26 July 2019 (released)
26 July 2019
Meet Adeline: The Genre defying bassist is recontextualizing the texture and intersections of funk.
On an overcast Saturday morning in May I made my way through the thick Brooklyn traffic to sit down with critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter, DJ, bassist, and producer Adeline. Before I reached the stairs after ringing the intercom, a gentle “hello,” echoes a few flights above me. You can hear the joy reverberating in her voice. Adeline loves talking music and what better way to spend a fog-filled morning. She, and husband Sinclair Bolden greet me at the door with jovial smiles, in a way that only a Scorpio, Taurus pairing could. The windows were decorated with raindrops from an earlier storm. The forecast hadn’t completely given way to spring yet. Adeline prepared a small plate of breakfast and a freshly brewed cup of coffee before getting situated across the wooden dining table where our interview would take place.
The French-Carribean afro-futuristic star is riding an exhilarating wave following the 2018 release of her debut album [ad•uh•leen]. The former lead singer for Escort and certified Afropunk alum has an unforgettable stage presence and powerful vocals that float effortlessly over stretches of rhythmic bass. She has emerged as a sagacious solo artist with great depth and ingenuity.
When did you start singing and playing music? What was your first instrument?
Adeline: I started singing when I was about 3 or 4 years old. I have 3 older siblings and we all sing, that’s how we expressed ourselves. We were singing, putting on shows, performing, and harmonizing together and then I joined the choir that my brother was in when I was 5. From there, I was singing semi-professionally and through my whole childhood we toured and did a lot of TV related work. At that time, we were singing – I played some piano and danced a lot too.
When I started writing songs, I wanted to get a guitar, my older brother plays guitar, so when I was about 16 years old, I got a guitar and just kind of taught myself to write songs and started getting serious about my craft. I moved to New York in 2004 and accidently started playing bass – it was a beautiful accident. I didn’t have any family here, I came by myself, but I felt that New York was a bit closer to home in certain ways. I graduated from high school and then went to college for one semester and decided to leave and pursue music. I grew up in the hood right outside of Paris in the suburbs, I'm very proud of where I’m from.
Tell me more about this “beautiful accident.”
Adeline: I had a band called The Crowd before I was in Escort that was actually my first group when I moved to New York. It was kind of like a new Fugees type of direction – a hip-hop, soul feel, and we all played instruments, sang, and the guys rapped. I was playing guitar and we had a show. We hired a drummer and a bass player. The bass player canceled the day of the rehearsal and the band suggested that I play the bass. That’s how I started playing, and I touched the instrument and that was it, my life changed, I fell in love. It's very difficult to switch from guitar to bass but I was so passionate. I didn't talk to people for a year because I was practicing. I didn't go anywhere and just stayed home and played.
When did you start DJing?
Adeline: I started DJing about 2 or 3 years ago because with Escort we would also get hired as DJ’s. The booking agent was adamant about the fact that people wanted to see me play. It’s also a way of making money through music, developing another craft and that's how it started.
Who are some of your influences?
Adeline: Prince and Chaka Khan are like my musical parents and everybody else is like aunties. Curtis Mayfield is like my musical godfather, he has a huge influence on my music. I love Sly and the Family Stone and P-Funk as well. For the album, things came out and I thought wow I didn’t know I was that influenced by OutKast, I love everything about them. In terms of modern production, I love Little Dragon and Nile Rodgers and Chic.
I grew up singing Aretha Franklin, Chaka, and Patti LaBelle, I love them. I had a really deep Mariah Carey phase when I was about 10 years old until age 15 and it really taught me so much about harmonizing and even songwriting. She’s a genius. I feel like Aretha and Chaka were more fitting for my voice.
Things really seemed to take off for you after Afropunk. What has your experience been like thus far as a solo artist?
Adeline: With Afropunk, I think I made a statement and I was very happy about that – it was a moment. I'm glad you brought that up. You're very intuitive, because it was like I broke the shell, and it's been such a transitional time in my life the last two years because I left Escort, I'm not in the band anymore. It's totally different, I like having a solo career. I'm a grown woman, I write my songs, I make my tracks, but I think part of my personality is… I'm not a loner and I believe the beauty of music is collaboration.
What makes music special is that you make people feel something, and when that happens you also feel a connection to the people when you create the music, and the more of that kind of an exchange that happens the better the music, I think. So, it's a solo project, but I'm still learning that about myself, that I’m a community person and my band is like my family. I don't want to play this music without them. I make the decisions now and I think I've graduated to a grown ass businesswoman. I wake up, I have my coffee, and I'm on my computer because it's a lot of business happening, but I love it. I really love it because I’m in control of my life. I'm a woman and I'm in control of my own destiny.
