THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


SOUL SISTER #1: INTERVIEW WITH SHARON JONES, FORCE OF NATURE

by by Benjamin Bernstein

illustration by by Conrad Stern-Ascher

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Few ladies bring the soul today like Sharon Jones. Frontwoman of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings--an old-school funk band whose sound is more late '60s than 2009--Jones stuffs her lyrics with more ache and feeling than even her warbling backup horns can account for. Think Amy Winehouse (whom the Dap-Kings once played backup for) with twice the talent and none of the drama. In time for Spring Weekend, the "Queen of Funk" spoke to the Independent over the phone about yoga, "bling blings" and what working as a corrections officer at Riker's Island taught her about being a musician.

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So, are you guys working on any new music?
Yeah, we're just rehearsing, coming up with new material. And you know, trying to get the next album out. We'll probably start recording in about another week or two.
 
Are you guys going in any new directions with this album, or is it more of the same stuff?
People have asked us before, "Oh how do you write your music?" But we're just sitting in a room, coming up with music, lyrics...different people in the band are coming up with different things. We're just gonna take all these songs and say what we're gonna keep, what's good what's not, you know. And that's what we do.
How important is the audience to your performance? Do you have a specific audience you're looking for?
Oh no, we just go out there. The more hyped the audience is, the more hyped we are. That's how we've always gone onstage. We don't try with each show or each song to do the same thing or dance or anything--we just go with a feel. 'Cause each night the audience has a different feel, y'know? The weather, the mood, how one of us is feeling. Each night we get a different energy from the audience.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
No, the only thing I basically do is--well, I'm getting old now. My body isn't as young as it used to be. [Ben laughs] No really! And I think I need to start, for myself, either stretching or I need to get my body a little more relaxed, 'cause I used to just go up there, but now I'll come up on stage and I'll move around and get whiplash.
Mick Jagger does a lot of exercising before shows--you always see him doing that kind of stuff.
Yeah, well you know what, I'm learning. And you are the first one I'm telling it to, Ben. I want to get in shape, with like yoga, you know, I gotta get myself together.
I know what you mean.
But the one thing I do though before I go onstage is get into my prayer, because I'm very thankful. I believe that everything--my talent, my gift, my voice--is a gift from God. Next month I'll be 53 years old, and you know, it takes a lot.
A few years back you held part time jobs as a prison guard at Riker's Island and an armored car guard for Wells Fargo. Did the lessons you learned at these stints come into play in your life as a musician? Did you separate those two lives or was it all the same stuff?
No, they were just separate, that was just a job I was doing. Actually, I had to resign from [the Corrections job] because it was interfering with my music. When you're at Corrections you're on a wheel: one week you're at this hour, and the next few days they switch you to another hour, next few days you're here. Singing, you work on the weekends, you've got to travel. So, you know, it's a little complicated, and I had to make a choice. I just walked in one morning and I resigned.
As far as Wells Fargo, I carried a gun and rode on a truck just watching these guys go in these ATM machines and put in millions of dollars each month. So I don't think that had anything to do with my music. But Corrections--it taught me people skills, being around those young inmates. Taught me how not to get raped.
Well, that's a big thing to learn for music, I think.
Yeah, 'cause when I get on that stage and people get up there and get a little disrespectful or unruly, I'll be like, "Alright. You gotta go!"  And even more now I notice that. You get people running on stage, messing with the musicians and I'll be like "Hey baby!" But if I gotta, [I'll] tell them, "Hey, get off my stage!" but I do it in a nice way. I don't want to hurt no one's feelings, but if you have to, in a nice way. I usually let the audience make that decision.
Are you listening to a lot of new music? Older stuff? Or a mix? 
I usually tend to like a mix. I like to listen to the oldies 'cause that keeps our mind fresh. It keeps the music we're putting out fresh. This new stuff, a lot of it don't hold. I'll listen to it, then after a while everything just sounds the same.
Has funk and soul music gotten worse over the years?  Yourself excluded, obviously.
These people coming out--they want to be soul and then they're not. They try to be soul singers and they're not. But you know what, at least they're trying. And maybe by trying and listening to old soul they'll develop vocally, develop the purity in their voice. I'm just hoping.
But some of the stuff they write...I think these young kids now, they want to look good. Everybody's gotta have a certain look, you know. I think it's all the bling blings.  Everybody wants to do the same thing. And then everybody wants to do clothing. But all the stuff that they're making is so expensive, and they're still not reaching into this ghetto hood of people who's buying the stuff and helping 'em out. And it makes people wanna rob somebody and sell drugs in order to buy their stuff because it's so expensive...I mean, I don't know. Maybe young kids are looking at things more openly. But it's weird that a lot of young people think it's kinda funny... Some of the stuff they're saying just don't make any sense.
When you guys write music, how involved are you in the process? Who's doing the writing?
Now, I think now everyone's trying to write more. The guys in the band do a lot of the writing, but sometimes when I'm there at rehearsal I'll come up with line or two or a melody. The guys are writing, and they do the music, and I'll come in and look at their lyrics and see if they make sense. I might throw something in and change a few lyrics. And I'll sing those lyrics. But I gotta hear it and hear the soul.
Well you're the one singing it, so you make it your own.
Thank you, and now that making it my own--that's more or less where we are. I don't know if there's other bands doing that.
And you're getting big--people are finding out about you guys.
Ah, well, thanks man. You know me, I don't see it yet. I think once I'm in my home and get my mother in a home, and I'm a little more comfortable then, I'll see it and be okay.
 
BENJAMIN BERNSTEIN B'09 believes everything is a gift from God.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings kick off Brown's Spring Weekend concerts on Friday, April 17th at 8 PM. For tickets and information, see myspace.com/brownconcertagency.