Joss Stone Talks A Life of Soul, Collaborations & Acting On ‘The Tudors’ (INTERVIEW)

Joss Stone is a multi-talented lady. She’s a singer, songwriter, actress and can cook in her kitchen with hundreds of her fans watching her culinary successes … and disasters. But whatever she does, it’s always with a smile on her face. Not even covid could deflate Stone’s happiness, although it did deter her plans for a tour while not only herself but her partner and baby dealt with the symptoms of coronavirus not long ago. With that now out of the way, Stone is ready to get back on the path she had planned for 2022, which was performing around the world, singing songs off her brand new album, Never Forget My Love. For fans of Stone, this album is like opening a present and finding a ruby inside. It shines, it sparkles, it radiates soul and Stone’s voice has never sounded better.

For a young girl back in England, singing R&B came naturally. She tried to emulate Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker and by the time she was a teen she was performing in front of audiences and on TV shows. Her career took off and Never Forget My Love is the culmination of the maturity she has attained after years of belting out love songs across the globe. Produced and co-written by Dave Stewart, who first worked with Stone in the group SuperHeavy (also featuring Mick Jagger and Damian Marley) and on her 2011 LP1, Never Forget My Love is like chocolate – a treat for all the senses. Stone brings passion into lyrics about love, heartbreak and the glory of friendship on such tracks as “Breaking Each Other’s Hearts,” “Never Forget My Love,” “You Couldn’t Kill Me” and “You’re My Girl,” slowly turning the temperature up to a warm blaze. It is definitely a landmark in Stone’s catalog.

“Dave and I have been great friends for a very long time and we have worked together on various projects,” Stone explained upon the album’s debut. “He has this calm, quiet confidence that encourages you to tell your story. He is a breath of fresh air, very young at heart. And he always wants to lift you up.” Performing with other artists has been just as inspiring to the new mother. Singing beside the likes of Jagger, Melissa Etheridge, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, and one of her musical heroes, James Brown, has given her wings to escalate her vocals to their highest soulful potential.

I spoke with Stone last week about her new album, her songwriting chemistry with Stewart, her love of reggae, and playing the “ugly” Anne Of Cleves on The Tudors.

Joss, how are you feeling? Hopefully a lot better.

I’m feeling good. I didn’t go to the hospital but I did feel sick. It was kind of like having the flu and it just lasted a really long time to me. My partner Cody, he had it like a few days and my baby had it. But it’s okay, it’s all good, it’s just part of life, you know. I think we’ve been kind of conditioned to be very, very scared of this thing so I think it makes it a lot worse. We might not be freaking out so much but with this “dreaded coronavirus,” your head always goes to the worst and that is not good. We need to stop with that because fear is not helpful. But I was very disappointed that that happened on tour because it cut our touring. I only did four gigs and that was it. The last show was like the worst and then that was it, we had to go home. So we’re trying to reschedule the gigs.

So how does it feel to finally have this wonderful new album out?

It feels good, you know. I was very nervous at the beginning, like before it was out, and I guess I was starting to feel nervous that maybe no one would like it (laughs). It’s, of course, like when you bake a cake for someone and you want them to enjoy eating it because that’s why you make it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t bother. I care about how people feel about it because I made it for them. So now it’s out and it’s like a relief because everyone that I’ve spoken to has really positive things to say about it. So that’s good. At least no one is like, “Ugh, this is gross!”

What got it started for you, making a new record?

I’ve been trying to write songs in this vein for a while. I’d done a few but they were kind of not going in the direction that I wanted. We all have our habits, you know, and my habits always take me to blues, R&B, groove-based types of music. I like to try different styles so I was really trying to think in this vein, this more dramatic, more Burt Bacharach style, I guess seventies-ish. I wanted to make a record that was more classy and thought-out. So I was talking to Dave Stewart about that. I was working on a different project with him but I was talking to him about my dream to make a record that was more serious, more classic, more adult. And he was like, “Oh, I know exactly what you mean. I know how to do that. Why don’t we just do it.” And he picked up his guitar in the middle of that conversation and was like, “Let’s begin. Why don’t me and you write it. It’s easy, it’ll take us a week.” And I was like, okay, let’s do it! 

And we started to do it and I was thinking, Oh my God, this is exactly what I wanted. This sound, what he was doing, is exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have to guide him any further. I kind of just told him the vibe and he just knows. So then everything just fell into place. We wrote ten songs in like a week, I’d say. Then a few months later we went to Nashville, got the band together that we had for the LP1 ten years previously – same band, same studio, just different songs, different vibe and music. We put it all together and we played it and finished writing the songs as we were making the record. It was really fun.

Did the song he was playing on his guitar that day actually come to fruition?

