Interview ~ Jill Jones

If the name Jill Jones doesn’t ring a bell (shame on you if it doesn’t), you’re probably more familiar with her than you realize. She’s the platinum blonde at the keyboards with Revolution member Lisa Coleman in Prince’s “1999” music video, plus she was also in Prince’s Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge movies. She’s worked with Chic, Teena Marie, Sheila E, Ronny Jordan, Prince, Lisa Lisa and Ryuichi Sakamoto just to name a few. She released her highly impressive self-titled debut album back in 1987 on Prince’s Paisley Park label, but broke from the purple one’s camp a few years later. Her follow-up albums included Two in 2001 and Wasted in 2004 and they showed a darker, goth-rock side that fans hadn’t heard before.

She’s continued to be a creative entity throughout the years with music taking more of a backseat to motherhood taking over the wheel. The anticipation from fans worldwide started to build as they heard rumblings that she was working on her first new studio album in over a decade. Fans rejoiced on February 12 when their wishes came true with the release of I Am. The high energy dance album finds Jones in a very good place in her life and it’s very reflective in her music. If you can listen to this album without dancing or at least tapping your foot, then you must either be deaf or have a serious health issue. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jones and talking about her new album, her journey and so much more.

Hi Jill, it’s really great to get this opportunity to sit down and talk with you. How are you doing today?

Jill Jones: I’m really good and really excited that the record finally came out and the support that I have been receiving has been really great.

The album was officially released on February 12; what kind of feedback are you getting on it?

I think the people are really happy to see that I finally did something again because it takes me a really long time to dive in and do it. This time it’s a little different because it’s extremely upbeat and much more positive. Everything is dance music so it’s a feel-good record, so I think that kind of reassured my fans that I might be mentally okay (laughs). I tend to position my music exactly where I am in my life and I think that this was kind of a nice way to say, ‘hey I am a good place and I feel really good right now.’

You’ve definitely been quite diverse with your music throughout the years.  So, you’re saying that where you were in your mindset played a big contributing factor towards the style of music that you chose to put out?

Oh definitely, I had worked with Chris Bruce for so long, even when I was on Paisley we were writing on the side. We always created stuff that sounded like it belonged on 4AD Records instead of Paisley Park. I think, at times, it was more goth than what Prince anticipated. He actually took a couple of the songs like “Flesh and Blood,” which there is a bootleg of, and change it into more of a Bell, Biv, Devoe sound around that time. The original was very goth and more Siouxsie and the Banshees, which was very interesting because he was not on board in going in that direction. So, getting to do the Two album was nice and it came after a tough period of time in my life. My mother had passed, I was getting a divorce, I had a new baby, I was working on a deal with London Records that fell through, so it all seemed to come in threes and fours. I had a hard time accepting a lot of it and at the end of the day the main thing was family and losing that. It has always been my aim in life to create families, whether it was a pseudo family with the Prince family or something else; every little pocket that I go into feels like a little family.

That was definitely a long span between the albums because Wasted was released back in 2004, so it’s been 12 years since we’ve seen a new studio album.

It’s always been a financial thing to have to do and around that time I was raising a child and everything financially went towards her. I did gigs and things like that, but I also went through a period of time where I think that I was observing things about everyone that I was aligning myself with. This is going to sound really messed up, but my ulterior motive was to align myself with musicians where I could in essence create music, so that attraction may have been greater sometimes. You understand, it’s like I get free studio time, but you ultimately pay it when you do that, not that I was using anybody. I think that I can keep one toe in it and still have my career in advertising. I can still feel that I was still being creative because I really didn’t have the strength in New York for some reason to just become the bohemian artist. The responsibility of raising a child created things that are needed and required and that sacrifice had to be made. Her education had to take a priority over my music if that wasn’t bringing in the money to provide her with the tools that she needed. That baton passed and there was some sort of reckoning that happened and I think that was why it took so long. I was always writing and doing demos, but I never planned on putting it out even though my manager Bill told me to. There was an opportunity to maybe get signed by Columbia again, but if it wasn’t sure fired I just didn’t know if I could string my daughter into that. She needed to have her life; she didn’t need to be sitting in a bar or a club and touring because that’s just not fair to a child.

It’s always interesting to pick an artist mind when it comes to why they chose the name for their new album. Some artists go with the song title while others choose a word or phrase for specific reason; tell us about why you named this new album I Am.

I started meditating a few years ago and basically the ohm is “I am.” In meditation, there’s the deconstructing of all of my thoughts, all of my belief systems, saying that things didn’t work and things that did work for me and my personality. I think I just essentially felt like this is who I am and I’m comfortable with it. I think the goal of meditation was to curb some of those anxieties and fears that I had and it basically came back down to I am. It’s like the I am of God and if you feel that God is in you then I am, that’s him. That’s where I began, that’s where I will end, so that’s really it and it’s not too much more other than I just couldn’t think of anything else to call it as much as that.

Who did you work with on this album?

Brinsley Evans is one of my friends and he is known for the band that he had in the 80s called Uncanny Alliance. I think even Beth Midler covered one of his songs “I’m Beautiful Dammitt” on her album Bathhouse Betty album. He and I wrote a lot together; I would go to his house and record some vocals and at some point we would have different versions of music. Brinsley and I and another songwriter, Mark Unthank, did the same thing with “Come Midnight.” He had a track and wanted me to sing to it and I put my lyrics overtop of it and we recorded those in New York. We sent a few tracks to Sweden, France and a few places and collaborated that way online to see how it worked and that was kind of it.

