Joss Stone Talks New Musical Direction With Garden-Inspired 'Project Mama Earth'

Joss Stone
Courtesy of Mascot Label Group

Joss Stone

Since she made her bow in 2003 with the breathtaking debut album The Soul Sessions, Joss Stone has traveled down many different musical roads, from soul to pop to reggae. For her latest musical offering, the highly-respected singer veers toward another fresh course – the music and the ancient Cameroonian rhythms of the Mangambe and the Bikutsi – along with lyrics that are designed to make us think about the world we live in, and how to take better care of it.

Project Mama Earth is a new set that aligns her artistic path with Nitin Sawhney (guitar), Étienne M'Bappé (bass/guitar) and Jonathan Shorten (keyboards), and Jonathan Joseph (drums). With such an internationally renowned group of musicians, one might call this an all-star project, but Stone says her view of the album is more simple than that.

“It’s a funny thing. We really didn’t intend for it to be an album," Stone says. "We just thought we would get into the studio with a bunch of friends and make some music. Jonathan, the drummer, had an idea to work with this rhythm, which was a rhythm I had never worked with before. Then, his friend Etienne, who plays bass, is from the country where the rhythm comes from, so Jonathan asked him if he wanted to come down. Then, I called Nitin, whom I had known for years, as well as Johnny. It’s really just a group of friends making music. It might come across as an ‘all star’ kind of thing, but it’s not. It’s just five people who enjoy each other, making some noises. It was really laid-back.”

For Stone, the term “laid-back” is exactly what she means, as the singer, who was in between tours, didn’t want to approach it like a normal recording session. “I thought it would be nice to make some music, but I didn’t have a lot of time at home. I told Johnny ‘Let’s do it, but this is my home time from the tour.' So I just wanted to be at home with my dogs, bake cakes and stuff, and be in the garden. So, if we could do both, that would be great. He said that would be cool. They would go in the studio, and I could pop in when I wanted, and add my bit. So, that’s what I did. It was nice. They had their fun playing around in the studio, and I had my fun in the kitchen, as well as in the garden at home, and do some writing on the river. It was really mellow.”

Making Project Mama Earth the way that the group did allowed them to make the kind of music that they wanted to – without any creative restraints. “I like it when people do what the fuck they want,” she candidly told Billboard. “That was my job – to protect that. If Jonathan wanted to play a rhythm that was odd to me, I didn’t want my opinion to affect what he was playing. That went for all of them. I didn’t want anyone to come in and say ‘I love that you’ve been playing bass for twenty-five years, but could you just play it like this?’ I wanted none of that, and I didn’t want someone telling me how to sing either. I just wanted everyone to do whatever that they wanted. Then you have a piece of music that is pure for each individual. There’s no one producer saying ‘No, this is the sound.’ We just had respect for each other musically. It was a fun time.”

Creatively, Stone approached the writing of the material in a different manner as well. “I had a bit of a moment when I was writing. I decided ‘You know what, I’m not going to write about ‘bloke’ – translation man," she said with a smile. “I wanted to write about what was important and real. Mother Nature is everywhere, so why not write about her. I think that’s everything. The garden did help me with the writing process.”

The lyrical content of Project Mama Earth was inspired by Stone’s thoughts on what Mother Nature might say to her inhabitants if she could speak. “The point of the song is about how we walk around incredibly arrogant, as though we can affect Mother Nature in a way that is irreversible. And, if she wants, she can just shake us off at a moment's notice. I think that she’ll let us be here for as long as she wants, and then, when she’s done, it will be disastrous for human beings --  but perfectly fine for Mother Nature. What the album is really saying is ‘Get over yourselves. Yes, don’t put plastic in the ocean, because that’s a horrible thing to do. Turn off the lights. We know how we are affecting the world.’ But, at the same time, don’t think that tomorrow is promised for human beings – because it’s not. We are tiny, a speck on a speck. We are very insignificant.”

Stone encourages one to meditate on the truly important things in life. “At the end of the day, we should enjoy what we have, and that we are so blessed that we get to hear the birds singing and to drink the water from this planet, and breathe in the air. Just be glad that we’re able to be part of it. Sometimes, we just need to look around and think, God, this is amazing – we are nature, and all linked. It’s a lovely thing.”

Project Mama Earth is one in a long line of musical collaborations that Stone has participated in. She feels that they make her stronger artistically for doing them. “I put myself in this space of learning songs in a different language and timing, using different parts of my voice. It helps me to realize that there’s not just one sound. It helps me to enjoy the fruits of life, and what I do for a job. I sing, and that’s my job – but really, it’s like a life choice – to have musical conversations with people around the world, and to be able to connect with them and speak their language through notes and melodies. It’s really a special thing, and helps you to feel very lucky, and very often.”

The musical stylings of the album are yet another example of her pushing her own musical boundaries a bit – something she enjoys. “I don’t feel that I’m a stuck person. I exercise different things, and don’t feel like I have to be one way. That’s a nice feeling to have, but it took me a little while. When you’re younger, I think you ask yourself ‘Should I be like this or that?’ I guess I get bored so quickly, that I just really couldn’t stick to one thing. Now, I feel that has made me more free – and happier.”

Another part of the Grammy winner’s life that brings her joy is her love of animals. “I have a rescue dog named Maggie that I got from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home,” she beams. “I have visited a lot of dog adoption places around the world and animal rescue centers,” adding that her love extends far beyond the traditional world of dogs and cats. “We went to this place in the Congo, which is run by the Aspinall Foundation, who has a presence in countries all around the world. This place was for gorillas. They would find the babies, who were orphans, because people would poach the mothers. They would look after them and teach them how to be a gorilla. It was amazing. I thought that if I ever had a second job, this would be what I would have to do. It’s a part of nature, which is the purest thing to be a part of. It’s magical, and at the same time, it’s slightly dangerous – which is life. It’s a special thing to be a part of. Animals are innocent, and used and abused – for food, clothing, and entertainment. I think that’s a little bit unfair, and something that I don’t really want to be a part of. I just want to be a part of whatever is kind, and I don’t think that people ask themselves whether something is kind or not often enough. I think if we did, it would be a better world.”