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GRACE JONES — The Gavin interview

Actress/recording star Grace Jones started a musical career after becoming a top fashion model. Her first three albums (launched during the Disco era) featured portraits by Richard Bernstein, best known for his monthly Interview Magazine covers. With former beau Jean Paul Goude (a top photographic collage artist and author of Jungle Fever, which chronicles his art and life with Grace) as her collaborator, Grace Jones made radical strides as a multi-media figure in pop culture. Her musical career took off in the eighties after she teamed up with hot reggae producers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare for three more LPs. “Pull Up To The Bumper” became a smash and Grace went from Disco queen to total artist. Her debut LP on Manhattan, Slave To The Rhythm, was created along with Frankie Goes To Hollywood producer Trevor Horn. After high fashion, hit records, and even a roll in the hay with James Bond, Grace talks to the Gavin Report.

KZ: Your latest release, “Slave To The Rhythm,” seems to be a dual label deal.

GJ: Trevor Horn has his own label which is ZTT… Its a song Trevor did a long time ago before I had signed with Manhattan. Its a project I was working on in between contracts, if you know what I mean.

KZ: The whole album?

GJ: The single first of all. All were meant to be the single, but it just grew into a conceptual album, finally. At first, we were never quite happy with the results we were getting. Trevors quite a perfectionist. We kept trying different ways and different interpretations to get the right single. It was the kind of song that you cant bundle up into one three or four minute record and say, ‘yhis is it. It grew into a conceptual album. By the time we were finished with it, I was already signed with Manhattan. I didnt care about the politics, really. I liked the songs a lot. It was written with me in mind. I convinced Manhattan to let me finish this project. It was so strong an album that everyone decided to get it out and have a good time with it.

KZ: Im interested in the ZTT process of making their records (Grace Jones, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda). How involved does an artist like yourself get with Trevor Horn and his process?

GJ: I really dont think of labels when I work. I dont think, ‘This is a ZTT record, this is an Island record, or this is a Manhattan record. If I like a record, I dont care who it is (laughs).

KZ: Was it your idea to use (British actor) Ian McShane to narrate parts of the record?

GJ: No. Basically, the whole album is like a story. Its a small screenplay, biographical, or whatever you want to call it. Im there as the star of the record. The record is about me. Its the producers image of me. Jean Paul Goude, who also worked on the music with Trevor, saw the visuals before the music. You know what mean? Its like you have a film and you want a score for the film. We worked the score and the visual score at the same time. The record speaks for itself in that way. When you hear the record with all the inserts, the interviews, and the stories, you get a feeling that you can see what youre listening to. You can see it Its not just listening to something. It goes further than that.

KZ: Youve maintained your relationship with Jean Paul Goude. I understand he did your latest video. Was it a mutual decision to use excerpts from “Jungle Fever” on the record?

GJ: Jean Paul and I have always maintained a relationship. I just give him carte blanche because we think so much alike. We like the same things artistically. We have this understanding that he has the freedom, artistically, to explore and create whatever he wants to. Usually I know whats behind it. Most other people, of course, dont know. Theyll see a lot of other different things. Theyll try to say, ‘Oh, the relationship, the personal stuff. Thats nothing to do with it at all. We collaborate very well together. Until we dont, we will work together.

KZ: Do you think that people make too much about your personal relationship and his past obsession with you?

GJ: Sure. Sure. I dont think they see the humor in it all, and theres a lot of humor in it They take it all so seriously.

KZ: Some of your past work, “Warm Leatherette,” “Walking In The Rain,” “Private Life,” all seemed so suited to your voice. What was the process you used towards selecting material?

GJ: My voice on those songs is the same voice that I had with “Thats The Trouble” off the Portfolio record. My voice is very similar to the voice four albums later. That had a lot to do with producers and how much input I was allowed to have at the time. Sometimes you work with producers who are quite forceful and powerful. They try to push you into a corner where they feel you belong. Youre singing in a voice they want to hear you in. This is a voice they think is going to sell records. Finally, I realized that that was ridiculous and it was some kind of mental abuse.

KZ: Are you referring to (disco producer) Tom Moulton?

GJ: Partially, yes. The only cuts where I was singing with my own voice were the songs I wrote which were “Thats The Trouble” and “Sorry.”

