Photo: Elias Tahan
For a while now, Solange Knowles has been o ne o f those singers you f eel warmly about. She has a beautiful voice, impeccable style, and a perfect instinct for what’s cool. Her songs have always been good—though never quite great, never quite hits. Until now. Her new EP True is great. A collaboration with her producer Devonté Hynes (a musician in his own right, Hynes records under the monikers Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange), the collection of seven songs, out today, has sent ripples across the music world, pleasing fickle bloggers and established critics alike. Among fans, the music video for the EP’s catchy first single “Losing You” has been a sensation. On the eve of the EP’s release, we spoke on the phone with Knowles as she walked through the airport, o n her way to Los Angeles to host a listening session f or f riends. Something is going on here. Without putting words in your mouth, it feels a bit like you’ve come into your own. What’s new? I really kind of learned on this record to write songs that I would be able to perform—that were in my vocal range, like second nature. A lot of the time I completely free-styled the melodies without any lyrical ideas. Then I would go back and try to make sense of what I was feeling. So that’s sort o f what you are hearing here, that second-nature tone.
Devonté Hynes produced the EP, though you’re giving him billing as a collaborator. I think the yin and yang of us is what makes it so great. Dev is a very intuitive artist. When he makes music, he absolutely makes exactly what is on his mind. I have more of a pop sensibility where I want to create an infrastructure: a hook, bridge, all that. I’ve heard that some of the songs came from stories he was telling you about the break-up he had recently gone through. Since you were in a happy place in your own life, you sort of drew on his—suffering—for some of the songs. Yeah, Dev shared a lot of stories. It was sort of a different approach for me, though not all the songs were that way. “Locked in Closets” came from a conversation we had about when I was a young girl. I did that thing where I hid from my whole family for several hours. [laughs] So I attached myself to that emotion for the song—I still have those moments where I feel like I’m hiding from the world. Another song, “Lovers in the Parking Lot,” draws on this time when even though I had a great relationship, I took a break from it. I wanted to make sure I was enjoying my youth and my twenties. So the song is sort of the reality of what that break felt like. That song has a lot of fairly traditional R&B qualities, right? While the album is certainly cohesive, it seems like you do go off on some sonic tangents. Yeah, “Lovers” is a lot more R&B vocally and in terms of the arrangements. Whereas a song like “Losing You”—well, it has that sound because naturally I have more of a soulful voice, and there are definitely arrangements that encompass R&B—but “Losing You” definitely has a distinctive production sound. Dev has a really interesting way of programming sound on synths and actually plays some o f them with his guitar. The video for “Losing You” is pretty major. Thanks. You shot that in Cape Town, South Africa, right? How did that come about? Something reminded me of Africa in the percussion, and I had always wanted to shoot a video there. I instantly thought of the Sapeurs because they’re such a brilliant subculture. I went out and purchased Daniele Tamagni’s book Gentlemen Of Bacongo, and he helped put us in touch with some of the Congolese Sapeurs. But the Congo was almost impossible to get equipment to, to get visas for—all of that. I was really disappointed because I felt so connected to the Sapeurs and I wanted to showcase them in an authentic way. So we spoke to Daniele again, and he said, “Oh, well, there’s actually a group in Cape Town.” I happened to be there anyway, and I called the director, Melina Matsoukas, and told her, “Grab your camera.” True is available for digital download on November 27, 2012, and will be in stores in January 2013.