Last summer, when Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed up at Grizzly Bear’s Williamsburg Waterfront concert, a gasp rang through the indie-rock community. Then Jay kept talking up the “incredible” Grizzly Bear and Beyoncé said she “would love” to work with Of Montreal, and but what how? Eventually, interviews with pop music’s first couple revealed it was Solange — Beyoncé’s 23-year-old, neo-soul-singing younger sister — who was responsible for putting the power duo onto the Pitchfork beat.
Calling in from an L.A. studio session with Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes (sorry, B., your sis got there first), the bubbly Solange giggles her way into an explanation: “We are obviously in the same places together, and I’m kind of a stereo hog, so it’s not like a necessarily planned-out introduction, but I’ll just play music in the car, or around the house. I’ll annoyingly take over everyone’s radio. There are times when they’re like, ‘Hey, who’s that?’ And then sometimes they’re like, ‘Cut that shit off.’ But I’ve had a pretty good success rate.”
Also not necessarily planned out? The way in which this freshly uncovered indie-rock association has dramatically boosted her stock. Solange has quietly released two solo albums: a generic radio-targeting debut, Solo Star, from 2003, and a more adventurous (Boards of Canada samples!) 2008 follow-up, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. But her biggest splash has come with a cover of Dirty Projectors' “Stillness Is the Move,” recorded on a whim and premiered on Pitchfork in November. “I actually ran into [Dirty Projector’s] Angel [Deradoorian] at a diner with some friends of mine and I told her that I was gonna cover it. She was like, 'Where is it?' I had no intention of putting it out, but after it circulated through friends everyone was like, ‘You’re insane if you don’t do something with this.’ So I did something with it.”
Solange’s version accentuates the original’s R&B leanings, lacing the guitar lick from Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive” (itself interpolated from Soul Mann & the Brothers' cover of of Isaac Hayes's "Bumpy's Lament") underneath her sterling vocal performance. The response was swift: a small avalanche of Twitter kudos and slobbering blog posts, seemingly rebranding Solange from “pop marginalia” to “fascinating, genre-busting musician to watch.” “I got a gang of e-mails,” Solange says. “I sent it to one friend, who sent it to [Grizzly Bear’s] Chris Taylor, and he sent it to some of my friends in Chairlift, and one of my friends in Chairlift sent it to one of the guys in Dirty Projectors, and one of the guys in Dirty Projectors somehow sent it to” — she takes a pause, then yelps — “Bjöööööörk. And if you write that, you have to make it sing like I just did. And a good friend of mine, [designer] Jeremy Scott, sent me a message saying that Björk sent it to him. So I pretty much did cartwheels for ten hours straight.”
Just as quickly came the disapproval from Universal, the label Solange had officially left just a month earlier, which asked Pitchfork to take down the unauthorized release. Solange shot back on Twitter (“So fucking crazy universal has been taking down a COVER that I'm NOT selling or trying to publish. Never heard of that shit in my life!”) and the experience further soured her to majors. She’s planning on fully completing her third album before talking to (independent) labels, and she’s getting lots of help. “On my last album I had to beg the Cee-Los and the Bilals and the Pharrells to work with me,” she says, “and now I have all these great people actually call me. But I know to have the best album that I can possibly have, I’d like to choose one producer. Right now I’m in the process of who’s the best fit, musically wise. And I’m planning on renting this tree house in Costa Rica and locking myself up and finishing it.”
So, what will it sound like? “You have Vampire Weekend who have more African references musically than most African-American artists,” Solange says, by way of explanation. “As soon as I heard the Dirty Projectors song, it sounded like an R&B song. That happens when I listen to Of Montreal — I can hear so much funk shit that I grew up listening to There’s so many different musical references in everything now that it just makes sense to take advantage of this moment.” She adds, laughing, “The white kids aren’t going to jack our style anymore! We’re taking it back!”
In February, Solange performed live with Dirty Projectors for the first time, at an Ace Hotel party populated by all manner of cool people (Spike Jonze, Jason Schwartzman, Terry Richardson, Donald Glover, Michael Stipe ). They did Solange’s version of “Stillness Is the Move,” with Dave Longstreth head-bopping while playing the “Bumpy’s Lament” riff, then segued into Groove Theory’s 1995 hit “Tell Me” (Solange’s pick). She had only practiced with the band once, a few hours earlier in her hotel suite, and says she stumbled over her cue: “I was supposed to come out way later, but I couldn’t hear shit. It was awkward. I just started dancing.” The crowd certainly couldn’t tell, roaring their approval for the surprise guest spot. (Justin Theroux seemed to be particularly into it.) Afterward, Solange D.J.’d the rest of the event, then continued the party upstairs in her room along with Dirty Projectors. “They rocked with me all night long. We had a hotel party, up till six in the morning. They had to shut us down because we were singing SWV way too loud.”