At home with Jocelyn Brown

Gessica, Jocelyn and Helena

Her voice is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and soulful of the last 30 years. From the famous “I got the power” sample on Snap’s hit “The Power”, to unforgettable tunes like “Somebody Else’s Guy”, Jocelyn Brown is one of the undiscussed queens of Soul, R&B and Dance music. Her portfolio includes collaborations with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Incognito, Luther Vandross, John Lennon, Bette Midler, Culture Club, George Benson and the list goes on. Born in North Carolina, she has been living in London for the last 23 years, where she runs her own music production company. Next October she’s going to perform at the Body & Soul Event by Need2Soul at the Electric in Brixton (hurry up and get your tickets HERE), an event that promises a full day of amazing soulful music to dance to with DJs Francois K, J. Claussell and Danny Krivit. When she invited me for an interview to her place in Uxbridge a couple of days before her performance at the 2013 edition of the Imperial Wharf Jazz Festival, it was clear to me quite straight away that in addition to being an amazing artist, she’s a wise woman with a big heart and a true soulful attitude. She welcomed us in her beautiful house in West London, as if we had been friends forever and she opened her heart on music, life, her future projects and the power of Love. It was one of the most heart-warming, emotional interviews I’ve ever done. Here it is for you to enjoy.

G: What was the first record that you ever bought?
J: A record by these 3 guys, that I don’t remember what their name was and I won the record on the radio station and the show was called “Voice Your Choice” and it was these 3 guys that sang at that time, I cannot remember their names but when I won that I would have bought it too so that my aunt could have a copy of it.

G: So you definitely liked it! 
J: Yeah, ’cause it was a three part harmony and it was something different, you know. Different kinds of leadings of the lyrics and stuff, each one in the group had a different voice on each part which was wonderful. So that was the first one I got, the first thing that I ever got as far as a record was concerned. And then I bought (tries to remember)… – sings – … “Up on the roof”, and that was the second one I bought.

G: When did you realise you were going to work in the music industry?
J: I didn’t realise that until after I became adult, I mean, like in my twenties. I knew I wanted to write and sing and all that kind of stuff but I didn’t know… I wasn’t really into it like, you know, I’m gonna be this one and I’m gonna do that, but my aunt was there, with my cousin, and then my aunt would sing, so they had much more of a league, and they introduced me, ’cause I wasn’t into it at all, and because I had a top voice at that time, I was one of those singing soprano things, and I was really soft and my aunt would say “please sing louder”. So she took me to my first session, and I made $500 for doing 2 songs… I said, yahoo! I can make money doing this! The love of it has always been there, because of my family, they’re all minstrel singers at church, you know, and my mum and my aunt had a group, so I’ve always had it around me, it’s always been a part of me.

G: What are your musical influences? Who would you listen to when you were a kid?
J: Well, that’s really deep because I was a kid in North Carolina, so we weren’t allowed to, we weren’t supposed to listen to any secular music, we were supposed only to listen to Gospel music and the music my grandmother had, but my cousin used to sneak out on the porch with a little small radio and they would play stuff from the Isley Brothers. Dolly Parton, she was on there too, cause there’s some certain things… I’m trying to remember who also might be, you know, maybe Ray Charles and all that kind of stuff. So, a real following? I really followed my mum, cause my mother had a thing with this, she sang all the time, so and she taught me vocally how to present myself. I think it was more my mother than maybe influenced by other artists. But I heard all of those people in my youth.

G: And what kind of music do you listen to now?
J: My favourite kind of music is jazz, bossa nova, I love Brazilian music very much you know. I love Catalina which is a gipsy kind of a sound, I’m into that kind of stuff. Mellow jazz, mellow music is me, that’s what I listen to. Or Gospel, one or the other.

G: Name the one album that you would take with you on a desert island.
J: (Laughs) Wes Montgomery, the very first album. He’s a guitar player and he’s a jazz guitar player, he makes that kind of music that makes you wanna sit there forever and just listen and I think he… I mean, I quite as well pick somebody else, you know, I’d pick a couple of other folks, but I was to go somewhere and you really want to be able to be quiet and be taken over it would be with him.

G: What does Music mean to you?

J: Life, love, healing, perception, different perceptions of life. Music allows you to know that nothing stops, it continues and it continues in different kinds of ways, that’s why you have to always be able to adapt. That’s what it does for me, it heals, I’ve been healed so many times, so many times, over and over and over again from the presence of that, the presence of music and its spirit.

