A sharp, candid lyricist, Jill Scott has explored love from every possible angle, often drawing on her own experiences: from the thrill of courtship to the pain of divorce, the radical act of self-love and the humbling birth of a first child. But Scott has never sounded as authoritative as she does on her fifth album, Woman, out July 24. Whether setting her voice to hypnotic, adult-contemporary R&B (lead single “Fool’s Gold”) or letting it loose in the context of deep Southern soul (“You Don’t Know”), Scott chronicles a lifetime of loving fearlessly, and at times recklessly, relishing the pain along with the payoff.
When we caught up with Scott during her current tour, she wasn’t exactly an open book. When asked about her initial defense and harsher follow-up critiques of Bill Cosby in light of the sexual-assault allegations against him, her publicist cut in: “Right now her Twitter is what her emotions are on the situation.” Scott did, however, talk openly about love and how she plans to continue connecting with listeners in an era of diminishing album sales.
You’ve described Woman‘s sound as “Philly soul meets country rhythm.” How did you arrive there?
Nothing tells a story like a country song; it really paints pictures. Then to add fire to that with classic soul, like what Philadelphia brings, and then hip-hop elements — it’s all storytelling. I consider myself a storyteller. So often people define me as, “You’re an R&B singer,” instead of, “You do jazz, blues, classical, funk, country, everything.”
Was the idea of genre on your mind during the making of Woman?
The only thing that crossed my mind is making stories that you can feel. I want it to be music for people to live by, and I also want to show that there’s a difference between girls and women. I’d say for about 96 percent of girls, love can be like water. When it gets hot, things get hot because there is nothing holding them down. It’s wonderful to be a girl and feel that love, but when you become a woman! I thought I was a woman when I was 30. [Laughs] But I’ve learned and I love the process. It’s about making decisions for yourself and learning the difference between having a maintenance man — the one who services your needs at the moment — and having a partner. Your needs compared to your wants is big, because you don’t know what you need until you grow up.
What has it been like to revisit older albums like 2000’s Who Is Jill Scott?
They’re stories I love to tell. The Giving Tree — what a wonderful story. I loved it at the time, but when I read it to my son, I have an understanding of it that I didn’t when I read it to myself or when my mom read it to me when I was younger. Somebody will relate to [Who Is Jill Scott] at some point in their lives, and a lot of people have fond memories of that time. It’s the same for me.
You’ve talked about itching for change when it comes to your music. Why?
It’s been 15 years. In order for me to continue loving this, I had to do something different. If I’m going to make collages — creative, artistic things that feed my soul — then I have to grow. I want the music to be more interesting, more powerful, more simple. Simplicity is the hardest thing of all. I’m not the artist who sits around and waits for someone else to come tell me what to say or how I feel or what’s right. I have to live and learn. And I keep listening and liking new music.