whatever.” If you say something like that, you might get push back and then you might feel bad and actually, “No, no, you should go play that gig.” And, “That’s a really good one.” Or you wanna play for the people or whatever. There’s so many reason surrounding it. But now it’s, “No, Violet wins. That’s it. She needs to sleep. So no, I don’t even need to think about it. Don’t even tell me how much it is. I don’t f**king care. I just want my baby to be happy. That’s it.” And it’s a lovely thing. It’s actually a bit of a freedom.

Baltin: I actually was just fortunate enough to get the talk to your tour mate, the amazing Corinne Bailey Rae. So how do you decide then that what made this tour work even though Violet’s now involved?

Stone: We’d agreed to tour before the last two years had happened. We had agreed before that. So really, it was nothing to do with babies. It was just because I love Corinne Bailey Rae and why wouldn’t I want to tour with her? She’s such a lovely person and I love her music. I love her voice. She’s so sweet. It’s a no-brainer, really. But now, I have my baby and she has her two babies. It’s even more fun because we’re kind of facing the same boat and we can do it together and I think I’m gonna enjoy that. That will be cool.

Baltin: She said one of the things she was looking forward to when she tours, is the family. So does this become a big old extended play date?

Stone: It is. My drummer has been with me since I was 15, and my backup singer, too, also since I was 15. They really truly are my family. And sometimes you spend more time with your band mates than you do with your actual family, which is quite interesting, as well, ’cause they really do become your brothers and your sisters, truly. And I remember when I got pregnant, I called my drummer, Ricky, and I told him, and oh, my God, he was screaming down the phone. He was so excited. It was like he was having a baby. Because that’s how it feels. We’ve got our family, nice.

Baltin: We’re talking about the new single “Breaking Each Other’s Hearts” and we talked about the emotion in it and that is just such a vocal powerhouse. It’s interesting. Have you thought about bringing that vulnerability to stage on a nightly basis?

Stone: Did you ever see the movie Love Actually? When [Emma Thompson] the mother of the two kids realized that husband is cheating on her. She finds the gift that she thought was a necklace, but it was actually a Joni Mitchell CD and she realizes that he bought the necklace for another woman. The look on her face, it’s like her world is crushed and she is in tears and then her kids come in. She wipes the tears from her face, she stands up straight, she puts the smile on her face and she says, “Hello kids. Let’s go. Let’s get excited about whatever it is.” I remember watching that thinking, “That is what motherhood is about, that’s strength.” She is protecting her children and she now comes second. And that is the right way, I think, to do it. And I believe my mom did that for years, and I hope that I’ll be able to do that for Violet, when I need to.

Baltin: Going back to what we talked about earlier, the vulnerability in these songs, are there artists that for you, like Joni, that best capture that vulnerability?

Stone: Yeah, I love that one line, “I could drink a case with you and I’d still be on my feet.” What a lovely thing to say. It’s just, I don’t know, so many beautiful lyrics come out of that woman and her tiny little voice is so very special and very vulnerable. If you’re a singer, your body changes, so the sound of your voice changes. But that record [Both Sides Now] that Joni Mitchell made one later on in life, it was gorgeous, and her voice was thicker and it wasn’t the Joni Mitchell that we knew. It was different, and I felt like, “Wow, she has embraced what is inevitable and it is beautiful.” It’s like my mom heard, I think it was Judi Dench or someone said, “I had to say hello and make friends with my new old face.” You have to accept you for you and embrace you for you and do what makes you happy. So yeah, I don’t know, some women, they are just inspiring, aren’t they? And Joni is one of those. She is very brave.

Baltin: Are there those artists that have become role models for the way that they’ve been able to grow and continue to change?