G: What’s the most memorable moment of your career?
J: I did a gig in New York city at the Madison Square Garden, I was the opening act for Budweiser Festival, and everybody was there, the OJs, and I was a baby, I was the opening act of the whole thing and when I got to the “aaahh” (sings in a high key) the audience, something began to happen, the roar from the audience came from all the way in the back up to the front and it was the most tremendous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It was like… my band was screaming they were like it was just the most overpowering emotional feeling of how people just responded to the first note and I came out of stage crying because it was just so overwhelming. And I was there just for 16 minutes on stage and you’d get off quick fast ’cause they were plugging on and off people… so they got me on stage and got me off but that was the most outrageous gig of my life.

G: Is the London music scene much different from USA? Why did you move to London?
J: The reason why I moved to London is because a son of mine was being picked up by a record company and they wanted me to come and promote it, but more so they wanted to introduce themselves to me and see if I wanted to be a part of the promotion. Once I got here a couple of booking agencies found out that I was here and they booked me for a couple of gigs, and from that point on I couldn’t go back home. And when I did go back home I had to come right back because of the gigs and stuff. The music scene here is definitely different. I would say that you can find R&B and Soul here a lot more than you can back home. Cause I don’t know what they consider R&B and Soul back home anymore. Of course, R&B is one thing and Soul’s another thing, but R&B categorised all the Soul music, that was a part of that in that particular time, but they changed it and made it different and made it a lot more of a challenge. ‘Cause over here I can go to Italy and do soul and it’s outrageous you know, I can go to Amsterdam, I can go to Germany, I can go to different places and they LOVE it, they support it; but back home is like, mm, it used to be it ain’t no more, so what’s up… I wish it would come back, I want it to come back. And I think that is what’s going on right now, the system is changing around.

G: Do you miss USA?
J: I miss my children and my sister and my brothers, I miss them. The scene? No. I miss my musicians friends, they are some of the most outrageous musicians in the world, but I’ve been here for 23 years so I got a net of comfort, I’m more laid back and a lot more conscious about things; then back home I’d be like this because that’s the momentum and if you’re never at a certain level over there you’d be struggling, it’s really really hard. So it’s not a great scene right now for a lot of singers and musicians, it’s about staying at a certain level or making sure you gotta always be able to be presented.

G: Among all the incredible collaborations you did, which one is your favourite?
J: “Believe” is one of the most outrageous songs that I’ve ever done. Of course “It’s al right I feel it” was great too, “Black gold of the sun” was great, ’cause those were all momentum songs at different timings, but “Believe” stood out a lot more differently for me. It really really did, I love Eric Morillo, I appreciate him and respect him, I wish him everything in the world of greatness, cause he deserves it, but “Believe” with me put him in a questioning position with his faith and with his love of his music. So I think “Believe” was the best one. Also Louie Vega and Todd Terry of course, you know, and Kym Mazelle, we worked together, I mean I could name all them out, but the one that moves me most when I perform it is “Believe”.

G: How do you enjoy your career as a producer? Are you producing anyone at the moment?
J: No one right now. Right now I’m record writing and looking at different productions as going down. I’m not producing right at this minute, I’ve just produced an E.P. of mine for Christmas Holidays, it’s a Christmas E.P. and that was quite an avenue of dealings which is great. Right now we’re more dealing with live productions, lot of stuff is happening.

G: And speaking of live productions, what to expect from the next Body & Soul, since you’re performing there?
J: We’re gonna have some fun, going back to the Studio landmark, you know, back to my original sounds and deal with that. I’m looking forward to be able to put up a Jocelyn Brown In Concert in a big place with all my friends, you know, like Jocelyn Brown & Friends. I wanna do all that stuff, and do the things I’ve done with Kym Mazelle, Colin Anderson, things I’ve done with different musicians and have them as my guests to come and perform with me. I long to do that because a lot of people know me with the music but they’ve never seen me do it. No one has ever seen me perform this stuff, and I did lots back at home but not here. But you can’t do this without an orchestra, cause it’s a big production. So that’s my dream, to put this together hopefully for next year.

