Solange Knowles doesn't want to trade on the name of her bootylicious sibling, but the connections can't be a huge impediment, writes Chitra Ramaswamy
NOWHERE on Solange Knowles' album, Sol-Angel And The Hadley Street Dreams, does she mention her surname. Yet the bootylicious spectre of her older sister, otherwise known as Beyonc, appears in the very first song. "I'm not her and never will be," warbles Solange with as much soul as Beyonc, though minus her brassy kick. "Two girls torn in different directions… No, I'm no sister / I'm just my God-given name."
It's a risky business trying to distance yourself from your sister by opening your album with a song about, well, trying to distance yourself from your sister. "Most of the people who listen to the record put so much on the sister reference," she drawls. "It wasn't just about that. What I was trying to say is that I believe music shouldn't be categorised."
Expert dodging of the question, but then Solange is no ingenue and has experienced more in her 22 years than most. She started performing
with Destiny's Child as a back-up dancer, released her first album at 16, got married at 17 to an American football player, had a son, and is now divorced. Surely only Beyonc, and perhaps Jamie Lynn Spears, can rival that?
Though the latest rumour is that Solange will be joining Beyonc on a mammoth world tour, she seems wary of any comparisons and never even says her name during our conversation. "No, I'm not wary," she insists. "I really try to be brave enough and original enough to bring something a little bit more diverse. I feel like it's been addressed so much that it's not interesting any more."
So why, in the sleeve notes of her album, is there a photo of her next to two poster boards, one of which reads "I will not get pregnant at 17", the other, "I will not have a famous family"? "I was making fun of everyone's curiosity about those things," is her answer.
Solange was just 14 when she started recording her debut, Solo Star. "Even at that age I had very diverse taste in music, but I didn't necessarily have control on the record," she says, which doesn't seem surprising considering she was also too young to vote, leave school or drink alcohol. "I didn't understand about having an identity. There was none. One song was jazz, another was reggae… when you're 14, everyone else is older and more seasoned and you trust their decisions."
On Sol-Angel And The Hadley Street Dreams she was the older, more seasoned one, and it shows. Its updated Supremes sound works brilliantly on the forthcoming single 'Sandcastle Disco', the Neptunes-produced 'I Decided', which sounds like a lost Motown classic complete with handclaps and piano, and the Marvin Gaye sampled 'Ode To Marvin', though the flirtation with electronica and even at one point trance (and not in a good, Donna Summer way) takes things in a weird direction.
Gnarls Barkley were a huge inspiration, says Solange, adding that she cornered Cee-Lo in a club, took him to her car, and demanded he listen to her album. He immediately offered to work on it, as did Pharrell, Mark Ronson, Q-Tip, Boards of Canada and Lamont Dozier, who produced Martha and the Vandellas and the Supremes. Not bad considering she started the record "with a bunch of college boys in Alabama".
"I was able to write and produce it in my own space and time without a label checking on my every move," she continues, adding that the Hadley Street of the album's title refers to the studio in Houston, Texas, that her father – who manages both his daughters – bought five years ago. "It was the roots of the record and about the vision my father had. It didn't really matter that none of us could see it and all we saw was this shifty neighbourhood, crack houses here, prostitutes there."
Being managed by her father, a onetime medical equipment salesman who left his job in 1995 to take on Beyonc's career full-time, has its ups and downs. "Both my parents are first generation success stories," she says. "I think their work ethic and drive was passed on. Theirs wasn't a generation who had anything handed to them. There are times when there have been challenges because we have different ideas of success, but there is never a question of trust, and that's one of the most important factors in this business."
Recently, Beyonc spoke about not wanting her sister to go into the business because "this industry involves a lot of pressure". Solange appears to have no such concern and tells me she didn't seek her sister's opinion about her album. "But we both support each other's work and I feel like I'm her biggest cheerleader and she's mine," she says. "It's good to have her advice, but we really have different goals." v
Solange plays Classic Grand, Glasgow, Tuesday. The single Sandcastle Disco is out November 24 www.solangemusic.com