When she was just 15, the soon-to-be soul-singing sensation Joss Stone went into the studio to record her star-making debut album the soul sessions. It was a stunning offering to the world, showing that this little girl could sing the blues with as much conviction and power as any full-grown woman.
In retrospect Stone laughs at the industry amazement at her ability to slip so easily into the mindset of a blues chanteuse.
‘When I was younger people would say to me: how could you sing these songs? You are so young and the songs are so emotional! I couldn’t be more emotional than I was at that moment! I was a teenager; it’s the perfect time to sing blues!’
A decade on from Soul Sessions Joss returned to the studio with the man who signed her at just 15 years of age, Steve Greenberg, to do it all again: Soul Sessions Volume 2.
‘It was completely different this time,’ says Stone, ‘apart from the fact that it was covers – that was the theme we kept, but everything else was different. I liked it. When you sing other people’s songs you don’t have to agonise about them. You don’t have to write. You just have fun!
‘The Soul Sessions Volume 2 includes versions of classic tracks such as (For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People (originally recorded by the Chi Lites) and The Love We Had (Stays on My Mind) by the Dells, as well as stunning future single The High Road – a stone-cold soul makeover of Broken Bells’ cult hit. Other stand-outs include a classy version of Womack & Womack’s Teardrops and a laidback take on Sylvia’s Pillow Talk. The first single from the album will be the uptempo summer sound of While You’re Out Looking For Sugar, originally recorded by The Honey Cone.
So what was it like for young Stone negotiating a tricky industry at such an early age?
‘It was hard work, but I don’t think I ever felt of my depth really. I felt scared a couple of times, but comfortably scared in a way; it’s not like a horrible thing – it helped me continue. It wasn’t the kind of fear that would have stopped me from walking forward – and besides, I didn’t have any other calling; I hated school and I didn’t want to go back.’
Stone credits her mother and the good advice of the team who gathered around her for helping her find her feet in the music industry.
‘Becoming successful can be a dangerous game to play, especially when you are so young. It can totally mess with you. My mum stuck around until I was 17; she didn’t disappear as my mother, but up until then she was working as my manager. She was doing it because she loves me, not for any other reason. Those reality TV shows are a worry; they take all types of people and throw them into being famous quickly, and some people aren’t mentally prepared for it, they take things too seriously. I never read my own criticisms, I don’t’ pay attention. I don’t believe the hype. I think when you don’t believe it you can stay normal. It’s not that extraordinary anyway. It just happens to be the right time for what I have to give. You can’t turn into a fan of yourself. That’s weird and there’s no perspective there!’
Stone is as natural offstage as she is onstage, an effortless approach that seems to translate into her songwriting.
‘I wish I could play an instrument, then I think I would write all the time! A lot of the time I will be driving in the car and I will hear a song and write over that; it gives me something – it inspires a story, which inspires a lyric. I love to co-write, I love to bounce off someone!’
So how does Joss Stone maintain the enormous energy and emotion that she packs into a performance?
‘You have to hold on to a moment; you learn little tricks. I pretty much hold it all in until I am ready to sing, and that’s when I let loose.
Sometimes it’s exhausting, it gives you a headache, but it can be interesting, and you have to have to flip from one feeling to another, especially in a show as you go from song to song. It’s not a West End show where songs slowly morph into each other! In a gig I go from one song to the next telling one mister to bugger off and the next song saying, ‘I love you more than life’. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and it does knacker you out a bit, but you have to live that four minutes when it’s there.’
The extraordinary Joss Stone at Bluesfest this Easter. For program and ticket information go to www.bluesfest.com.au.