Soul & blues superstar Joss Stone about her 20 years in music: interview with the UK’s Aretha Franklin

Joss Stone performing in Wales, UK © to the owners

Joss Stone performing in Wales, UK © to the owners

More than two decades following her 2001 debut in music aged 13 which led to songs like You Had Me and Right to be Wrong entering the UK charts, soul & blues singer and songwriter Joss Stone is still on top: she scored one Grammy Award and two Brit Awards over five nominations throughout her career, she released her ninth studio album Merry Christmas, Love in 2022, and she hosts a popular Auddy podcast called A Cuppa Happy which explores the nature of human happiness.

Often described as “the white Aretha Franklin“, the English Mezzo-soprano has established herself as one of the best-selling soul artists of the 2000s with 15 million records sold worldwide; she dueted with the likes of Annie Lennox and Ricky Martin and founded The Joss Stone Foundation which offers support to over 200 charities across the globe.

Joss Stone is in today to discuss music, dreams, plans and how very happy her podcast about happiness is making her.

Joss Stone © to the owners

Joss Stone © to the owners

Joss, what achievements are you most proud of?

For me, I’m most proud of the world tour because it was so long and very difficult to do. It was also very difficult to start, it didn’t start for years as nobody really wanted me to do it; I was discouraged from all sorts of different directions. I do feel proud that we did it and we spread love and joy and good feelings in many places over the world, which is what music is for. It’s hard to do it when it’s an uphill struggle and you are being told it’s a bad idea and that it won’t bring you anything, but it actually did. It didn’t just bring me a lot, it brought a lot of people a lot of joy and sweet moments. Those moments may be forgotten now by them, but they’ll never be forgotten by me.

How do you feel when you hear one of your songs playing on the radio?

I feel really glad that people still like my music because that’s the point, that’s why I made it.

Which one of your songs are you most attached to?

Probably Right to Be Wrong because I wrote it with [the late American soul and R&B singer] Betty Wright and I really didn’t know how to write at that point. I mean, my input was there, but really I was still learning. So, I was truly guided by her, and she was somebody who gave me a lot of confidence and strength in my singing career but also in my life, and my attitude to life. She taught me to be brave really, both as a singer and in that song, I believe she was trying to teach me that I was gonna make mistakes and that was going to be okay. So, when I sing it for the people, I’m singing it for them but also, I’m singing it for me and I cannot say that for a lot of my other songs. But that one just helps you feel encouraged and excepted no matter what mistakes you make, and now that Betty Wright has passed away, it means even much more.

What do you think of the current state of music?

It’s hard to say because there are so many different parts and sectors of music, so many different genres and age groups and things like that. You could listen to all the old-school stuff and not be aware of the new stuff at all, or vice versa. You could listen to electronic music and not be aware of country music at all. You can live in your own little bubble, and I think that’s what people do, so it’s hard to give a general comment on the current state of music as a whole because I don’t really know about it all. I think it would be nice to kinda make a comment on how available music is today and that’s such a beautiful thing. If you wanna find something, as long as you know how to look for it, you can find it and I think that’s great.

Is there any difference in music between today and when you first started out in the early 00s?

I’m sure there is! Definitely sound-wise, sonically there is a difference because people move on and come up with different ideas. Now we have the Atmos mix [Dolby Atmos Music is a new immersive audio format for music production], which is something I’ve just learnt about when mixing my ninth studio album Merry Christmas, Love. They asked for an Atmos mix which I thought was just the most magical thing I’ve ever heard. To sit in a room and be completely surrounded by music kinda blew my mind a little bit. I felt like a little old lady. There were speakers in front of me, to the side, above my head behind my head, so the mix was totally different. That is something I have never done before and certainly didn’t do when I first started out so that has certainly changed. The idea that people can even listen to that at home with just headphones – special headphones obviously – is quite mad to me. It’s brilliant, but certainly not something we had before. As far as the music industry is concerned, it is very different to how it was when I first started, record sales are very different, everything is different really. It’s been 20 years, so I suppose it has to come along and change – doesn’t it?

What’s the best song of all time, in your opinion?

I cannot answer that. I have absolutely no idea. I don’t even know where to start thinking about that. No idea.

Are there any artists you would really like to collaborate with, at this stage in your career?

You know what, I love collaborating with people; if I like them, I want to sing with them. To be honest, even if I’ve never heard of them before, and I’ve just heard about a story and there’s someone down the road who makes music, I want to sing with them. So, I don’t really have one person, in particular, just anybody who has the same heart for music as me, I suppose. It’s just fun to collaborate.

How did you come up with your podcast A Cuppa Happy?

It wasn’t actually my idea, it was Richard’s; he is a friend from school who ended up making podcasts for a living. He was always telling me “Let’s do one!”, but I’d never had the time. Then, in 2020, the pandemic hit and all my gigs disappeared, so I suddenly had a lot of time and we thought “How about now?!” We then needed to decide what it was going to be about, and Richard pointed out to me that actually everything I do is about happiness. So, then I just had to come up with a name, take a picture and that was it, we were on our way – just chatting to people and hoping people would get something out of it. Really it’s just a collection of conversations with some really intelligent people that have studied happiness one way or another. If they are clinical psychologists, then they truly have studied the brain and science side of things. So we have some people on like that who talk about how your gut instructs your brain to be happy or sad, or how neurological pathways can be strengthened and weakened with habits. We also get some artist input when we speak with musicians or poets, and then a whole other human input when we speak with comedians and illusionists. We’re getting input from all different directions because the truth of the matter is that happiness means something different to every individual person, so you can’t just have one type of human commenting on that subject; it has to be a wide spectrum and hopefully, as the podcast goes on, it will just get wider and wider, and we’ll speak with people from all different walks of life, different jobs and feelings and emotions, and different cultures. I think that’s very important because the listeners will be of all different shapes and sizes and coming from all different places as well, it’s not something that just gets put out in one country, in one village, it’s something that is available the world over. Plus, it’s very interesting to kind of casting the net wide, and for me, my part in it is simply to ask questions because I don’t really know the answers. So, that’s why we do it, to find the answers and hopefully share them with people who will get something good out of it. And maybe their day will be happier if they pick up a good tip!

What are your plans for the future?

I’ve got lots of plans. I plan to have lots more babies and be the best Mum I can be. Make some good music hopefully. Trying to plan to make a record that is different to the last seven or eight that I’ve done so far. Always trying to keep things a little bit different. I released a Christmas album in 2022 titled Merry Christmas, Love which is something I’ve never done before but have always wanted to do, so that’s a bit of a dream of mine coming true. And then we plan to continue A Cup of Happy for as long as people enjoy it. And right now, I’m certainly enjoying making this podcast; it’s bringing a lot of positivity to my life and hopefully others. I plan to move back to England at some point [at the time of this interview Joss Stone has been based in Nashville, U.S.] so I can be near my family and my children can be brought up around their cousins. I just have lots of plans!

Joss Stone performing Northern Ireland © to the owners

Joss Stone performing Northern Ireland © to the owners

Pictures provided by Joss Stone’s publicity team © belongs to their respective owners

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