Grace Jones Interview

Grace Jones 1

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.

Grace Jones 2

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.

 

Ryuichi Sakamoto interview

ryui1.jpg

Here’s the long version of my interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto from April.

Where were you when you heard about the passing of Bowie?

I was here in New York when I heard he passed away. It was only two days after his album, it was a huge shock.

You both starred in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and you both called New York City home the past few decades. I wonder if you would see him around town. Had you been in touch with him?

Since we were together making that film, we had some contact afterwards. Then naturally, we lost contact. He was not easy to reach, but I knew he was living in downtown New York. Now I regret that I didn’t try more to get together with him and talk personally. He was a fascinating guy.

I think about all your collaborations and it’s interesting that you only collaborated with Bowie as actors. What did you learn acting with him versus doing music?

He was a great visual artist. He knew how to look as himself in the best ways. He tried many different ways. He was a great visual artist and his only material was himself. I’m not like that. I’m not sure I learned any acting from him. Musically, certainly, I got some influence from him, especially in the early days and his Berlin Trilogy albums, they were a huge impact on me.

Did you ever talk to him about that?

Well, musicians are very shy to talk about each others’ music, so no, not really. I’m sure he knew I was a big fan of his albums.

Did he know Yellow Magic Orchestra?

He did, he did. He also knew some of my soundtracks too.

ryui3.jpg

After I turned forty years old, I got very concerned about my health. I tried to eat organic food, I was very interested in macrobiotic. I thought I was completely healthy. When it started, the first symptom, I had never thought about cancer. Maybe it’s because of aging?

What was the symptom?

Something there (he moves his fingers along the left side of his throat). It was very irritated, but I didn’t think of cancer, so I left it for six months as it got bigger and bigger. This is something extraordinary, so I went to the doctor and did a biopsy. It’s cancer. My faith of “health” was crushed (claps hands together). Even though I ate organic food for more than twenty years, but still. This is life. It was radiotherapy. I could have lost my voice, so I feel very lucky that I didn’t. But the treatment was so harsh and I got the biggest pain in my life from the treatment. I couldn’t do anything, just watching some DVDs. All the work, all the schedule, I had to cancel. I’ve worked full-time since I was a student, more than forty years. It was very harsh, painful, but I wanted to use this time for something productive. So I decided to watch movies I hadn’t watched before, mainly Chinese films, throughout the decades, 70s-today. I’m more familiar with Japanese films. I knew Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi. I grew up with Oshima’s films and know them.

Carsten said you’re a workaholic, so it had to be hard to do nothing.

The funny thing is that for a long time after I won the Oscar for The Last Emperor, I thought I should give a gift to myself and to my staff. I said: “Let’s cancel all the schedule for one month.” And they did. And then after three days, I was like “Where’s my work?!” Three days. That’s what I was like.

Did you find yourself going crazy not being able to work?

I think so. Like riding a bicycle, you can’t be still.

How long did treatments last?

It was three months. I took free time for six months. my plan was to take a whole year, 2015, just doing nothing and getting back my energy. But then six months after the treatment I got the call from Innaritu all of a sudden, who said: “Come to LA tomorrow.” I was in the middle of recovery process, so I wasn’t sure I could do that. I returned to work slowly, but it was worth it. I couldn’t resist working with such a talented person. But I thought the cancer would come back after all that hard work. It was strange, that I was a lucky man. I never felt any limitation for myself. I thought I could do anything I wanted. The result is that I can reach to the goal, I was such a lucky person. But then after the treatment, my energy level was very low, so I tried my limit. It was the first time in my life I couldn’t, I lost myself. It’s a nice feeling I think, to think ‘I’m a loser.’ I was such a lucky person.

When you listen to Blackstar, Bowie’s last album, was that in your mind, ‘what if this is the last time I get to do this’?

Yes, I actually thought it could be my last one. So that’s why I tried to forget all the rules and forms, anything. I just wanted to put down just what I wanted to hear, just a sound or music, it doesn’t matter. This could be the last time.

What kind of listening did you do? Did your interaction with music change?

I made a list after the treatment of the music. I cried. Interestingly, there were some pieces that I never cried to before, or I was never interested in before. I don’t remember her name, but this old Cuban singer, Omara Portuondo, although I don’t like the style of music, corny pre-Revolution Cuban music, but the strength of the voice, the vocal struck me so much that I cried.

Who else made you cry?

Interestingly, the music that impacted me after the treatment was mainly vocal music: Maria Callas, Omara Portuondo, Japanese singer Mitsuko Koike, her voice is like an angel. Where does the title come from? Async as no synchronization. My previous album is Out of Noise, but this is Out of Sync. Out of sync means I’ve been thinking for a long time, most of music in the world is a simple thing, ethnic music, jazz, rock or classical. I wanted to make some music, anti-synchronized music. there are a few examples of async music, but not many. I’ve been trying for a long time to make…it’s not difficult to make async music, there’s no…center. Technically, it’s easy. But I wanted to make something async but still musical. It’s not easy.

