About a year ago Grammy award winning singer Joss Stone was at home in Devon, England when a friend dropped by and mentioned his plan to head down to Spain to work on his boat. “I had nothing to do that week so I decided to go with him,” the singer says. “I got my van, which I call Janis, and we drove to Spain. Before I knew it, one week had turned into four months. We went everywhere! Now the van’s broken so we’re back home.” Joss’ freewheeling ability to act on instinct has led her to where she is in her career right now. At an age when most artists are just starting to prove themselves, Joss has already been a star for the better part of a decade. Now, with the formation of her own record label, Stone’d Records and the forthcoming July 26th release of her fifth album, LP1, jointly released by Stone’d Records/Surfdog Records, she’s finally in the drivers seat and ready to hit the road. A labor of love, Stone’d Records will release Joss’ future recordings as well as offer the gift of creative freedom to truly unique artists. “You know when people say, ‘I want to have a baby or I want to go traveling for a year or I want to build my house,’ but then say it’s just not the right time?” she asks. “I say: just do it. Just get in your van and turn the key. Everything else can work around that.”
Joss Stone has been obsessed with soul music since she was a little girl. By the time she was in her early teens she had begun to intuitively hone her now trademark gravely-but-lustrous vocals by singing along to Aretha’s Franklin’s Greatest Hits. She began pursuing a singing career at thirteen, when she auditioned for UK talent show Star For a Night. This eventually led to a record deal and the release of Stone’s star- making debut album, The Soul Sessions, in 2003. Her second record, 2004’s Mind Body & Soul capitalized on The Soul Sessions’ commercial momentum and critical adoration and earned Stone three Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Artist. But it was really her third album, 2007’s Introducing Joss Stone, a more independent, less packaged effort, on which Joss showcased her songwriting chops, that revealed the singer had truly been embraced by the American audience; it marked the highest debut ever for a female British solo artist on the Billboard charts. Joss’ first three albums have sold over 11 million albums worldwide.
She’s been mentored by soul legend Betty Wright, performed onstage with the likes of James Brown, Gladys Knight, Solomon Burke, Blondie, and Melissa Etheridge among others. She’s played the Super Bowl pre-game show, performed on the Grammy’s, the Kennedy Center Honors, duetted with Smokey Robinson on American Idol, and contributed to albums by Jeff Beck and Ringo Starr. In twenty-four years she’s participated more moments of absolute musical wonder than most people can hope for in an entire lifetime. And she’s approached it all with a sense of independence and joie de vivre. Stone has always been a bit of a rebel, whether she’s dancing barefoot onstage or dyeing her hair various colors or speaking out on issues she’s passionate about, part of what her fans love about her is that she’s a free-spirit, following her own instincts at all times. It’s that strong internal compass that led the singer to split with her longtime record label EMI, and branch out on her own. “There is nobody in this world who will tell me how to make music, how to be me, basically,” Joss explains. “It’s helpful to have guidance in the beginning but you eventually get to this point where you’re like, let me give this a bash myself, and that’s where I am now.”
Joss’ quest for freedom began with her last record, 2009’s Colour Me Free, which she recorded on a lark one week in her mom’s club back in the UK. “We did not have anything,” the singer says with a laugh. “We were bashing in walls to get the equipment in, recording in different rooms. We couldn’t hear each other but we had a blast!” This time around, Joss went for a similar come-what-may approach, but with a little more sophistication. “We recorded in the same amount of time – just a week at a studio in Nashville,” the singer says. “But we had everything you could possibly need in the world. Engineers for all the equipment. The right gear. And a fridge for the beer!”
LP1, which was produced by super-producer Dave Stewart (formerly of the Eurythmics), is unlike anything anyone has ever heard from Joss before, showcasing a piano-driven rock sound that blends the innate emotive soulfulness of Stone’s unparalleled vocals with the raw, bareness of traditional blues. “That slide guitar that you sit down and play, I was like what the hell is that!” the singer jokes. “To be honest, I had no idea what it was going to sound like because I’d never made music in Nashville before. I was down in Spain cleaning my friend’s boat and then Dave calls me and he’s like, ‘Joss! I found this band that is really good and why don’t you come down to Nashville for like six days and we’ll make an album.’ So I went.”
This approach to music – merging Joss’ signature freeform attitude with the backdrop of nearly a decade of hard-earned experience in the industry – syncs up with Stone’s vision for Stone’d Records. She’s just signed her first band, Yes Sir Boss, a playful rootsy ska group from Bristol. “It’s real party music,” the singer says. “You just want to dance and have fun. I’m all about fun these days. If it’s not fun I don't want to be part of it.” Joss is endlessly passionate about music, always brimming with ideas about new bands everyone needs to hear immediately if not sooner. And now she has a platform to share that enthusiasm. “The bit I enjoy is making music and singing it and being around it,” she says. “It’s a bit of a mommy thing to nurture another band but I really enjoy it. I enjoy singing. And I enjoy helping other people get their music made.”
This fall will also see the eagerly-awaited debut release from Super Heavy, the supergroup featuring Joss as well as other legendary musicians including Mick Jagger, Damian Marley, A.R. Rahman and Dave Stewart. The diverse group, who have been quietly writing together, are looking forward to finally sharing their unique collaboration with fans worldwide.
As Joss looks forward to the next few years, the singer sees nothing but possibility. “I always used to wonder: wow, would I be able to do this type of music or that type of music? Would it sound good? Now that I’ve stepped out of the groove/soul box a bit, I think, wow, that kind of sounds cool. What else could I do? I don’t want to be the type of person that stays stagnant in a safe world. I want to do things that scare me.” That sense of fearlessness is Joss’ signature, but she’s now in a place where she can back it up with a veteran’s experience and confidence. “Not everyone’s going to like everything I do, but I’ve kind of gotten over the whole caring thing,” the singer says with a formidable chuckle. “It’s like, if you like it, cool! If not, that’s cool too. Either way: I’m going to make another one.”