“It’s great to be back,” admits Joyce Sims, the Rochester singer/songwriter who, most soul music fans will agree, has been absent from the music scene for too long. She’s best remembered for her anthemic dance groove, ‘Come Into My Life,’ an innovative record that successfully fused soul and electro music with club sounds and became a massive global smash. That was in 1987 and a couple of years later, when her label, Big Apple indie, Sleeping Bag Records, bit the dust, Joyce was left in limbo and languished in obscurity for many years.
The good news is, though, that the singer that brought us such era-defining hits as ‘All And All’ and ‘Lifetime Love’ is coming back into our lives with a brand new album (her fourth), ‘Love Song,’ which is released on August 21st via her own August Rose label. It’s preceded by a single, ‘All I Want Is You,’ and even more exciting, perhaps, for her UK fans is the fact that at the time of writing the 56-year-old chanteuse is in the UK and due to perform in Birmingham at the Jam House (tonight, 20th August) and on Saturday 22nd at London’s Jazz Cafe. Joyce recently talked to SJF’s Charles Waring about her new recording project as well as her career and, of course, the story behind the record that brought her immortality, ‘Come Into My Life’…
You’ve got a new single out, ‘All I Want Is You’ – what’s the story behind it?
I was in the UK working with producer named Livingstone Brown working on some new music. We wanted to do something from scratch and of course I love writing love songs so we came up the concept of ‘All I Want Is You’ and basically it just came out of a writing session.
And you’ve got album coming out shortly afterwards, called ‘Love Song.’
Yes, we’re releasing it August 31. I’m really excited about the new music.
What can we expect from you on this record?
The whole album is a collection of love songs and each one tells a story. It’s R&B and dance, and I think people will enjoy it. I wrote a lot of the tracks in the US and worked with some US producers as well but for three tracks I went over to the UK and worked with some new writers and producers.
Have you got any more songs on there that you might releases singles after this one?
Oh yes, we’re looking at a track called ‘Did It, Done It’ as a follow-up single and there’s others on there. Maybe one called ‘Saving My Love’ as well.
It’s your first album since 2006. What have you been doing since that time and now?
Recording and travelling, touring, doing performances and I have my own record label now. I’m running that as well, August Rose Records, which ‘Love Song’ will come out on. So I’ve been just busy being a businesswoman, a performer, a writer, and a publisher, so I’ve been busy.
The name August Rose – what’s the significance behind it?
August is my birth month and I love roses, so I thought August Rose sounds good (laughs)…and it looks good on paper.
Do you envisage signing any other artists and performers to the label?
Eventually, I do. I will be looking for other artists to sign but right now I want to establish August Rose and it costs so much money to put out records so before I sign a new artists I would really like to be able to promote the artist and market the artist properly.
You’ve got a tour lined up in the UK during the last week of August. Will you be bringing a full band?
I have a support band from the UK and I’m doing the Jazz Cafe on August 22 and The Jam House in Birmingham on August 20 and I’m also using Gee Bello’s Light of the World’s band. So I’m really excited about working with those guys again.
How do UK audiences compare with the ones back home in the US?
You know they’re very similar: they know all the songs, they sing along with the songs and they just give me so much feedback and so much love when I’m on stage performing. Then they share different experiences, when ‘Come Into My Life’ and ‘All in All’ were released. They all have their own stories. They’re wonderful stories and I’m just really honoured and amazed that those songs resonated so well with so many people.
Do you think that you have a special relationship with your fans in the UK because you broke here first really, didn’t you?
Yes, definitely. I say it’s my home away from home.
Rewinding thirty years into the past, what led you to get you to sign with Sleeping Bag Records?
I had a little Casio keyboard with a drum machine built into the keyboard and made a cassette tape that I did at home that had ‘All And All,’ ‘Come Into My Life’ and ‘Lifetime Love’ on. At that time anyone who I thought knew somebody listened to my demo and this friend heard it and passed it on to an engineer who gave me some free studio time. Once I started working with him, I got it into a better production. From there he knew the people over at Sleeping Bag Records. He took the demo over to them and they liked it and he started negotiating. Actually the first contract was for a single – it was a single deal so ‘All And All’ came out and that started picking up and then it got hot. So we went back in and negotiated for an album deal, so that’s how that whole thing started.
You worked with Kurtis Mantronik on some of your records. What was it like working with him?
It was good. Kurtis was really into the drum machine at that time so it seemed like we all had our parts, with me focusing on the keyboards and the song itself and Kurtis was doing production with his Linn drum. He was very cool, very nice.
Had you been performing as a singer before you were signed?
In my hometown of Rochester, New York, I was playing in local bands. I played keyboards and did backing vocals. I did a few leads but I did backgrounds in the beginning.
You had cover version on your first album of Barbara Acklin’s ‘Love Makes a Woman’ – what inspired you to cover that particular song?
It was an empowering song and I always wanted to do a cover on the album and it was a beautiful song, and a love song, and about a woman, right? So it was perfect.
You had Jimmy Castor playing saxophone on it. What do you remember about him?
Jimmy was so much fun. He was very funny and very talented. My management at the time knew Jimmy and that’s how I was introduced to him and he got on the project. But he was a lot of fun and that was a great tour.
‘Come into My Life’ was a massive club song over here and has become your signature tune as well, hasn’t it?
Yeah. You know it’s so funny, in the UK and overseas, ‘Come into My Life’ was the signature song but in the US, ‘All and All’ is the signature song.
Can you remember the inspiration behind ‘Come into My Life’ and have a song came about?
I was just experimenting and fooling around on the keyboard. I could just say what musicians say: just vibing on the keyboard and it just happened and came to life. It wasn’t like I just sat down and said I’m going to write this song today, it just evolved, it just happened.