Stone: I think the move that Joni made was definitely inspiring, and I think learning more about how Aretha Franklin’s journey was, was very inspiring, too. Because I think I remember hearing a story that she had stepped in for Pavarotti at one point because she could. And that comes with learning. You can’t do that at 12, 14. Also Betty Wright was a massive inspiration as a woman, as a person and, of course, as a singer. There are some voices that are just like, “Wow, it’s a given, you’re amazing. But who are you as a person?” And that to me is what’s more inspiring, to be honest. Some people are extremely talented and can write great songs and sing wonderfully, but flawed as that person, and that is not as great. But Betty Wright started when she was really young, like I did. She was like 14 when she started making records and she grew. She wrote pretty much every song that she sang. She was a band leader like you wouldn’t believe, and then she went on to teach young kids and that was the bit that I loved the most about Betty. She just gave every single ounce of her being to help anyone else, anyone else but her, really. She’s a very religious woman and it wasn’t about her. It was about everyone else, and I thought that is very inspiring and she gave a lot. So yeah, as far as somebody that took their career and grew it, yes, she did that. She didn’t do it in a way that, like say Madonna did, in the massive public eye, which is also inspiring ’cause there’s a lot of hard work that goes into that. She did it for others. She did it for kids, and those people will remember her and I think that’s special.

Baltin: As you have gotten older how has your relationship with the idea of fame changed?

Stone: I really didn’t enjoy that part of my world. So I had to make certain decisions to lessen it. You have just enough exposure so people still come to your show ’cause that’s important. That’s why we do it. We do want people to come to the show. But you don’t have to have so much exposure that you can’t go to the store and get a pint of milk without people being weird with you. That’s too much actually. I don’t know if nurturing fame to such an extreme degree is actually positive. If you look at people like Michael Jackson, for instance, I don’t think that was positive. I think the music was positive but that would have been made anyway. What happened to him as far as fame is concerned, I think that that was really sad. There is a limit, there’s a line and there’s a way to navigate those things. So you can still play and still get people come to your show, and you can still fund it. And you can still help other people. You don’t have to sell your soul, I think is what I’m trying to say. I did this world tour where I played every country in the world. And when I did that, there were three jobs to do. One, play the gig. Two, I did a collaboration with an artist from that country, in their language, hopefully, just to kind of get into their music. And the third job was to visit a good person doing a good thing for others, which took us to many charities. And my goodness me, the world is full of beautiful people. I can tell you that now. So we set up a foundation so if people wanted to help, they could donate and we will send it to those tiny little charities all around the world to try and help them out. That’s just one idea. There are lots of ideas.

Baltin: I agree with you. I think fame is very dangerous. But then when you look at someone like Adele, who manages to put out the biggest album in the world, but still seem normal, and have fun for you as an artist, how does that inspire you? Are there people that you admire for the way that they’ve been able to do that?

Stone: I think Adele is a really good example because she’s so current and people will know exactly what’s going on there. She’s so clever because she basically is like, “Hey, I’m gonna make a really awesome record. And then I’m gonna just go away for a bit.” That’s beautiful. I don’t know if she can go to the shop and buy a pint of milk without people being weird with her, though. But she certainly has many years off where she can just be normal. I don’t know what her life is like but her records are great. There’s a reason why people wait for her albums because it’s really good music. Her standard’s always really high. And she doesn’t need to run around promoting herself as a celebrity in order to sell that record, because it’s just good. So, hey, I don’t know. I wonder if there’s a kind of formula for that. I have no idea. But I do hope that she can go to the shop and get that pint of milk because that’s a really lovely thing to do. [chuckle]

Baltin: When you go back and listen to Never Forget My Love as a complete work, the whole album, what do you take from it?

Stone: I feel really lucky when I listen to it. The way that it’s put together, it feels very classy, and I’ve never done that before, and it was a little bit of a dream for me to do it for about three years. Once I had the idea I was like, “I wonder if I could make a record like that, that’s really beautifully made and not jammy or anything. It’s just really classy and almost sophisticated in some twists and turns.” You might get a little bit of that, and that makes me feel quite proud and quite lucky to be able to have the opportunity to do it.



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