By Bri Schmidt
New York-based singer and bassist Adeline is no stranger to the spotlight—previously the lead singer of the band Escort, she has performed at Afropunk, Coachella, and Montreal Jazz Fest. Rare Candy spoke with Adeline as she had lunch with friends in her native Paris to find out her views on women in the industry, the music scene across continents, and more about her self-titled solo album, which was released last November.
RARE CANDY: How do you think that growing up in Paris influenced you?
ADELINE: Oh, it’s interesting you ask that because I’m in Paris right now, and it all kind of makes sense again when I’m here after being gone for so long. I spent my whole life there from when I was born until I was 19 years old, so it hasn’t just influenced me, it shaped the person that I am. Even so, it was a mix between growing up here and becoming an adult in the US, so culturally I’m still essentially French. As a songwriter, I would say that some of my approach to words and writing is still sort of influenced by the French way of writing—you know, poetry and literature—where we take a little bit more freedom with words.
RC: You moved to New York right around the time that most people would call a person’s “coming of age.” What made you decide to do so?
A: Initially, I was just going to sort of check it out. I had a return ticket for two weeks after I got here and after 5 days, I decided to stay. What I was initially looking for was really who I was as an artist, really trying to find my sound and find my identity, more importantly. I was very influenced by American music. Most of the music I was listening to was created in New York, and I was kind of looking to develop my own sound. And I wanted to, not copy, but create my own interpretation of this music, but I didn’t really fully understand it, so I really needed new experiences for myself and for my art, of course. So I just kind of wanted to get better and meet people in the US and understand where the music that I love so much was coming from.
RC: You spent all of your time in the United States in New York, right?
RC: Did you notice a big difference in the music scene in New York versus Paris?
A: Actually, I couldn’t really tell you much about the music scene in Paris because I don’t live here and I’m not here enough to really get a good sense of what’s going on. But it’s interesting that you ask because I’m having lunch with a few friends, one of whom is an amazing singer and rapper and songwriter and we were actually having a whole conversation based around the differences between the music scene in France and in New York, so your question is perfectly timed because it’s at the heart of the conversation that I’m having during this lunch! *laughs* What they just explained to me is that there is a difference in the role of the government when it comes to helping artists in France; you get a lot of help from the government and they kind of subsidize your pay when you have up to a certain amount of jobs. It’s a very social country so it’s pretty amazing that musicians, basically from the moment they’re in the system as artists, are never completely starving. They’re never on their own to find gigs or starve. So it’s good, but in a way has its own problems. As my friends were just telling me, having some kind of cushion kind of creates a little bit less of a drive and hustle than we find in New York. In New York, especially as a musician just starting out, you have to do countless gigs,because if you’re not working then you’re not eating *laughs*. So because of that, it forces New Yorkers to practice more and push a little bit harder.
RC: So, what motivated you to release your new album as self-titled?
A: It was a combination of something that had been building and it being the right time, I think. I had wanted to make a solo album for a long time but then I was too afraid and full of doubt and I never felt like it was the right time, probably because I was giving myself excuses, let’s be honest. What changed it for me was the day that Prince passed away. I was his biggest fan and he influenced me so much; it had been my dream to collaborate with him. This was something that I was so sure would happen one day, and when he passed it was the realization for the first time in my life: “Well, that’s not gonna happen,” and that that dream was not going to be fulfilled. Getting this slap in the face made me face the reality that if I let more time go by, more dreams might possibly go by. I just had to kind of reassess where I was, what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to express personally as an artist. It just became the right time for me to release something. I was also spending less time singing and touring with Escort, so I had time on my hands as well as a bunch of money from a TV gig that I had on NBC, so that gave me a cushion and allowed me to pretty much fund my entire album on my own.
RC: Oh, wow!
A: Yeah, we don’t really talk about it enough, but it costs a lot of money to make art today, especially because we have such high demand for artists today—they have to have elaborate album covers, elaborate stylistic choices, elaborate production levels, and elaborate mixing and mastering. And none of that is free. I think I should talk about that more often because so little is really understood about how much artists invest in their own careers. That’s the long version of the first part of my answer—that it was the right time and I had the right tools at hand.
RC: For sure. I know that you produced this album yourself, right?