Oh yeah, all of them did. That very first one, I’m pretty sure it was “Breaking Each Other’s Hearts.” It’s funny because I have all the voice notes and they are so funny. You can hear him, he’s playing the chords, I’m singing melodies and words, and we’ll be going, “Right, okay, the drums will play like this” and we’re trying to make the noises of the drums with our mouths. And I’m saying, “Maybe we can have strings that go da da da da da” (laughs). You can hear us talking in total gibberish! But actually when you listen to the record, how we intended it is exactly how it came out, which is what I wanted to do.

Do you think that is where your chemistry lies with Dave, that you can fall so easily into place to write so quickly?

Yeah, I think that is our relationship, you know. I guess everyone has a different thing with their friends and some things link people. You might have a buddy that you go and watch the game with or you might have a specific friend that you go and get your nails done with or that you go to church with or that you like to cook with and drink with. We have things that we like to do with our friends and for me and Dave, that’s what we do. We like to write and talk. I think writing and talking with him is the same thing (laughs). We tell each other our stories and what’s in our hearts and then we make songs out of it. That’s our thing, that’s what we do.

Were you like that in SuperHeavy too? There were so many cooks in that kitchen, so many songwriters.

There was! But I linked a lot with Damian Marley as well but as far as the writing goes, we were all in a room so we were all writing at the same time. So it was more like a jam between five people and we had a few extra musicians and then I would go off and separately work on my lyrics and then I would often get with Dave on some things and finish off like a section. It was a real collaboration. So it was real easy this time, you know, because I’ve been writing with him a long time.

Do you like that or do you prefer being by yourself to write?

No, I like to write with someone. I mean, once I have the music, I actually can go off on my own and sometimes that can be helpful because I need to think. I don’t like to be rushed, I just need to think and tell my story in a very specific way; but that’s really a lyric thing. As far as coming up with melodies and the actual idea for the song, the concept, I think it’s great to do it with somebody because you get more of a general perspective, which means you can help more people understand the song, right. If I’m saying something too specific, that I of course can understand because it’s my life, you might not understand it; you might think I’m talking gibberish (laughs). So it’s nice when you have a co-writer and they can say, “What do you mean by that?” or “I don’t really get that, it doesn’t make sense.” Then you just adjust it so it does make sense. 

This album really seems to be about soul – musically and emotionally. To you, what is the most emotional line or lyric within these songs?

Ooh, “Does It Have To Be Today.” I think that would be the one that really upsets me. That is a song that is about a relationship breaking up but I think that we go through, as humans, we go through a plethora of emotions throughout our lives and the things that are really hard are not the happy things. Unfortunately, they’re the bad things. So they kind of break us a little bit each time and we’re never, ever ready for it. Even if we feel prepared, it’s never really that way if it’s something bad – a death or a breakup or a huge disappointment. You just don’t want it to happen. You know it’s going to happen, it’s inevitable, but you’re always thinking, can’t we put it off till tomorrow? Does it have to be today? And that just makes me sad when I think about it. But it’s inevitable and you have to face up to it and go, nope, it IS today, honey, and the quicker that you get it done, the better, and then you can move forward and have a beautiful life. 

Which of these songs do you think took the longest to get right it like you wanted it?

Actually, it’s the one song that we had previously. There’s one song on the album called “You Couldn’t Kill Me,” and that song I wrote over ten years ago with Dave and we had not used it. I think I sang it live with him once but I never, ever used it and I never finished it. We never had the bridge. And we just decided that it sat very well on this record, although it’s a story from my past, not a story from today. It’s a story from probably when I was nineteen, when I was with like my first boyfriend and it was really not a good situation. And I had never finished the song. 

Anyway, we get to this moment and we’re recording it and it didn’t sound right and I think we had to do it again and I think it’s because we had a demo, right, and you have something called demo-itis where you get stuck on that demo and it’s never going to be the same. If you re-record it, even if it is in the same key or the lyrics are the same and the timing is the same, it’s still going to be different because the energy is different. So I was trying to capture something that was impossible to catch. So that one we had to work on it. And the bridge, we just ended up going off into a completely different world and I’m really glad we did. And that was all Dave. He came up with an idea to make it like a bit trippier and I’m speaking on that section and I would never have thought to do that. It’s a very deep one for me.

You have horns on some of these songs. When do you remember falling in love with a horn section on a song?

Oh gosh, I don’t know. That’s a brilliant question. I guess Earth Wind & Fire and also James Brown. Those horns were really the best for me because sometimes I like long drawn-out notes on the horns but mostly I like the really short ones that tell you a melody and they click at the end. I like that, and I think that’s probably because of the amount of James Brown I listened to as a young girl. 

Where do you see the biggest change in yourself as a songwriter after all these years?

