Interview: Janelle Monae Discusses Androids, "the Other" and Making the Music That Moves You
Originally hailing from Kansas City, Kansas -- an article in our sister paper, the Pitch, explains more -- Monae travelled to Atlanta by way of New York. She cultivated valuable creative relationships along the way: Diddy and Big Boi have taken interest in her work, and she's done many collaborations with other artists in the last year, including Of Montreal, B.o.B. and Lupe Fiasco. As she prepared to embark on a nationwide tour with Of Montreal in support of her debut full-length, The ArchAndroid, Monae took a few minutes to discuss her music, her message and her muse: you.
Chrissy Wilmes: In a time when so many artists are focused on singles, what inspired you to make a concept album?
Janelle Monae: Stevie Wonder was a huge influence. Because he was at Motown at a time when they were in the singles industry and everything was under three minutes, Berry Gordy was really trying to push for singles. But he [Stevie] saw the benefit of doing an album, a creative album. And his album has influenced us so much, that I would pick having an incredible album that's influencing and [one that] people [are] moved by over having a huge single or creating something just for the radio. That was what my goal and objective was to do - to make sure that the album would remain classic and timeless like that of a Stevie wonder album. That was my goal.
The concept for Metropolis and The ArchAndroid holds discrimination and "the other" as a theme. Why did you take on and embody that particular theme?
Because I was inspired by it, and I felt like it was something that needed to be touched on. We are living in a world with androids, I do believe, and so I feel as though somebody should be speaking about that. And [somebody should be speaking about] what that all means for us, and how we have a chance to not repeat history with trying to enslave those that are not like us, or treating others less than [us] and acting more superior. Because we may not understand each other, I think it's a clear chance for me to speak out about discrimination, which I think is still going on and exists - but we have the power to change it.
You explore so many different genres and styles on the new album. For example, your Wikipedia page describes your genre as "Pop, Indie Pop, soul, Afro-punk,funk, dance-punk, hip-hop" What artists have influenced that style?
I don't really have any artists... the huge inspiration for me, probably, is just the people. You know, knowing that we are so uniquely designed. I want people to know that I represent unity, and I represent all of us. I wanted to create a very inclusive album. So that was really it -- and being organic at the same time.
Is there any genre or style that you feel like you haven't touched on yet that you want to explore?
I don't go into it saying I want to do that genre, I just like great music that feels good. I don't like doing things just because, it needs to move me. And right now the things that I have done, they're moving me enough. So I'll just focus on that.
*"Tightrope," by Janelle Monae featuring Big Boi, was nominated for an MTV Music Video Award for Best Cinematography
Vogue has called you "a different kind of diva." What role do you think that image has played in your success?
Uh, I don't know. I haven't really thought about that. I haven't analyzed what Vogue said or used that to my benefit.
Not necessarily because Vogue said it, but just the idea of people identifying you as the "diva" without the diva attitude. You have the voice of the diva, but you're not what people expect when they hear "diva."
Or you could mean a diva with green cheek bones. [laughs] I don't know, it's all subjective.
How did you meet and begin working with Of Montreal?
I met Of Montreal here in Atlanta, Georgia, after their show at the Tabernacle. We just started talking, and we have so much in common, and we're just genuinely supportive of each other's music. Ya know, we're inspired by each other's music, and we just began a very organic relationship that has lasted over the course of the last two to three years.
Your first stop on the tour with Of Montreal is Saint Louis. Can we expect anything extra special for opening night?
[laughs] Uh, I guess you'll just have to continue to expect... because the element of surprise is something that Of Montreal and myself... it's something I definitely am beholding to. So I can't say anything, sorry... I'm thankful for your support though, and I really do hope you guys enjoy the show.
You have some ambitious projects going on. I've read that a graphic novel to accompany ArchAndroid will be coming out soon, that you plan to release a video for every track on the album, and you're also preparing to begin this massive national tour. So, I guess my question is: Do you ever sleep? And would you like to tell us a little bit about some of those other projects?
[laughs] Pretty much everything you said is true. So that's all the information I can give to you right now. And, no I don't, for the latter question.
Is there anything else you'd like to add to some of your fans that might be reading this?
Remember to eat your vegetables and take your vitamins. It's important.