Leading up to and following the release of Lemonade, the idea of a Beyoncé interview about what she’d created became an elusive desire. What you saw and heard was what you were going to get — and that was already an abundance. Solange, meanwhile, gave rather more interviews surrounding her 2016 release, the portrait of politicized vulnerability and black, female healing, A Seat at the Table. It’s kind of a lovely gesture, then, that one of the first candid talks with Beyoncé that we’ve gotten to read in a while — published today in Interview Magazine — was not about her own album, but rather a talk with Solange, about A Seat at the Table.
The full interview is long and fascinating (and is up on Interview). It sees Solange going deeper into the influences for her album — particularly her familial influences — than she might with any other interviewer. The conversation flows from their childhoods to their ways of grappling with people’s judgements of women exerting creative control — and particularly black women exerting creative control — to Solange’s meticulous, layered, production and visuals on the album, which of course tie into that last topic.
And the whole thing is — as many Interview interviews are — also an amusing glimpse at these very close (sisterly, even!) individuals trying to morph into the roles of interviewer/subject. Beyoncé makes note of that right toward the beginning, saying, “Well, it is a bit strange, because we’re sisters and we talk all the time, to be interviewing you.”
Solange explains that a major reason she wanted Beyoncé to interview her for the piece was because the album came from the desire to “unravel some truths and untruths,” which in turn led her to work through being “a better me and be a better mom to Julez and be a better wife and a better friend and a better sister.”
Solange explains to her sister, “The album really feels like storytelling for us all and our family and our lineage. And having mom and dad speak on the album, it felt right that, as a family, this closed the chapter of our stories. And my friends’ stories — every day, we’re texting about some of the micro-aggressions we experience, and that voice can be heard on the record, too.”
Beyoncé asks Solange about doing pretty much everything for the album — writing the lyrics, co-producing, writing the video treatments, choreographing the tours, etc., and asks where she gets the inspiration, to which Solange responds:
Growing up in a household with a master class such as yourself definitely didn’t hurt. And, as far back as I can remember, our mother always taught us to be in control of our voice and our bodies and our work, and she showed us that through her example…And I think it’s been an interesting thing to navigate, especially watching you do the same in all aspects of your work: Society labels that a control freak, an obsessive woman, or someone who has an inability to trust her team or to empower other people to do the work, which is completely untrue…I do have — and I’m unafraid to say it — a very distinctive, clear vision of how I want to present myself and my body and my voice and my perspective.
And in case you wanted further insight as to the origins of “Cranes in the Sky,” Solange says that the song was actually the only one that predated the idea for this album, and that she wrote it eight years ago, after the end of her relationship with Daniel Smith (with whom she’d been with since junior high, and who is the father of her son Julez), which led her into a tumultuous phase. “I think every woman in her twenties has been there,” she says, “where it feels like no matter what you are doing to fight through the thing that is holding you back, nothing can fill that void.”
She explains that the titular simile itself came from having written and recorded in Miami during the United States housing bubble, when she’d constantly look up and see, well, cranes in the sky:
They were so heavy and such an eyesore, and not what I identified with peace and refuge. I remember thinking of it as an analogy for my transition — this idea of building up, up, up that was going on in our country at the time, all of this excessive building, and not really dealing with what was in front of us. And we all know how that ended. That crashed and burned. It was a catastrophe. And that line came to me because it felt so indicative of what was going on in my life as well. And, eight years later, it’s really interesting that now, here we are again, not seeing what’s happening in our country, not wanting to put into perspective all of these ugly things that are staring us in the face.
Again, I’ll emphasize, read the full interview. It’s excellent.