Well, I think that I am still trying to work it out. I think I got more confident when I was like twenty and I did Introducing Joss Stone. That was my first like, okay, I’m going to write and I’m going to be confident in the things that I make, rather than feeling like everything I do is shit. I got more confidence in my voice then and I got more confidence in my writing but I still didn’t feel that confident in the writing. I’m more confident as a singer but as a writer, I think, as long as I’m honest then that’s going to be okay. I’m not Bob Dylan. I don’t really write poetry like that. I wish I could. I have a lot of dreams as far as writing is concerned and I wish that one day I’ll be able to turn into that but I don’t think that’s going to happen (laughs). I think I am who I am and I tell my story the way I tell it and it’s very simple and I tell my truth and put it as openly and honestly as I can and that’s all I got really.

Speaking of your voice, when you found your voice and realized you had a voice, what were you singing?

I don’t know! (laughs) I used to sing along to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” when I was a little girl, and my mum would play “Vaya Con Dios” and I’d sing along with her, and Anita Baker, “Caught Up In The Rapture” and “365 Days A Year.” Those were the female voices, Melissa Etheridge; and then the male voices in the house were James Brown and Solomon Burke. A lot of soul music. And we also had a lot of reggae going on in the house when I was a kid. So I would just sing along.

So you probably loved that element, that island vibe, in SuperHeavy

Absolutely. I absolutely loved it. In fact, after that record I made a reggae record, Water For Your Soul. It wasn’t really straight reggae, it was kind of reggae mixed with soul mixed with world influences. But it was certainly in the genre of reggae and it was so fun and the reason that I made that was because Damian was like, “Girl, you should do that. You need to make a reggae record.” And it was really fun making that one.

When you played Anne Of Cleves on The Tudors, what was your overall impression of her – cause she kind of gets overlooked among all those wives?

Yeah, I know, and the reason why is purely because she was ugly and that is so sad. I think the story goes, as far as history is concerned, and this was not portrayed as much in The Tudors, but history says that Henry VIII was put together with Anne Of Cleves to kind of join a link with Germany – that’s what they used to do back then – and this painter Holbein painted her face so the king could see her before he agreed to marry her. Apparently, the painter had fallen in love with Anne Of Cleves because she was very sweet and nice. So he painted her the way he saw her, which maybe wasn’t so true to life. So when they first met, which they did portray in The Tudors, Henry VIII was like disgusted by her and did not fancy her whatsoever. But I believe that that saved her life, because if he had consummated the marriage, which he couldn’t do because he did not fancy her, if he had done that, he would have had to chop her head off. Instead, he annulled the marriage, because it was never consummated. So her look saved her life. 

Today, everyone is focused on being pretty. It’s not about being pretty, it’s about being beautiful inside and smart. I don’t know if Anne Of Cleves was beautiful inside and smart but I get the feeling that she was, cause she ended up being given a house, being very good friends with Henry VIII, and I think out of all those queens, although she wasn’t the most beauty, she shined and kind of stood above all of them and ended up having the better life. I don’t know whether that was fate or that was her intelligence, I have no idea, but the way they portrayed her in the show, it was good. It was very interesting playing a character like that.

Did you like those costumes? 

I loved them, they were so beautiful, but they did hurt. They hurt your chest because they squeeze your body and it gives you a pain in your chest. It’s weird.

Tell us what you’ve got planned for this year?

I hope I get to play those shows that were canceled. That’s really what I want to do. I have other shows that are booked and some gigs in Brazil and some in Europe; just a lot of live performances, actually, around the world. We are in the midst right now of rebooking those shows and I’m really hoping that is going to happen. I have a record I want to record this year. I have my cooking thing going on that I do. Every now and then I go on my Facebook Live and I do like a Cooking With Joss thing and they are so fun! (laughs). Honestly, I don’t know why I have so much fun doing that. I just do. I like cooking and I like sharing recipes and passing it on to people. It’s nice and I get to chat with the fans. I mean, what other way can I just sit and chat with the fans. I get to know whether they like the recipe or whether I’m doing the wrong thing cooking and they tell me (laughs). It’s a really fun thing to do.

And you don’t have Paul Hollywood staring at you

(laughs) I know! Oh my God, I watch so many Great British Bakeoff’s now and I would never in my wildest dreams be able to go on that show and have the bollocks to actually cook in front of that guy! I get really emotional about it. I’m like, this one guy had this cake and it didn’t go very well and he was so upset and I was like crying (laughs).

Any acting in your near future?

No, I don’t actually have any acting planned. It’s really hard because you have to really give time to it and until I’ve done all my touring and stuff I probably won’t do anything unless it’s a one-off, like a cameo. Cameos are fine because they take a weekend but I think it’d be nice to do something that’s more of a meaty role, kind of like The Tudors. That was a month so it takes time. But fingers-crossed, one day I’ll get to do it again. Maybe I’ll play an old lady next time (laughs).

Portrait by Kristin Burns

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