Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mathew Knowles Sister 2 Sister Magazine interview

Mathew Knowles on Wife Tina, Daughters Beyonce and Solange and Music World

I 'd just taken a plane to Houston and arrived at Music World, the company that headquarters the huge music enterprise that Mathew and Tina Knowles built around the development of Destiny's Child and then the solo careers of members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the Knowles daughters Beyonce and Solange, and a host of R&B, gospel and even country musci artists. There I was, sitting in the lobby thumbing through magazines, waiting for Mathew. All of a sudden this long, tall drink of water hurriedly came through the door, said hi, and immediately started walking us around, showing us the building. He introduced us to the staff, the interns, the kitchen help, the limo driver...(just kidding about the driver). It was like a whirlwind. But get this: My tape recorder was still in my suitcase.

What the heck? I had to run back to the lobby to collect it, then follow behind Mathew as he made big strides and large gestures while talking about the empire he and his family have built. He's proud, as he should be.

The interview went all over the place, from feeding the homeless to how he learned the business to how he met Miss Tina to nurturing Beyonce, Solange and Destiny's Child to his skills in basketball to the effects of downloading on the music industry. And, most important, to his business and who he is. He's learned to withstand public scrutiny while continuing to be a success.

There are no pictures shown here of the multimillion dollar complex that houses Music World, or of the beautiful and talented people who work there or of the apartment building he’s built for the homeless. (Yes, the homeless have an apartment building, thanks to Music World.) And, of course, no peeking too deeply into his current personal life. Mathew and I have had our ups and downs over the years. We’ve been at war at times, but the mutual love and respect has always been there.

This is Mathew’s 19th year in the entertainment business and Sister 2 Sister’s 22nd. It’s a good time to reflect and celebrate.

Jamie: The Music World campus is impressive.
Mathew: Thank you. We have four offices. Here in Houston is the Music World corporate office. In New York I work out of my Music World Sony office. We also share a floor with Beyond Productions, which is the parent company for Miss Tina, which is exclusively at Walmart, and Dereon and House of Dereon. On another floor, Beyonce has her film company, Parkwood Pictures. In L.A., we have an office where we have our business affairs, licensing and A&R.

Jamie: How large is your staff here?
Mathew: We have a full-time staff of over 26 people in Houston, New York, L.A. and London. Under the Music World umbrella we have artist management and labels --Music World Music, Music World Gospel, the country label Compadre and our joint venture Music World/Columbia. Music World Gospel is where our growth is. We just signed Juanita Bynum and Micah Stampley. Over the last year, Brian Courtney Wilson has been setting records on the charts: His CD was at #1 on the Christian Music Trade Association charts for over 40 weeks and top 15 on Billboard’s Gospel Chart for over 63 weeks. There’s a new album coming from Trin-i-tee 5:7. They’re in the studio right now.

Jamie: Who does the country music?
Mathew: We work with the artists to bring in a final product. We bought a label and it already had five frontline artists and 50 catalog pieces. A few of our country titles are with Trent Wilmon, Billy Jo Shaver, James McMurty, and a Johny Cash remix album, to name a few. That’s Compadre Records.

Jamie: What else do you have happening on the Music World campus?
Mathew: We’re always doing something in the neighborhood. We had the official NBA All-Star party here at the House of Dereon Media Center. We’ve had as many as 1,700 people in here for events. Just a block away from the Music World campus at our church, St John’s, we feed 6,000 homeless people each month. Our mission is to help those that are emotionally and spiritually empty. We start with the church and then the bread of life – if you’re on the street and you need a place to stay for the night or you need medical attention or a meal. We end with the Knowles Temenos Place, which is an apart-

ment complex for “transitioning.” We help people to get back in society and become stable.

Jamie: Has Beyonce made any of her records here?
Mathew: Yes, some of her songs: lots of Destiny’s Child – Kelly, Michelle, almost all of Solange’s last album. Right now Tiffany Evans is working on her new album here. Fans, hopefully, are going to fall in love with her all over again. She’s something special. Most of the Music World Gospel records are made here at the Music World studios.

Jamie: Do you ever write music, Mathew?
Mathew: I co-wrote “Survivor.”

Jamie: Do you know how to dance?
Mathew: Hell yeah, I know how to dance! (laughter)

(Walking into a classroom full of Music World interns)

One of things we talk about often in this room is intellectual property. They didn’t understand intellectual property and the concept of illegal downloading. (To help them understand,) I share my experience of growing up in Gadsden, Alabama, in elementary school when the teachers would come in with these 8-mm movies and they would be about “do not throw trash out the window! You’re damaging our country and the environment!” So, as a kid in elementary school and in junior high, I would think before I would throw something out the window.

