EXCLUSIVE: SOLANGE DISHES ON HER NEW RECORD LABEL, UPCOMING ALBUM, AND MORE!

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Solange Knowles means business.

It’s clear in the very first minute of our interview that the singer-turned-entrepreneur is beyond proud of Saint Heron, the debut compilation album from her recently launched independent label, Saint Records. Hitting stores on Tuesday, the record comes almost exactly one year after the release of her superb EP, True (which boasted the critical darling single, “Losing You”).

Solange immediately explained how she chose the compilation’s title: “I knew that I wanted to play with the word ‘saint,’ so I went onto Google and discovered the Egyptian martyr, Saint Heron. The fact that he was a black saint was really important to me.”

Featuring original songs by artists like Cassie, Jhene Aiko and, of course, Solange, Saint Heron also includes previously unreleased material from a talented array of the label’s talent, including Kelela, BC Kingdom, Sampha, Jade De La Fleur, India Shawn, Kingdom, Iman Omari, Starchild and Petite Noir.

“I really wanted to make a record you can smoke to,” Solange said with a chuckle. “Curating this tracklisting was definitely a creatively fulfilling experience. All of the artists on this compilation are so extremely talented and are really defying the genre of R&B in their own ways. And the songs are all so unique but still flow together as one body of work. I love how airy and experimental it gets.”

saint-heronWith Saint Heron, Solange has not only crafted one of the best albums of 2013, she’s once again put together a masterpiece of contemporary R&B. The moody and lush compilation is a gorgeous introduction to Saint Records, which is quickly shaping up to be one of the most exciting, welcome and necessary additions to the music industry this year.

“I’ve never really mentioned this before, but growing up and watching my dad work, I always said that I wanted to take over for him someday,” Solange recalled, noting that this inspired her to start her label. “When Destiny’s Child started, he was entering a whole new world. He did a lot of reading and a lot of research and had to quit his day job, and that ultimately became a sort of forgotten success story,” she said of her father’s career managing and executive producing the band that launched big sister Beyonce to superstardom.

“I always said that when he was done, I’d want to take over and do what he does,” she excitedly continued. “I’ve always been fascinated by the business side of things. I’ve released three albums with three different labels, which has given me a really unique insight into the way music is made. And I’ve always been a fan of music first and foremost. So I wanted to create something where artists who were already established and didn’t need A&Rs and things like that can come together to create a community for the music that they love.”

To celebrate the album’s release, Solange and the Saint Heron team took to the streets of New York City this past Sunday to hold trunk sales of CD and vinyl copies of the record. Stopping throughout the day at locations in Harlem, SoHo and Fort Greene, these mini-release parties came fully equipped with Puma-sponsored fan contests in hula hooping, double dutch, body rolling and more. As for the trunk holding all the music for sale? That was in a jaw-dropping Lamborghini, custom designed to emulate the Saint Heron cover art by Rashaad Newsome.

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“The trunk sales have been so much fun! I’m so happy with how they turned out. It’s been so amazing and exciting to be able to interact with the fans and supporters and to really build and grow the Saint Heron community,” Solange added. “Getting Rashaad involved was something that I really wanted to make sure we could make happen. We discovered him in New Orleans and his work is just so beautiful and inspires me on so many levels.”

Among Saint Heron’s many highlights is “Indo,” an all-new song performed by Cassie. Written and produced by Solange, the track also marks Ms. Knowles’ first full solo production credit.

“I’ve loved Cassie since ‘Me & U,’ she’s such a talented artist,” Solange said. “A few other people had written some stuff for her, but when we were talking about working together, we realized that we really wanted to go into the studio, just the two of us, and just jam out and feel each other’s vibes.”

“I’ve always been interested in producing, but as a musician, I was always mostly interested in perfecting things like the melody. And I’ve of course been involved in the production side of my music, but this was the first time I was a full-out producer on my own. That’s definitely something I’m interested in exploring more. It was very rewarding to see this song grow from beginning to end.”

Closing Saint Heron is Solange’s newest offering, the Aaliyah-esque “Cash In.” Featuring a cowbell that calls to mind 702’s “I Still Love You,” the song is a tonal shift from the throwback pop-infused sound of True.

“I actually first worked on ‘Cash In’ about four years ago, and it’s always been one of my absolute favorite songs I’ve ever recorded,” Solange insisted. “But there wasn’t really a place for it within the context of True, and Saint Heron seemed like a much better fit for it. It became the perfect place to finally give the song its turn to have a life of its own.”

So will her upcoming 2014 Saint Records solo album sound more like True or more like “Cash In”?

“Sonically, it will still have 80s pop references, but it’ll include a lot more live instruments – lots of percussion and lots of piano. So I’d definitely say that ‘Cash In’ is more indicative of the album’s sound than True is. I think it’ll be a darker record than people might expect. But it’s really representative of where I’m at now artistically.”

While an official release date for Solange’s next album has yet to be announced, it’s clear that Saint Records has an incredible long future to look forward to. Saint Heron is a true labor of love, from all of the artists involved and (especially) from the showrunner herself.