KZ: Ive always thought that the Nightclubbing album was an artistic breakthrough for you. Not just because it had “Pull Up To The Bumper,” but because you used Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare) for a pop reggae sound.

GJ: It started with Warm Leatherette. Nightclubbing was the most complete. It was the first time I had a lot more artistic freedom. It was also the albums after Tom Moulton. I love a lot of stuff that Tom did. I was not happy with a lot of the songs that I had written myself because they all started sounding alike. I knew each song had its own breath. I hated when they treated them all with the same formula.

KZ: You were one of the first, outside of reggae, to work with Sly and Robbie.

GJ: Yep.

KZ: Was that a return to your Jamaican roots?

GJ: It was catching up with it, actually; not returning. To return to the roots, then youd have to get into calypso and all that. To me, Sly and Robbie are super modern. Theyre really in front and they never burn out. I was very hard on them as well. I was quite a different person for them to work with. Theyre accustomed to being the kings! Jamaican men! (laughs) The male population is a different culture than here.

I know how to deal with them, you know? I have a lot of brothers, my dad, and grandpa. We just tell them, ‘You be quiet over there. Theres a way of talking with them to get your way, not letting them intimidate you. For people that dont know, Im sure they can come up very intimidating, if they say, ‘we do one cut and were not gonna do it again because we know this is the best cut. And Ill say, ‘Youre gonna do it again tomorrow.

KZ: Thats why those records are so successful.

GJ: I think so. I pushed them very far.

KZ: Do you have a twin brother?

GJ: Christian.

KZ: So do I.

GJ: Really? Weve got something in common. Hes just done an album as well. Three singles and hes made a deal for an album. I produced a couple of the tracks as well. Sly and Robbie are playing on one track called “American Lover.” Its really good. It needs some remixing.

KZ: How do you manage to jockey your busy schedule? You have so many projects, movies, modelling — 

GJ: I dont model anymore.

KZ: With movies and music, are you spontaneous or do you carefully map out your career moves?

GJ: Im very spontaneous. I dont care how much we map it out. It never sticks to what is mapped out. There came a time where Id pick between one or the other. That was when I was thinking about resigning with a record company. I realize how they both actually help each other. Especially now. Its a form of the future. That whole movies-and-music thing is coming back.

KZ: Like back in the thirties and forties. You were a pioneer at being a contemporary multi-media star.

GJ: People always ask, ‘Well, what are you? Are you an actress in singing? Because youre not this regular singer thats touring. They find it very difficult to deal with. They want to see a rock and roll band up there. Okay, Im rock n roll or okay. Im R & B. Whos to say what is what? You just do what it is you do. I dont think about the labels. I create where it feels right with me. Its not going to be the same as what everyone else does. A lot of people, when they come into the business, automatically want to do what everyone else is doing because they think thats the key to success.

KZ: What is the key to success?

GJ: Well, it aint that (laughs). I know what its not. I cant tell you what it is exactly.

KZ: Are you starting to write songs for your next album?

GJ: Oh yeah. Weve got about thirteen songs done already.

KZ: What can we expect? Any clues as to what direction?

GJ: Well… I think the direction will be continuing in the direction of “Slave,” taking it a bit further. More stories. The story from MY point of view. Some of it will be fantasy, some of it will be true. Musically, everything will be in the groove.

KZ: Is Nile Rodgers going to do your next album?

GJ: If nothing happens to him between now and April or to me. If World War Three doesnt break out.

KZ: How did you end up on the Arcadia single?

GJ: They asked me if I would. We were hanging out and I liked the song. I was in Europe at the same time, writing with Bruce Wooley. (He co-wrote “Slave To The Rhythm.”) Im co-writing most of the songs with him. Alex Sadkin, who co-produced my last three albums, was co-producing Arcadia as well. So as a favor to them, I did it and I donated my fee to AIDS Research Foundation.

KZ: You were also in Fashion-Aid. How was that?

GJ: That was great! A lot of fun. I modeled for Miyake who was the first person to hire me in 1976 and I sang at the end of the fashion show in Japan for two weeks. We had sold out audiences all over the place — 10,000 seater places.

KZ: Are you going to tour America?

GJ: Yes. Not until we get the record up there (laughs).

