St. Beauty, the musical duo consisting of vocalist/tambourine player Alex Belle and vocalist/guitarist Isis Valentino, refer to their sound as “confetti.” The Atlanta born-and-raised act signed to entertainer Janelle Monáe’s Wondaland Arts Society imprint smoothly whisks together honest lyrics and pure emotion over equal proportions of soul, funk, R&B, industrial pop and folk.
Belle, wearing a mini-Afro and two-piece sherbet-orange ensemble, and Valentino, sporting a curly Afro, rainbow camisole and blue skirt, style their sonics and infectious vocal arrangements up in glamorous, bicentennial consignment store chic. The standout songs they’ve delivered in their burgeoning career thus far include “Borders,” which opens with nocturnal howls and chants before seguing into cruising guitar licks and crackling snares. St. Beauty joins singer BOSCO on “Castles,” a piano-saturated track that settles into drooping hip-hop rhythms. The sultry, bass-heavy “Holographic Lover” was featured on the HBO comedy Insecure, while “Going Nowhere” is Prince-flavored swampy funk.
Despite scorching temperatures smothering the mod East Atlanta Village neighborhood, taking center stage recently at the Neighborhood Flavor block party—sponsored by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey brand—reminds the delightful, almond-toned performers of their first showcase in 2012 in the basement of the College Park vintage clothing store where they worked and originally connected with each other.
The triumphant moment on the Neighborhood Flavor stage additionally reminds St. Beauty of some great opportunities they’ve gained: absorbing life lessons from their multi-talented mentee, performing at the Afropunk Festival last year, becoming spokespeople for Pantene hair care products, turning Issa Rae into a fan of their music, and serving as one of the many new faces taking over the Atlanta music scene.
On headlining Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Neighborhood Flavor:
Alex Belle: Jack Daniel’s really wanted to connect with us to show everyone who we are as artists but also where we’re from. We’re from Atlanta, Georgia. It sets the foundation for who we are as artists and as people. It’s been an amazing opportunity.
On being from Atlanta:
Isis Valentino: Where you come from really makes you who you become. Living here, being born here and growing up here, you see the changes and you do see all of the Organized Noizes, the OutKasts, the TLCs, whatever. It makes you want to be great and just as innovative. It’s very inspiring being here just walking around the streets and knowing certain people performed here and there. That’s Headland and Delowe; I lived right around there in College Park. To see that and know where people come from. Atlanta has been a city where it’s been very community-oriented, especially with artists. You don’t feel like you have to be anybody else; Atlanta is the shit, so you’re so happy to be from here.
AB: We adapt to the change as well. Trap music is changing. It’s progressing, but we love to put those elements in our music, while also staying true to who we are and our artistry. We love being from Atlanta; it’s one amazing place.
On balancing ideas and collaborating in the creative process:
IV: We respect each other’s strengths, try to really make sure we also bring things that we may be insecure about and try to become better. We have that synergy. We have that connection. When we first met, we actually started making music during our practice. And since then, we know Alex is amazing at lyrics; I’m still working on lyrics. Alex has an amazing voice, so we know what kind of songs to place Alex on. I know where I’m good at, and we just kinda collab that way. But we both have our hands in everything. I don’t know. It’s really hard to explain how the pieces get connected.
On the inspiration behind their nostalgic look and essence:
AB: There are so many different things that inspire us as artists. It’s not only what we see, but it’s how we feel, experiences that we go through, it’s colors, clouds. It could be anything. We’re also inspired by other artists that came before us. There’s Nina Simone, Audrey Hepburn, there’s….
IV: Diana Ross.
AB: There’s so many beautiful, amazing artists, but we also like to be ourselves.
On Janelle Monáe as a mentor and leader:
IV: It’s really important that she’s taking artists that live in the city and seeing the community that’s around them, how we get along with other artists and how we started out becoming the artists that we are. Janelle has lived here, and that gave us the opportunity to meet someone of her caliber. So us doing our shows in the basement, the word getting around, them [Wondaland] coming to our shows and seeing what magic is happening. That’s how it happened. We’re grateful for that.
AB: It’s beautiful. For me to see someone come out of hardships, really be inspired by that and strengthen your muscle is a beautiful thing. Janelle embodies that. She’s very strong. She’s a boss!
IV: The culture within Wondaland is you never stop learning. Keeping your mind stimulated is a real thing. It’s a blessing to be around smart people.
On their music being featured on HBO’s Insecure and making a fan out of Issa Rae:
AB: Honestly, I’m honored.
IV: Yeah. For sure.
AB: These people are amazing, and to call them our peers is an amazing thing.
IV: I remember her show on YouTube.
AB: I know.
AB & IV (in unison): Awkward Black Girl.
AB: We’re awkward black women, so it just correlated together with her show on HBO.
IV: That’s big!
AB: I know! And she’s herself. That’s amazing to look up to. For us to look up to her in that way.
On being brand ambassadors for Pantene hair care:
IV: The whole campaign is about being strong and beautiful. We consider ourselves strong women who are from Atlanta, and we’re grateful that they came to us to be a part of this and to show off our natural hair. We don’t try to be anything that we’re not. It’s important to see that. Our hair is very strong. That’s just who we are as people of color, and we’re grateful for that.
On the coolest experience they’ve had so far as performers:
AB: Going on tour with The Internet
IV: Oh yeah! Yeah for sure.
AB: That was a really cool experience because they’re artists we already love.
IV: We were definitely big fans. It wasn’t like we were on tour with our crew. It was like going into new water, no one knows who you are. You’re just an opener.
AB: It felt good to see the response and knowing that we have an hour to change people’s minds whether they didn’t know who we were. Not getting claps before we got on but then once we performed, we knew we were doing the right thing.
On seeing Prince’s last live show in Atlanta courtesy of Janelle Monáe:
AB & IV (in unison): That was incredible.
AB: I’m speechless. That being his very last show and we were able to see it was amazing.
On their all-time favorite albums:
AB: Ah, man. That’s a hard question right now.
IV: I love all Stevie Wonder albums.
AB: I love Nina Simone, Sade.
IV: I love the Bee Gees actually. I think they’re amazing.
AB & IV (in unison): There’s so many people; that’s a really hard question.
AB: We’re too far in time to have only five albums. I can see if it was the 1950s with few albums, but right now, that’s tough.