I’m trying to cut down my cursing,” admits Solange Knowles as she sits inside a cabana on the roof of Manhattan’s upper Westside Empire Hotel. The feisty and outspoken baby sister of global pop superstar Beyonce has garnered somewhat of a reputation for having a sailor's vocab. The rebellious chick who sucker punched the music industry after releasing 2008’s critically acclaimed Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, a confident mix of ‘60s pop, ‘70’s soul and underground alternative, made her indie queen aspirations known to the public.
As Solange prepares her ‘80s R&B meets new wave dance-rock follow-up, we spoke to the quirky vocalist-songwriter about her thoughts on getting the “weird” tag, why being Beyonce’s sister has its pitfalls, going independent and how recording her new material almost drove her to the brink of insanity. —Keith Murphy
[Photos: A Woman We Love — Solange Knowles]
VIBE: You surprised a lot of people when your 2008 album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams was lauded as one of the years most critically acclaimed works. What was your reaction to all of the positive press?
Solange Knowles: I felt really good about it. I felt like I established myself as an artist with the people that I needed to and I weeded out the people that I never intended to have as part of my fanbase. Being able to tour and actually see and touch the people who are trying to really hear and feel your music is how you actually see what your fanbase is made of. These folks were not just people who wanted a radio song or wanted a particular record just for the catchiness of it. I had the people who were true music lovers; those kinds of fans will grow with me. If I want to do something more adventurous they wont abandon me.
Was there one moment when you knew you were accepted beyond just being Beyonce’s little sister?
I think that moment was when I was five, really [Laughs]. I never had to have this moment of where I felt accepted. I’ve always felt accepted. There was no big church-bell-ringing moment for me. I’m always finding out more and more about myself and about the people who respect what I do. I can tell you what I really love. When I run into people on the street that tell me they have connected with my music.
You mean the random fan that tells you how “T.O.N.Y.” changed their life?
[Laughs] Well, most people just tell me sincerely, “We love your records. When are you going to put out another one? We have been playing Sol-Angel out.” That’s what I’ve been hearing a lot of now. I also hear, “You don’t get enough respect…you don’t get enough love.” And I always tell those people that I’m getting your love. And to me that’s enough. As long as I’m artistically free, my son is able to go to the best schools and financially we are good that’s all that matters.
I think that some people get wrapped up in their own egos. They need to see certain album sales and certain monuments. I was just reading an interview about a really huge artist who I respect and basically a friend of theirs was saying how once they got their first No. 1 it became an addiction. They started to constantly look at the charts; constantly thinking how can I beat that? How can I do that again? And for me, I’ve never zoned in on that. I think that’s why I am so confident. If I started being a music chart watcher I would probably open up myself and allow myself to be broken down. To me I’m more excited about having that support from the fans and my peers that I respect. Like Ahmir [The Roots’ Questlove] and Q-Tip and Erykah [Badu].
I can only imagine the conversations you have had with Badu. You both seem pretty strong-willed with that I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude.
Well, I just love her. We have conversations mostly about life…about being moms, about being in this industry and raising kids and dealing with relationships. But on the music tip, the very first time I got a Tweet from her telling me she loves my record was crazy. Jay Electronica put her on to my music; he loves my song “Dancing In The Dark.” It’s moments like that where I get the fulfillment just knowing that the people I’ve grown up admiring are fans of my work. And these are people who culturally and artistically have the same views as me.
Are you ever tempted to put up a middle finger to those fans that said you were just being weird to separate yourself from your sister Beyonce?