But we don’t do that in the music industry. So, to that 10-year-old or 11-year-old, when you say “intellectual property,” a: they can’t pronounce it and b: they have no idea what it means. We haven’t done a good job of just saying clearly that downloading music without paying for it is the same as going to Walmart, getting a bag of chips and stealing it, or going to the gas station, filling up and leaving without paying. The difference is you will get arrested if you went to a service station and did that.

We’re looking at over 71,000 jobs lost a year and over $12 billion worldwide lost because of illegal downloading. That’s a significant amount of revenue. We haven’t done a good enough job in the music industry to lobby in D.C. to let Congress understand the devastation of this industry.

Jamie: Does touring increase record sales?
Mathew: It has certainly helped to increase the sales of records. Over the last 15 years in the industry, we’ve worked primarily with two promoters: Al Haymon, one of the few African-American promoters, who is now with Live Nation, and Rob Hallett, who is now the president of AEG International.

Jamie: When you work with a major promoter like that, aren’t a lot of costs built in?
Mathew: There is a comprehensive budget that has to be put together with each artist, and that determines the ticket prices and venue.

Jamie: How did you learn to do that?
Mathew: I have a degree in economics and one in business administration. On my first tour, I humbled myself and went to Al Haymon and Rob Hallett and said, “ I want to learn everything I can. Would you answer all these crazy questions I’m about to ask?” The second tour, I asked. The third tour, I asked, until it finally started making a lot of sense to me.

Jamie: I didn’t know you were an econ and math major.
Mathew: No, econ and business administration, from Fisk. I transferred from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on a basketball scholarship. At Fisk, when I went in 1972, one of the most unpopular things was to be an athlete. You weren’t cool because you were a basketball or football player; you were cool if you were smart. (laughter) And if you were smart and had swagger, you were really cool.

Jamie: Things have changed so much in college today.
Mathew: You know, I taught at Texas Southern University last semester. And I taught at Fisk the semester before. And I’m teaching again this semester at Texas Southern.

Jamie: Why are you interested in gospel?
Mathew: Good question. I initially got into the gospel industry when Michelle Williams determined that her solo career would be in gospel. We have since built the Music World Gospel label with the intention of spreading the Word to the masses.

Jamie: (looking at more than 50 awards in a case) My gosh, do you have enough of them?
Mathew: (laughs) Just recently Beyonce wanted her 16 Grammys to put in her last video, “Why Don’t You Love Me.” Solange was one of the writers of the song, too.

Jamie: Beyonce was the director?
Mathew: Yeah. She was co-director. The concept was Beyonce’s idea, and her film company produced it. She directed and produced it. She directed and produced her new DVD, Beyonce…I Am, which will be released this month. I predict that film will be her next area where she really will make an impact.

Jamie: Does it surprise you that your daughters are so talented?
Mathew: First of all, I’m grateful because having two great kids is a blessing. Solange’s last album was a success and she’s evolving into finding her own independence as a true artist. She’s always remained true to herself as a very talented singer and songwriter. Solange has an independent edge. I think her new music reflects that. The success she’s having as a legitimate DJ and with some recent guest appearances and collaborations with credible indie artists says that she is on point and clear about who she is as an artist. She’s just finishing her new album, and I think her fans are going to be pleasantly surprised at this new vibe.

Jamie: Where did Beyonce get all of that talent? Tina doesn’t sing, does she?
Mathew: Tina was in this girl group out of Galveston, Texas. Back in our day, what we did for fun was find the music showcases. Tina was in this girl group called The Velvetones. There were three of them. But then, at one of the showcases, they got to the finals and people in the record industry were coming to see them. Typical story: The night before, one of the girls’ mother told her she couldn’t be in the group anymore, so they ended up not going. Who knows what would have happened? Then, Tina was a vocalist in a cover band.

Jamie: What has been the most valuablelesson you’ve learned in life?
Mathew: I learned a lot of life lessons from my parents growing up in Gadsden, Alabama. My father made $25 a week as a truck driver. My mother made $3 a day as a maid. My dad convinced the company he was working for to let him have that truck all the time. He would go and tear down houses and use the truck to haul copper, metal, the refrigerator, something out of the refrigerator, batteries, car parts to sell for money. My mom would work with her girlfriends on the weekends making quilts. She would can string-beans, peaches, you name it. And she would sell those canned goods.

So they taught me work ethics. They taught me entrepreneurship. The biggest thing, God bless his soul, believe it or not, was credit. My dad was always saying, “Boy, I got A-1 credit.” He had a sense of pride saying he had A-1 credit. It showed that he had a sense of integrity with paying his bills.

