Janelle Monae released her debut album last year and is about to embark on a UK tour, which comes to Manchester on February 28. The immaculately-dressed Grammy nominee gives us a peek into her unusual world of tuxedos and androids.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover.

That may be true, but just one look at Janelle Monae tells you she’s not your average singer.

Dressed, as always, in a tuxedo, her hair swept up into a 1950s-style pompadour, the Kansas-born artist certainly cuts a dash.

”I like to wear the same thing all the time,” she says. “I’m not just doing it because it’s a trend. It’s like my superhero uniform.

”When I’m working and performing, and even on my days off, this is how I like to look.

”The tuxedo is a homage to my mother, who was a janitor, and my father, who drove trash trucks, and how they put on a uniform every day and turned something into nothing.

”It’s like a retro-futuristic thing. I don’t want people to look at my photos when I’m gone and think I belong to a certain time.”

It’s not just Monae’s aesthetic that spans the ages. Her music is even harder to place.

Throughout her debut EP, Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase), and last year’s 18-track album The ArchAndroid, she covers all bases: from the funk of James Brown and eclecticism of Inner Visions-era Stevie Wonder to pastoral English folk and slick US R’n’B.

There’s also a strong theme underpinning everything she does, namely ideas involving her alter-ego Cindi Mayweather.

Partly inspired by Keanu Reeves’s character Neo in The Matrix, Cindi is The ArchAndroid, a messianic cyborg of sorts sent back from the year 2791 to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time travel to suppress freedom and love.

Are you keeping up?

You might not be surprised to hear Monae is a huge science fiction fan, particularly of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, which informs great swathes of her work, as well as authors such as Philip K Dick and Aldous Huxley.

Admittedly, it’s all pretty heavy stuff but, argues the 24-year-old, the world she’s committed to record is merely a culmination of her various passions.

”There have been lots of clues over the years, leading me to this point,” she says.

”I have very vivid dreams about Cindi Mayweather, and that is perfect for me, because as an artist, I want to be someone who unites people.

”I dream of a world where humans and androids can all stand together and be one.”

Sorry, where androids and humans can be one?

The most advanced robots in Japan, where the science of artificial intelligence receives billions of dollars in funding, have only recently been able to manage walking up stairs while carrying a tea tray.

A world where humans live side by side with synthetic beings is surely years away?

”Well, you say that, and it’s one of the reasons I hate the term ‘science fiction’,” she counters.

”It assumes it can’t happen. I believe in lots of different things happening, and there is a lot that can happen because there’s a lot we don’t know that is still waiting to be discovered.

”That’s my philosophy, what’s happened in my imagination, and there’s no formula that led me to the ArchAndroid. I can’t really explain how I arrived at this point.”

Perhaps her idea of unity between the worlds of men and machine is an allegory for gender, race and religion-based discrimination happening today?

”Sure,” she says, “it could be. It’s all about choosing how to react. Programming our minds. Music is a common denominator between us all. I look out into the audience when I perform and I see so many sizes and faces and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Janelle Monae Robinson was born in Kansas City and lived there until she finished high school.

”I worked as a maid for a while before I went to the American Musical And Dramatic Academy in New York. Term started in October, so that summer I was scrubbing floors and walls because that’s the only job I could find,” she says.

”I haven’t been back home in a while, but I do encourage my family to come and live with me. My family love and support me, and I love them back.

”I have a lot of cousins, like 50. My mum had eight sisters and two brothers, so there’s a lot of kids.”

After graduating from AMDA, Monae moved to US musical hub Atlanta, Georgia, where she met Outkast’s Big Boi and founded the Wondaland Arts Society, a collective of similarly minded artists.

She recorded here and there, and sold her records from the boot of her car.

It wasn’t long before Sean Combs, aka Diddy, got wind of Monae’s startling talent and signed her to his label Bad Boy Records.

From there, the trio devised a masterplan not to rush anything, to let Monae’s profile build gradually. It worked spectacularly, and came to head with her performance of Tightrope on David Letterman’s Tonight show last year.

Within hours, the YouTube clip was being passed around and posted all over the internet. It was like a good old-fashioned word of mouth sensation, aided by the speed of Twitter and various blogs.

”It was an out-of-body experience. I don’t remember much, it was my first TV performance, but things went into a different dimension after that,” she says.

”That discovery process was very important, and I was very pleased not to be rammed down people’s throats.

”With all my favourite artists I’ve stumbled across them, and it strengthens the connection to your supporters.

"I’m an independent artist and not so long ago I was selling CDs out of the boot of a car, so I know the importance of that.

”Connection to my fans is something I’ve grown accustomed to, and something I want to continue. This is just the beginning.”

* Janelle Monae plays Manchester Academy on Monday, February 28.