Soul singer Sharon Jones and her band the Dap-Kings have made a career out of reviving soul music for contemporary ears. The band’s released four albums to date using only analog technology—nothing appears on a Dap-Kings album that wasn’t available before the mid-’70s. On the band’s latest, I Learned the Hard Way, the Dap-Kings wrote more of the songs than on any previous album, but the content of the songs hasn’t changed: Like those of the great soul artists of the ’70s, the bulk of Jones and the Dap-Kings’ albums are all about love, romance, and what happens when things just don’t work out.
Though Jones has only written one song herself—a special holiday release called “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”—she belts out love songs with such passion that we couldn’t resist asking the 54-year-old for some advice on affairs of the heart.
SW: On all your albums, the vast majority of the songs you sing are about love and heartache. Do you have any good advice for all the lonely people out there? Like, say, a girl who just got out of a really unhealthy relationship?
Jones: If you can’t get the love that you give, don’t take second best from no one. If you love yourself, you won’t let anyone mistreat you. Don’t ever let anyone think you’re nothing yourself. You don’t need a man to tell you what to do. You moved out of your parents’ house. Now you a grown-ass woman and now you still got someone telling you what and how and when you can do it?
I’m just bringing songs to life that people wrote. It’s not that I wrote those songs and they’re all about my life. I just bring a story to life, you know? Life has all its ups and downs, you know? I’ve had so many downfalls in my life, in and out.
A lot of women think that you’ve got to have a man in your life to make yourself complete, but you don’t. You just need to make yourself happy. All it takes is just the fact of being loved. You know, everybody needs to be loved. You get these people out there [who think] because you’re a star and you’re out here and you’re in the light that you don’t need it. I definitely would love, right now, to be in a nice relationship with someone that I can come home to and talk about what I’m doing, but I don’t…I’m just making it. And I know pretty soon I’ll meet someone that I can deal with.
You also live with your mother, to help take care of her. Does that put a damper on things?
No. I just don’t want to date anyone. I gave up on my own dating. That’s one reason…you need your own place if you’re going to be dating someone. You don’t bring them to your mother’s house, anyway. But that’s not the reason I’m not in a relationship. [Though] that can definitely put a damper on things too.
I’m 54 years old right now and I’ve been with my mother for the last 10 years, and I really came through here because I went through a bad engagement, and when [it ended with] my fiancé, I was living with him. I had sold my apartment. I said, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ And he said, ‘You can move back in with your mother.’ And I’d been out of my mother’s house ever since I was a kid. I moved out of the house when I was 17. So to be 40 years old and to come back in to my mother’s house…that was something.
It’s working this way. The fact that I don’t have a man in my life, that ain’t making me sad. I’m happy and that’s what people gotta realize. You don’t need a man in your life to make you happy. With my career and where I am, out on the road, I wouldn’t have the time for that! It would really be crazy trying to juggle a relationship and [my career].
Still, that must have been hard. And it sort of explains how you can sing all those songs with such conviction.
I can bring them to life because I may not have had that experience, but I’ve had some experience in my life—you know, bad relationships. Things not working, being in and out of love. Somebody cheating on you, treating you bad. So I guess that’s how I can sing them. And then a good thing is, you don’t even have to experience it, you just have to sing the song. You just tell a good story.
That’s what acting is about. That’s what we do. Musicians, we get on that stage and we really do have to act. Sometimes you may be feeling bad, something [bad] happened to you, but people don’t need to know all of your business.
I had to perform that New Year’s in 2006. That whole year, from that Christmas until the next Christmas, was really hard. I lost 24 friends and family members in one year. I got to the hotel after that show and talked to my mother and she told me they found my brother. Dead. I had to stay out there on the road three more days, got home on a Tuesday, and buried my brother on a Thursday.
You can’t complain. You get up there and make [the audience] happy and forget about your troubles. And I know sometimes it’s hard to do that.