"'Retreat," Sharon Jones sings fearlessly on her new LP with the Dap-Kings, "that's what I say, baby, and I don't care if it makes sense to you." After recording the dynamic album Give the People What They Want, the Brooklyn-based classic-soul troupe went on hiatus while the dynamo Jones fought cancer. The 57-year-old singer is back now, touring to support the record and not giving an inch of ground. We spoke to her about her music, her illness and what makes sense to her.
The new album has a fancy cover, with a flight of stairs ascending into the clouds. And some of the production on the album has a cinematic quality that we haven't heard before from the Dap-Kings. Are you getting upmarket on us?
I don't have anything to do with the production or the album cover. If you want to know about that, you'll have to ask [Dap-Tone label founder and Dap-King bassist and songwriter] Gabe Roth about that. You know what Sharon do? I sing. That's what I do.
There was a time not too long ago when you couldn't sing, though. Can you speak about your battle with bile duct cancer and the recovery?
I didn't think I was going to live. We recorded this album a couple of years ago, and I didn't think I'd ever be able to perform it. They cut me right across my diaphragm, down to my navel. After that, I just concentrated on healing. Music is my joy and my happiness, but for all those months, I didn't listen to any music – not mine, not anybody's. I went through a lot.
You lost your hair because of the chemotherapy, but made public appearances without a hat or a wig.Why?
My fans gave me the strength to get back. By me coming out before I was completely strong and before my hair came back, it was me sharing with them what I was going through. I didn't want any pity, but I didn't want to hide it or keep it to myself either.
The album title is Give the People What They Want. What are you and the Dap-Kings giving the people, as you see it?
Soul music. People need to know that soul music is here. If you wanna call it retro, you go ahead and call it retro. But I'm not retro. I'm not some young kid trying to imitate somebody. I open my mouth and soul comes out. There are soul singers, and I am one of them.