For three decades, vocalist Angie Stone has been entertainingsurprising audiences, critics, peers and the music industry itself along the way. She's back with a new CD, Unexpected ( recorded with the legendary music label Stax ) . In a candid interview, Stone talked about growing up in the South, battling sarcoidosis and dealing with rumors that she is anti-gay.
Windy City Times: I went to this event [ recently ] called World of Chocolate, and one of the songs the DJ played was a remix of [ your song ] "Wish I Didn't Miss You." Gay men love that song.
Angie Stone: Oh, my Godyou don't have to tell me. I did a New Year's Eve party about six or seven years ago at the biggest gay club in New York. I had about 25-30 choir members come out in robes and neon hula hoops, baby. [ Interviewer laughs. ] It was off the chain. The strobe lights were going, and I came out there like the Supremes, baby. The choir came behind me and sang "Wish I Didn't Miss You." It was a blast.
WCT: You and I have something in commonwe're originally both [ the South ] and grew up in the church, with gospel music. How did church shape you?
AS: Well, it scared the mess out of me. It taught me to do the best for our people, in general. I felt that, with my upbringing in gospel music and the knowledge I learned, it helped me to deal with the drama that we deal with out in the industry.
WCT: Well, I've been a fan of yours for at least a decadeever since [ the CD ] Black Diamond, with "Green Grass Vapors" and that cover of "Trouble Man."
AS: Then you must love [ the CD ] Mahogany Soul. [ WCT: Of course. ] I went back and listened to that album about a month ago and I blew my own self away. That record just feels good inside and out. I told my manager the other day that I'm ready to go into the studio again because I'm feeling that Mahogany Soul vibe again. The next record could be a blast from the past that blows you away.
WCT: I've read that some musicians are not comfortable being classified as "neo-soul." Is "neo-soul" a bad word?
AS: I just think it's a generic word for what is really soul music. They feel that people are not really crediting them for what they want people to see them as: soul artists. It's like, "You're a minute from being soul, [ so ] we'll call you neo-soul."
WCT: What's it like working at Stax?
AS: It's interesting, because Stax has this legacy that goes back for decades. So to carry on that legacy is very interesting; you don't want to step out of that perimeter. But, at the same time, you have to be relevant to today's music. It's an interesting marriage.
WCT: Regarding Unexpectedwhy does the album have that title?
AS: Well, I'm stretching above the rim. My father passed away unexpectedly this year, and that was a shock to me. When I recorded the album, I didn't have a title so I said, "This is so unexpected. So I'm gonna go for broke and do whatever the hell I want to do." I reached out and got Jazze Pha to give me a fast club track we could remix the heck out ofthat's "Free"and I wanted to deliver a message in the music. I did some classic Angie Stone; I reached back for some Evelyn "Champagne" King. I've been in the business a long time, and I wanted people to know that I'm not just a soul/neo-soul artist.
WCT: So if someone wanted to get to know you through your music, this would be the CD to get?
AS: Yes. Live it, love it and explore it.
WCT: I'm especially loving the song "I Ain't Hearin' U."
AS: It has a good feel, a good vibe. I want people to feel good when they hear this record. I wanted people to smile again, like "Wish I Didn't Miss You." Even though [ "Wish" ] covers an intense subject, it makes you feel good when you hear it.
WCT: For a while, you had battled sarcoidosis [ which attacks the upper respiratory system ] ...
AS: I did. I used to work a temp job at a lab that spilled the damn germs, which were airborne. I obviously breathed [ them ] in. Thank God I don't have it anymore, but it was roughI battled it for 12 years, which caused my weight issues. You see Angie Stone slimmed-down these days; I'm no longer on [ the synthetic drug ] prednisone because the sarcoidosis is gone. But for 12 years I was on prednisone, which made me look like a pig. I was 235 pounds at one point and, coming from 126 pounds, that was just too much. If you go back to when I released "No More Rain ( In This Cloud ) ," I had a moon faceand that was because of the prednisone.
WCT: And, now, how are you?
AS: I'm under 200 pounds and I'm a size 14. I was all the way up to a size 20, and I've come down. Now, I look like a brickhouse from back in the day. [ Interviewer laughs. ]
WCT: Let me ask you a general question: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
AS: I think that we need to get out of the idea that music should be seen and not heard. I think we're selling music through eyes. Beauty is one thingit's in the eye of the beholderbut, shit, back in the day nobody was drop-dead gorgeous; the music was just awfully funky. People were not judged by the color of their skin or the shapes of their bodies.
It wasn't about how much you could sell; we're in a desperate stage right now. Pop, rap and crossover music is so limited right now. It's like, "If you're not 25, you can't stay alive." Think about itif you compared music right now to blue-collar jobs, we'd all be homeless and hungry.
WCT: As a singer who has a lot of gay fans, I'm glad you have confronted those rumors [ that Stone made an anti-gay statement in 2002 ] ...
AS: Oh, my God! That was so horrible.
I was so flabbergasted because, at the time, I had three gay members in my band who were really, really good friends of mine. We'd joke with each other, and I think some people misunderstood and tried to take me seriously. Are you kidding? "Wish I Didn't Miss You" was written by a gay man who is one of the best writers in the industry.
[ The rumors ] really hurt me. My best, best friend is gay. So I said, "You know what? If it's so easy for you guys to turn on me after everythingand I love gay people, and gay people have been so loyal." Unfortunately, I fell out with one of the gay guys in my group, and it came back to bite me in the ass about a year later because they tried to turn our jokes into something spiteful. I'm not in a position to judge anybody. And let me tell you: my hairdresser is gay, my assistant is gay, some of the writers and producers I work with are gay and my best friend is gay. So I had to tune [ the rumors ] out and pray about it.
I like playing gay clubs. If you like my music, let's all have fun together.
WCT: You contributed to So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross [ singing "Since I Lost My Baby" ] . What was Luther like?
AS: Luther and I went to the movies before he passed away [ in 2005 ] . We actually toured together on his last tour. He bought me the most beautiful Louis Vuitton purse as a thank-you gift.
Luther was one of my closest artist friends; we could go to a movie, sit down, laugh and joke. We had a great rapport. And there was no balladeer like Luther around.
WCT: We just talked about Luther's tribute album. Who would you want on a tribute album to Angie Stone?
AS: I'd want the best, of course. I would do a "living legend" tribute; I'd go to Gladys [ Knight ] , Chaka [ Khan ] , Patti [ LaBelle ] and Natalie [ Cole ] . Then, I'd pick some of today's divas like Ledisi, Jill Scott, Fantasia and Alicia Keys. I would pick the creme de la creme of the female bunch. Then, when it was time to do "Brotha," I'd get the baddest brothers in the business to sing"My Strong Sista"as an homage to Angie Stone.
Stone's CD, Unexpected, is out in stores and available on iTunes.