Janelle Monae plays Downtown's Life Is Beautiful festival on Sunday, October 27 at 5 p.m. on the Ambassador Stage.
You just put out the latest in a suite of concept albums. Do you think today’s music climate is encouraging of the concept album, or does it make it more challenging to create them? I don’t see a lot of concept albums, not since I’ve gotten into the music industry. My first offering was a concept album, before anyone really knew of me. As an artist I’ve been drawn to that. I’m a writer. I used to write for the Coterie Theatre, and actors would perform short stories growing up. I love science fiction. I love telling a universal story in an unforgettable way, one that could change someone’s life or perspective on life in a powerful way, one that could help us look at the present, look at where we are with the fate of the world right now through the eye and the lens of the future. And with science fiction there’s unlimited possibilities. So I think there’s power in the concept album. Whether that’s encouraged or not, it’s come from my heart and that’s what I’ve lead to do. I’ve shown that throughout my work.
What was the biggest challenge for you making your new album, The Electric Lady, which is a continuation of the concept suite you began years ago? The biggest challenge probably had to do with the mixing and mastering. I hate mixing and mastering. I am someone who dreads that entire process. I haven’t attended a mixing and mastering session for years. But I worked with some really great people, and I only came in one time ... When we record a song and then listen to it, whether the bass is not up to par with the regulations in iTunes or what have you, I don’t really care. I love how it makes me feel. So I had to do a lot meditation around the mixing and mastering of the album.
You have some cool collaborations on the record. How did working with people like Prince and Solange shape the initial vision you had for those songs? It was very organic working with each artist. All of them represent something very unique to the music industry. This album is deeply rooted in community, so I wanted to bring people within the music community on the album to symbolize or help me to tell the universal stories in unforgettable ways.
I think it was a natural fit for Miguel and I to sing about love–he’s a great communicator when it comes to speaking about love. Solange and I had a song where we just jammed. I think she’s a strong electric lady. Erykah Badu and I have a song together, “Q.U.E.E.N.,” which is female empowerment and empowerment for the marginalized and the discriminated against. With Prince and “Givin Em What They Love,” it inspired this inner badass, confident person to come out and be ready for the world and ready to turn the world upside down and over.
Your music carries a lot of strong social messages. How do you see the relationship today between music and the power to effect social change? The music taps into the emotion, and once you can get someone’s emotions, you have the power and the ability to inform someone to do something great, or to influence someone to do something evil. People listen to music when they want to kill someone, and people listen to music when they want to make love. I think if you can tap into the emotions of people like the listener, then you have their attention and you can guide them in whatever way you like.
I wanted to tell female protagonist stories. I have songs from “Ghetto Woman” to “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” to the title track “Electric Lady” to “Primetime,” and these are just different roles women play in society. And I wanted to highlight that a lot on this particular album. So that’s a huge focus.
Janelle Monáe Sunday, October, 27, 5:05-5:55 p.m., Life Is Beautiful Festival's Ambassador Stage