Mick Jagger crosses his legs and closes his eggshell-thin eyelids. Then he squints so that his sockets almost disappear into the folds of his face. Eventually his crystalline-blue eyes pop open again and calmly, slowly, he responds to a simple question: Is there anything he feels he needs in his life these days? “No, not really,” Jagger says. “There’s nothing I need. I’m sure there are things that I would miss if they weren’t there. But I think not.”
So if Sir Mick Jagger, at 68, lacks or needs nothing, what then does this mean for the much-hoped-for Rolling Stones 50th-anniversary tour next summer? This answer Jagger doesn’t have to think about. “Don’t hold your breath,” he says softly. (The ice may be breaking – in early September the band was photographed leaving a meeting in London.)
Instead, he says, moving his chair out of the path of the sunlight streaming into the window of his hotel suite in Los Angeles, he’s found himself “writing loads of these 12-bar blues songs, so I’m looking forward to doing something more in that vein.” He leans forward, scrunching himself even smaller on the chair. “But then last night, I wrote a song and went straight from my version of John Lee Hooker into writing sort of pop songs, so I don’t really know.”
That feeling of styles bleeding inevitably together defines SuperHeavy – the first new musical project Jagger has thrown himself into since the last Stones album-tour cycle in 2007. As much a glorified jam session as a supergroup, it features Jagger bringing the rock, Joss Stone belting R&B, Damian Marley filling in the spaces with reggae toasting, film composer A.R. Rahman (best known for scoring Slumdog Millionaire) adding Bollywood flair and former Eurythmics keyboardist Dave Stewart holding it all together.
That this unlikely crew recorded an album at all is a testament to Stewart, who also co-produced the record. SuperHeavy bubbled into Stewart’s brain when he was in his house in the hills of Jamaica, above Saint Ann Parish, listening to three or four sound systems blasting at the same time, the music wafting into the air and blending together. He thought it might be interesting to attempt to intentionally do something similar, so he gave his old friend Jagger a call. (The band’s name comes from Marley’s improvised chanting on the song of the same name.)
Stone had worked with Jagger and Stewart on the soundtrack to the 2004 version of Alfie. “When I first sang with him, I was, like, 17,” she recalls, sitting cross-legged on a couch in Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles, where most of the album was made earlier this year. “When he opened his mouth, I almost fell over. The power was like, oh, my goodness me. My volume at that age was not even half of his. So I thought, ‘I want to do that. I want my power to be like that.'”
Now, seven years later, Stone walked into the studio with more of that power, and found herself butting heads with Jagger. “With all the records I’ve done, I literally like to sing whatever first comes into my head,” she says. “So we would write lyrics together, and I’d be like, ‘This is the line, great!’ And he’d say, ‘No, Joss, we’ve only been here for two seconds. Let’s write maybe seven more and then pick one.'”
Jagger agrees that the loose sessions weren’t initially fun. “We didn’t really have anything prepared, which was very stupid,” he says. But he eventually found himself enjoying the process of feeling his way through the interweaving sounds.
At a video shoot for the lead single, “Miracle Worker,” Jagger, Stone and Stewart joke and bond between songs, while Marley and Rahman remain distant. “Obviously Joss and Dave and Mick have worked together before and know each other quite well in that sense,” says Marley, who was pulled into SuperHeavy while recording with Nas in Henson Studios at the same time. “But I guess I’m just the quiet one.”
Rahman, meanwhile, was still devastated from the death of someone close to him prior to the session, and confesses to being “intimidated in the first couple of days.” “He’s a film composer mainly and he does concerts, but he very much works on his own,” Jagger says. “I think at the beginning he found it a little difficult to see how his contribution would be useful, but he got it.”
At Weapons of Mass Entertainment, his office and studio on Hollywood Boulevard, Stewart plays a recording of him writing a song with Bob Dylan, then displays the lyrics to a tune he penned with Leonard Cohen. Jagger, Dylan, Cohen – three of rock’s greatest artists, all known more for their reclusiveness than off-the-cuff collaborations. So how does the hyperkinetic, less-famous half of an Eighties synth-pop duo work his way in there? “I think I remind them of why it was that they started making music,” Stewart says. “Partly because my enthusiasm is very childlike. I get all excited, and they get all excited.” SuperHeavy is the first group Jagger has ever been a member of besides the Stones. “A band gets trapped,” Jagger says. “When a band starts as a blues band, it always remains sort of true to that, though very quickly the Rolling Stones did pop music and country music and tried our hand at everything.”
So is he going to continue to enjoy his newfound freedom with SuperHeavy? “If people are interested and they like it, we could do a few other things,” he replies, referring to a small tour or festival dates. Then he laughs, knowing his friend too well, and adds, “Dave already wants to make a second SuperHeavy record.”
This story is from the September 29, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.