What message do you want to convey to your audience?
Adeline: With my self-titled album, I wasn't in a special place when I wrote it. It was me emancipating out of a band and this was all happening in the middle of the elections in the United States. Being a Black immigrant woman in America, I just had so much anger in me about the way that the elections were going and the outcome. There's something about the timing of things that probably also pushed me to do things my way because I just had so much to express that kind of felt bottled up. I want to change the music industry. For example, I think what’s happening in Hollywood with having more women directors is going to change the fact that women get harassed at work or are forced to sleep with someone to get a role. The music industry is exactly the same and things need to change.
My husband asked me this question one time – “how many women in the industry produce music?” All the men call the shots. And it's amazing that many people don’t realize that. You don't have to be a man to produce a track. I’ve been grinding in New York for so long and we're conditioned to think the way I was going about things was okay. I initially felt like I had to find a producer for my music. Guys hit on me, tried to sleep with me, but I didn’t fall into that trap. I want to empower women to pick up an instrument, even if it’s not for performance and make your own tracks. I want to encourage them and let them know that they don't have to rely on their looks or wait around for a man to produce their music.
I co-produced my debut album with Morgan Wiley, who's from the band Midnight Magic, which is a sister band of Escort. I hit him up because I'd done 5 tracks already, and I wanted him to play keys on some of them and we ended up collaborating, and through that collaboration we made the whole album together. But with him it wasn't even a question of male or female, there was no ego involved at all. He's like the most open person and there was just a collaboration and I'm the executive producer. It was so amazing, but it was never a battle of ideas. It was just a smooth flow and exchange of ideas and it's actually hard to find men that are capable of collaborating with a woman on that level. My bandmates too, I'm just blessed. So, part of the message is we don’t have to exclude men, we can create a space for collaboration and equality.
To your point, we need men to do the work and hold space for women and advocate against racism, patriarchy, sexism, sexual harassment, misogyny, and inequity. We also need men who perpetuate toxic masculinity and oppression to seek help and understand that they are responsible for their own healing. We need companies, including record labels and venues, to cultivate safe inclusive spaces and healthy work environments for women and create more opportunities for women – particularly, Black women and women of color.
Tell me more about your band.
Adeline: I’m so lucky that through this transition I found 3 bandmates that elevate me. The drummer is also from Escort. We’ve played together for about six years and as a bass player when you have a close connection with the drummer you don't really want to mess with that. We play well together and it's about – do I want to be with this person on the road for days, and I already know that I can. I met Morgan Wiley through that whole Escort family, we were part of a side project together. Morgan introduced me to our guitar player Jaleel Bunton. People around the world love our music. We were in DC and these girls were singing my songs and I was like wow, because it was so personal.
All the songs on the album are about things that are so deep and some of them secret and other things are more candid. The positive thing that I got out of touring in February was confirmation that I found my band and that's important for me. Prince, Bruce Springsteen, E Street – their bands were important to them. As musicians, we don’t want to make music by ourselves and the fact that I found my band already, it's incredible. It works and it's magical, we get along, we laugh so hard, and we can spend hours together, that's huge for me.
A lot of people classify your music as nu-disco. To me, you’re creating music that crosses genres and it’s quite phenomenal.
Adeline: I'm glad you see that. What I was trying to do, and I think besides what the lyrics are about and where I was mentally – musically I was also looking for myself, looking for my sound. That's why the album is 14 tracks and it's all these ideas and all these things that I love because I have the freedom to do whatever I want musically right now. There’s all these different textures and approaches because it's all soul music to me, it’s all funk, you know.
Disco comes from funk and soul music as you know. The first big disco record was Off the Wall by Michael Jackson. Majority of Escort's audience is white and I was like, what is going on here? Like, okay, Black people have moved because we create things and then we move on and we make something else amazing. I was conflicted with this, thinking – my audience is not reflecting my circle of people and that's totally okay because I make music for everyone, but in my mind I just kind of wanted to bring everyone back together and just show Black people and people of color that are into hip-hop and R&B that disco isn't that far off. The reason why disco was ostracized was an anti-gay thing, and I'm not going to be okay with that. I thought, let's just show everyone that it's all just one thing and I think I've kind of managed to do that in a way. I'm not trying to do disco necessarily. I just want to be able to play bass and dance but sometimes I want to take things slower and sing ballads.
