With Janelle’s new album arriving in stores September 10th Janelle Monae has been everywhere promoting her sophomore project and her latest stop was at Bust magazine. In the new issue Janelle talks about what her life was like growing up in Kansas City her theater influence in music and more. You can read the full interview here
When did you first start singing?
I don’t remember. Singing is part of my DNA. Both sides of my family are musically inclined. I had living-room training. That’s when you go in a living room and sing in front of everybody, and then everybody sings with each other.
Before you started making albums, you studied drama at a conservatory in New York. What led to that interest?
As great as Kansas and my family were, I wanted to leave after high school. I wanted to hone my craft, get better as a performer, and be involved with musical theater. But most importantly, I really just wanted a ticket out of Kansas City. I didn’t finish, but I learned a lot about myself. I grew up in predominantly African-American schools, so it was a culture shock for me when I moved to New York because I was the only black girl in my classes. I had to adjust, and people had to adjust to me. I also learned that I didn’t want to be in musical theater. I think it’s the control freak in me. I didn’t want to go from audition to audition and have my success be dependent on what I look like and whether or not I’m right for the role. So I started to plan for my future: to own my own label and write songs, plays, and concept albums that I could have full creative control over.
Your last album, The ArchAndroid, referenced Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and had a very sci-fi feel. How did you get so into science fiction?
I would always watch The Twilight Zone with my grandmother, and I knew about Star Wars and things. But when I met [my producing partners] Chuck Lightning and Nate Wonder, they got me into Isaac Asimov, artificial intelligence, and cybernetics. Chuck asked me to watch Metropolis, and I was like, Wow. I saw the parallels between growing up in Kansas City and the have-nots living underground, working for the haves. That constant struggle was something I could identify with because my parents worked day and night, trying to make a living. I thought science fiction was a great way of talking about the future. It doesn’t make people feel like you’re talking about things that are happening right now, so they don’t feel like you’re talking down to them. It gives the listener a different perspective.