London/Nashville: Like countless others across the globe, Joss Stone is preparing for a more pared-down holiday season this year. That’s in part, of course, because of Covid but also because the 33-year old platinum-selling Grammy-winning singer/songwriter is expecting her first child in early February. “If I was home, I would be surrounded by loads of family, loads of friends,” said the Devon, England native. “It wouldn’t be calm.” But her doctor has told her to take it easy, something she says she is looking forward to because, despite a global pandemic, she’s still had a very busy year.
Earlier in December Joss, who has collaborated with everyone from Jeff Beck to Mick Jagger, released a new song, “Walk With Me“, co-written with her longtime collaborator, Jonathan Shorten. Originally it was written as a love song about asking someone to walk through life with together. But she says that with so much happening this year–from the Covid pandemic to the violence over the death of George Floyd–that she and Jonathan decided to reframe it. Like so much of her music, it packs a soulful punch. “This upset, and this angst and this anger, and this kind of disdain for happiness, is going to be much worse than the pandemic,” Joss said. “And [it’s important] to remember that we’re all in it together.”
In July she launched a very spirited, frank and funny podcast “A Cuppa Happy” (where she first announced to the world that she was expecting a baby with her partner Cody DaLuz), interviewing everyone from British comedian Bill Bailey and musician Boy George to sex therapist Laura Berman and British supernanny Jo Frost. Plus, every Sunday on Facebook Live she hosts “Cooking With Joss“, a quirky and light show where she dabbles in the kitchen making favorites including deviled eggs and banoffee pie. She spoke with she-files co-founder Ginanne Brownell about everything from her excitement about becoming a mom to spreading happiness one country at a time. EXCERPTS:
BROWNELL: Tell me about your new song? It’s got a very powerful and uplifting message.
STONE: I love how the song turned out because it works, no matter what the situation is that you’re coming through. We wrote about every fire in the land. And that’s really about the natural disasters that we’ve seen this year. And that’s something that people need to remember, there’s shit that happens every year, and beautiful things that happen every year. And we are so uber-focused on the shit right now. Yeah, we need to stop doing that, because it’s actually killing us slowly. And then we spoke about the heroes, which is referencing the health workers. But really, that is a reference to anyone that’s helping anyone, which is a lot of people.
You have performed in over 200 countries throughout your career, part of which was your Total World Tour that ended last year. That’s a pretty heady challenge.
I felt like it was the most purposeful thing that I’ve done. Most of the tours I do, it’s with a view to play to the people that like your music. And you’re selling records; a lot of time you do a tour to support the record. I think people have forgotten why they began, especially musicians. We need to remember why music exists. And what are we doing here? Are we just entertaining the entertained? And we hear this term “World tour” and as a little girl I thought that that meant every country in the world. Why would you miss out on the Congo? And the answer is very simple. It’s because, in the Congo, there’s no money. Why are you not going to Venezuela? Because you can’t take the money with you. Why aren’t you going to these places? It’s all money. But that’s not why we are doing it, is it? I fucking hope it’s not why. So I decided I was going to play a gig to pay for other gigs. It’s the worst business move I ever made. [Laughs]. And the best life move I ever made. And they don’t know your music, they are just happy you turned up.
Some stick in my mind because of the buildup. And the fear in my crews’ eyes when I said I wanted to play [somewhere], that’s always quite entertaining. And also, the real beautiful part of it is that you go to a place where you’ve been told for years that you will not be welcome. You are a woman. You’re a singer. You are not welcome. Well, that’s just bollocks.
