Simi Stone, Singer / Songwriter / Musician
9.4.14 Woodstock, NY
Her honest autobiographical lyrics along with her "Mountain Motown" sound gets everyone on their feet and their hearts bursting with joy. The sky's the limit for Upstate's vivacious, shining star.
Interview & Photos: Kate Orne
UD: You grew up in Woodstock; your Mom was a hippie, what was your childhood like?
SS: My childhood was magical — I mean, Woodstock is magical. There was a lot of spirituality because my mother was into her path of meditation. I grew up as a disciple of Swami Sachidananda, so Mom and I did a lot of meditation, chanting and praying. We also had tons of singing, listening to records.
A lot of intellectuals would visit my mom, and there was some pot smoking. Lots of artists would hang around, and people liked to talk about life, society, and art.
My mother is a white Jewish woman, and my father was — he passed away four years ago, but he was black, born in Jamaica, and the combination made me a black Jewish woman! [laughs] I didn't meet my father till I was eight years old……
UD: What was hard about it?
SS: I think I had like a loneliness. I mean, I'm very happy, but I have two sides to me. One side is very troubled in a way, and I was self-destructive, I was a wild one.
I tried every drug you can think of. Just getting high and drinking tons, and I just started to unravel. So there were a lot of things that I wanted to take a look at. And it was a great process I really needed to do. I just wanted to understand myself.
UD: Took a little bit of soul searching….
SS: Yeah, shortly after my dad passed away I started therapy. In one of my first sessions, my therapist said, "What's your relationship like with your dad and what was it like? And I said, "Oh, I'm totally, I'm fine with that, I have no issues, I worked all that stuff out." And she's like, "You don't think any of your stuff now could have a little bit to do with that……. !?”
It’s been an interesting journey!
UD: Do you think your soul searching had any influence on your songwriting?
SS: Definitely. It allowed me to be aware of how I could express myself in a more focused way and to recognize the patterns of my mind. Prior to that, it was all about a rollercoaster of emotions. Now it’s more about specific experiences and being able to laugh at myself. It’s more about love than fear; the music has become joyful.
UD: Kids clearly have a huge attraction to you and your music, why is this so?
SS: I have no idea; it’s truly a mysterious thing! [laughs] Maybe it has to do my energy on stage and something in my sound?
UD: Was your rebellion a response to your family dynamics or from being raised as a disciple of Swami Sachidananda?
SS: I don’t feel it was about rebelling against my family or Swami….. it was more about transitioning from being a well-behaved, straight and arrow kid with a super cool Mom. I was raised in this amazing spiritual way, and I needed to experience life in a different way, be a wild woman for a while. It does seem like I needed to spiral out of control to be able to get back to the true me.
UD: When did you know that you wanted to be a singer?
SS: I always sang harmonies with my mom and sister in the car. I started writing songs and performing them in school at a young age. When I was nine, I made my own record, Cloudy Day on Mountain Lodge.
I didn't think that I was going to be a “singer”, I thought I was going to be a comedian or a stand-up comic.
UD: When did you start to pursue it your music career aggressively?
SS: After getting myself grounded again, I was suddenly able to focus, take control of my life, and shape my creative future. This resulted in me being able to acknowledge who I really am, a songwriter, a singer and a performer. That was a real miracle for me.
UD: You have an amazing band!
SS: I know! I have Zachary Alford, my drummer, who plays with Bowie and Gwen Stefani. Sara Lee, my bass player, played with the B52's, Gang of Four, Indigo Girls, and Robert Fripp. They are brilliant artists and human beings. David Baron, my musical partner and pianist — he's played with Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Peter Murphy and recently with Meghan Trainor. We now write all the songs together.
Prior to that, I had many incarnations of writing with people and other bands. I had my own rock & roll band that I fronted, called Suffrajett. I started playing with Simon Felice and Bobby Byrd in a band called The Duke and The King. Then we started touring, and we made one record, and it did really well, but that band broke up. And then David asked me to write music with him. David lives up here, and he’s making music for television and writing. We wrote a song for a boy band in England, called Good Girl.
UD: Can you sing a little….
SS: ..…I swear I've changed; I've dropped the act and rearranged, I'm a good girl, a good girl now. We first wrote that from a male point of view, so he was singing, "She's a good girl; she dropped the act and rearranged."
They ended up not using the song, but David and I realized, "Oh wow, we can write together." So, we formed this relationship and worked together on a couple of projects. Then, I was opening up for Simon on tour; it was my first solo tour as a singer- songwriter in my own right.
UD: And now you’re really going out on your own full force.
SS: Yeah, this is a recent thing. David was like, "Let's make you an EP, just come over tomorrow, and we'll do it." And we recorded Good Girl, but I said, "Why don't I do it from my point of view?" 'Cause it's really my story. If you listen to that song, it's my story. Because I was a wild girl, I was out there, and it's just a funny version of basically my story.
So, we changed it from, "She's a good girl," to, "I'm a good girl," and that was the beginning. Then Dave and Zach and Sara said, "Ok, I'll come play on this demo, on this EP." So I took that to Europe and I sold it at shows. I came home and people were reacting to the EP, so I decided to do a Kickstarter Campaign and raise some money to make a record together with David.
And it's just kind of taken off from there. Everything's happened just the way it should.
UD: What keeps you up at night?
UD: And when you're not heartbroken?
SS: When I'm not heartbroken, I sleep really well. [Laughs]
UD: Do you think not living in NYC, LA, or Nashville is a hindrance to your career?
SS: I don't know, I've never worked this much before and I've really come into my own by coming home. So for me, being up here is where I need to be.
UD: Do you have any sense of why you find Upstate so inspirational? Is it the nature, separation from the urban noise and distraction, your community of people or simply because it’s home?
SS: All of it. I feel the Holy vibrations are here, and that’s all I really need to do what I do.
UD: What's next?
SS: Really exciting stuff is coming up. We plan a lot of touring overseas in Europe, and we're talking about putting the record out in America, which is totally insane and exciting. I just think the horizon is bright right now.
I want to put out as much love into the universe as I can, with my music and joy. There’s a lot of upheaval right now in the world, and people are suffering, people are angry and violent, and I just want to put as much joy as I can out there.
So that's like a mission, we're on a mission!