Ill tour Europe first because the record is number one all over the place. In Europe, they dont have this pop, R & B, Dance, what not. They like a record and thats it. It plays.

KZ: Then what are your feelings about radio in America?

GJ: I think they can travel a bit and learn something from Europe. I think they should just play a great record. I dont think the record should be based on color. Music has no color. Do you know what I mean? I dont know. I think they do it that way because maybe they feel it generates more money or something. Different markets. I dont know what the reasons are. Advertising? Certain people in certain areas like this and that It keeps people limited, is what it does. It doesnt allow them to expand.

KZ: Tight formats exist because programmers wish to reach a specific, key person as a listener.

GJ: But those key people like to hear other things. I think they get awfully bored. I do. Everybody welcomes a change. I think even if they have a certain format, every now and then they should inject a little change in there to show what else is going on in the world. Its like putting walls around the radio. You might as well be in Russia. In London, the (club) deejays outside of radio play the best music. Stuff Ive never heard before! Whats this record? My God! They just find great music over there. I think here where you have the formats, even with the club deejays, it limits them and makes them lazy. They dont have to go out there and create a sound. They just get all the records sent in to them. This is the Top Forty, or whatever, and thats what they play. How on earth can they get any kind of fun out of that?

KZ: How do you feel about the role of dance clubs and how your career has grown from that?

GJ: I think clubs used to be a lot better. Im sure theres still some around and I havent had time to get to them. Some that take chances and play different music. Good deejays are hard to find. its really an art to create a mood and feeling with

music. A lot of people get their jobs through politics and connections. Then they dont know what theyre doing.

KZ: What are your memories of the Disco era when you were gigging at Studio 54?

GJ: A lot of my older friends were (club) deejays. Theres a lot of really good people squeezed out. Theyre not working anymore. I used to go dancing for working out. It was a total physical, soulful, and spiritual experience. Id come out feeling like I had been totally renewed, feeling great. I remember I went to this club. I was playing two nights. The first night someone said, ‘Well tonight, youve got the PCP crowd, or something. Everyone was walking around bumping into walls (laughs). I thought that was pretty weird. Then they said, ‘Dont worry. The next night youll have your tripping crowd. So you get a different audience depending on what drug theyre into.

KZ: I remember reading about your “One Man Show” tour. Somebody handcuffed himself to you.

GJ: That was a teenage kid. The time that happened, my audience started crossing over. In 1982, I was attracting about everybody. The audience was so mixed, it was incredible. The audience ALONE was a trip. That was the show. I had students, professors, professional people. All different races. The age went from teenagers to old people.

KZ: What kind of film roles are you interested in? Are you interested in doing some serious drama like maybe Whoopi Goldberg did in The Color Purple?

GJ: Whoopi was made for that role. I like glamorous roles. I think theres a space to be filled there. (The part of) Shug Avery was a glamorous role. I could have played that role. I would have been better in that part, actually.

KZ: Would you liked to have recorded the theme song for A View To A Kill?

GJ: I love what Duran Duran did. Oh no.

On the filming set, (the band) thought, ‘Gee, Grace is a singer and maybe she would want to do this. I said no way. It would be too much. For me, I would prefer to do a theme song where Im not in the film.

KZ: Do you have any plans to do more TV commercials after that Honda spot with Adam Ant?

GJ: No. Not for America, anyway. I did a Citroen commercial in France and for four countries in Europe. There they let you do what you want to do. They dont freak out on you.

KZ: Like when they clipped the part out of the Honda spot where you bit Adam Ants ear?

GJ: Right Stuff like that is ridiculous. Its stupid.

KZ: What kind of music does your boyfriend, Dolph (Lundgren) like?

GJ: He likes funk. Groove stuff. Anything with a great groove, like me.

KZ: What kind of kid were you? A tomboy?

GJ: Always. Still am.

KZ: You once climbed into a cage with a live tiger. Will you ever do that again?

GJ: (Laughs) Im telling you, probably start walking around the streets with one, just to protect myself against the terrorists. But you know, theyre trained. I had to spend a few days with that tiger before I got into the cage with him — so hed get familiar with my smell. Its like a bad dog. They smell you and say, ‘This one is okay and this one is not okay.