Interview: Janelle Monae — "I want to create a purple state, not a red or a blue one…"
Fri, 12 Mar 2010 10:03:37
"I like to think of The ArchAndroid as an 'Emotion Picture,'" says Janelle Monáe about her new album with a wide smile.
There's really no other way to adequately describe Monáe 's new full-length and follow-up to her acclaimed debut EP Metropolis Suite I of IV: The Chase. It's sonic cinema at its finest; and it's actually more interesting and progressive than most big budget studio flicks. The world will get to experience Monáe's sci-fi soul when The ArchAndroid lands on May 18th. It's a strange and wondrous concept record propelled by epic jazzy pop and Monáe's heavenly melodies. "Tightrope" her otherworldly collaboration with Outkast's Big Boi is the perfect gateway into this world.
Janelle Monáe sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino to talk about the story at the heart of The ArchAndroid, seeing music in color and rocking with Outkast's Big Boi.
If you were to compare The ArchAndroid to a movie what would you compare it to?
Wow! The ArchAndroid is like a movie that I've never seen anybody write. It's the unwritten movie, and it'll be here May 18th. There are certain composers that could've scored the soundtrack to this like John Williams. Think of a combination of Williams, music from James Bond and Walter E. Disney. It has a lot of those influences because we do like to think of this experience as very cinematic. We take our cues from movies. It's transformative music more than anything. I can say I've listened to certain songs on The ArchAndroid and I've cried. It's something that I couldn't even imagine myself taking part in and something I'd never heard before.
It doesn't fit into any classifications at all. You've created your own sound.
Well, thank you! I've listened to it and I've been moved in a way that I've never been moved before even by my favorite albums. It's touched me in a way that I could not have planned. A lot of the songs came to me in my dreams. I would wake up in the middle of the morning with them. Thank God I had my recorder right by me [Laughs]. I would record the ideas for songs as they were coming.
Do you also tend to read a lot while you're writing?
Yes! The funny thing is—and it's weird but true—I don't remember how most of the songs were recorded. I know we did a lot of traveling to Prague and Turkey. We recorded at the Palace of the Dogs and The Sanitarium here in Atlanta. We experimented with so many different sounds as well. Visual artists like Salvador Dali were a huge inspiration for me because when I'm describing a certain song that I want to create, I refer to it as a color. I'll say, "Oh, I want this to feel more lime green" or "I'd love for this to feel like a sky blue, a really deep red or purple." We communicate in colors. We did study Alfred Hitchcock films. The common denominator in creating this was the dreams that the producers and I would have. Full songs would really come to us like that. We'd simply have to make ourselves available.
Which Hitchcock films stood out in particular?
One was Vertigo and another was Psycho. I love Vertigo! I think it's so beautiful, and I adore the way it was shot. That definitely was an inspiration.
What's the story behind "Tightrope?"
"Tightrope" deals with balance. Early on in my career, and even now, it's a daily struggle to stay balanced and not get too high or too low. It was something that I hadn't really heard in a song. If I was telling somebody how to make it through life, I would definitely tell them that balance is important. You can't get too high on praises and you can't get too low on any one situation. I wanted that song to be an empowerment song. I wanted people to find their inner confidence and to feel more self-empowered in understanding that they have to stay more balanced in life. That was my goal. James Brown influenced it, of course. I wanted it to be that 2010 beyond anthem—that classic song that you can go to in any moment when you feel like things are out of control in life. That'll be your little medicine. Big Boi brought a different perspective in too. He's been in the music industry for awhile. There are so many lows and highs in this business. For him to be a part of this song only felt right. He's a friend of mine, and I can talk to him about anything. I thought he was definitely a person who could have a believable and inspirational perspective for this song.
He's a similarly boundless artist as well.
I try to surround myself with other artists who are committed to their craft and are passionate about what they're doing.—Of Montreal, Saul Williams, Andre 3000, Big Boi, to name a few. It's about creating great music that empowers the listener. I love to be around people who trust their imaginations and don't get caught up in categories. They let their music connect. I try to do that. I want to create a purple state not a red or a blue one.
You're taking big picture concepts and making them really personal with the story on the album.
That's good that idea translates. I have to believe in whatever I'm singing enough to share it. They are personal experiences, but I think they apply to so many different beings from androids to humans to cyborgs. There are so many parallels that we miss out on. I want the listener to think about other places and what other things are going through.
Have you had the story of The ArchAndroid for a while or did the music dictate it?
The story of The ArchAndroid is one that's been going around for centuries in Metropolis. Lots of people didn't believe in The ArchAndroid at all. It's very similar to The Archangel or if you think about Neyo in The Matrix—it's "The One." For the android community, The ArchAndroid signifies freedom and is a beacon of hope because they're locked in spells cast upon them and they're discriminated against. They're not treated fairly at all, and they're just excited about The ArchAndroid coming. Cindi Mayweather finds out that she is indeed The ArchAndroid. The story spoke so much to me, and it's one that I wanted people to know. It's a self-realizational album. I realized a lot about myself through creating this project. I learned to embrace things that make me unique even if they make myself uncomfortable sometimes . I also learned to use that as my superpower to become an even bigger agent of change. I wanted the story to be told because it helped transform my thinking and the way I see music and its power.
Catch Janelle on tour!
15 Washington, DC Black Cat
17 Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brenda's
18 Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brenda's
21 San Francisco, CA Café Du Nord
22 San Francisco, CA Café Du Nord
23 Los Angeles, CA The Viper Room
24 Los Angeles, CA The Viper Room
29 Chicago, IL Schubas Tavern
30 Chicago, IL Schubas Tavern
31 Minneapolis, MN Varsity Theater
2 Detroit, MI St. Andrews
5 Atlanta, GA Smith's Olde Bar
6 Atlanta, GA Smith's Olde Bar
9 New York, NY Joe's Pub
10 New York, NY Joe's Pub
For tickets and more see Janelle's site!
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…