A: Yeah, I executive produced it and co-produced it with Morgan Wiley, who is a dear friend and an incredibly talented musician. Initially I was going to go for it by myself and asked him to play some keys because my keyboard skills weren’t super developed. *laughs* We tried to make a track together and it was sort of magic from the beginning, so we just ended making a whole record together.
RC: That’s great. I know that you’ve made waves recently by being able to have a hand in producing your own music and keeping everything you do extremely female-led, which can oftentimes be hard to do in the music industry. What advice do you have for young women looking to make their way up in the industry?
A: Thank you for asking that question, it’s so important to send a strong message to girls that they can succeed on their own in the business. At the time when I was rising up in the industry, it was the case (and it still is, sadly) that for a woman to be able to put any music out, the first thing that she has to do is look for somebody to produce her tracks. This is especially true when girls are singers, and not instrumentalists. Although, I do encourage women and everybody to play an instrument. But when I was younger it was never a question that, “Oh, the producer will be a guy,” you know? I never looked for a woman to produce my tracks. So, 1) your destiny is out of your hands because you’re not capable of producing your own music and 2) your destiny is in the hands of a man. So, when you’re younger and pretty (whatever pretty means) and you’re trying to be serious, you’re still completely relying on the choice of a man to produce you and develop your music. That has to stop; it opens the door to sexual harassment, women not being comfortable, and women being asked to do certain things in order to get music in return. I think the key solution is for girls to start making their own tracks. Get a computer and put out their ideas using Logic or whatever program they find and is accessible to them. It’s not easy, and it may take hours and hours, but with passion it will come. Then, what girls can do if they’re not super happy with the production level, is to get an engineer—just somebody to mix the songs and make them sound a little bit more authentic. That’s sort of the message I’m trying to convey; for girls to just take their destinies in their own hands as soon as possible.
RC: I agree. I know that some of your songs do take a more political stance, so how do you think that music can act as a political voice?
A: I think that there is a perception that, as artists, we have to talk about or spread our opinions, but we’re not politicians. We’re here to make people feel good. We’re here to pull on people’s emotions. Whatever it is that is true to us in the moment that we’re writing a song should be what we want to convey. So, I don’t think that we should necessarily talk about politics, we should be true to ourselves, and that was where I was mentally when I created my album because I started writing in 2016. We had the election in the United States, and I’m an immigrant black woman, so clearly I had a lot of things to say *laughs*. But with that said, I try, and I will try, to not make it overly political and not enforce my opinions—even though there are things that we should enforce, like that girls should be producing their own tracks. That’s something I don’t mind enforcing. But I still want the music to feel pleasant, and I still want the people to feel like they can listen to it at any time of the day, no matter what their mood is. It’s finding the right balance between spreading a positive message and still making feel-good music. For example, “Think” by Aretha Franklin, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, or “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. People know what these songs are about, and even though we don’t necessarily think about that first, the message is still being conveyed.
RC: I’ve heard your sound described as “nu-disco” and “funk”. What would you say to people who think that those genres are in the past, and that they’re not relevant to today’s music.
A: That’s a good question. I actually don’t describe my sound as disco, it’s kind of been put on me because I came out of the disco band Escort. I have admittedly said that there are disco sounds and disco directions in my music, but if I just have to pick one word, I like to say funk. But it’s just a choice of words because my music has components R&B, soul, and disco, but it’s overall funk. That’s what I like to say. It really is just a choice of what box you want to put it in, or what message you want to send. I’m proud that people use the term disco because it has such a negative connotation (which came out of an anti-gay movement), and I’d like to change that. So I embrace the label of disco *laughs.* But yeah, I don’t mind it being old, and funk and disco are genres that are found in soul music and dance music today, so it’s all part of the same big umbrella.
RC: Speaking of Escort, I know that before releasing this solo album, you were the lead singer of that band. So, what was the transition like from working in a band to working solo?
A: It was pretty liberating, I will say. Although I love working in collaboration. Even though this is my album, I still think of it as a collaboration since Morgan and I made most of the music together—even though I made the business decisions and the final touches. But it was a lot more pressure at first. I mean, at first, it was like, “Oh, I can do whatever I want!”, and it was fun in that way. And then I realized, “Oh, I can do whatever I want, but that means I have to know how to pick between this and that.” So there was a little bit more pressure knowing that the decision was mine, but I found a compromise in my mind, where I thought: “Ok, even though it’s scary that the decisions are all mine, at the end of the day, I will have no regrets because I will know that I did things my way and stayed true to myself.”
