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.”
With 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.
“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.