Grace Jones appeared in person after a Los Angeles screening of the documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami last weekend. In the film, the enigmatic singer opens up before the cameras of her friend, Sophie Fiennes, who spoke with Monsters and Critics last week.
The documentary shows Jones performing on stage, recording in the studio and traveling to Jamaica to see family. Asked if she always wanted to be a performer, Jones said she grew into it.
“I just wanted to stand on my hands and walk across the room,” Jones said. “I just wanted to speak as many languages as I could.”
It was her modeling career that made her begin thinking of herself as a performer.
“That’s when I started and I guess that was pretty far fetched already,” Jones said. “[I had] a big imagination. Even now, when I moved to Jamaica, the shape of the trees, depending on the moon that makes shapes and you think there are lions and tigers and bears.”
As the daughter and sister of preachers, church was where Jones learned the power of music.
“I believe all the music at the end of the day, beginning of the day, comes from this celebration of the soul,” Jones said. “It gets you outside of the body. Your spirit rises to another dimension and I believe this is why gospel music is so powerful, and drums, beats are so powerful.”
You wouldn’t believe anything scares Grace Jones, but in fact music can intimidate her.
“To me the church music is something that’s so powerful that I’m afraid of it to be honest,” Jones said. ”I’m afraid of it in the sense I go there when I want to bring myself a bit lower. It’s almost too angelic.
“Maybe I don’t feel I deserve to go that far,” Jones continued. “It makes me almost cry actually. It’s such a peak vocally and spiritually. It’s the highest peak of music for me anyway that there is. That’s why I never thought I could sing.”
When she first began recording, Aretha Franklin was the voice to aspire to. Jones doesn’t fit in any box, even a mold as legendary as Franklin’s.
“I was like oh. I hear Aretha Franklin, I can’t do that,” Jones said. “Producers that worked with Aretha and then came to work with me tried to make me sound like Aretha.”
Oh, by the way, the Rolling Stones were in the studio too.
“I smoked some weed and got very stoned,” Jones shared. “I was with the Stones. I remember Keith Richards was at the piano and he gave me something to smoke. They had to carry me out. They had to carry me out because I couldn’t sound like Aretha.”
Even when Jones found her sound, the music industry wasn’t ready for her.
“When I finally knew what my voice can do, they called me a man,” Jones said. “My voice was so low, so low. So honestly, the first song I recorded, I recorded under the piano in the studio. I didn’t think I could sing at all.”
Early on, performing was a hurdle for Jones to overcome too.
“I was a very shy person,” Jones said. “I was super shy. I didn’t even know how shy I was myself until I did some background information and I learned how my mom, she’s still there, she goes, ‘Yes, Grace, man. You were very shy. You’d stand in the corner.’”
What many people didn’t understand about shy people was they were immersing themselves in everyone else around them.
“I was a voyeur so I was shy but I was watching everything that was going around me,” Jones said.
As Jones began to develop her flamboyant stage persona, she came out of her shell.
“Everybody says you can’t sing, I was saying I can’t sing, performing for some reason just kind of brought me out,” Jone ssaid. “I had to become a different person in order to perform.”
The shy little girl is still there, but now there was someone else.
“I had the little shy girl and then I had the wolf protecting the shy girl, and I let the wolf out,” Jones said. “I got comfortable I guess with that personality. Then I studied it. I was a studier.”
Around the same time, Jones entered the world of acting.
“I did classes with Warren Robertson,” Jones said. “When he met me, he said, ‘I’m not going to put you in front of the whole class.’ He knew that I wouldn’t be able to come out of myself with everybody watching, because I grew up in a church environment as an example.”
As fans would soon discover, Jones would not be the ideal preacher’s daughter for long.
“An example being preachers, bishops, all this religion stuff where we had to be the example,” Jones said. “I think [Robertson[ understood that. So when you become an example, you just stand there. You don’t talk. You’re an example. Examples don’t talk. Examples are on a pedestal, like something in stone.”
At this point, Jones dropped another totally casual reference to drugs.
“I took acid,” she said matter of factly. “With doctors, obviously. It was legal with doctors. I had to throw the example off the roof. Once I was able to do that, now everything I try to do, not to be an example and now they’re saying to me I’m an example now.”
Yeah, it’s hard not to see Grace Jones as a role model.
“Are you kidding me?” Jones exclaimed. “It’s crazy. I can’t get away from it. It’s following me everywhere. I hate that. I don’t want to be a role model.”
Bloodlight and Bami shows some of Jones’s personal rituals before going on stage. Jones herself shared how she used to get ready.
“When I first started, I did yoga,” Jones said. “I did. If anyone came in the room, I go, ‘Get out, get out, get out.’”
The concert footage in Bloodlight and Bami represents collaborations that were years in the making.
“We’ve done over the years collaborations between, with Jean-Paul Goude, Richard Bernstein collaborating with Jean-Paul, Keith Haring collaborating with Jean-Paul,” Jones said. “They all collaborated together doing different things.”
It shows you can be as individual as Grace Jones and still value collaborators.
“We were all a magnet to each other and we were loyal to each other’s art,” Jones said. “We worked together, knew each other for so many years. Sometimes it just didn’t happen when it would come together. And then after maybe 20 years or something, finally we got to do that.”
Bloodlight and Bami sort of came together the same way.
“Like with Sophie and I, it happened at the moment and we just did it,” Jones said. “It was like we don’t try. We do it.”
Jones also wants everyone to know she’s not perfect either.
“I f*** up too,” Jones said. “I did the first night. Thank God we had two nights though. I forget lyrics. I wrote the song and I can’t remember the lyric.”
Maybe you can’t see Grace Jones in person, but you can see Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami in theaters now.