When I first listened, I felt there’s an attention to what’s between the events, between piano, strings, events, this attention to negative space. As if you were interested in what’s between objects.

Yes, I think that’s the right impression. My first motivation was I just wanted to hear sounds of things, everyday things, even the sounds of instruments, musical instruments as things. For instance, the piano is a very systematically, industrially-designed thing, but they were a part of nature, taken from nature. Mankind artificially tuned and set the well-tempered scale, but the thing is if you leave the piano for a long time without a tuning, it will be out of tune. I thought that because the things in their earlier life were part of nature, are returning to what they were, going back to nature. Not fully, but slightly.

I decided to leave the pianos out of tune. I have two Steinways at home, an upright and a small piano. I decided not to tune the upright to see how it would sound. I got this idea that the instrument (noisy) I got this idea about instruments and nature from the big earthquake and tsunami from six years ago in japan. I saw many instruments drowned in the sea water and they couldn’t be used. I got a real physical pain from looking at those. As a musician, the instrument is part of my body. I went to see one of those pianos drowned in tsunami water in a high school in the affected area. It’s next to Fukushima. I went there months later and recorded that sound. Of course, it was totally out of tune but I thought it was beautiful. I thought this is ‘nature tuned it.’ I used some bits on the album.

ryui2.jpg

I didn’t know how to start. It took a month to decided which direction I should go. I recorded these pianos. I went upstate to walk in a forest around architect Philip Johnson’s glass house in Connecticut. I moved to NYC in 1990. I was going to go back to Japan before I got cancer, but then I did treatments here, commuting everyday to Sloan-Kettering. I was fascinated and so pleased in New York to meet the nicest people. They’re amazing. I tried many things, then a month passed. My decision was to make a soundtrack for an imaginary Tarkovsky film, one that exists in my brain. I admire his films. I feel very close to his films. I’ve been watching his films since the 80s. He left us only seven films. The Mirror and The Sacrifice are my favorites, Mirror is most biographical. I used his father’s poem.

How did you come across this?

That recording of the poem was given to me by David Sylvian six years ago after the tsunami. We did a charity concert for Japan with John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, so I asked my friends to contribute something. So David sent me ten recordings of him reading poems.

So you’re imagining this Tarkovsky film, how did you move from there?

I was going to make a solo album in 2014, but I had to stop because of cancer. This time, I trashed all the ideas and sketches and everything except the first track “andata,” which I finished before the disease. The rest is all from scratch, from zero. Paul Bowles and other speakers.

What led you to that quote?

This could be the last album of mine, so I wanted to include whatever I wanted. That voice of Paul Bowles struck me so much, his impact for me when I was working on The Sheltering Sky, he was in the film in the beginning and end, narrating it himself. So deep and sad, but for a long time, I wanted to do something with that moment. I didn’t know what to do. Why not try to make music with it? I emailed Bertolucci to use that recording. (Bertolucci recited the line in Italian on the track) There’s these moments that seem to touch on the many aspects of your career. I’m not a person to look back into my past. I always want to do something new. But again, that’s true, there are many elements from the past in the music I like.

At one point in the early 90s, you had an album with Arto Lindsay, Youssou N’Dour and Brian Wilson all on the same song. What was it like to work with Brian Wilson?

Even for me, it sounds very random, there’s no coherence. But that’s what I am. It’s 100% true that I always worked with unique, talented people. That’s for sure. Brian Wilson was one of the most extraordinary. It was an unexpected experience for me. he loved what he did on my track in LA. We said goodbye and it was a pleasure. And the next day in New York he showed up with all of his family.

After that point, you moved away from pop. Are you done with pop?

Generally, I’m fed up with pop music. I’m more interested in experimental music, free minds. It led me back to my youth, music related to those art movements, Nam June Paik, Fluxus, I was so interested in that area, so I was getting back to my youth with this album. After I got to know Carsten and Christian, I thought to myself, I could forget about pop. There are many kinds of music than pop, like hip-hop and other areas. During the making of aysnc, I was so much into Japanese sound artist Akio Suzuki. He’s done many different things. One of his early pieces was a big concrete cube in a gallery and he pushed it so it made a sound of friction on the floor. It’s beauuuutiful music, I think. The other beautiful music was the composition number seven or five by La Monte Young’s 1960 #5: “Turn a butterfly (or any number of butterflies) loose in the performance area.” Before I finished the album, I made a CD and put it in the car and drove around the city two times. The most intriguing sound was helicopters. There’s big noises in NYC when you listen to music, so you shut the door or window. This one you can’t mask, it’s part of nature. I was really happy.

Do you think you’ll make another solo album?

I’ve got some ideas. The big dream is to make an opera for 2019 to have the premiere. I’m going to do two soundtracks this year. I’m trying to relax, but it’s hard.

Was working on the album healing for you?

I think so. I was not conscious about that. It helped my mind and body.