Joss Stone (born Joscelyn Stoker) grew up listening to her parents’ record collections, falling in love with Aretha Franklin at an early age. She auditioned for the BBC’s Star for a Night at age 13 on a lark and won, leading to a record deal and her multiplatinum 2003 debut, The Soul Sessions. At 16, she became the youngest person nominated for the United Kingdom’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize.
By the time she was 22, Stone was done with the glamour and glitz of being a pop star. She paid EMI almost everything she had—allegedly over $10 million—to buy her way out of her contract. Freedom was that important to her. She’s released three albums since then, including her reggae-flavored latest, 2015’s Water for Your Soul, produced by Damien Marley, who encouraged her stylistic stretch.
Stone is supporting the album with an unusual world tour. Usually, an artist’s “world tour” only includes stops in a few lucrative foreign markets. Not Stone’s. She’s intent on visiting each of the 204 countries of the world, no matter the cost; so far, she’s been to 115 of them. In every country, she interacts with locals and records with indigenous musicians, posting the results on her Facebook page.
Joss Stone is a free spirit full of positivity and substantial spunk, who has chosen how she wants to live her life and has made those dreams come true. Stone spoke with us by phone for almost an hour from Devon, England, where she lives in the same house she grew up in. (The conversation has been edited and condensed for length.)
High Times: So, how are you? How have you been?
Joss Stone: I’ve been mentally busy. It’s a bit crazy.
HT: What have you been so mentally busy with?
JS: I’ve been doing the world tour, so writing songs in different languages and things of this nature. Visiting charities. We went to Italy and Georgia. It was nice, really. And then when we got home, my whole family from Beal—who I love very much—had all come down and we went camping in the rain.
JS: [Giggles] Yeah, so I just got back from that. Literally an hour ago we got back loaded with children, and everyone covered in mud. It’s a little bit mad, really. But it’s good.
HT: I heard the inspiration for Water for Your Soul was a camper trip across Europe you took in total ’60s American style.
JS: Years and years ago, actually. Some of the songs from Water for Your Soul come from quite a long time ago. It’s funny because I just got Dennis working again. My camper’s called Dennis. It’s a 1966 Opel Blitz. It’s amazing. I love it. I drove from England to Spain… and it broke down in Bordeaux. I was there for ages because we needed to get a new engine. It was completely fucked. So in the time I was broken down I called my friend Johnny in England and I was like, “Johnny, hey, I’m down here. Would you like to write some songs? ’Cause I’m just chilling. Literally. I’m parked outside this pub and I can’t move.” So he came and we started writing songs. There was one song called “Water for Your Soul,” which we did not include on the record because sonically it didn’t really fit. It was more electronic. The lyrics are saying, Whatever it is that you do, make sure that you are fed. So water yourself, and the saying is: If you don’t water it, it will not grow. So you must work with whatever your food is.
HT: Have you always had an easy time following that advice? You come off as very free-spirited and self-possessed. Was that always the case?
JS: I’ve always had that because my parents instilled it into me, but there have been fits and starts. There have been times, especially when I was a teenager, and you question “you.” Because there are a lot of people around, especially since I was working with a bunch of adults. They’re pricking you constantly. They’re telling you how to do this and who to be and “Well, you should really do that.” It’s a lot of information. So you go through a moment, or a few moments actually, where you go, “Ohmigod, am I wrong or am I right?” Now that I’m older, I think, you know, there is no wrong. You kind of make mistakes but they’re there to teach you, so you should just stick to your path and go with what makes you feel good.
HT: You’re quoted as saying you’re a lot happier now than when you were younger. Why is that?
JS: It kind of goes back to the choice thing. My dad said to me, “In life, you have three choices. You have ‘put up or shut up,’ ‘change it,’ and you have ‘get out.’” If you can think of a fourth choice, please give me a call. But basically, those are your three choices in this life.