G: I hope so, ’cause we’re definitely gonna be there! How would Jocelyn Brown describe Jocelyn Brown?
J: Wow, never been asked that before. I’m pretty laid back, I’m a silly person, I love having fun, I love having laughs, I love food, I’m very spiritual, I believe God is able, I believe in him, he’s my personal saviour. To say me, I’m very soft, but I can also be very firm, but I’m more soft than firm and I’m very open. I believe that there’s always an alternative thought or an alternative reason, or an alternative answer. So, it’s just the same what you’re saying to me right now, that’s it!… no. Are you sure that’s it? What else do you feel? I like going more into it. Like with my kids, they always go, mum, you’re not gonna give me a hard time? – no, why would I? Because you’re gonna give yourself a hard time, because either you’ve done the wrong thing and you know it or you’ve done something that you’re not sure and if that’s what you’ve done you’re gonna get an answer for. My mother installed something in me that was beautiful and it’s to love people. You know, to love the fact that people need each other. I used to come home from school when I was younger and my mom… God rest my mother’s soul – I walked in the kitchen, and there’d be the local bum, two of them, sitting in the kitchen, eating some food that my mother cooked and having a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette or whatever. And I’d walk in and they were there and I’d say, mum, that’s the local bum! And she said, everybody needs somebody, why can’t I give him something to eat? Why can’t he eat? He needs to have a proper food too. She’d sit there and talk with them and I’d be like, oh my God, thank God my friends aren’t here (laughs). Because I was too young to understand but I do understand it now. If someone says I’m in trouble, I need help and you know you can help them, you know you can, maybe it’s not your best friend, maybe it’s someone you’ve just met casually, but that doesn’t mean they can’t walk into a situation that they need somebody to hear them. I’m that kind of person, that’s where I am. Grateful.

G: Any new CD or projects on the horizon?
J: I got 2 albums coming out, one with Soul Persona, the other one is a jazz album that I’ve done, that’ll come out like in february next year. I’m working on a TV show as well and it’s for food and music together, so hopefully it will happen. And what else am I doing? That, the TV show and that’s for the moment, and there’s something else that we’re talking about that we were trying to get involved in too and it’s bringing more artists together, you know: Gospel, Jazz and Soul. We’re trying to bring those 3 elements together of really outstanding musicians and singers. Some from America some from here. And I want to go out to Norway ’cause there’s this beautiful choir out there that’s just outrageous, I’d like to bring them here as well. Opening up the avenue for young people, the youngsters. Not teenagers, but youngsters from the age of 5 to 12. For their singing ability and presenting them.

G: You have achieved so much, but is there anything that you still dream of?
J: My own recording studio. A farm, I wanna live out in the country, and I want my studio to be out there, you know, I wanna be able to be more centralised, with more people, like Elton John, people who you wouldn’t think I would work with, people like that, you know, even Beyonce, if she wants to work with me, she’s a great personality, I met her years and years ago, she was very young when I met her. You know, to be able to record with Paul McCartney and to do other things, because of my heritage of me being soulful and them being pop that doesn’t mean that they can’t be soulful. You know what I’m saying. I wanna put those two together and see how they work and I see if I can bring those elements together, like I worked with so many other people in the soul business, but anyone outside into the pop world. That’s where I wanna go. My dream is to do that. To be able to walk from my house to the studio in my pyjamas, and going there (laughs) and doing all the recordings and hang out with my friends just jamming, I mean do some serious jamming, ’cause we don’t do that anymore, we don’t come together as musicians and singers. I wanna bring that back.

G: Which is your favourite country where you performed?
J: Holland, is definitely one, Spain is another, and definitely Italy, definitely. Cause I performed there quite a few times and I had such a great response.

G: Which part of Italy?
J: I was in Rome. But I really wanna go down to… how is it called?

G: The island or the small one on the right?
J: The small one.

G: That’s where I’m from, it’s Puglia!
J: Really?? That’s where I wanna go!

G: There’s a lot of fans of soul music down there.
H: But you have many fans in Czech Republic as well.

J: Really? Wow! I don’t think I ever performed there, but would love to. I need to find someone who has all those countries and would love to put me in a position to do that, ’cause I’d go, oh yeah, I’d go.

G: Once again, thanks so much Jocelyn for this amazing interview!
J: Thank YOU.

Gessica Puglielli
Visual/Web Designer, Digital Marketing Strategist born in Lecce (Italy), I currently live in London. Between 1998 and 2005 I collaborated with Michael Jackson’s staff and in 2000 I had a meeting with the man himself. I founded Rebel Rebel in 2013 and so far it has been an exciting journey. Some of my favourite artists include Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Skunk Anansie, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, Archive, Kraftwerk, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Anthony & The Johnsons, Gazpacho, The Maccabees, Led Zeppelin, Brian Eno, Beethoven, Bjork, Steve Wonder and many others. I feel a deep connection to animals and Mother Nature, which led me to choose a vegan lifestyle. I like playing electric guitar, photography, cinema, art, entertainment, travelling, playing tennis and browsing London.