The tracks on the album seem methodical and interlaced. In Echo, you mention Work of Art in a verse and that happens to be the title of the next record. Was that intentional?
Adeline: Yes, totally, and it's part of that same mentality to trail it all back together. Work of Art has the same chords as Emeralds, that’s how it begins, with the same sync pad and chords. Basically, Morgan had the texture, he wrote the progression and we actually did Emeralds first. Emeralds started from that chord progression. He had a loop and we built the song from that. I told Morgan, we should turn this into a slow song and we wrote the intro for Work of Art later. Initially, there were no words and then the words just came.
How long did it take to complete the album?
Adeline: I had 4 - 5 songs already, some were finished, some weren’t. I felt like there was something missing. I remember the first session with Morgan, because that's when I said I'm going to make an album, and that was January 12, 2017. So, we started in January and in June all the songs were written. My deadline was my birthday, May 17th. So, I remember starting in January and feeling compelled to have all the songs written by my birthday. We started mixing in the summer, so the album was completely done in September 2018.
If you had to choose your favorite song off the album, which song would it be?
Adeline: That's hard, I think it's Emeralds, that's the one that's the most unique I think, and that's the one that combines all the things that I love. It’s the right mix.
How would you define your sound?
Adeline: Funk, because funk is in everything. What I look for in music is different textures. I loved making the album. I found myself. I think the last aspect of me that I hadn't completely developed was writing and producing, because I hadn't pushed myself in that way. So that was very introspective and selfish in the right way. My rule with the album was to make something that I liked, to just be true to myself, and not try to over analyze what other people were going to think about it.
What kind of emotions did you experience through the process of making the album?
Adeline: A lot of vulnerability, you know. Just learning to be vulnerable and trying to connect. I was really able to tune into this side of my spirit that was fully connected and flowing, and that's why the process happened so fast, and why I wrote the music as if it were one long song, because that’s how it felt. Though, every song is uniquely different, it's kind of the story of my life. That's why there's not that many love songs on it. Looking back, I'm making new music every day and what I'm writing and how I'm writing now is different, I’m writing more love songs and telling different stories.
The album was my autobiography, because I've spent all these years with bands and I've been doing music my whole life, and I felt if I waited that long to do a solo project, it was going to be the story of my life. So, it's like a movie. This is who I am and all the aspects of me as a person and an artist are represented.
Adeline completed her recent tour which included a residency at C’mon Everybody in Brooklyn in May. She enjoyed travelling to Japan and playing at the Blue Note in Tokyo. She also played alongside 5-time GRAMMY award-winner CeeLo Green, Brittani Washington, Tracyan Martin and DJ Rashida in Munich, Germany. Following her return to the U.S. she rocked Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles and ended the month May with a sold-out show at the Funk on the Rocks Festival in Colorado.
Adeline: We played in an amazing line-up with Chromeo, Thievery Corporation, and Big Freedia. Chromeo reached out to me and told me that they love my music and that meant a lot to me. Miley Cyrus also reached out to me to tell me that she loves my music and I would love to tour with her as well.
What’s next for you?
Adeline: I definitely look forward to touring more. I have about 6 - 7 new songs and we’re planning to release a single every month during the summer, so there's a single that’s coming out this month [Top Down] and I’m featured on a new single [Change Your Mind] with Luxxury. I also have a show in Brooklyn, NY at Industry City on August 9th with Natalie Prass.
Adeline’s self-titled debut album and recently released singles are available via Apple Music, Amazon Music, TIDAL, YouTube Music, Spotify, and more.
The lead single Before, is a soulful invocation of funk. The album also features the heavily charged Illusions, while Come & Go prevails as a sweltering free-spirited ballad with vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist Denitia, who doubles down on the seductive inclination of the track. Emeralds, sets the pace for the album with an intoxicating and spellbinding whirlwind of experimentation. By and large, the album is an audacious declaration of ferocity and finesse embroidered with hypnotic rhythmic accompaniments.
Co-written and co-produced with Morgan Whiley who played the keyboard alongside Adeline on bass, Jim Orso on drums, and Jaleel Buntun on guitar, the collective work is a bold, harmonious journey scaled with sensuality, multi-genre inflections, and accentuations that challenge musical boundaries. Mixed by Abe Seiferth and mastered by Heba Kadry, Adeline's rhythmic range on the album is breathtaking and impressive.
By all measures, [ad•uh•leen] and her recently released singles prove that the artist’s creativity and reach will only continue to expand as she ascends to new and uncharted enclaves.