Jamie: What makes you happy, Mathew? What is your relaxation?
Mathew: I love the feeling of knowing that I played some part in fulfilling an artist’s dream. I also love basketball, but I’m just now getting back in shape. I’ve had a lot of basketball injuries. From my Achilles’ tendon to both knees to my shoulder, I have literally had five basketball surgeries. I get really into the game, and sometimes my body is not as into it as my mind. (laughter) I love basketball. I love a sunny day and just to ride in a car. I listen to music – sometimes it’s new music or a new project we’re working on –and I’ll forget where I am. Going to the beach – I’m learning to slow down and listen to nature whereas before I didn’t. so today I’m learning to listen to the waves, to see the beauty in the sunset and know that it’s the end of a day and what greatness that is, and to see the next day start. Those are the things that I’m just learning to appreciate.

Jamie: Are you happy?
Mathew: I’m happy, and there are areas I have to work on. I think it’s my personal, spiritual growth. I’m growing every day. And the relationship with my wife and my kids is an area of growth. I have been so focused on work, (but now) I understand it’s also important to focus on family.

Jamie: Who are Beyonce and Solange more like, you or Tina?
Mathew: That’s evolving. The more I see and observe, the more I realize they are like the both of us.

Jamie: Are you growing up?
Mathew: At 58 years old, how I see life is certainly different than how I saw it at 40 years old. You begin to understand what is important. When I die, it’s not going to be the successes of my daughters or my riches or losses that matter. We all die through the same process. There’s that last breath. So that breath that I take is important. I just don’t want to waste my breaths on bulls@*t. I want to spread more time with family and friends.

Jamie: For you to have lasted as long as you have, you not only had staying power but you also built an empire.
Mathew: I think we have to give acknowledgment to Destiny’s Child. Those young ladies all worked hard. They demanded and required – and should have – a lot of credit for our success here at Music World. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Earth, Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan and The O’Jays. And Beyonce – so gifted, so talented and yet so passionate. Her work ethic comes from her passion. It’s all intertwined. You can’t have a work ethic if you don’t have passion.

Jamie: What did you do before the music business?
Mathew: This is the only thing I keep up here (reaching for a document from the fireplace mantel). You read it to me.

Jamie: “Dear Mathew…Please accept my warmest congratulations on your continued demonstration of sales excellence in 1986 by achieving 145 percent of plan, being 100 percent or better in each performance category and generating over $2 million in revenue. You have unquestionably earned the coveted Sales Representative of the Year for the third time in the last four years. Your sustained excellence in achievement set an example for everyone associated with Xerox Medical Systems. My sincere congratulations and thanks for your outstanding contributions.” What percentage of that did they give to you if you brought in $2 million?
Mathew: I was fortunate to be making a six figure income back in 1978 from Xerox. In 1979 I was driving a Jag XJ6. But more important, Xerox gave me the business acumen I have today.

Jamie: What are you driving now?
Mathew: I’m not telling you that. A car! (laughter) Those were great days at Xerox. Tina, at that time, had the #1 hair salon and at one point had 30-something employees. One day she called a meeting and gave her hair salon to one of her employees who had been loyal. Loyalty first. Tina gave her whole company business to him, and it’s still standing today. It’s called Headliners, in Houston.

But my point is that both Tina and I were not sitting around saying, “Wow, I hope our kids become successful so they can change our lives.” I’m grateful for the success we had before Destiny’s Child and Beyonce and Solange. This is our 19th year with Music World.

Again, it starts with incredible talent. It’s also because we built here at Music World a very passionate and dedicated staff that works seven days a week. Not five. Without the talent and the staff, we couldn’t do this.

Jamie: With Beyonce, is there anything she’s done that you think was kind of wild?
Mathew: Every time I see Beyonce perform, it’s like, wow! Like when she’s 80 feet in the air and she’s coming down. That’s like, wow! Or to see Solange dive out into the audience at one of her shows. That’s like, wow!

Jamie: Tell me what you taught your daughters when they would come and talk to you?
Mathew: That you treat the trash man and the teacher and the president all the same way. You are respectful and say good morning and thank you. You don’t treat them any different. You just respect each other.

Jamie: What did you tell them about boys?
Mathew: I left that up to their mama.

Jamie: What kind of guy were you when you were a teenager?
Mathew: I was a dreamer. I used to look in the clouds and see all kinds of ideas. Because I was one of the first Blacks at Litchfield Junior High, on my first day, a traumatic experience for me was standing up and reading and being laughed at by the White kids because I made a mistake. This was the eighth grade. It was that traumatic experience that forced me to always want to learn more, so as a kid I was always inquisitive and always reading. I wanted to know what I was saying and to speak with confidence. I was that kind of kid. My parents both worked, so I was sometimes at home alone while they were both working two and three jobs.

Jamie: Did your parents get to see any of your success?
Mathew: They were in their ‘70s when they died. They got to see the “Star Search” part (when Destiny’s Child was called) Girls Tyme. My mother and father died in the ‘90s. My father died in December 1996 and my mother died in September the following year of a broken heart.

