She's not just a soul sister — singer-songwriter Joss Stone has dabbled in jazz, r&b, funk and more recently, reggae. We chat with the SingJazz 2016 festival headliner ahead of her show in March
When Joss Stone burst onto the scene in 2003 at the tender age of 16 with her debut record The Soul Sessions, the Brit was a breath of fresh air among the Ashantis, Britneys, Beyonces, Jessicas and Avrils of that period. In a day and age where teenage angst and delirious relationships ruled the charts, Stone offered a little bit more soul. Her distinctive contralto charmed in cover hits such as The White Stripes' Fell In Love with a Girl and Sugar Billy's Super Duper Love — and even though her first singles were covers, critics and fans marvelled at her ability to carry those tunes to richer heights.
Five albums and multiple genres later, Stone released her latest record, Water For Your Soul, in July 2015. Released by her own independent label Stone'd Records, the album saw her breaking into the reggae genre with the push of collaborator Damian Marley, Bob Marley's youngest son. While it didn't exactly take the world by surprise — the younger Marley is Stone's fellow bandmate in all-star group SuperHeavy, along with Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart and A.R. Rahman — her foray into reggae did raise a few eyebrows.
The 14-track Water For Your Soul is an easy listen, and is accessible reggae at best. Although critics were quick to tut-tut Stone's genre-hopping ways, this seventh album garnered the attention of Billboard, who named her Reggae Artist of the Year in 2015.
You signed your first record deal as a teenager — and understandably being a successful, prominent artist is a dream that many young people share. So, is fame and success everything that you thought it would be? I'm not a fan of fame, really. I find it mostly annoying... But being successful with your dreams in life is a beautiful thing. Regardless of whether it is with making music or making a great cake, it is nice to achieve a goal!
Your latest album Water For Your Soul was your first reggae album. Were you always skewed towards the genre, or did Damian Marley have a lot to do with it? Well, I have listened to reggae all my life since I was a little tot. My dad introduced me to Linton Kwesi Johnson when I was maybe four? Reggae is part of our everyday food. I have dabbled with reggae on my past records as well, with Less is More on my first record of originals, Mind Body & Soul, and then a little influence here and there on a few other tracks. I guess the simple answer is, I just like it!
Tell us more about Water For Your Soul. Other than the different musical direction you took, how do you feel you've evolved with the creation of this album? I don't know. I just made a piece of music with some very talented, inspiring people. Those people, and the travels that I have been on, have influenced the world sound of the record. But if we're talking about how I have evolved as a person, I couldn't tell you, because I feel exactly the same.
It was reported that people were quite upset that your latest album was the highest-selling reggae album of 2015 — how do you deal with such critics? It depends who the critic is. If the critic is someone I listen to (a fellow musician or singer) then I listen; if the critic is someone that purely writes about music but doesn't play and has never been on my radar for any reason, then I wouldn't really be affected by their review. People generally send me good reviews so I read them over bad ones. The best decision was leaving the big, major record label because it's given me freedom. You are in control of your own happiness.
You've performed and collaborated with many other big names in music. Who has stood out the most for you? Probably Nitin Sawhney, he is a great artist and a great musician. He is good to talk to.
You've done soul, r&b, jazz and now reggae — what other genres would you consider delving into? Any genre. The sky is the limit.