Grace Jones has a very particular speaking voice. It’s melodic, lilting, the faint echo of multiple locales – Paris, New York, London, Spanish Town – weaving through her vocal chords like aromas in a fine wine. In the 2017 documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, it’s noticeable how much her accent changes depending on who she’s speaking to. It’s a subtle reminder that Jones has never been one thing. She is, in her words, “a role switcher.” She’s a musician, actress, performance artist. She flows between genres (disco, industrial, reggae) and gender presentations. “I considered myself energy that had not been classified,” she wrote in her memoir, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.
This isn’t the first time I’ve interviewed the cult figure that is Jones. We met way back in 2015, to discuss her aforementioned memoir, in an industrial estate in south London. This time though, she’s booming through my laptop speakers at 9pm from her bed in Jamaica, while I sprawl on mine. And we’re here to speak about the new candle she’s releasing in collaboration with Boy Smells, out now. It smells like sex and leather and black pepper and Turkish rose. It’s also purposefully androgynous – an homage to the way Jones has always exhuded her own limitless and artful androgyny. The press release uses the term “genderful” – a delicious, vivid turn of phrase.
But anyway, back to Jones, who I have been given 15 minutes with. Jones is in her seventies now, although her age is largely irrelevant in relation to her output. During her recent performance for Grace Jones’ Meltdown Festival, at the Royal Festival Hall, she flew through about ten different costume changes, from billowing Keith Haring prints to wild and spiky head pieces and wide-brimmed fur hats. At one point she hula-hooped for the entirety of Slave to the Rhythm. She’s forever sharp, mischievous, a bold creative force; here’s everything we spoke about.
Daisy Jones: Hi Grace, how are you?
Grace Jones: Hi Daisy. You are my namesake, Daisy. Isn’t that a great name? Totally melodic.
DJ: It does have a ring to it doesn’t it! By the way, your candle is delicious. I can smell it in my room even without lighting it.
GJ: That’s fantastic, that’s what we want.
DJ: Why did you decide to collaborate with Boy Smells?
GJ: They approached me a while back and I thought I would like to do this – [the fact it was] with the LGBTQ+ community made it more exciting. The candle has a smell that is really delicious and sexy. I love it.
“I still consider myself an underground artist, actually. But you get popular” – Grace Jones
DJ: What are your three favourite smells in the universe?
GJ: I guess the candle is now. And after when it rains in Jamaica … all those smells come together. And a whole leather closet. When you open that up it has a certain kind of smell. I get inspiration from nature; the fruits, the food people are cooking, all of that bouncing off the earth when it rains. You get this smell that is very hard to describe. But it’s all in the candle. It’s an amazing science actually.
DJ: I know smells aren’t gendered, but I like how it’s …
DJ: Yes, as much as a smell can be. And very sensual. For decades you’ve pioneered a fluid approach to gender presentation. How do you think pop has changed in this regard, in comparison to when you were first releasing music?
GJ: I never really considered myself a pop artist. It’s funny because once you’ve been around a few times, all of a sudden you become something that you never wanted to be.
DJ: What do you mean by that?
GJ: I always wanted to be underground. And I still consider myself an underground artist, actually. But you get popular. But what I do is not popular. [Laughs.].
DJ: Who are some of your favourite new artists?
GJ: Well I love Chronixx in Jamaica and some others. I can’t remember their names. I remember phone numbers before I remember names.
DJ: What have you done in your career that you’re most proud of?
GJ: The whole combination. Moving from one thing to another. It just flows. I just follow it and it flows. Certain films that I’ve done … I haven’t done many, but I’m happy with the ones that I did. And after doing that, I realised that I really prefer the music, unless I’m going to be directing my own film in the future. Maybe I might do one. But music, for me, is more fulfilling.
I don’t like repeating myself. If I find I’m repeating myself I get bored, and I figure everybody else is going to get bored. So I like to have something new. The record that I’m finishing – it’s almost finished, it’s in the mixing process now – is very different from anything else that I’ve done. So it’s the whole thing really. It’s the whole experience, the whole umbrella, it’s all in the capsule.
Also … meeting people like Issey Miyake, who is a huge influence. Collaborating with people like Andy [Warhol] and Keith [Haring] and Jean-Paul Goude, of course. Anthony Lopez was a big springboard for me as well. I’m a muse and they’re my muses.
DJ: What is the biggest misconception about you?
GJ: Oh, I wouldn't want to burst that bubble. Whatever misconception it is, I’m fine with it.
DJ: There are probably quite a few I’d imagine – there are some wild stories about you.
GJ: When my husband met me he really thought I was a man. [Laughs.].
DJ: What is your wildest story from a night out?
GJ: I got lost in Beverly Hills after my birthday party once. I’d been with Sarah Douglas who was in Conan the Destroyer with me and Timothy Leary. They took me to a drag show where the drag was doing me, for my birthday. I was with Sven-Ole Thorsen at the time. All I know is, I said I’m going to drink tequila tonight – the worm and everything! And I got lost.
“I realised that I really prefer the music, unless I’m going to be directing my own film in the future … but music, for me, is more fulfilling” – Grace Jones
In LA, they close everything early and I kept saying ‘I don’t wanna go home, I don’t wanna go home’ and jumped out the car. As a prank, Sven drove around the corner, expecting me to come back. But I was so out of it. Tequila keeps growing after you’ve stopped drinking it – that’s the danger. So what happened was I disappeared – nobody could find me. I was in Issey Miyake clothes, a Fendi fur, thigh high boots – I was seriously dressed for the runway.
I woke up and found myself in a stairwell, with a bump on my head. And it turned out everyone had been out with flashlights looking for me in the bushes like, ‘We can’t find Grace! We can’t find Grace!’ That has to be the [best] going out story ever, right? I can’t remember a damn thing after I got out of the car.
[In] the stairwell where I woke up there was somebody living there and they called the police. And there were these two young policemen, they must have been about 18 years old. They were so cute, really handsome. I guess they must have been there ‘being policemen’, but really they should have had acting jobs as they were so gorgeous. They were like ‘we can call you a cab’ and I was like ‘please, can’t you guys just take me there?!’ They were like, ‘No. If you get in our car we’re going to have to take you to the station.’
DJ: That’s tequila for you! When and where are you happiest?
GJ: Right here in Jamaica. I remember I was with Ivor Guest – we recorded the last record here. I’m sure we’ll talk again once that’s ready. He just said, ‘I don’t know why anyone would want to leave this place’ and a light went off in my brain and I said, ‘You know what, you’re right.’ Normally I give an argument for everything. I will find some other way to look at it. But this time I was like ‘you’re right.’ And basically I’ve been staying a lot here. And then Covid came and I had to stay. I was about to get on the plane and tour. So we just worked it out from here. And now you don’t have to go everywhere for work. Normally I’d have to fly. But now … I’m in bed!
DJ: I am too!
DJ: Thank you so much for chatting to me, Grace.
GJ: OK Daisy. See you soon, I’m sure.
The Boy Smells Grace Jones Standard candle is available to buy now.