Back in 2003, the 16-year-old Joss Stone emerged to inject startling lungpower into neo-soul versions of songs by the likes of The White Stripes and The Isley Brothers. Fast-forward to 2014 and she’s released six hit albums (shifting in excess of 14 million copies worldwide), scooped up a stack of BRITs and Grammys, and collaborated with everyone from Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck to John Legend and hip hop luminary Common. After such a mammoth first decade in the music biz, the now 26-year-old British singer probably wants some downtime this year. However, the ambitious gig schedule she’s just dived into suggests otherwise.
In late March, Stone made her way to Morocco, “and then from that point on, every gig is going to be part of the world tour,” she says. And when she says “world tour”, she means it. “It depends what list you look at, but the list that’s recognised by the UN is 196 countries [in the world]. That’s what we’re going to go by. I’m doing all of them.”
Later this month the Total World Tour brings Stone our way to appear at Bluesfest, as well as a string of co-headline shows with India.Arie. As it stands, Stone expects the various stages of the tour to take at least a couple of years. Australia might be a long way to travel, but that’s nothing compared to performing in places such as North Korea and Syria, where military conflict and government hostility is rife. Stone’s tour is certainly a gutsy undertaking, but she points to a simple reason for scheduling dates in the globe’s less-frequented regions.
“When you’re a touring singer,” she explains, “there’s certain places that people want you to go – the fans will be in certain places. But then there’s the whole world. I feel like there should not be any barriers. There are no barriers when it comes to music. Music is a completely universal language.”
The fact this tour visits countries prudently left off most travelling artists’ gig lists makes it a rare opportunity for the locals to witness Western pop music firsthand. What’s more, Stone’s tour plans aren’t simply focused on increasing her global following.
“It also will be a charitable effort,” she says. “I want to visit a different charity in each country and see what I can do to help personally and, those that listen to me, see what I can encourage them to do to help.”
Stone hasn’t refrained from supporting charity in the past. She’s directed funds from music sales towards AIDS research and relief, performed at Live 8 and Live Earth, and appeared in a PETA awareness campaign (Stone herself is a vegetarian). Despite these ongoing efforts, she admits that making an active contribution to every worthy organisation out there just can’t be done.
“You try to spread yourself as thin as you possibly can because there isn’t really one problem that is worse than another. Death is death, whether it’s death from hunger, or death from not having enough water, or natural disasters, illnesses. There’s so many shitty things that go on in this world, there’s no one thing that matters more than another. It’s impossible for one human to do it all, but to encourage millions of people to do a lot is not impossible. I feel like I’ve been given certain tools in this life and I should use them.”
Indeed, Stone has been taking advantage of her natural vocal talents since a very young age. On her 2003 debut, Soul Sessions,the singer already demonstrated an in-depth understanding of vintage soul and R&B. With the following four records, Stone developed her own songwriting voice, before releasing a sequel to her debut (simply titled Soul Sessions II) in 2012. Though she hasn’t issued an originals album since LP1 in 2011, it’s no surprise to discover the perpetually productive Stone has a new set almost ready for release.
“Hopefully we’ll have the album being mixed in April while I’m away on my first leg of the world tour. Then I’ll come home and I’ll work on it some more and then it will be done. It’s soul music – everything is, if you feel it – but it’s a mixture of R&B/hip hop and reggae overtones.”
The term ‘soul music’ generally refers to a particular stylistic quality, which traces back to African-American gospel music. But perhaps any emotionally stirring music comes from the soul, not the mind. “We share emotions, humans – we share our feelings with each other, and that’s the beauty of soul music,” says Stone. “I can go onstage and I might sing a song that’s desperate and people will feel it.
“The beauty in singing a sad song is that it helps everybody that feels that way feel like they’re not alone. That’s what soul music does for me personally. It doesn’t put me into a sad space, it puts me into this space where I’m like, ‘Well thank God I’m not the only one that feels like that.”
Given Stone’s considerable success and massive fan base, there are clear expectations on her to meet a certain standard with everything she releases. For the soul artist, this can raise a contradiction: if there are rules of success to follow, how can anything truly come from the soul? Stone doesn’t see it that way.
“Because I haven’t been musically trained at all I don’t really know what’s right or what’s wrong or what the normal chord progression would be for a soul record or a blues record. So all I have is my gut. The way that I decide whether it’s worthy of being put out there to the masses is whether it feels good.
“The reason why I like [music] so much is because it’s not stressful and it doesn’t matter what you do. If it doesn’t feel like it’s flowing then, for me, it isn’t meant to be. I think if you remember why you began then you can continue. I began because I wanted to enjoy the music that was on this planet. So if I’m sat in the studio getting frustrated over a song then I’ve already defeated the purpose of why I began.
“As long as it sounds nice and evokes an emotion, I feel like you’ve achieved the goal of making good music,” she adds. “There are really no rules to it. You don’t need to be particularly ambitious, you just need to feel good about it. That’s the beauty in it, it’s a freedom of thought and spirit and vibe. It’s quite a beautiful thing.”