“It’s my baby in so many ways,” Solange triumphantly concluded. “I couldn’t be happier with it.”

Saint Heron will be available in stores tomorrow.

IMG_1951Originally published on PopBytes

JESSIE WARE DAZZLES AT NEW YORK CITY’S BOWERY BALLROOM (CONCERT REVIEW)

“I knew you Americans would get it,” British singer Jessie Ware said over uproarious cheering at the Bowery Ballroom, New York’s intimate concert venue, last Thursday.

Ware, who had just made her American television debut the previous day by performing with The Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, was celebrating the release of her new EP, If You’re Never Gonna Move (available on iTunes). Comprised of select tracks from her Mercury Prize-nominated 2012 overseas premiere album, Devotion, the EP serves as Ware’s official introduction to American audiences.

The last time Ware stepped foot in the Bowery Ballroom, she told the crowd, was in December to see Solange’s headlining show. Like Solange, Ware is part of an exciting musical movement that’s ushering in the resurgence of ‘90s house by blending it with elements of Motown, disco, and traces of contemporary EDM. By doing so, artists such as these two have crafted an innovative musical style that manages to sound as fresh as it is retro.

And their industry peers are starting to really notice. Earlier this month, girl group Destiny’s Child reunited for the release of “Nuclear,” their first original song in seven years. A welcome and surprising throwback to ‘90s R&B, “Nuclear” immediately prompted comparisons to the likes of Jade and Vanessa Williams. And while the lack of Calvin Harris / David Guetta production or a Nicki Minaj guest-verse will likely prevent “Nuclear” from becoming Destiny’s Child’s next “Survivor”-level smash, the song’s release signifies something far more important – and frankly, far more interesting.

By paying homage to the era they began in, Destiny’s Child released a song that not only acknowledges that their fans have grown up too (taking notes, Madonna?), but that also catapults the distinct flavors of ‘90s R&B back into a mainstream spotlight. And lead singer Beyoncé (who had already begun to experiment with resurrecting this classic sound on her phenomenal and underrated 2011 album, 4) clearly has no plans to shift the spotlight anytime soon.

“I’ve been working with Pharrell and Timbaland and Justin Timberlake and Dream. We all started in the ’90s, when R&B was the most important genre, and we all kind of want that back: the feeling that music gave us,” the new mother said in an interview in this month’s GQ about her upcoming fifth studio album.

So what does this mean for Ware? Well, for starters, her influence is beginning to be felt on a very large scale. Plus, the increasing popularity of this nu-soul approach to R&B certainly means that Devotion’s upcoming American release (tentatively slated for April) may generate for the singer what 21 generated for fellow-Brit Adele: massive crossover appeal. And considering that tickets for Ware’s Bowery Ballroom show sold out in thirty minutes even before she officially released an album in the U.S., it’s a safe bet to say that Ware’s is a voice we’ll all be hearing a lot of this year.

Ware’s love for the music that inspired her was on full display during her entire set. In addition to singing Brownstone’s classic “If You Love Me,” Ware mashed up her own hip-hop tinged song “No To Love” with Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” And for a brief moment during her exceptional cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Wouldn’t Do For Love,” she mixed in part of Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” Ware then casually pointed out mid-song that the day before would have been the deceased ‘90s R&B superstar’s birthday. Clearly, she has been doing her homework.

One of the first things that struck me about Ware’s performance is that not only does she sound exactly the same live as she does on her recordings, but also that sometimes she sounds even better. Filling the intimate space of the Bowery Ballroom, Ware’s melancholy and pitch perfect vocals were accompanied by a three-piece band. The second thing that struck me was that Leonardo DiCaprio would have probably been really jealous of how well Ware rocked the exposed midriff look.

Hearing Ware sing live almost suggested that her recordings are too small to fully capture her big voice. The vocal decorations that she added to songs like the lounge-y “Still Love Me,” the deliciously sexy “Night Light,” and album title track “Devotion” showed off just how insanely talented the songstress really is.

What’s more is that Ware is as humble as she is gifted. The amount of adoration pouring out from the audience was undeniable – and for Ware, it was honestly surprising. Upon receiving a bouquet of flowers from a fan near the front of the stage, she teared up and seemed genuinely taken aback. While headlining an American tour for the first time may have sounded like a potentially nerve-wracking experience, Ware couldn’t have received a warmer welcome.

The first of two back-to-back songs that evoke water imagery, Ware’s masterful delivery of the despondent and beautiful “Swan Song” seemed effortless. And before breaking into the next song, “Taking In Water,” she revealed that the ballad (which she wrote for her brother) almost didn’t make it onto the final cut of Devotion. Luckily it did, and the musician called it one of the songs she’s most proud of.

Additional highlights from Ware’s hour-long set included the simple and sizzling synthpop single, “If You’re Never Gonna Move” (recently retitled from “110%” due to legal problems obtaining the clearance of a sample used), album standout “Sweet Talk,” and the official-anthem-of-longing, “Something Inside.”

