A Long Convo With… Janelle Monáe (Pg 2)
You are becoming known for your live stage show, which is very high energy and interactive. Your three-piece band has this huge sound that comes off like there are 10 musicians onstage. How were you able to get that large feel from such a small outfit?
I started out really small, just me and a guitarist. Then I incorporated the drums and keyboards. But I like for things to be very sparse onstage. I don’t like to be crowded by lots of people. I’ve been very blessed to work with good people, but they also happen to be really amazingly gifted musicians that play more than one instrument. I like raw, talented individuals who can just take an instrument and just destroy it. I want people to see that in the players onstage. I didn’t need to go out and search for all these band members and spend all this money flying in such and such. I was like, “Ya’ll better learn some instruments [laughs].” People always ask me who I want to work with. My band is my dream. On guitar is Kallindo, who also plays the piano and the drums. We have Mike who plays the drums and the harmonica. And then we have T. Brown, who plays the keys, the bass and the horn.
Your stage show points to a lot of different influences. Of course there’s the unpredictable Janelle Monáe side, which compels you to literally jump on tables and interact with the fans. But there’s also James Brown in terms of your dancing and the David Bowie-Ziggy Stardust element, which points to the sci-fi elements and theatrical statements of The ArchAndroid.
Well, I don’t choreograph any particular thing I do onstage. The music hits me in a totally different way each time. It’s as though I’m being possessed. There’s a spirit that lives in me. I get very possessed; I have a spiritual connection to the song and the people are there and my adrenaline is rushing. I don’t even remember half the stuff I do until I watch the video again. But I think I do all those things onstage because I believe in my songs. I want to give so much that I allow myself to have an out-of-body experience each time I perform.
When you first released the Metropolis EP a lot of critics and bloggers didn’t know what to make of you. Do you feel that the intergalactic storyline from your first project overshadowed the music?
I never thought people didn’t connect to the music. From “Many Moons” to “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!” there were so many parallels in the music. I think people are smart. What I’m doing I guess within the context of what’s out today may seem weird. But people connect with me. I feel like the public is ready for a different energy and a different perspective.
Do you feel like the audience is catching on?
Yes, I really do. The thing is we are not all monolithic; we have our own ideas and concepts. I have a right to use my imagination. I’m for the individual and embracing the things that make us all unique. If your art is moving people, I say continue. I’m uniting. It’s not about catering to a blue state or a red state. It’s about getting those states to come out and create a purple state.
You were just recently announced as the opening act for Erykah Badu’s “Out of My Mind, Just In Time” tour. What does that mean for you and what can we expect from your show?
I’m really excited about touring with Erykah Badu. She’s a good friend of mine. We’ve done dates together and we’ve grown very close. I support her and she supports me. I think you are going to get an electrifying performance as she is evolving and constantly coming up with new concepts and ideas, and so am I. We both are for individuality and connecting with the people. And we both actually auditioned, believe it or not, for the same performing arts school (New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts) and got accepted in different years. Her recording career took off so she wanted to further that, which is great because we have her now. So we both love musical theater. I think it will be a very theatrical performance.