If you’re in a situation you don’t like—for example, I was in a record deal that lasted for years. I was learning and it was like being in school for the first bit because I was learning my craft. Then when I got older, I decided I wanted to make the music I always wanted to make. So of course I got a lot of resistance from a lot of people. And those people were a lot older than me. Big businessmen. Quite intimidating characters. And I realized that I was miserable. I didn’t like what was going on. I didn’t really like the promo, the photo shoots, the red carpet …. I realized that was like 90 percent of my job and 10 percent was music. So I thought back to what my dad said. So I tried to change it. I tried to speak to the people that were my boss at the end of the day and I told them I wanted to do the music I wanted to do, and that wasn’t happening. I put up and shut up for like a little bit, I kinda considered that option not really an option, but it’s there. And in the end, I got out.
And now I can do this. I can have this lovely life filled with music. And it’s so wonderful and everything I do now is really positive. So if I do have to go and do a photo shoot or walk on the red carpet, it’s because I chose to do it …. And tomorrow, if I choose to not do it, I just don’t do it. And that’d be it.
HT: You’ve empowered yourself and set yourself free, but it came at a high cost.
JS: Yes, but it doesn’t matter because my focus wasn’t money. So I have no misery from that. But if I was a person that felt success is money, and for some people it is, you know I won’t yuck someone’s yum—if that’s your thing, that’s your thing. Go for it. Make as much money as you can. I don’t care. Not my thing. My thing is something else. So I don’t miss that. At all. Who needs it? How much money do you really need?
HT: You live in the same house where you grew up. You already have a home.
JS: Exactly. I have a home, I’m fine. And you know, if I really have it to go make some money, I can go and do that because I have a choice.
HT: You said as part of your world tour you went to a festival and you were the only one that showed. And they were so grateful. That spirit has to give a lot back.
JS: That was lovely. That was lovely. We were in Istanbul. I don’t know if you remember, but they had the coup. It was a military coup and it was very kind of scary. There was a festival and there were a bunch of musicians that were supposed to be there and they all got scared, basically, and they didn’t go. Which is fair enough. I mean we’re talking about people’s lives here. But for me, as I said, I’m on a different kind of tour. So for me that’s the most important time to go. That’s not the time to turn around and not go. You’re supposed to be there for the people and help them feel like they’re not alone. I read a few articles, and some of the public had been saying that they felt very deserted by the world when that happened. And I’m just so pleased I wasn’t part of that. I’m glad I didn’t desert them.
HT: You did several episodes playing a character on the Showtime series The Tudors. I’m curious about your experience.
JS: I loved it. I thought it was very fun. I did feel a bit out of place. I think musicians, we stay up late and we basically play like children play. So we keep our child alive, like all the time. So to us it’s like, “Let’s go play!” It’s not like, “Let’s go to work.” But I’ve noticed that actors take it very seriously. So that is a different mind-set for me because my whole life and everything that’s serious, I go, “Eh. You’re boring me.” [Laughs] And I kinda move on because I don’t enjoy it. “My God, this is stressful; I’d rather just go play.” So to me it was a different mind-set and I think I need to get into it more if I’m going to do more acting. I need to go, “Right, and let’s be serious and let’s pretend to be someone else.” For me, my approach was one of a 6-year-old. Like when you dress up and play pretend as a little girl. That’s what I was doing. And I found it brilliantly fun. I think the rest of the actors were like, “What the fuck is wrong with that girl?!” But I got a lot of great advice from some of the actors as well. It was a very nice experience to do something different with my emotions.
HT: It’s funny you said that about boring you. I know you’re an Aries, and I read this article about what different signs need to learn about love. “Aries: You need to get over the idea that people are sometimes boring, you can’t have excitement every single moment.”
JS: Ahhhh! That’s so annoying. [Laughs] I know I do need to do that, actually. But it’s very boring, isn’t it! I’m the girl who wants the honeymoon period to last forever. Like it will never go away, and if it goes away, I’m over it. I’m like, “Okay. The moment is gone, you’re gone. I can’t have dinner with you.” Yeah, I’m not the best.
HT: An Aries very much likes to conquer new things.
JS: Yeah, I’m just very much in love with love, you know? I have this fairy-tale idea of what love should be, and I want it to be magical. I want everything in my life to be magical, actually. If you ever come to my house, you’ll see what I mean. I’ve made it like a fairyland. Flowers and hearts everywhere, and there’s colors and little gems hanging from the windows. I just like things to be magical if they can be, and in love there’s your opportunity. I think that’s how it should be, and if it’s not like that, then, “Nah. Don’t want it.”
