Lithe and lovely with a rockin’ do and swagger to match, Solange Knowles can’t help but appear a little intimidating. Seemingly without the least bit of effort on her part, she’s been swept up into the realms of fashion as a newly appointed style icon, face of Rimmel and model with NEXT, she’s also releasing her third much-anticipated pop-tastic solo album this April, and oh, yeah, she just so happens to be Beyonce Knowles little sister. No big deal.
The last thing you’d expect from this long-limbed, multi-faceted beauty is that she could actually be, well, nice – and yet, shock horror!, that’s exactly what the increasingly visible Solange is. She’s actually a normal, down-to-earth all-round-cool 25-year-old who is genuinely happy, loves her “low-key” lifestyle and has the work-life balance thing down. With raising her seven year-old son at the top of her list of priorities, and making “good” pop music a close second, Solange is an inspiring new talent on the rise – and what’s her dream for the future? Just give her a little “peace” and she’s satisfied. Over coffee and cake at her favourite café in the charming brown-stone and tree-lined downtown Brooklyn neighbourhood she calls home, Solange Knowles talks becoming an aunt, the pitfalls of fame and success, and creating complex pop music inspired by master songwriter’s of the past with Indigo Clarke.
Hi Solange, how are you? You’re recording your third solo record right now – it must be an exciting process...
Solange Knowles: Yes it really is, and it's been really different to my other experiences recording albums. It's an amazing journey that is almost at an end, but has definitely taken a lot out of me. I've been on this journey for a year and a half now, it's really emotionally and physically taxing. This is the first album I've recorded independently so in many ways it's been more demanding, and has been a real learning experience. I'm not on a label for the first time, and not with a manager. There have definitely been some limitations to doing it on my own - one being that when you're with a record label you have tons of money to do exactly what you want! On my own I've had to figure out things like how much studio time I can afford – I never had to take things like that into consideration before.
What is your new album all about?
Solange Knowles: Definitely Love and making love are recurring themes throughout the album (laughs). This has been the first time creating an album that I've been in a really healthy, happy, lovely relationship and so it's really shaped how I feel and the music I'm making. At first I was worried because I didn't know how to write songs that were happy - I felt like writing in that tone my music would end up sounding like cheesy hallmark cards, you know. I'm just so used to drawing on the pain and the struggle to write songs and it comes out really naturally. The beauty in this album is that it's really percussive, so it doesn't come across as really sweet and sugary because it's still got a really multifaceted style. Then there's a couple of songs where I hated my boyfriend for a day (laughs)...
So you took it out on him through your music...
Solange Knowles: Exactly, no one had to get hurt (laughs).
In the past you’ve really been inspired by Motown artists, as well as Dusty Springfield…
Solange Knowles: Yes my last record was entirely inspired by 60s and 70s music – I definitely grew up on it and it laid the foundations for me in terms of songwriting. The music that was really inspiring for me this time round in particular was Jimmy Jam and Terri Lewis' production and songwriting for Janet, SOS Band, Chaka and Prince. Jimmy Jam and Terri Lewis worked with all of the best artists, the songs they created were really influential. I was listening to all their stuff, not just the super poppy songs... One of the things that drew me to their production and music in general was how intricate their sound was. I think the music industry in general has a really short-sighted perspective on pop.
For sure, pop music in the past comprised of so many other sounds and styles…
Solange Knowles: Totally. Pop in the 50s and 60s through to the 80s and even the 90s had such workmanship and complexity compared to today. For my fan-base which is mainly people that listen to soul, they might feel that what I'm creating is too pop, but in actuality pop is as much a part of me as soul. I've never been afraid of pop – I just hadn't embraced it fully until now because I didn't want to make bad pop (laughs). The pop I'm making now is intricate and complex and can still be orchestrated by a live band - not just machines and auto tune. You can still have great musicians, talent and powerful sound with pop - the artists that have achieved this are the ones I studied, and they have inspired this album – which is out in April.
It's so soon!
Solange Knowles: It's really exciting.
