INTERVIEW: London's JONES Speaks of Cover Tunes, Stevie Wonder and Alternate Universes
Hailing from East London, the soft-spoken and enchanting JONES is on her way to becoming a household name. Garnishing the attention of Sam Smith with her Indulge EP and Calvin Harris after a delicate cover of his mega hit “How Deep Is Your Love” JONES has found a way to stand out from the crowd without too much of a ruckus or outlandish media tactics. Calm and quiet in nature, her insightful responses throughout the interview reveal an artist who is aware of not only herself but also the world around her. We were lucky to sit down with the singer after her performances at SXSW and discussed everything from how to make a cover song your own, Stevie Wonder, the possibility of alternate universes and synesthesia.
What color do you feel like today?
Yellow. I’m feeling really happy.
How was SXSW for you?
It was amazing -- my first time being there. My first time to the states, actually. The audience responded really, really well. I had people queuing up to find out more and that’s something that doesn’t happen in London because culturally we’re a bit more reserved. I mean, you do get those mega fans, but most people are like “that was cool” and that’s about it. Maybe they’ll look up the music online, but in America we got an amazing, interactive response.
Congratulations on "Hoops" -- You really got a lot of love and support from pretty well known acts like Sam Smith and Calvin Harris. How does that feel? I know you did a cover of "How Deep Is Your Love" -- what do you think is the most important thing when putting together a cover?
Yeah, it’s crazy! It’s just really nice to have that type of support and to be acknowledged by such successful people – so of course I’m just super happy about it.
Well, in terms of a cover, rule number one: make it your own. Sing it as if it was your own song. With the Calvin Harris song, I kind of changed the melody a bit… I think it is good to manipulate the song so people are like, "I know this song but I’ve never heard it like this!" Make it your own, make it into a different sound -- a different genre… I purposefully chose something that was out of the ordinary and unpredictable.
And you having that approach is what makes you an awesome musician. Do you have a musical background?
My mother was a big music lover. She would play a lot of soul music as I was growing up, reggae, pop, everything... So baby me really absorbed that. I’m an only child so I spent a lot of time alone and I’d spend my time imitating Mariah, Whitney, Aretha, Stevie Wonder but it wasn’t until I was about 15 when I started making songs and started teaching myself to play the keyboard. Music has always been an important outlet because I’ve always been an introverted person -- It was a way to express myself.
So you always knew music was what you wanted to pursue in life?
I always knew… I loved the Spice Girls and I wanted to be a part of the group! Haha. When I realized that I could sing and that I had a musical ear, I just decided to follow it.
And it seems to be working for you! How is the process of your upcoming project, New Skin, going for you?
It's going great! Nearly finished. In the beginning, I was writing more slow songs, but recently I fell in love with having more energy, more of a beat. It’s almost complete… All of the songs are written and we have the artwork. It’s a sort of 'coming of age' album.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I guess making sure that every box is checked and that I haven’t forgotten to say everything I want to say. There is just so much that I want to say and there's much to say in general… So just making sure I covered all the bases and really show every single part of me in one project; though that may be impossible.
That makes sense. It's a beautifully vulnerable place to be in. Do you get nervous?
I get nervous before a performance for sure... But I think that’s normal… Maybe it's more of a rush of adrenaline. Just getting ready to release my energy and give my all to the audience.
So how do you shake it off?
I literally shake it off! And I stretch; it’s great to stretch before a show because I feel the nerves are just built up energy contained, so if you move around it helps to release it. Oh, and I definitely don’t eat before I go on. I learned my lesson from doing that once before. I do some warm ups and sing my songs to get in that certain state of mind.
Okay, so let's pretend you weren't a musician. If not singing, then what?
I’d be a therapist. I love to help people; I’m always like the nagging aunt, the mother figure to my friends. Might as well get paid for it!
Is there anything you’re a nerd about, or just super passionate about that might be quirky and we might not know?
I’m really into Buddhism. I believe in alternate universes and that we create our own reality. And in my spare time I like to read and watch documentaries on those topics. I like to meditate. And I love to research really crazy theories.
I'm sure that keeps your peace of mind. You're a very sound person. Do you have someone that’s like a mentor to you? Someone you look up to?
Stevie Wonder. I’m a huge fan. He’s so talented and has always inspired me, he’s always just gone for it – nothing holds him back, not even his disability. Just saying “I’m just going to go for it.”
Have you had a "wow" moment yet?
Yeah, definitely. When I got the call from my manager to do a show called Jools Holland. I grew up watching it and it was like a seal of approval that happened really early. It was just like playing live music on national TV with all my friends and family watching. I was sitting with Tom Jones and it was overall amazing. Jones and JONES. Ha!
That's wild. We're so happy for you. You're super artsy in so many ways -- how do you feel about the relationship between audial and visual art?
I think it's a very important relationship. I’ve always been intrigued by synesthesia -- those who can see sound… and I love the band N.E.R.D and they have an album with that title. I think they’re very interlinked and I think its important to connect the two. The connection between visual and audial is a holistic experience.
We’re even experimenting now with my images. A lot of them were black and white and it matched with the space I was in, but I don’t know, I feel like now I’m ready to branch out into color!
So what do you listen to when you're trying to fuel your creativity?
I’m really inspired by Lykke Li, the Swedish artist. Sometimes when I’m stuck with an idea I listen to her and she just leads me to where I should begin. Coldplay too, I think their songwriting is incredible.
How about when you’re feeling sad, what do you play?
Lykke Li and Coldplay still apply! And Stevie Wonder, especially “Lately."
How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be a beacon of light, to be optimistic. I want to be what Bob Marley was for me and still is -- he’s the person I listen to when I want to feel better and so I want to be that for other people, you know? This girl at SXSW told me that my music really helped her, that last year she was going through a really hard time and my music helped her through it and that meant a lot to me.
It was like your inner therapist shining through!