EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: TINASHE TALKS ‘AQUARIUS’, DRAKE & DANCE
Over the past few years we’ve seen the trend for bedroom crafted R&B mixtapes garnering commercial appeal. Artists who started out their careers by releasing Internet distributed mixtapes, taking a route more often associated with hip-hop and paving their own way, are proving they can shift units with retail albums. Another win for the Internet and real music! Next up is Tinashe, the “bedroom R&B” artist who easily has the most pop appeal.
Upon meeting her it’s clear that she is having a few problems finding the balance between the total creative freedom that she’s been used to, and the needs of a major label. “I didn’t even ask anyone what they thought of it or anything,” she tells RWD Mag of her previous releases. “I just did what I wanted, put it up online, and was like ‘Here guys, this is what I did!’” Today she is ironing out a few issues before the deadline for her debut album Aquarius and is noticeably frustrated, but who wouldn’t be? After years of releasing free mixtapes, from 2012’s In Case We Die and Reverie to last year’s Black Water, the stakes are raised; her DJ Mustard-produced ‘2 On’ is virtually unescapable on Urban Radio and the follow up, ‘Pretend’ with A$AP Rocky, is set to do the same.
Still, she’s tried to maintain some of the DIY appeal of her earlier work, recording a lot of Aquarius in her bedroom, and has produced some of the interludes on the record. “I think the production is a lot better, everything is clean and tight,” she tells us. “But aside from that, essence wise, I think I really did keep true to the stuff that I created with my mixtapes except for a few songs that to me it just feels like a progression, a little bit of a growth, but it all still comes from the same place.”
This, unfortunately, meant that the featured verses courtesy of ScHoolboy Q (‘2 On’) and the aforementioned A$AP Rocky, were recorded remotely and emailed to her, but she did manage to get into the studio with Future to record album cut ‘How Many Times’. “I went to Atlanta and worked together on the song, and we wrote at the same time,” she says. “I had a blast, it was fun. He’s super funny and down to earth, his creative process is similar to mine so it was fun to be in the studio with him. Yeah it was just good times, good vibes, it was really easy and natural.”
Her own creative process starts out with the music, whether self-produced or an instrumental from one of her collaborators, she will listen to that and come up with melodies. “Melodies just kind of come out naturally,” she explains. “And sometimes I listen to the melodies that were my first instinct and I’ll hear lyrics in them, and that’s kind of how it goes.”
Because of the reliance on natural instinct, she avoids listening to music while she’s creating. “I didn’t want to be too heavily influenced by the stuff I was listening to,” she says. “I wanted it to come from a genuine place of inspiration, if that’s even possible, because obviously inspiration is based off of your life experiences and the things you go through.”
She also worked with Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) who has penned songs for the likes of Solange, Sky Ferreira and Florence and the Machine. “Every producer definitely is definitely a different process, just depending on how they are as a person, but Dev is like a really sweet guy,” she says of the New York based Londoner. “One of my favourites to work with for sure. He also has a guitar feature on the album, so that’s kind of cool.”
Known for breaking new artists with his bootleg remixes, it was a complete surprise to Tinashe when Drake dropped his own version of ‘2 On’ via SoundCloud which suddenly flooded the blogs. “I did not know that was going to happen,” she says, still with disbelief. “It was a shock, I was so happy that day. That day was one of the best days ever because it was such a good surprise. I was like ‘Yo! This is awesome.’ That was really my reaction.” She still doesn’t quite know how it happens, but heard one explanation: “I don’t even think he had the official beat, he hadn’t talked to Mustard about it or anything. One of his friends I met early on in my album process, so we’ve just been cool. I guess he was just a big fan of the song, they were playing it a lot, and they were just like ‘Let’s make a remix.’ And they just did it.” She returned the favour by putting out ‘Days Of The West’ her own interpretation of his PARTYNEXTDOOR-written track.
As well as the ability to write, record and produce her own material – which she points out people assume she doesn’t (“People don’t even care to think that maybe I could. Because they just assume that I can’t and don’t.”) she is also a talented dancer and fills the void of artists like Janet Jackson who would incorporate it into an all-singing, all-dancing live show. “Dancing has always been an extension of performance and putting on a show,” she explains. “I’ve been dancing since I was about four, taking ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, so it was just always a passion of mine. And growing up I loved when artists danced, it was an inspiration to me like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. So I just always wanted to and it was just something that was obvious to me, especially because people haven’t really been doing it as much lately. So yeah it’s a big part of my performance element I think.” She also works with a live drummer – although she is currently working to expand into a full live band – and likes to have fun on stage in order to get her crowds excited and energised. “There’s a lot of shows where you can go in and listen to music,” she adds. “Again it’s just another dimension or level to what I’m trying to do. It’s very multi-dimensional.”
But with so many talents, (we still didn’t mention that she’s also an actress, having appeared in The Polar Express and Two And A Half Men) what made her focus on music? The answer is very simple, and goes back to the gut instinct that helps her create melodies. “Music has always been just my biggest passion,” she states simply. “That’s really the extent of it. I always wanted to do music more.”
Words by @GrantBrydon