People Who Are Addicted To Music
Wondaland smells like sugar cookies. No one is baking in the towering Atlanta home, though there is a delicate spread of dip and crudites arranged on the kitchen counter, next to a jug of a fruity cocktail known as Wondapunch. But the cookie scent is both mouth-watering and pervasive: It’s being pumped through the AC, augmented by scented candles in every room, and seems meant to relax everyone who steps across the threshold. It gives an olfactory depth to a place already set up to foster ideation: the theme-roomed studio/playhouse in a tony area of Atlanta, where soul-funk cyborg-goddess Janelle Monáe records all of her music.
Wondaland is HQ for Monáe’s label and music community, known as the Wondaland Arts Society, a self-described “transmedia manufacturing company and mystery school” with the stated goal of building and destroying 10 art movements in 10 years. There is a studio in the basement decorated with albums from Jimi Hendrix and Earth, Wind & Fire, equipped with a coterie of instruments and state-of-the-art production equipment. The “jungle room” is a mirrored practice space with even more instruments, where Monáe practices her live show with her band amid a mini tropical forest of potted trees and shrubs. And it was in the “Occupy Wondaland” room, inside a tall white teepee next to the wall clock-dotted foyer, where Monáe wrote a good chunk of her forthcoming album, The Electric Lady (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy/Atlantic). Due in September, it’s her first in three years.
“We took our time to work on it,” says Monáe, perched on a stool in her studio, the lights dim. “We felt a shift in the world … a shift in our music and freedom, with life and politics and where we are as a society. Every time is not always the right time for you to come out with something. You just get a feeling [when the time is right]. We call that listening to our ‘soul clock.’ As you can see, we got about 60 clocks up there [in the foyer] that we look at as inspiration. That tells us to listen to our soul clock, because we’re giving you 60 different times up there: You really have to go with your compass.”
As a singer, songwriter, producer, performer and fashion plate, Monáe is one of the most unique mainstream musicians America has seen in years, and “The Electric Lady” — co-produced with two of Wondaland’s artists, psych-punk act Deep Cotton and soul composer Roman GianArthur — underscores that her personal compass is worth trusting. On April 23 she released lead single “Q.U.E.E.N.,” a freaky funk jam with Erykah Badu, with the accompanying video garnering more than 4 million YouTube views in a week. (The track has sold 31,000 copies, according to Nielson SoundScan.) No small feat for a clip that promotes guerrilla art, critiques institution, advocates self-love and features coded language from the vogue scene (“ooh, she’s serving face”) in the first bar, before ending with a pro-equality rap referencing sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. There’s always something deeper going on in a Monáe song.