Earlier this year, I fulfilled a decades-long dream to chat with Ms. Grace Jones, reaching her in the countryside of Jamaica on the occasion of the release of Bloodlight and Bami, an interview that ran over at Rolling Stone.
Below is the full transcript of our chat, which goes a bit more into her grandchild, family dynamic, and her love of dancehall:
Where are you now?
Jamaica. It’s absolutely beautiful. I try to stay about six months out of the year, in and out. But I’m here a lot. Nowhere else like Jamaica.
In the film, we see you visiting your newborn granddaughter. How old is she now and how is it being a grandmother?
She’s fantastic. She’s nine now. She’s full of energy and super-talented. She paints, she plays piano, she dances. She comes over and gets into all of my clothes and does fashion shows and talent shows for me. it’s a lot of fun. She’s vey athletic as well, she loves to swim like I do.
Do you see yourself in her?
Of course. She’s very independent and very strong from when she was very little. I remember walking with her in the Galeries Lafayette in Paris and she didn’t want to hold anybody’s hands, so she got knocked over by the crowds. I love that independence of her. She loves coming to Jamaica for Christmas, never wants to leave.
You talk about the Jones family in the film, that they “act younger as they get older.” Do you feel that way?
I guess so but I hope that I’m wiser anyhow. We start looking younger, but I hope to be wiser. Not to reflect on how you look but what you’ve learned.
What struck you about Sophie’s film?
Ah well (laugh)…what struck me was that I thought it was going to be so difficult to pull together. We had so much material after twelve years and I didn’t see any of the film before it was finished. I love the way it went in and out of the performance side, the recording side. She really captured the stuff that you go through as you are recording and working and doing talk shows and performances. And then coming in and out of the family and the whole part of me in Jamaica with my family, the way she went back and forth connecting the private intimate life of me to the part where you’re performing out there onstage with me. I just loved the way she saw that vision, because I lived it like that.
Was there a part of the film where you thought it was too personal? Too revealing?
No never! Sophie when she was filming was like a fly on the wall. Obviously, I felt very comfortable with her, so she was like an insider. I felt like I could be myself. I’m sure there was plenty of other stuff that didn’t even get in there.
Sophie also made a film about your brother, a preacher in Los Angeles. What was it about that film that made you decide to let her tell your story?
The film with my brother was completely different. It was dealing with the church and how he deals with all of that, and then about him. I don’t think it went as intimate on our film as it did with him. That’s how I met her initially, I was invited to a screening for my brother’s film. And we hit it off and we just got along really great. And I just said, we should do something. I also saw her other films, the one about the German artist and I knew she definitely has a vision and a passion for what she’s doing. So I felt completely safe in a way that I could be unsafe. You know? If you know what I mean. I felt really safe with her so that I could also let everything hang out. Literally!
When I think about you in films, A View to a Kill, Conan the Destroyer, Boomerang, or even A One Man Show, there’s this distance and this toughness and the film reveals a more intimate side of you.
In those films, I’m playing characters. I’m trying to make sure you don’t think about Grace Jones in those films, you think about May Day or Zula or Strangé, I try to make sure those characters were completely apart from Grace Jones in performance.
Did you like your shout-out in Black Panther?
Yeah! I was told that before I went and saw it. I just saw the film when I saw it in Los Angeles and I’m going to see it again here in Jamaica. I saw too close to the screen with my brother –who is near-sighted—and I’m far-sighted, so I want to see it again. It was quite funny getting mentioned in that movie. I did a film called Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior where I play an African Queen, so I went wow, it brought all that back in a way. it was very interesting.
Your 1982 longform video/ concert film A One Man Show is a classic of the era, but it’s never been available digitally. Is there any chance it will ever be reissued?
Well, we’re talking about it, Chris Blackwell and I, we were producers of that. it would be fantastic. I remember David Bowie that the performance of that film, you could just bring it out again and again after so many years, because it was really so far ahead of its time. People had their mouths falling down when they watched it, it was so different at the time. It really does stand the test of time, so we are talking about doing that, actually. I just hope we can find it. I hope we can find the masters!
In the film, there’s footage of you in the studio with Sly & Robbie working on Hurricane and you quip about “emotional blackmail” on Robbie to get them there. During the ‘80s, you worked with everyone from Nile Rodgers to Trevor Horn to C+C Music Factory so what led you to back to Sly & Robbie some 26 years after working with them on Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Living My Life?
When Chris Blackwell put Sly & Robbie together with me in 1980, I believe that being Jamaican and getting to know me, it just felt right. It just felt like this is what my voice together with them… they’re like my brothers. I fight with them, I beat them up, but we’re like brothers and sisters. My voice just seems to just meld perfectly with their rhythms, with their style. I love the fat bass, the percussion and rhythms. And I think they experiment more with me than with probably anyone else. We don’t mind experimenting together.
Did your songwriting approach change for Hurricane? Some songs seem more autobiographical than on other albums?
I like to write autobiographical songs but it was less before than it became on Hurricane. Some of the songs on Hurricane, Williams Blood for example, was written with Wendy and Lisa, we just didn’t release it. we went into the catalog, for me when it’s a really good song, it’s a really good song forever, its not a trend. But songs like “Art Groupie,” “Nipple to the Bottle,” “Inside Story” that was autobiographical as well.
Are you working on a new album now?
Yes! I’ve been working on it for five years now. Hopefully another month to just work and not go anywhere and not have outside things happening. Between my memoir, the touring, and now the film, we have to keep putting it on hold. But it’s very, very powerful. Sly & Robbie are on there in bits and pieces. I always call them in and say “Let’s see what you can do with this.” And they always find something.
I’m sure you get asked about this part in your memoir where you dismiss most modern pop stars for not being original and having their own vision. But I wonder what you thought about Jamaican singers of that era, dancehall artists like Patra, Lady Saw, and the like. Did you ever want to make a dancehall album?
Back in the day, I didn’t think about making dancehall necessarily. But we do have a dancehall track that I’ve been performing live and on tour, but we haven’t put it in record form yet. It’s called “Shenanigans” and it has a dancehall riddim to it but when we record it, I’d like it to drop even heavier, with a bit more edge. It’s still too sweet still. When we finally do it, it needs to be edgier.
Oh I love dancehall! I also love when Chris Blackwell did the film Dancehall Queen. It’s fantastic. I try to that whole bottom-shaking, twerking movement and almost broke my neck standing on my head to get my ass twerking. It’s really hard! But I’m taking lessons.
In the film, you reference Timothy Leary and also talked about disco as being “church with people on hallucinogens dancing,” so I wonder how influential LSD was on you in terms of your development?
Oh absolutely! It was like therapy, the way that I did it. I was born again in my own way. my eyes opened, the world got bigger but smaller at the same time. Bigger in the sense that it was mind-opening, it freed me up. I was a nudist during that time as well, so you get comfortable with yourself naked. And then from there, you see how small the world really is when you start traveling all over the place. I was hitchhiking. One time I even hitchhiked to Paris on acid. It was amazing. You meet welcoming people, welcoming and good conversations and then growing from that. You learn just how small the world really is. It just encouraged learning and growing really with me. that’s what I did. I felt like a gypsy going around the globe.
I always wanted to go to outer space, too. I always wanted to do a concert in outer space with David Bowie, Michael Jackson and myself. At one point I was like, let’s just call Bill Gates and have him fund it for outer space.
Sadly, it would just be you now.
Well now, with all the technology, you never know. Now we can just have a virtual reality concert in space.