PROJECT MAMA EARTH
A CONVERSATION WITH JOSS STONE
Preparation is overrated. Impulse is everything.
In June 2017, five world-renowned musicians met in Devon, England for a high-wire act unique in modern music.
They had no songs. No chord charts. No game plan. No safety net. Nothing, in fact, but a plan to play and catch the sparks.
We couldn’t be any more excited about a band than this all-star lineup of Joss Stone (vocals), Nitin Sawhney (guitar), Jonathan Joseph (drums), Étienne M’Bappé (bass/guitar) and Jonathan Shorten (keyboards).
Thus runs a press-release blurb for something that is quite different musically.
After the initial introductions where the very beautiful Miss Joss Stone quickly renders me into a blubbering mass of jelly by complimenting me on my accent, (cue very embarrassed interviewer), I manage to retain my composure and after pausing for a breath I seeked to identify what actually caused the complete musical departure. Joss explained that in order not to repeat her previous work she felt that it is important to do something different each time. She referenced a previous album release Water For Your Soul which featured many different music styles which fit together. There were a few styles that were the backbone, but that for her it was like a nice little departure and that had been inspired by her world tour. On this release however it is completely different .It involves two specific rhythms that run through the whole project. Joss stated that although it was just five or six tracks- a little EP that it had just felt like a nice little thing to do. ”To become part of something that you’ve never heard before.” The idea came from Jonathan the drummer who had studied the two rhythms from Cameroon. He had heard them when he was younger and as he felt that he couldn’t play them he immersed himself in it and studied it. After some persistence, Joss agreed.
I had seen some of Joss tour videos and had falsely got the impression that the Project Mama Earth was actually recorded around the world in various countries. Joss was keen to set the record straight. The EP was actually recorded in Devon. She saw the EP as just a little moment of her life. Her current project right now is her world tour. She plays a gig in every country and then makes a collaboration with an artist from that country, she then visits a charity and make a video. She thus becomes inspired to get involved in different projects. She finds that it inspires her mentally. Would her next step be to feature the Project Earth songs as perhaps a short set on her current UK tour? She expressed an interest in my idea but felt that it could be difficult to get the band together to actually perform. Although the EP is just a short collection of music When asked which was her favourite track, she paused before stating, ”I was just listening to the track “Breathe.” I really like that one. It is just like a lovely feeling.” Project Earth and its creation had served as a catalyst for Joss and inspired her to develop in terms of exploring different musical styles and genres. She stated that she had actually done all the collaborations first, so it was actually the other way around. The project had purely originated from the drummers desire to explore that particular form of rhythm. Joss regarded the project as “just another collaboration”.
I asked Joss if she had something unique to share about Project Mama Earth that she had not previously revealed in any previous interviews. Stating that this was only her third interview, my question appeared to momentarily catch her off guard. Other than saying it was fueled by drinking red wine with her mum in the kitchen there’s nothing unique about it. In her opinion it was just a piece of music and that it sounds different and interesting. The creative process itself was referred to as “a nice time”.
Joss had made several references to her current world tour and her experiences along the way. According to Joss, obviously each country was unique but that she personally felt that the countries that you have the best human experience in, those are the ones that you remember. She singled out Kosovo as a particular favourite and described it as a place that she loved particularly because of the people that she met there, she had made some friends there and she felt “like I’ll never not be in touch with them.” That was what inspired her and what had enriched her were the conversations that she had. She mentioned that when you work with an artist that she didn’t know and she was singing in a language that she didn’t fully understand, it’s like having a unique and very natural connection. In Kosovo she had gained a friend, they had sang together and recorded that song. She had also visited a charity which had also proved particularly memorable. Tanzania was another that Joss referenced because of its people “Yes the sand was white, and the sea was blue but that also the people are what matters”.
I feel that Joss has quite a unique vocal style and talent and asked her how that first became discovered. She referred to growing up in a musical home with both her parents playing music a lot when she was young. James Brown was one such artist that she recalled being played while she was growing up. There were no family musical get-togethers, Joss saying that performance just came naturally although it did have to be coaxed and encouraged. She stated that she was actually quite shy when it came to singing. While her sister was being centre stage and performing in school dramas, Joss was actually the quiet one just backing her up .Parental encouragement was then actually required to push Joss to sing at family occasions like barbecues. She accepts that being the centre is just something that comes with the job but surprisingly even now with all her musical success she still feels a sense of awkwardness. However Joss balanced that with the magical feeling of being blessed to be able to make other people feel good through her music. Joss like many of us has experienced more than her fair share of extremely dark and difficult times. Many turn to music to get them through those periods. Joss referenced close family support ,she stated that she didn’t expect to use music itself as a form of therapy however actually she had noticed in recent years that when she had felt particularly bad and that she didn’t want to perform that she felt she still had an obligation to do so as it is her job. When she performs however it totally fixes her “Music is totally the closest thing to magic that I have ever come across”.
Outside of the stage and studio when Joss is not doing anything musical, she goes home,spending some time with her dogs, and doing some cooking. She described a recent time when her and her mother sat down together and just painted together. She pointed out that despite neither of them knowing what they were doing, it was just particularly nice to have that shared experience. Joss said that she also enjoyed being creative or just appreciating nature through taking just a simple walk in the forest. She just enjoys colours and nature ”I enjoy that more than anything” Joss’s love of animals is widely known and would she agree with my description of herself as an “animal person” Laughing she shared that she supported several animal charities including one in the Congo for orphaned gorillas. Even just discussing one in particular, she virtually gushed in describing her personal experience. Had she brought that one home or adopted him. Laughing Joss replied, “I did think about it but I don’t think I’d get him through customs.”
Joss has achieved so much in her musical career to date, had she already ticked all her personal ambition and career boxes? Alternatively, did she even now still have some goals /dreams and ambitions to fulfill? ”The one hope and dream that I have is that I hope I make it to every country in the world and I hope to bring a little goodness to every country.”
She did add however that once that goal had been achieved that she would then come up with a new one.
Unfortunately my stated hope to see her live would have to be put on hold, or would it.? Her current world tour which had taken a year and a half which had included a solitary London show at the Royal Festival Hall meant that she would not be returning to the UK for the foreseeable future. However, this is where our conversation took a turn. My earlier suggestion of reuniting the Project Earth band had clearly been developing within her mind to the extent where Joss stated, “I may do a little touring with this Mama Earth Project. I’m thinking about getting everyone together and doing that.” As I claimed credit for that idea, I requested a personal invite to that one should it actually happen. Joss and I discussed a few things to that which would be a one off. ”If we do it, we’ll definitely let you know.” Joss, this has now gone into print so no going back on that now. I wrapped up with my standard interview closer by asking the beautiful Joss Stone if the roles were reversed who would she actually like to interview herself if given the opportunity. After mentioning one of her musical heroes Joss surprisingly stated, the Dalai Lama ,or someone like that would be more interesting.
With a shouted reminder from her mum in the background that my time was up, I bid farewell to Joss Stone,thanking her for taking the time out of her hectic schedule to allow me to talk to her. For a huge global superstar, Joss really impressed me with her easygoing manner and courtesy probably one of the most relaxed and pleasant interviews that I have done to date. I guess her initial, compliment regarding my accent set the relaxed tone for what freely followed .Certainly hope that the discussed Project Mama Earth gig happens, that would be truly a magical musical experience.