RC: Absolutely. I noticed on your album cover that you include the pronunciation of your name. Has that been a frequent problem for you, or what caused the decision to put that on your album cover?
A: Well, it’s interesting because the album was called something completely different until two weeks before it came out. *laughs*
RC: Oh, no way!
A: Believe it or not! I was going to call it Cafe au Lait, which is one of the songs on the album, but it just didn’t feel like it was really representative of the album because that song wasn’t a single. So from there, I was brainstorming with friends, and we just came to the conclusion that it would make sense to call it my name since it was a reaffirmation of myself as an artist and an introduction to myself as a solo artist for the first time. I included the spelling as sort of my personal compromise since it really bothers me that people call me Adeline with “line” pronounced as “line” and not Adeline with “line” pronounced as “lean”. That only happens in the US, and it’s not their fault, I really can’t be mad at anyone because it makes sense for someone whose first language is American English (I’m saying that because it doesn’t happen in England, oddly, people never say that). So, it’s just been mispronounced so many times that the decision was tongue-in-cheek and a way of affirming my identity. Putting it all on this album cover felt like the right way to market myself, and set the record straight that this is how we pronounce it, without being too aggressive about it. *laughs*
RC: Speaking more specifically now, I know that your song “Emeralds” speaks of a love that transcends materiality and riches. So many pop songs today glorify this type of wealth and spending, so why did you decide to take that opposite route?
A: Because that’s what I believe in! *laughs* I don’t believe in whatever songs are about something like “find a man with money.” I think that’s a way of taking a political stance since I also do believe that this is how we can help women. We need to create more jobs for them and to allow women to hold higher positions and to educate young girls to think differently in terms of not waiting for a Prince Charming in order to attain financial success. We need to let women know that they can do it on their own. We, as women, also have to accept that we have to be willing to fall in love with someone who doesn’t have money to bring to the table, so that means that someone may have to do it him or herself, and that’s ok because it’s better. That’s what I believe in.
RC: I agree completely. Also speaking of “Emeralds,” I noticed a kind of duality in the music video between these barren, industrial spaces and then the hall-of-mirror-type tiled room that you’re singing in. What was that creative process like? How did you decide to find that format for the video?
A: Well, I have to give that to the director, Hamadou Frédéric Baldé, who actually I’m having lunch with today. His vision was almost exactly that! There is a connection between what I’m talking about in the song which is just basically “I don’t need emeralds, and I don’t need all of that,” and putting me in a very bare, industrial, garage space. It makes me seem very regal without wearing much. Initially, I had the idea to be full of ornaments because I like to wear a lot, and since the song is called “Emeralds.” I was going to have so much jewelry and ornaments on and then take it off, but then Hamadou said, “I just want to show how a woman can be so regal on her own without wearing a lot and how beauty can transpire through a very bare and industrial background.” I’m glad that we were able to create that. Even in the scene with the mirrors, they’re just mirrors. It’s essentially a metaphor because I’m also completely naked, if you can’t tell. *laughs* That’s why we purposefully had my hair wet so that I can seem very raw, even in what seemed like a whole room of diamonds that were really just mirrors.
RC: So, to kind of round things out, is there any music that you’re listening to now that you think our readers should know about?
A: Yes! You know, there is so much good music out today! I have to say, when I talk about the timing of my solo record, I have to give it to a lot of these young, up-and-coming R&B and funk artists that are doing amazing stuff. They’re paving the way, and they empowered me to say, “You know what, I can do it too!” I love Daniel Caesar, Anderson .Paak, Ava Raiin, and Emily King—she’s absolutely beautiful. Denitia, who collaborated with me on the album, is an incredible songwriter and I absolutely love working with her so much. Madison McFerrin is up there by herself on stage with her loop pedals and giving you the best time of your life. These are all very strong women who are asserting themselves in the music industry on their own. Also, my friend here in Paris, Fly Johnson, who I’m trying to convince to move to the US. He beatboxes and sings and raps in French and English, and he deserves to be heard worldwide. So many great, great artists.