Joss Stone: British maverick with a style all her own

“Water For Your Soul is about finding your own fulfillment, doing what you really want to do,” explains Joss Stone. “For me, it’s music. But water for your soul can be anything. Some people like food, some people like to dance, some like to travel. Music is necessary for me – it feeds my soul, the same way water feeds a flower. It’s also about being brave and letting go.”

Prepare to be amazed and delighted by Joss Stone. The free spirited English soul singer has been on an incredible journey, metaphorical and literal, artistic and geographic, absorbing influences and making music. Water For Your Soul, which she has been touring in support of since its release in 2015, is the fruit of her travels in sound, demonstrating how the teen soul prodigy has blossomed into an artist of style and substance. By the time she takes the stage at Saturday in the Park, she will be 30, and will have logged more than half her life as a musician.

Joss Stone will play the main stage at the 2017 Saturday in the Park music festival in Sioux City on July 1.

Water For Your Soul is an album that pulses with the liquid groove of reggae, dazzles with the mix-and-match sonic adventure of hip hop, shimmers with the exotic sounds of world music and delivers the emotional belt of R’n’B. “It’s really a combination of all the things I like,” says Joss. “I’ll always have that bluesy, soul thing because it is in my voice. But these are new songs for me to sing, which is exciting.”

The album was four years in the making, the product of world travels, emotional adventures, and smoky jams with reggae royalty. A core musical strand can be traced back to LA sessions for Dave Stewart and Mick Jagger project Superheavy, on which Stone collaborated with Jamaican superstar Damien Marley.

“At night, Damien and I would hang out. Wherever he goes he gets a studio, just to have the freedom to play and create a vibe. It’s like a party every day, warm Guinness and a ridiculous amount of weed.” In a hidden complex beneath the legendary Sunset Marquee, Stone recorded for a Marley solo project and jammed with his band, writing some new songs, Love Me and Wake Up.

“I’ve always loved reggae and Damien gave me the confidence to go through that door. I’m not Jamaican, and I don’t speak patois but listening to Damien and his mates, this language is so gorgeous, and it’s got a melody to it and it helped me to put things together that fit that style of music.”

Away from the glare of show business, Joss has nurtured her inner hippie, quietly dropping out from the pop scene to travel Europe for months in a beat up camper van with a boyfriend. “I just took what I had and off I went. There was a real sense of freedom, like this is life, it tastes good.” Many of the songs are rooted in those experiences on the road, working on a boat in Spain, spending a month broken down outside a bar in France, living in a forest, making new friends, moving on. Songs span the break-up of one love affair (Let Me Breathe) and the beginning of another (Stuck On You). “If there is a theme to the album, it springs out of conversations, arguments, ideas about ways of living in the world. It’s about shaking off all the crap and getting up and realizing that hey you’re alive today, so move on.”

Stone won BBC talent show Star For A Night at aged 13, signed to a major label at 15, and released her debut album, The Soul Sessions, aged 16. She has sold over 14 million albums worldwide, her American success paving the way for a new generation of British female soul singers. And yet, in many ways, Stone is still an unknown quantity with maverick tendencies, steadfastly refusing to conform to the industries idea of a beautiful, blonde pop star. 

“Some people play music to pay their bills, some have a story to tell, some people make music to become famous,” Stone says.  “Every reason is valid, because it’s your own personal reason, and once you’ve figured it out, you know where you’re going. The reason I do it is because it fills me up. It’s like a drug to me. It’s like it tastes good and it smells good and it’s warm. If I’m walking down the street and I hear a busker playing, it makes my day better. And I guess I’m addicted to having that in my life. And that’s why I do it, to share that feeling with other people.”