You’re involved in so many creative pursuits – your bio is insane: Singer, songwriter, dancer, DJ, musician, actress, how do you find the time to do it all?
Solange Knowles: I'm definitely in need of clarifying my bio because half of what people read about me is not accurate at all (laughs)! Seriously, half the people I meet think I do every kind of creative thing, but really I haven't acted since I was a teenager, I was in two films and that was it. I couldn't call myself an actress and it's not something I really want to pursue right now. I don't really dance anymore either, you’re not going to see me at the New York City Ballet any time soon!
So really, your life revolves around music...
Solange Knowles: Yes it really does. Two years ago I started DJing and that's something I really enjoy. When I DJ, I play everything – well not metal or techno, but mostly 90s R&B and hip hop, and a lot of 80s pop. I'm starting to get into more current pop artists too – because I have a young son I'm really conscious of what I listen to, because he'll listen to it too, and that's very limiting in 2012 (laughs).
You had your son when you were really young, it must have been both amazing and challenging at the same time…
Solange Knowles: I was 17 when I got pregnant and 18 when I had my son. I honestly don’t feel there have been any drawbacks – having a child has been the most perfect gift ever given to me. It’s been something that I fully embrace, love and enjoy and it’s not hard when you have a kid as amazing as Julez. And when I think about it, I think part of why I had a child young was that I’d been in the industry since I was thirteen, so by the time I was seventeen I was kind of yearning for a domestic life. I’d essentially spent four years on the road – the longest that I was at home in those four years was about two weeks. I was always on the road…
That would make you grow up fast –
Solange Knowles: Absolutely, yes – and it wasn’t like I was a young Drew Barrymore or anything, because I was the actually the most clean-as-a-whistle teenager ever. I never drank, never did drugs, nothing – but I performed in a lot of clubs with my sister, with Destiny’s Child, as a back-up dancer. That was for the first two years on the road, then the second two I was promoting my first album. Four years total on the road will grow you up fast. I’ve seen a common thread in a lot of young artists starting a domestic life very young – I think the psychology behind it is craving stability.
And you found it – you seem to have a really balanced work and family life. How old is Julez?
Solange Knowles: Julez is seven, it’s a great age – although yesterday he just got in big trouble… He’s been in piano for quite some time and he’s always been really kind of effortlessly great at it, but what’s happening now is he’s in group classes and when he finishes his part he gets bored. Yesterday his teacher told me he’d packed his bag 15 minutes into the class, as if to say “I’m done for the day,” – so as I’m giving him this big lecture I realize it’s so something that I did growing up. I was a serious rebel, he doesn’t have the same rebel spirit, but is definitely very independent and an all-round good student.
So when you were a little rebel, what did you dream of doing when you grew up?
Solange Knowles: I pretty much wanted to be what I am today! I knew I wanted to be a songwriter, I wrote my first song at 9 when I entered a songwriting competition. Ever since then it's been my dream to create music. To begin with, I wrote songs for other artists, but then I started to think, "wait a minute I want to keep that one for myself!" So that's really how I became a singer, but songwriting has always been my first love.
How did it feel having a big sister like Beyonce, who must have been a pretty inspiring role model, finding success so young?
Solange Knowles: Absolutely she was and is such a role model, but I think more-so it was an insane learning process for me to have a big sister like that – to be able to see the good, the bad and everything in between that comes with fame and success, and to know what I was getting myself into.
You seem very grounded – as though you've somewhat avoided being in the spotlight like your big sister...
Solange Knowles: Yes, watching her journey from when she was really young until now being an absolute superstar, I've consciously navigated my way through the industry quite differently. I really enjoy my privacy, I really enjoy being able to walk my son to school every morning and pick him up every afternoon, and I know that I couldn't do that if I was at that next level - privacy as you know it just doesn't belong to you anymore. So I actually feel very blessed that from a really young age I could see where and how those turns lead you to various levels of fame. I definitely made a conscious effort to stay as low key as I can, and still do what I want to do.
I love your downtown BK neighbourhood – how do you like living in Brooklyn?
