I am very pleased to offer you a preview of my featured interview with songstress/style star/beat-thumping DJ/hot mama, Solange Knowles, for LURVE Magazine’s Fall/Winter issue.
LURVE’s editor, Lyna Ahanda, approached me about the project last Spring and I immediately went to work, pouring myself over research on the style maven and developing questions that would underscore the wit, intellect, and artistry of this young creative on the brink.
I have found that when interviewing people, niceties should be thrown out the window: a conversation should be had, a dialogue started; all walls should collapse. And so with Miss. Knowles, I obscured the surface and dug deep. What she reveals here is expressly her own voice, and with it a very honest, endearing story emerges that works perfectly in concert with the imaginative and transformative images of Ellen von Unwerth.
After reading on, I think you’ll find that “Solo” is on to something fantastic, insightful, and very necessary.
As I write this, Solange Knowles — fashion’s newest darling, the natural Black hair brigade’s reluctant patron saint, Brooklyn’s budding troubadour, the borough’s most au courant Mom, and pop music’s very own Lee Radziwell to sister, Beyonce’s, Jackie O. — has posted pictures of her recent travels to Texas on her endeared blog.
The images showcase the stunner emerging from a vintage camper, bedecked in what once was referred to as a “wiggle dress”, her enviable curls windswept and the stark outlands of Texas serving as an elusive backdrop to this enchanting, if ever-so impromptu photo shoot.
The images go viral minutes later.
Not necessarily a surprise within the media landscape we work under nowadays, but it’s startling and revealing to watch how mere snapshots of this enthralling performer have such an immediate impact on pop culture. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and no matter how lovely they indeed were, never before had I thought Ms. Knowles’ personal gallery captured a full portrayal of the musician.
Photographs, of what appears like an evolving, colorful, inspiring life, shown a young woman on the precipice of self- edification and a very good time. What was missing, however, was the running dialogue to accompany the vibrant spirit. I figured if it was anything like the vivacity we see on film, the conversation would leave us hanging on every last word.
Solange didn’t disappoint…
1/ You seem like such a Texan girl at heart and harbor such pride for your hometown of Houston, but I have always felt that Texans who leave the state are such a distinct, creative lot. How has the state shaped or influenced you as an artist?
Well, this is an extreme compliment and you are absolutely right: I am wholeheartedly proud to be a Texas gal. I just left from a weekend trip with my boyfriend and he literally counted how many times I said, “Houston has the best medical center, the greatest museum district, the biggest hub for energy, the tastiest fried chicken….” I am truly proud of my city!
I always find myself defending the creative nature of Houstonians/Texans and sort of majorly championing the culture, and the art and music scenes. I remind people of the MFAH [Museum of Fine Arts, Houston], The Menil Collection, and the permanent [Dan] Flavin installations.
I find that generally people are surprised to find out that there is so much access to those scenes and there are extremely diverse cultural scenes, and less of ho-downs and rodeos…although there was plenty of that too [laughs].
And then, of course, the music. The Houston hip-hop scene will always be embedded in the fabric of who I am. Put on any Yungstar, Lil’ Keke, or Fat Pat record, and you will see my face light up in a way no other music can reach. Put on any New Orleans bounce record, which was a tried-and-true staple of my childhood/teenage party memories, and see me take off my shoes and sweat like I’m in a workout class.
I think more than anything, though, I have taken a strong sense of groundedness from growing up in Houston, and that has definitely shaped and molded me as an artist, as well. At the end of the day, I hold so much value in good, ol’ simple quality time with people I love. The simplicity of that Southern upbringing has made me define success [simply] as well.
2/ In fact, you were just in Marfa, Texas: what drew you there and which contemporary artists do you admire? Do you find that the visual influences your sound, and if so, how exactly?
My time in Marfa was extremely inspirational. I left wanting to pack my bags and move there! I had a few friends that have gone down to record albums there, and they came back and told me how magical their time was there, and I had been meaning to get down there for a while…. It is by NO means an easy trip to make logistically, but I made the time and I am so happy that I did. I, of course, was excited to see the [Donald] Judd, [Dan] Flavin, and [John] Chamberlain works, which naturally blew my mind to see in that landscape. But when I left, I was more inspired by the affirmation of really standing firm in how you want to design and develop your artistry, and that there truly is no black and white when it comes to expressing that [belief].
I think there are so many parallels between the art and music worlds. In the obvious ways of trying to consumerize something that is built upon pure instinct, and so extremely personal. They are both alike in there is no real formula for the success of what may work, but there are so many politics in both industries. We did the entire Donald Judd estate and studio tours, and I mean, here is a guy who really defined his life and career on his own terms and was very successful at it. I left feeling very ambitious in that way: that everything starts with the idea, and the real bad asses make that idea come into fruition.
3/ Speaking of sound, I think people associate you with R&B, but you’ve collaborated with such great indie bands in the past like the Dirty Projectors to unexpected and refreshing results. Will we see a similar confluence of sounds on your next project?
Not really. I mean, in no way would I define my new album in any way as traditional “R&B”, but there are definitely songs that really reign true to the heart and soul of R&B.
I’m not really clear on what defines what “indie” sounds like, as a genre. I always associated the term with an artist who is an “independent artist”…sort of in the way “pop” stems from the term ‘popular.’ On one spectrum R&B stems from the term “Rhythm & Blues”, which so many subsets of all genres have been affected by or incorporated into their sounds. I think it’s so tough to generalize this generation’s form of music, because of the ability of exposure on so many levels. I actually recorded an album before the next album that I plan on releasing soon, as well. And it’s a lot more experimental, because I was in a lot more of an experimental place in my life. I didn’t feel stable, and the music I made reflected that instability.
The time measures were all uneven, there were chord changes all over the place, the lyrics were raw and harsh. But during the process, I started to find and develop more and more stability in my life, and I started to become disconnected to these songs. At the time [of recording my upcoming album], I was listening to a lot of old Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis vibes, and that groove started making [its] way into the album. It’s a much more sensual and percussive overall vibe.
4/ How have you grown as an artist from Hadley Street Dreams to this upcoming project?
Well, I wrote and recorded most of Hadley Street Dreams five, six years ago…I was twenty-years old. In six years, I’ve had a tremendous amount of personal growth, as well as musical growth. However, I really feel like the foundation of my sound is still in tact.
Although I listen to a lot of current music, old school soul will always be apart of my foundation, and I’ve always used [those] melodies and harmonies as the core of my story telling. That’s still there. On my last album, I also wrote those songs while dealing with some real issues of independence, confusion, heartbreak, and bad relationships: in the way that most twenty-year olds do.
I really had the time after the album cycle to truly live, and during the process I started to really get to know myself better, my body better, my spirit better, and I think that’s all really reflected on the album.
I also think I became a lot more culturally aware and confident as a Black woman. That started to reflect a lot more in my overall life, and as a result, in my music. I started to feel a greater sense of empowerment of who I reached on my last record, in terms of really being able to feel that vibration in my life. I’m really appreciative for that.
The interview in full is featured in LURVE’s Fall/Winter 2013 issue, set to be published later this Fall. Many, many thanks to the ever lovely, Solange Knowles, and the support of my editor, Lyna Ahanda.
Text by Marjon Carlos + Photography by Ellen von Unwerth