HT: Tell me about the CBD oil and how you became involved with it.
JS: This thing to me is very important. As a singer, I’ve always said, “Yes, I smoke weed,” when I’m asked. Of course I say yes, because why wouldn’t I smoke weed? There are many reasons not to, though not that many compared to the reasons to do it. I’ve always been open about it … [but] people go, “Hippie! No, not listening to you,” and I think that’s a bloody shame.
I had this experience in my local pub. I have investigated this a lot and devoted hours and hours and days and days and spoken to doctors and people that use CBD to make medicine out of it. So I go to the pub and I’m having a pint outside. And I met this chap called Harry, who was seemingly a very nice chap, and he told me, “I’m a vet for horses.” And I said, “Oh, interesting, have you looked into CBD oils for pain relief for animals, because I know they’ve done a lot of studies on that.” And he basically turned around to me and said, “If you want to go get stoned, go get stoned.” And I thought, “No, no, no, I’m not saying that. I’m just asking if you looked into it.” And he goes, “I don’t need to hear all this hippie-dippy bullshit.” And so obviously we had a little bit of an argument. A friendly argument over a pint, but a bit of an argument, and I said, “You know what, Harry? I’m going to send you the information I have, but it is your responsibility as a vet and as anyone in the medical profession”—and I believe anyone that reads this article needs to educate themselves. And now he has dedicated his life to studying CBD oil. He wrote me a letter like a few weeks later and was like, “I apologize, this is absolutely incredible and I’m going to run studies on this.” He’s actually changed his job now. So, I mean, I feel so pleased that I could at least change one person’s mind, because it shouldn’t have that stigma on it. The things that that plant can do is so much more important than getting you stoned ….
It’s used for epilepsy and has worked with skin cancer. I actually put it on—do you know what an age spot is? You know when on your hand you get a little brown spot? I had one and I was like, “Mum! Ohmigod! What is that?!” And she’s like, “Oh honey, you’re getting old.” I was like, “My God!” So I got my CBD oil and I put it on and in less than a week it was gone.
HT: Can you tell us the story of the first time you got high?
JS: I remember I was supposed to be going to a club with my friend. But I was a kid. I was really too young. This is a terrible story. But I lived in the countryside where I was very bored, and what we did most of the time was smoke and drink cider. And that’s very Devon country life. My friend Bonny, she was the naughty one, really. Or kind of. And she would go and get—it was hash, really, we never had weed, or any green. So she’d make a spliff because her brothers used to smoke weed. And then we’d go down, and I remember we’d have to crawl past the window so my mom didn’t see us going the wrong way. We were supposed to be going left but we went right. And anyway, so we went down and smoked the spliff. We didn’t know what we were doing. We got really high, didn’t know what the hell was going on. We were way too young. And then my mum was like, “I didn’t see them go across the window the right way [coming back].” So she figured us out. But we didn’t get caught, which was great—she didn’t know what the hell we were doing. It was very funny and I’ll never forget it. It was so funny, but you know that’s not for me to encourage. It’s not really for children to be doing. But we were bored and we were kids and we didn’t have enough entertainment basically.
HT: We do really get so judgmental and it’s so crazy. I read somebody criticizing you, about the way you make your vowels. I thought we got over this with Eliza Doolittle.
JS: Oh, my vowels, as in my accent. Yeah, I know people get pissed off with how you talk. It doesn’t matter. So what? God. It was funny—I was talking to a singer friend of mine and he was getting very upset. He’d done something on TV and he noticed that he was getting comments and 90 percent of them were lovely, but 10 percent were “I don’t like what you were wearing” or “I don’t like how you sang” or “I don’t like your lyric” and “You’re a dick” and da-da-da. And I was like, Jesus Christ, if I let that get to me, I would have a mental breakdown. There are too many people in this world. You cannot please everybody. And you know what? Fuck ’em. [Laughs] That’s the attitude you have to have. If they don’t like it, fuck ’em, but let’s hope that they do.
HT: Let’s hope they do.
JS: Yes, because we have to put out positivity.