Solange Knowles: I moved to Brooklyn about 10 years ago, and actually don't find it that different to LA. Where I live in downtown Brooklyn has about the same sensibility and accessibility as Silverlake, where I lived in LA, where you can walk everywhere and there’s cute cafes and shops. Manhattan was never really an option for me – I like to have a big space and live somewhere quiet, where there is a good school for my son to go to. I pretty much structure my whole schedule around Julez schedule, I really prioritize family. I feel like if I fail at motherhood, then I've failed at everything else too (laughs), it's really important to me to be the best parent I can be.
It must be important to you to be a strong role model in your son’s life...
Solange Knowles: For sure, the good thing is he has so many positive people in his life - some really strong male role models, and female. Really I think the most important thing in being a parent is your state of mind, actually being 'present' when you're present, engaging with your child and being engaged. You can be around your kid all the time, but it's not the same as spending quality time with together. So I try to balance my life so that I'm happy first and as a result of that everyone's happy in the household. I heard Will Smith say that about how they keep their family together, he said “as long as Jada's happy then we're all happy”. The mother’s the rock, the glue, in the family that holds it all together.
Your sister and Jay Z just had a baby girl, Blue Ivy Carter, how does it feel to be an aunt?
Solange Knowles: It's very different to being a mother, but there's still that sort of magnetic bond and love that you can't even put words on to describe. I think babies in general a so lovable – and my sister’s baby Blue is so beautiful. She is really a beautiful little baby. It's really special to have a niece because I have a son, so I get to have a little girl too.
Have you given Beyonce any mothering tips?
Solange Knowles: No, I think it's really important for every mother to find their own way, I think it's actually the most annoying thing when you're a new mum and you're getting so much advice from other mother’s! You really just have to feel it out for yourself.
You seem to have a great relationship with Beyonce…
Solange Knowles: Yes we really do, she's my best friend, we talk at least every other day if not every day. We’re friends first and she's incredibly supportive, she's been such a support for me while I've been recording this new album.
Last season you attended a number of shows with Beyonce – you two were absolutely the talk of NYFW! How did that come about?
Solange Knowles: Last season I was looking for two dresses for the Rimmel make-up campaign launch that I was in, so I was actually shopping for clothing! I ended up buying a Luca Luca metallic silver dress to wear. I wanted one other ACNE dress for the Rimmel press conference, but it had sold out everywhere – luckily at a show I sat next to the owner of Net-A-Porter who was really sweet and lovely and I told her, "this is really shameful, but there's a dress I'd do anything to wear but it's sold out on your site!" She got on the phone and made it happen, it was so sweet. I'm really like that – it doesn't matter what designer or label it is, if I like it I'm determined to get it.
The fashion world has really embraced you over the last year, how do you feel about your new status as a style icon?
Solange Knowles: I feel really flattered! It's a really big compliment - but at times I feel a little undeserving, there are so many amazing stylish women! I'll say though that I take it all with such a smile and feel so honored, but there's another side of me that's a little afraid because there's a difference between fashion and style – and I never want to confuse that. I love all the incredible, real women walking around Brooklyn, Fort Greene especially, wearing the most amazing outfits. Then you see women in the fashion industry that can be just really over the top and using fashion as a status tool rather than an outlet for their personality or sense of taste – there are a lot of explosive personalities involved in fashion too (laughs). At the end of the day, I look at clothes as clothes – I definitely don’t live, eat, sleep, breathe fashion, so it's really amazing to be accepted and given the kudos, but I do take it with a grain of salt.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Solange Knowles: The highlight is always the moment when someone tells me they love my music – when I pass someone on the street who stops me to tell me how much they loved my last record, that it changed their life, that is the highlight. Just being able to relate to my audience on that level is really what it’s all about for me.
What do you want 2012 to be about?
Solange Knowles: Peace (laughs). Really – just peace. I am really structuring my life, even with recording a new album, to be able to go home each night with peace. You spend a year or two years pouring your soul into a record, and I want to be able to actually enjoy the outcome, not be exhausted by it. I don't want to tour all year long, I want to just enjoy it and share it with the people I love. I want to be at home with my baby (laughs).