st. beauty makes the iridescent soul music we need right now
Alex Belle and Isis Valentino have found fans in Janelle Monáe and Issa Rae. As they release their debut EP, 'Running to the Sun,' the Atlanta natives discuss what it means to be free in 2018.
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A band is what you make it. St. Beauty — a.k.a. Alex Belle and Isis Valentino — is not a traditional multi-instrumentalist group. But it still delivers a sound that is both robust and diverse. Since meeting in 2012 while working at a vintage store in Atlanta, Alex, a singer-songwriter and tambourinist, and Isis, a singer-songwriter and guitarist, have sought to reinvent the artistic mediums they frequently indulge and mold them according to their personal styles. In doing so, the duo created a new genre which they refer to as “confetti music,” a contemporary remix of sensual soul music streaked with warped pop. Six years since the band first formed, they have released their debut EP, Running to the Sun, via Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records.
During the year it took them to record Running to the Sun, Alex and Isis were in and out of relationships, lost family members, and experienced the ups and downs that often accompany a budding new career. They speak to all this on the album. “Running to the Sun symbolizes us going to the light and leaving all the dark places we were in,” said Alex about the title’s meaning. “The sun also symbolizes a new day, something new. This project is a new phase for us.”
Despite St. Beauty facing adversity, every track on Running to the Sun encourages positivity, love, peace, and unity. The upbeat, dance track “Colors” is a testament to how quickly conflict can become celebration. In the song, the ladies sing of wanting to free themselves from the confines of others’ judgements and conditions, and willfully dance with their opponents as a commitment to peace. Without exactly knowing where their musical journey may take them, St. Beauty visualizes a future painted with iridescent streaks of color.
The duo spoke with i-D about their debut project and their next steps.
Who gave you the most valuable feedback during the album’s recording process?
Isis: It was kind of like leaving your parents’ house and you trying to figure everything out on your own. Our producer, Jon Jon Traxx, made us feel very comfortable in the studio so we were able to open up, try new things, explore, and figure out what our sound was. He challenged us. Even the times when we thought that our ideas were great and that a song was done, he’d be like, “no, you guys could do better.” Having someone challenge us was great feedback. Wondaland also helped us through our ups and downs. They let us have our growing pains.
I can hear 808s in “Not Discuss It.” Would you say that was influenced by the music you encounter in Atlanta?
Isis: “Not Discuss It” was probably one of the last songs we worked on for the project. The 808 was a sound we wanted to add because we wanted to make sure it was modern enough. And we wanted to make sure that we could be on playlists and that people could actually like our music and dance and move to it a certain way. Of course we're from Atlanta so I feel like that element just helps us circle back to our story. We still love the music that's made here, but we want to have our own twist to it.
“Colors” is another wildcard of the album. It’s more upbeat than what we’re use to hearing from you. What inspired that track?
Alex: we’re definitely planning to make more tracks like that in the future. We made it thinking about everything that's been going on in the world and how there's a lot of division happening and it's been like this for a while. Basically this song celebrates unity, and regardless of whether you feel like someone is trying to control you, it's important to always be brought together at the end of that day through love, and through dance, and other positive things. That’s what the song celebrates. Unity amongst people of all races.
What’s it like working and living with your best friend?
Isis: It has its ups and downs. It's like anyone you live with and work with — you’re just going to have some little things you have to deal with. It helps with understanding where each others’ heads are because when someone is in a different space it's kind of hard to link. I've known of certain collectives who are always together and they're always on the same page whether they are reading the same books, or listening to the same music.
How has “confetti music” evolved since you first coined the term?
Isis: I think it's always been a space of evolution. This is our first project and we were really trying to find out our initial sound and how we wanted to express ourselves. Since confetti means having a lot of different colors and emotions, and just different vibes, we feel like we can kind of do anything we want to do, so it's not like being stuck in a box. But I definitely want us to evolve from this project, and become better musicians, become better writers, and singers. I think it's always going to be evolving because we still can't place ourselves in a box.
Outside of music, what other artistic mediums are you interested in exploring?
Alex: I want to do everything. I want to have a clothing line, I would love to act. Definitely get into directing and doing more things like that. I love anything that has to do with entertainment. I love the visual aspect of things.
Isis: I think we both have the same interests, but I just want to be free and kind of just do what I want and that's really it. I've grown up just being creative. It's hard to pinpoint one or two things.
What does freedom mean to you?
Isis: Having no fear. Having the freedom of being black, having the freedom of being a black woman, being a black woman with natural hair, a black woman who does music. I think having that freedom is one of the elements that help St. Beauty be who we are. Even though there was a sense of fear leading up to the album’s release, I think whatever that feeling was we kind of overcame it and that's how we've been able to keep going.
What were some of those fears you had to overcome?
Alex: Failure, definitely. I just want us to get our point across and for people to really know who we are because I feel like for a long time people haven't truly know, who we are and they're not aware of what we can really do. I feel like once we're able to really share who we really are, for people to know us through our music, I think then we’ve reached success.