It’s been sampled and covered by other artists, why is it so popular?
First, I’m just blessed and really thankful for it happening. I think the song is universal. Just for someone to say to you “come into my life, I have so much love to show you,” and it’s a love song and love is such a universal feeling and universal word that everybody can understand it and everybody can feel it. And then the beat was this really is nice beat. So everything was there. And it was different too, I think, at the time and there weren’t too many other tracks like it, I think I can safely say, that were around at the time. You could hear it in the clubs or you could hear it just at a party.
How did you feel when Randy Crawford covered it?
Oh my goodness, I was so honoured. That was great. I love her version as well and I love Randy Crawford. I was very honoured. I thought oh my goodness, I couldn’t believe it (laughs).
Back in the day, you were one of the big club divas, weren’t you? Is it true that personally you weren’t particularly enamoured by the club scene?
Now when you say into the club scene, I didn’t have time to go out actually, I was working so hard. So I was always really focused on doing the music and being in the studio and writing. I loved club music but just to say oh let’s go out to the club tonight and do this, no, I had to have a reason to go to the club.
And making music was probably a good reason for staying away?
Yes. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the clubs, and I enjoy the lights and the music, and the sound systems, I really like that, but I wasn’t like a clubber, no.
That’s understandable maybe. What do you remember about making your second album, ‘All About Love’? Was there more pressure on you then to deliver?
There was. I think it always is with the second album because people are saying “I don’t hear another ‘All And All'” or “I don’t hear another ‘Come Into My Life'” so there is a lot of pressure there and then there’s pressure time-wise: we need it right now. It wasn’t rushed with ‘Come Into My Life.’ Not at all. But then with the second one there were a lot of different things happening with personnel at the label and everything. So that was a totally different experience. But there was a lot of pressure on that second album.
Was ‘All About Love’ a difficult album to make then?
Well, yeah, it was kind of difficult. It was a different time. Things were changing around at the label at that time.
What happened after that because you kind of fell off the radar, didn’t you?
Well, after Sleeping Bag went out of business I had to regroup. I was still touring in the US and still writing but we had to regroup from the passing of the legal stuff that was going on so I took a step back and enjoyed my family for a few years. I never stopped writing and was still doing dates in the US.
Going right back to the very beginning, when did you feel that music had a hold on you?
Oh jeez, for ever. Even before I was a teenager I loved music. I remember my first album, it was the Jackson Five’s. My father brought it home and I heard ‘I Want You Back’ and from hearing that I thought that’s what I want to do: I want to make music.
When did you start learning the piano?
(Muses) I think I was thirteen, fourteen. Around that age. Actually, I started out on the organ. And then from the organ I started studying the piano.
Do you come from a musical family?
My mother sings gospel music. She’s a great gospel singer.
Did you get your training in church or did you have formal piano lessons?
I did, I started singing in church in the church youth choir. My mother was the choir director so I was in the church every Sunday. It seemed like I was in the church all the time, which was a good thing. I started with the organ but then I started studying the piano and the theory of music.
I read somewhere that you played the flute as well.
I did, yes. I learned that in the school marching band (laughs).
Who were your musical inspirations and influences at that time?
Oh definitely the Jackson Five and then moving on, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, and Patti LaBelle. But Stevie Wonder was really a huge influence on me because he was the total package; he wrote, he sang, he played the keyboard and his sound was amazing.
Do you have a favourite album of his?
‘Songs In The Key of Life.’
What’s been the highlight of your career so far? I’m sure you’ve had many.
Yeah, I do. I would have to say so far it was in the UK and at that time it was called the Hammersmith Odeon with the band and it was a sell-out. We did two nights. But the thing about it was I was used to playing clubs with everybody dancing and no seats. But in Hammersmith it was a theatre, with seating, and that terrified me (laughs). I said to my manager, there are seats in here, who’s going to dance? I’m not going to do this. He said don’t worry, sweetie, you’ll be okay, you’ll be fine.
I expect they all got up and danced anyway, didn’t they?
They did. I think it was in one of the papers the next day that it said Joyce Sims turns the Hammersmith Odeon into a nightclub (laughs).
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions as far as music goes?
Oh yes, my goodness. Actually, I’m working towards my Grammy (laughs). And I want to just make great music and work with a lot of other artists. There’s so much more music I want to make. I would love to make a jazz album and a real neo-soul type album. I just want to explore different sounds.
Is there anybody in particular you’d like to work with or record a duet with?
I would love to work with Incognito. I would love to do that and I would love to do a track with Stevie Wonder – anything with Stevie Wonder. There are so many of them out there.
Looking beyond this new record, what does the future hold for you in terms of music?
Well, you know that I have been away a little while from the music scene and I want to re-establish the Joyce Sims brand and just go back out touring with a band. I’ve been doing a lot of PAs but I really want to establish the touring end of my career and writing with and for other artists.
The music business has changed almost beyond recognition since you started, hasn’t it?
Yeah, it took a little while to re-adjust but you know but it’s a good thing and I think a great time for artists because it’s not like it was before when you were f at the mercy of the labels and you only knew what they told you or maybe what you saw… It was combined back then but now you do control your career, what’s being said and what’s being put out to the public.
And of course with social networking as well, you can be in touch with your fans much more easily…
Definitely, and with the technology – almost every musician I know has a little studio setup at home where you can do your pre-production before you take it into the big studios. It doesn’t cost us much so you can do so much more.
Have you got your own little studio setup then?
Oh yeah, definitely. I use ProTools. I love using ProTools.
You don’t have your old Casio keyboard still, do you?
I had to let it go (laughs). Actually I should have kept it…