Any particular places stick out in your mind? I am sure there were many
Examples would be places like Syria and Eritrea. I mean, Eritrea is amazing but I don’t know what is going on there [laughs]. They are amazing, the people were so nice. And the Middle East–Iraq and Iran. I did get deported from Iran. So technically I was not welcome. But the people, the people that deported me, were the nicest. I cannot tell you how lovely they were. They were almost in tears. They were so gutted when they could not let me in. So it’s not the people, it’s the regimes, the governments around the planet. Some of them are awesome and some of them haven’t quite caught up. But we must not judge people on their government. The Iranian people were some of the most welcoming I have ever met. It was my last gig. I said [to the customs officer], “If you deport me, you will break my heart.” And he said, “I am so sorry! Have some nice food before you leave. Please, please come back.” And so those things stick out in my mind.
Your podcast is both really fun and also quite interesting in terms of the people you interview and the topics you cover. And I like your interviewing technique.
When the pandemic happened, obviously, all my gigs were gone. So I was like, ” I can’t do that job anymore.” And then I started to think, “Right, well, what is my job?” And really the job, it doesn’t have to be singing. The job to me is to make people happy. I just want to make people feel something. So what can I do? And my friend has been making podcasts for years and he was asking me to do one but I never thought about what the subject matter would be. And he said, “Well, you know, everything you do is about happiness. Why don’t we just discuss that subject with many different people, many different walks of life, because everyone has an opinion on it, on whether they have it, whether you can or cannot have it.” I am so interested in different opinions. That’s my thing, I’m never really on one side of the fence. I’m always super interested in opposite opinions [to] mine. And I just find it a wonderful part of life because it helps you expand and help other people. When I did the world tour, I had three jobs. The first was the tour, did my gig. But we also made a collaboration with an artist in each country. And then the other part that I think was more purposeful and life-changing for me was we went to visit a charity in each country. And my job was to ask them questions, to interview them. So at first, I was a terrible interviewer. I didn’t know what I was doing. But then I kind of slowly honed it.
I’m writing a book about surrogacy and the meaning of motherhood. So I really have enjoyed your podcasts where you have talked to people like clinical psychologist Shefali Tsabary about the idea of giving birth to yourself as a mom.
I have been thinking about “Who do I want to talk to and who do people want to hear?” With that [interview], it came because I am pregnant. So my fiancee, Cody, he’s one that showed [her] to me, and he wouldn’t have shown that to me unless I was pregnant. Probably he wouldn’t have been interested himself. Things become very interesting to you when you’re about to be a parent. My questions were very much like, “I want to know.” And I’m hoping that the people that are listening, some of them maybe might be in the same position as I am. Or they might know someone like me, a sister, or someone who is pregnant. But, you know, some of the things she said really went right through me like, “Bloody hell, that sounds scary.” It’s kind of exciting and a little scary. I have always dreamt about my little baby. Always, it’s been in my mind, I just hadn’t found the right guy. And so I thought, “I’m probably not going to have kids of my own. I was going to adopt.” Because I just couldn’t find the right guy. I thought I do not trust any of the bastards with my unborn child. So I was already making decisions for this human that didn’t exist [yet].
How will your Christmas be different this year with being both heavily pregnant and in Covid times?
I was gonna come home. But then the doctor said, “You need to rest, no running around.” So I actually cancelled my trip home, which is weird, because I never spent Christmas away from home ever. But I just decided, I want to have a healthy baby. So I’m not going to get on a plane. So we’ve got this lovely little spot here. It’s really nice and calm. My mum came over. That’s all I need: my mum and my Cody.
How would you reflect on 2020 overall?
For me, I have seen it very positive for me and my family. But there’s so much upset. But I really do try to pick out the positives, which I am sure can be really annoying. It’s impossible to ignore how much sadness has happened this year, 2020. It’s been every single colour that you can imagine. It’s like the tapestry of life is bursting now in this year. It’s hard to even comprehend this year because of so many things that have gone on. I think it’s helped me to practice trying to see the good. Because there is a lot of good. Some of us have kind of practiced that and taken the opportunity to practice it. But it’s really bloody hard. We have had so much grief and sometimes when you are grieving it’s harder to see the positive. But then you come out the other end and there is beauty.
Photos courtesy of S-Curve Records