While the crowd’s applause level was never anything short of feverish, never was it higher than when Ware played “Wildest Moments.” The third single to be released from Devotion, “Wildest Moments” was written after Ware had a fight with a friend and was inspired by the duo’s shaky relationship. And despite having performed the song on Fallon the night before, Ware serenaded her audience with such conviction that it almost sounded like it was the first time she ever sang it.

Wrapping up her set with her brilliant debut single, “Running,” Ware chose to skip an encore, explaining that she “doesn’t believe” in them and that “you all have to go to sleep and go to work tomorrow, so yeah. Last song.” It was moments like these that demonstrated Ware’s honest, charming and warm disposition, making her one of the most grounded artists I’ve seen in a long time.

If all goes according to schedule and Devotion sees its American release this spring, be sure to make it a point to catch Ware’s phenomenal live show. Trust me, it may not be long before the tickets soar out of your price range.

Originally published on PopBytes

“LOSING YOU” BY SOLANGE (SINGLE REVIEW)

In 2008, Solange released her masterful and criminally underrated album, Sol-Angel And The Hadley Street Dreams. On the record’s opening track, “God Given Name,” the songstress proclaimed that she was “no soul girl equipped with no afro,” immediately establishing herself as an artist who refused to play by rules other than her own.

A love letter to the days of Motown that was steeped in equal parts disco and neo-soul, Sol-Angel And The Hadley Street Dreams solidified Solange’s status as one of the most refreshingly unique talents to emerge from this millennium’s R&B offerings. All of which made the blogosphere erupt in surprise when, following the record’s release, her name was suddenly widely associated with the indie rock scene instead.

It all began in the summer of 2009 when Jay-Z showed up at Grizzly Bear’s Williamsburg Waterfront show. And it wasn’t just the audience members who were stunned to see the hip-hop legend attending the indie rock quartet’s concert.

“We were shocked,” Grizzly Bear member Chris Taylor later revealed. “It came about through Solange Knowles, Beyoncé’s younger sister, who’s a total sweetheart and a friend of the band’s.”

That same year, Solange released a free, R&B-fortified cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” via Pitchfork. Her former record label, Universal, quickly had the website remove the track, but it was up long enough to get noticed by and receive stamps of approval from not just Dirty Projectors, but also musicians like Chairlift and Bjork and fashion designer Jeremy Scott.

Soon thereafter, Solange provided guest vocals for “Sex Karma,” a funky and irresistible track off indie rockers Of Montreal’s tenth album, False Priest. With this collaboration, it seemed as though the singer’s transformation from contemporary Motown princess to indie darling was nearly complete.

But what would this new title mean for the musical direction of Solange’s next record? Would she return to the vintage-tinged R&B of her last album? Or would she capitalize on her newfound Brooklyn cred and come out with a record that was a whole new sound for her?

The answer is a little bit of both. Released on October 2nd via Trouble Records (Chris Taylor’s label), “Losing You” is Solange’s first solo single in four years and paves the way for her triumphant return to the scene.

Produced and co-written by Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes, “Losing You” marries the soulfulness of Sol-Angel And The Hadley Street Dreams with the edgier indie material the singer has been experimenting with of late. The result is an insanely catchy track that proves Solange has finally found the sound she’s been looking for.

Accompanied by a music video gorgeously shot in South Africa, “Losing You” is a brooding alt-pop song that finds Solange coming to terms with the end of a relationship.

“I gave you everything and now there’s nothing left of me,” she croons over the song’s retro hip-house beat. “I’m not the one that you should be making your enemy. Tell me the truth boy, am I losing you for good?”

While sprinkled with ‘80s dance flavors, “Losing You” is a far cry from the EDM-crazed sound of the vast majority of today’s Top 40 radio. Instead, its smart and often subtle use of synths perfectly complement Solange’s airy vocals in a way that calls to mind Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing” (which was, not surprisingly, also produced by Hynes).

In the short time since its release, “Losing You” has already garnered a massive amount of critical acclaim. “Knowles and Hynes crafted the sort of snappy, relaxed groove that sounds as if it had been unearthed from a dusty ’80s jukebox,” wrote The Los Angeles Times in their review of the track. “The single is retro without reverting back to the Motown influences of her last record.”

And according to Spin’s Control Voltage blog, the song is “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now; it feels like one of those moments when something lurking just below the surface of the zeitgeist breaks through in a big way.” Bravo indeed, Ms. Knowles.

Available now on iTunes, the single of “Losing You” also features the B-side, “Sleeping In The Park.” This song is another collaboration with Of Montreal’s front man, Kevin Barnes (who also recently recorded a series of demos with Solange). An upbeat track that winks at the singer’s rock inclinations, “Sleeping In The Park” is an excellent counterpart to “Losing You,” further enhancing the blending of the inspirations from which Solange is drawing her gratifyingly original and evolved sound.

While specific details about Solange’s upcoming full-length album have yet to surface, don’t be surprised if the release of “Losing You” propels the singer smack into the middle of the mainstream music consumer’s radar.

Welcome to the big leagues, Solange. You’re up.

Originally published on PopBytes