Over the past four decades, Grace Jones has rarely failed to surprise, from her music (she put out a reggae album at the height of her disco career) to her physical appearance (a former model who has donned menswear and posed half-naked on her album covers) to performance stunts such as hula hooping her way through a four-minute performance at the Queen’s Jubilee earlier this year (“All I can say is that it was a royal request”). She is unbothered by time, which might explain why she still looks flawless at 64: it took her 19 years to put out an album after 1989’s Bulletproof Heart and it took three days of phone calls from her publicists and manager before she could be reached to chat about Josh Wood Productions’ sold-out concert at New York’s Roseland Ballroom on October 27. Yet when we spoke, I instantly became mesmerized and charmed by the grand diva that is Grace.
Jones’ last New York show occurred in 2009 when she performed a one-off at Hammerstein Ballroom in support of Hurricane, her most recent studio album, which was released that same year. “This concert is completely different from the last one,” she begins to tell me, explaining that the previous concert was a collaboration with Japanese artist Eiko Ishioka. “She and I first worked together with Issey Miyake in Japan back when I was a model touring with my first single, ‘I Need a Man.’ We had always wanted to work together again.” The success of that show was bittersweet—Ishioka passed away earlier this year—but memorable for anyone in attendance, from the opening black-and-white bodysuit and double-Mohawk headdress to a gown that unfurled to length of the stage, blown into full view by Jones’ mark in front of a giant wind machine.
In the world of Grace Jones, artistic collaboration is born out of long-term friendships with the people that inspire her. Her upcoming Halloween show is no exception—she teamed with milliner Philip Treacy and called on designers such as Issey Miyake, Alexander McQueen and Jean-Paul Gaultier for help with her wardrobe. “All of the designers are good friends of mine,” she tells me. “I’ve been very loyal to them and they’ve always been inspiring to me. We know what each other likes.” When pressed for more details on other designers she’s been working with, she admits, “I’ve been in the studio so much that my brain is still catching up to me.”
And is a new Grace Jones album on the way? “I’m keeping it under wraps,” she says coyly, admitting that there’s not much to tell yet. Then she adds, “It will be something like no one’s ever heard before, including myself.” Much like her designer friends, she’s kept a group of her production team from Hurricane intact, aiming for a June 2013 release. “We’re visiting Africa,” she tells me. Figuratively, I ask? “No, we’re actually going to a few places including Nigeria, Kenya and Congo. I’m bringing out my Nigerian-ness,” she says and begins laughing, asking me, “Nigerian-ness. Is that a word?”
On the topic of albums, Jones explains that Hurricane “was an accident to start with but was no longer an accident when we finished.” How did she account for the dub version of Hurricane, a phenomenal album of stripped-down vocals and cosmic beats, complete with cover art by her former lover Jean-Paul Goude, which was released to almost no fanfare in 2011? “Ivan Guest [the producer] decided that when we finally got Hurricane out in America [the official stateside release was unintentionally delayed two years], it would be nice to have the dub of it out as well.” Acknowledging that North American fans could find the import through the internet, Jones tells me that she’s “not into the internet. I’m into it to a point, of course, but I don’t have time to just sit in front of the internet and surf. I lose patience with it very quickly. If it doesn’t immediately do what I want it to do, I get mad and want to throw it over the balcony.”
With time for only one more question and having already had more provocative queeries for The Guardian back in 2010 (she’s had three-somes with women but never relationships, she finds Gaga unoriginal, “My Jamaican Guy” refers to a keyboardist named Tyrone from the Wailers), I ask her to tell me about her gay following. “There’s a lot to tell about my gay friends,” she says. “It’s not just gay friends that I have. I have gay family,” she says, beginning to laugh again.
Getting back to the upcoming concert, she says, “I hope everybody comes out to have a really great time as usual. I hope some of the police are gay, too,” she adds, now cracking us both up over the idea that a gay police force might make for a more party-friendly atmosphere. “I’m sure there are a lot of police that aren’t gay that like to have a good time, too. It’d be nice if they just stayed a bit calmer so everybody can party,” she says, still laughing. “Party with no paranoia!”
Photo/Artwork: Jean-Paul Goude