Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Janelle Monae: Funky Sensation

Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae Janelle Monae Janelle Monae Janelle Monae

Prestigiously described by Sean âP.Diddyâ Combs as âa true visionary - one of the most important signings of my careerâ, 23-year-old singer/songwriter and self-styled âhigh funkstressâ Janelle Monae this month releases her eagerly-anticipated first full-length LP âThe ArchAndroidâ. Whose futuristic and cinematic vibe is currently being pioneered by its punchily upbeat, brass-infused single âTightropeâ - which additionally features a cameo from Monaeâs early mentor, Outkast rapper Big Boi.

Already described as â a soaring orchestral trip enlivened with blockbuster vocals, mysterious imagery and notes of Sixties pop and jazzâ, âThe ArchAndroidâ additionally boasts such diverse guests as renowned poet Saul Williams, psychedelic dance-punk troupe Of Montreal and punk prophets Deep Cotton; while theme-wise realising the next chapter within the story of Cindi Mayweather. Who, having been the fictitious heroine of Janelleâs Grammy-nominated debut EP âMetropolis, Suite 1: The Chaseâ, now turns out to be The ArchAndroid herself - sent to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society using time-travel to suppress freedom and love throughout the ages.

Meanwhile, with the album itself due to soon be accompanied by a deluxe graphic novel version of it called âThe Red Bookâ (in addition to âDance Or Dieâ, an 18-chapter âArchAndroidâ music video collection) a soft-spoken, Atlanta-based Ms. Monae now takes time out of a hectic London photo-shoot to give an ever-attentive Pete Lewis the full lowdown.

Her Big Boi-featuring new single âTightropeâ and its stunning, dance-themed video

ââTightropeâ is basically dealing with how in life itâs important to keep your balance and not get too high or too low about things during the times when youâre either being praised or being criticised. Which is something that, as artists, Big Boi and I could both relate to. Because there are so many peaks and dips along the journey of just being an artist on the road to success. So we both felt it was important to kinda help those everyday working people who are constantly dealing with lifeâs obstacles, by giving them like a tutorial on how to deal with issues face-on. And the dance aspect of it basically signifies how sometimes people need to dance indefinitely to release a lot of the inner stresses they may be feeling at the time. So the moves are vey much self-explanatory. I mean, if thereâs somebody whoâs trying to oppress you, or holding you back from being yourself or from following your dreams, thatâs how you can RESPOND! You know, itâs basically just giving you another option.â

The concept behind the title to Jonelleâs first full-length album project, âThe ArchAndroidâ

âI feel that, because of the way technology is so rapidly advancing - itâs becoming faster and smaller - thereâll come a time when robots will be able to learn the patterns of our emotions, and will be able to have mapped-out the human brain. So that, for example, if your long-time friend rang you, you wouldnât be able to differentiate between her and an ANDROID calling you! And, while I am intrigued by that, Iâm also concerned about how weâll all get ON in the world! Because to me the android will represent a new âOtherâ - just like any of us whoâve ever been considered âthe minorityâ at some time can feel like âThe Otherâ! And so Iâm basically asking people to think about whether weâd DISCRIMINATE against this new âOtherâ... And what makes The ArchAndroid herself very special is that she represents the MEDIATOR between the haveâs and the have notâs, the minority and the majority. So in that way sheâs very similar to Neo, the Archangel from âThe Matrixâ. And basically her return will mean freedom for the android community.â

With it already being described it as âan epic James Bond film in outer spaceâ, how Jonelle breaks down âThe ArchAndroidâ lyrically and musically

âIf you listen to the album from the beginning to the end without skipping, you will hear that there is a story - and we like to think of the music as transformative because it is very diverse. I mean, in terms of influence it encompasses all the things I love - scores for films like âGoldfingerâ mixed with albums like Stevie Wonderâs âMusic Of My Mindâ and David Bowieâs âZiggy Stardustâ, along with experimental hip hop stuff like Outkastâs Stankoniaâ⦠And we like to describe it as âan emotion picture for the mindâ because I feel itâll evoke so my emotions that you havenât been in touch with before and that you didnât think even EXISTED! Plus I do consider it genre-less, because I feel the music itself is so much bigger than labels and categories. You know, while recording we were on tour - travelling anywhere from Prague to Istanbul in Turkey to Atlanta, Georgia! And so we just experimented with all those different sounds we were hearing along the way.â

How Janelleâs humble beginnings in Kansas still influence her artistry

âI grew up in a working-class family. My mother was a janitor, my father drove trash-trucks, and my stepfather still works for the Post Office! So, because I feel very connected to the working-class, I do pay homage to them by wearing a black-and-white uniform every time I perform and whenever Iâm out-and-about. Because I still consider what I do as work, even if it IS very much work that I enjoy... I mean, to me I make music for the PEOPLE - to uplift them, to motivate them, and to be a beacon of HOPE for them⦠I basically represent for individuals who are gonna turn NOTHING into SOMETHING.â

How she came to pursue a career in music

âI actually decided what I wanted to do very early on in life. In fact, when I was about nine years old I had a meeting with my family, told them what my plans were, and asked them to get on board⦠And theyâve been very supportive ever since! I mean, I actually started out going to The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. But, at the same time, I didnât wanna get too influenced by standardised teaching - I knew I had my own ideas and I wanted to make myself AVAILABLE for that. So I basically ended up just following my instincts by moving to Atlanta, Georgia! You know, because my inner-compass and my spirit basically led me there, thatâs where I ended up starting my own recording label, Wondaland Arts Society.â

How Janelle first hooked up with Outkast rapper Big Boiâs Atlanta-based Purple Ribbon label in 2006

âAt the time we were very much in a do-it-ourselves mode. We werenât trying to look for a major label to sign us, but just speaking directly to the people and pressing up our own CDs. You know, I was basically selling my CDs outside the boarding house I was staying in with five girls - and it was around that time that Big Boi first heard the music. And, because he was really inspired by it, he wanted to help and support what it is we were doing as a company. So he - along with (fellow Outkast member) Andre 3000 - allowed us to get on the Outkast âIdlewildâ album, for which we produced a song called âCall The Lawâ. And weâve been like family ever since.â

Her current, ongoing relationship with P.Diddyâs Bad Boy label

âItâs a very uniquely structured deal, in that I still have my own recording label and I do creatively control everything I do. So in that way I guess you could actually say itâs more a PARTNERSHIP. You know, I do everything - write/produce/direct - in-house, and The Wondaland Arts Society - my recording label that I cofounded - has every kind of individual on board from performance artists to graphic novelists, screen writers, musicians, visual artists, graphic designers... You name it, we have it! And I think Diddy was really inspired by that, and the fact that we are self-contained and we do everything in-house. Which is why he wanted to expose what was going on at The Wondaground to the rest of the world. You know, rather than getting involved creatively he just wanted to be a project champion for what we were doing and contribute resources to the movement - simply because he BELIEVES in it!â

Janelle performs at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, London on July 1

Janelleâs single âTightrope (Feat. Big Boi)â is released July 5. The album âArchAndroidâ follows on July 12, both through Atlantic/Bad Boy

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz
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