What was the toughest part about making this album?

I think the toughest thing was actually deciding which ones to put on it because there were three or four other ones that we did not put on there. I had one called “Push” that Chris Willis was on; he is a dance artist that works with David Guetta.

Earlier you mentioned that you thought it wouldn’t be fair to have your daughter out on the road and in clubs, so is there any chance of maybe live dates happening now that she’s older?

Yes, I am open to doing them and we are in discussion with different bookers and stuff right now. My daughter Zuzu is 21 now and she’s actually doing her own music; she’s actually recording in Berlin now. She’s doing her thing in Europe right now and I think it’s going to work out right; I love her music.

Is there a particular song from I Am that is being pushed as a single?

I’m going to do a music video for “Return to Love” because it’s a very empowering song. In 2010, I had ended a previous relationship that was a nightmare and it took me a minute to just level back because it was that partner from the Wasted years, so it had been like ten years. So, I was readjusting and coming out of the box again; I was a singer again and my daughter was off doing her stuff, so I was kind of an empty nester too. I woke up one day and decided that I didn’t want that relationship anymore and that it was done and that changed everything. I moved and went into this sort of monk existence, pulled on the strength of meditation and then met my husband. You know, things start to work with synchronicity and we joked at the beginning because he was in Germany and I was in New York. He would tell me that he was going to have to call me his wife and I would call him my husband. We made jokes about it all the time and it eventually turned into that. It was like that from the first instance and I think you just sort of know; you know, but you don’t know. I had actually seen Teena (Marie) a few months before she passed away in 2010. It was so weird because she had this urgency about her and she had been calling me and asking if I could come visit her. Then there was a guy that I knew who contacted me and told me that I needed to go see Teena; he had a dream and he felt like I really needed to go see her. I went to LA and there was this whole sense of reconnection because Teena had always been like a sister to me. I got out there and there was this whole sense of a balancing act after we talked. I came back home and met my husband and shortly after that she sadly she passed away, but I truly believe that those were magical times for me and they were reassurances. I am pretty sure that at the time Teena knew something was going to occur because, as many people do not know, she had been talking about it. After all of that, everything really opened up for me and that’s where “Return to Love” comes from. Even in the circle of my life with Teena, there was a return to love and she blessed me with a huge gift and a calm that I hadn’t had in ages. That goes into everything else that started to come when you are letting go of other things and you remember returning to love. So, that’s why it’s important to me and I want to do a video for that song.

Speaking of Teena, I didn’t realize that you were only 14 when you started working with her, which completely blows my mind every time I think about it. From your time of working with Teena, what you take away from that? What did you learn from that maybe you did not know going into it?

Teena was very instrumental in my upbringing because around that time my parents were workaholics. They would come home and work until midnight and we wouldn’t even eat dinner until 10:00 or 11:00. They were in the music business and my mom managed Teena, who lived at our home. I was just a child and she was only about twenty years old when she was dealing with me, so I was like her little sister. I was involved in so many aspects of her life including trick-or-treating and even going to a Led Zeppelin concert. She built my confidence up and helped bring it out in me where I could go and perform in musical theater. I just knew I was slaying it because I was working with Teena Marie, but if anything I was accused of over stylizing too many musical theater songs. When I transitioned and started working with Prince I think there was that confidence, not to sound egotistical because I never really boast and I think I’m pretty humble about my talent. I didn’t think that I had anything to worry about on the singing front with the women that he had in the camp at the time, which perplexed me even more as to why I didn’t have a record come out sooner. I started to feel that I was being used to facilitate everybody else’s dreams, which is cool and as a background singer I think there’s a part of you that knows that you are supporting someone else’s dream. After a while, something has to give because you start to feel a bit resentful because your time is being monopolized and you’re on call 24/7 to sing.  I remember during “1999” that I was actually woken up out of bed; I was in my pajamas and I think Lisa (Coleman) was too when she drove over.

What else is keeping you busy these days?

I am involved with a German company and my husband and I distribute their software here in America. It’s a platform independent high-end streaming source and it’s called Qonnexone. I can record with the people that I work with and I don’t have to fly anyone in because we can record on-line in real time. The biggest thing for me with this record and with future projects is to really push that software and this product development because I’m in the bit, I’m not on the sample. If you really want true collaboration, then it’s with this software that I have that nobody else does. We will be rolling it out at some shows and I think there’s one coming up in August, but it’s already established in Europe and we just started rolling in here. It’s amazing and it’s true collaborations in real time, no downloading and everybody hears the audio in their own studios. Everyone got to hear the master while it was happening and that was with having one person in Sweden and I think another one was in Morocco at one point. I even think that it’s the future for advertising as well because it cuts a lot of the lag time and even if you have to do overdubs. You don’t have to fly anyone back and even if you have to do their guitars or whatever, plus I don’t have to deal with that crazy stuff on Skype or ProTools.

Wow, you have become quite tech savvy!

Oh absolutely, I love, love, love the tech world.

Well, I love you and I love this new album and I am so excited to see you back. I know we need to wrap this up, so I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today.

Thank you and it really means a lot to hear it, so I really appreciate it. Thank you for wanting to talk to me; this has been a lot of fun.


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