Jamie: Tell me about that last name. You named Beyonce after her grandparents?
Mathew: Tina’s maiden name is Beyonce, so we named her Beyonce.

Jamie: Where does that name come from? Is it French?
Mathew: Yeah, it’s Creole French. They actually have family right outside of Paris and New Iberia, Louisiana.

Jamie: Really? And what about Solange, how did that come about?
Mathew: Solange means “soul angel.” Solange’s middle name is Piaget. And Piaget – true story – I was in the waiting room and we didn’t have a middle name. They had one of those big fashion books, and I kept going through it until I got to a Piaget watch. I was like, Solange Piaget! Yeah, that’s it!

Jamie: So, you were in the room when they were born?
Mathew: I was in for both.

Jamie: And you helped Tina through it?
Mathew: No, I just observed. I tried hard not to pass out. (laughter)

Jamie: Did you teach them how to ride bicycles and jump rope?
Mathew: I think I was a good dad. Tina was working as a hair stylist. She owned her own business, and the hair industry is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday getting home 11 or 12:00 at night, then going back to a 9:00 appointment the next day. So I had to have a dual role. I had to take the kids to vocal lessons and dance troupe. They both were in dance troupes.

Jamie: If your kids read this, what would you want them to read that they don’t know?
Mathew: How much I love them and how proud I am of them. And how important it is that we are a strong family.

Jamie: What would they learn from this that they don’t know?
Mathew: That their success for me is not measured by the amount of records they sell; it’s the good people they’ve become.

Jamie: That’s more important than anything. What about Tina? What would she learn? What’s important to you about her?
Mathew: For being the incredible mother that she has always been. Just incredible. For being my best friend.

Jamie: How important is it to have a best friend as your mate?
Mathew: You can be vulnerable. You can be trusting. You can make mistakes and you know they are there for you.

Jamie: When you first met Tina, where was that?
Mathew: I was at Xerox. I think I had an old raggedy Mercedes that stayed in the shop all the time. I was in the fraternity Omega Psi Phi. One night there was a party and my frat brother showed up with this beautiful, gorgeous woman. I got the eye connection a couple of times. Then about 1:00, I got the courage – because this woman is so beautiful – I got the courage to go over and say,” Hi, I’m Mathew, dah dah dah, and I would like to take you to lunch.” It was Saturday, so we set a date for Monday at 12:00. She was like, “Good.”

In the meantime, I go and write on my shoebox, “Tina B-OZ-SAY.” And I had it in my shoebox for a reason. Those of you from the ‘70s know why I wrote it on the shoebox.

Jamie: Why on the shoebox?
Mathew: You’ve got to be in the ‘70s; then you’d know the answer to that. (laughter) So it’s Monday and I’m sharp. I am sugarshitsharp!

I go to the MasterCard office where she worked and there is no Tina. So I’m like, “Are you sure? Beozsay, Beonsay, Beosay.” They insisted, “ We don’t have a Tina Beyonce that works here. We don’t have anything close to that.”

So I said, “I’m your Xerox sales rep. While I’m here, can I go on up and I just want to check your copiers?” Now I didn’t do that; I just said that to get inside to see for myself if this pretty girl really worked there. She might be hiding. I walked all through the place and I don’t see her. So I’m sad.

A year passed. I’m walking downtown. I’m still a Xerox sales rep. I look and at about 9:30 in the morning, there she is, in a coffee shop! There she is in the window.

I said, “Okay, I’m going to pass her by,” I’m thinking, ”Oh, that’s that bad chick that gave me that bad number.”

Then, at around noon that same day, I go to Foley’s. That’s where people kind of hung out. That was the cool store. She was with some girlfriends. Why is that pretty girls always hang out with pretty girls? I ignored her. But I knew she saw me, and I saw her.

Then, at 3:00, downtown Houston, I’m standing at a stoplight. There she is again! She’s on one side of the road and I’m on the other. We’re looking at each other, and it’s just me and her.

So imagine, we have to see each other because we have to cross the street. Then, I said, “Oh, you’re that pretty chick that gave me some number and told me to meet you for lunch.” She said, “Fool—first of all, get out of the street.” She was like, “But you didn’t show up.” I was like, “Yes, I did show up. I was at MasterCard and I did show up. I’d rather you just say you didn’t want to see me.” She said, “You fool, I told you Visa!”

Jamie: (laughter) You’d gone to the wrong office?!
Mathew: I got so excited I wrote the stuff down wrong! (laughter)

Jamie: Were you together after that?
Mathew: Yeah. Listen, I really have enjoyed you today, but I have to go now. Someone has flown all the way from L.A. to meet me at 3:00. I’m glad you guys came down.

Jamie: This was fun.


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