18.08.2021, Interview

Tinashe has managed a career in the pop industry that has started in 2007 when she became member of the girl group The Stunners – a collective of young actresses, who were on the way to the top. Creative crisis, a society rattled up by divisive politics, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer and the pandemic inspired Tinashe to rethink her career, her goals. Moving beyond musical genres and racial stereotypes she has started to take back control over her inner creativity. Her goal: the liberation from expectations and a maximum of freedom – for herself and all of us.

After more than a year of COVID, lockdown and isolation things are loosening up again now that it’s summer. How is it coming out of lockdown as an artist and performer being starved of that special special kind of energetic exchange you only get from being on stage and engaging with an audience? It must’ve been difficult, maybe even existential? 
Absolutely it was, it takes your ego and it completely, takes away the component that gives you the validation that you know, you typically get from being on stage. But it’s not just validation, it’s the energy from the audience that feeds the inspiration I need to be in this continuous workflow. This energy means a lot to me and when I didn’t have that, there you reflect on your worth your, if you’re still valid, and I think for me it was a great exercise in killing that ego and doing a lot of inner work, taking advantage of the fact that I was able to slow down and focus on myself and my thought patterns and just how I was feeling. Also examining, what I was thinking about and bringing into my energy field and just like being really, really self aware, so that part was awesome. I mean, it sucked not being able to perform, but I definitely took advantage of the time in every way: spiritually, emotionally as well as creatively in making this new album, this whole new project and now I’m finally ready to form it and do some shows!

I finally got to have a little preview of 333. From the jump with the title we feel the affirmation, the spirituality, the numerology, it’s giving renew, rebirth, returning from a place of serenity. Sonically however, I didn’t know what to expect, but it sounds different than your previous albums, like a real trip. Tell us who Tinashe is now, the one who created this new album; your sound has changed, how have you? 
Well I definitely think there has been an evolution over the course of my career over the course of my life. I’ve had a lot of different chapters of my journey to get to the point that I’m at today. Also I’ve been accumulating all the knowledge I can to apply to creating my art now. After being signed in 2012, I think I learned a lot about just the creative process and what that meant to my spirit and what that meant in terms of who I was as a person. I had a period of time when I was creating music when I was signed to my last record label, where I felt that my music wasn’t as much in alignment with, like, who I truly was in terms of expressing myself and owning the creative inside of me. There were times where I really kind of was questioning my own creative output, my own instincts, my own gut, and that was a very slow insidious process that led to that point it wasn’t just like one day I woke up it was like a little bit insecure about my creative vision, it was like just being in these environments where maybe I didn’t have as much representation as a young woman coming in as a brand new artists, no one knows who you are, you’re working with some of the biggest people in the game, people who have produced hit after hit after hit, who’ve been proven time and time again. I was getting a lot of different feedback from people, and feeling like I wasn’t getting the same support, respect, etc. It really started to make me question how I was going to operate within this business model. I wanted to be a part of the major label music system, I wanted to be a part of that, so I started to adapt. And I think that I didn’t even necessarily realize it until it reached a point where I was like, hold on, hold on, this is all wrong. This doesn’t feel right anymore. And there was definitely a tipping point where I realized I needed to kind of regroup, in terms of all my relationships and all the people I was working with and my whole creative approach. So I took a step back,I left my record label, I left my management, I left my whole team. Then I rebuilt it, everything from the ground up, became independent, and that was when I kind of started this new chapter of rebuilding myself spiritually, emotionally, as a creative, and it started with Songs for You, which I think was a great first introduction back.

Songs for you, ugh, SO GOOD! 
Haha thank you. That marked a great transitional period and then again, in 2020 and having the time to delve even further into who I wanted to be as a creative and being so focused on creating by myself, which is when I’m making my best stuff. I feel I was just a lot more in alignment with what I was supposed to do, my purpose. And I think that that is pretty much where I got the inspiration and the energy to create this new project.

And you can definitely feel that in this album, well done! You sound like a very resilient woman with a lot of perseverance. That said, I can only imagine how difficult it must be as a black woman in music to navigate in male-dominated spaces, with the unrealistic and eurocentric beauty standards, and people constantly nit-picking and trying to put you in a box. How do you keep forward? How do you keep those negative or unconstructive comments or intrusive thoughts at bay?
 I do think that those things that kind of nag at us in the back of our head, they’re very deep rooted because they’ve been taught. Based on examples that we’ve seen over and over, based on what society tells us, based on what we’ve seen in the past. In order to make progress in the future and break down those barriers, it’s really hard because we each individually have to work on breaking them down within ourselves, and within our consciousness. I definitely felt at times pressure to be boxed into genres specifically. I think that we don’t talk enough about how genres have such a racial component to them. You know how much that can play into how we categorize artists, how we categorize artists, where artists are able to perform, what spaces they’re able to take up in the mainstream. I was falling somewhere in between this urban R&B space and this pop space – I didn’t really feel like I had a home in between. So I’ve gone back to trusting my gut and trusting who I am because that’s really what’s authentic to me and I think my fans can tell the difference, my fans are really smart. Not everyone is that smart. I just hope that in the future we’ll continue to see more and more artists pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a pop artist or an R&B artist or a hip hop artist or whatever these sub genres that we’ve placed upon people, I’d love to see more of that in the future.

From putting people in boxes to checking boxes, how do you feel the music industry has or hasn’t changed post George Floyd and the BLM resurgence globally? In Berlin there was a lot of discussion within music, clubs and other creative spaces about authentically including ideas, voices and creativity from marginalized groups, and not just checking boxes for the virtue vanity or marketing points of appearing inclusive. I think I assumed something as simple as lineups would appear more inclusive or diverse, but not much has changed.
It’s a bit of a shame. At the time it felt very visceral and it felt like there were a lot of people with strong reactions, and that was amazing to see and a lot of like bigger corporations and individuals were taking accountability on socials. But we have yet to see it trickle down to a level where we see actual results. This is a problem in literally probably every community and every space. It’s something that we have to continue to just work on as individuals who are a part of larger communities and keep having the conversations, and we can’t just let it just go back to normal. We’ve gone through a collective shift and we should continue to shift and move forward in ways that include us all. We can all grow and we can all become something like way better than the limits that we set upon ourselves based on what we’ve done in the past. 

Is there something that’s changed with your creative process, or your work in which you’re trying to find ways to make also these changes just even at home and in your own work. 
Yeah, I think there’s like a trickle down that affects how I listen to music, how I think about what I want to say in songs, what the people want me to say in songs. I am continuing to challenge and push the creative that I work with as well as myself, to constantly think outside of the box sonically, to use things that maybe we haven’t heard as much before, to not feel so stuck on the structure of a hit song or a pop song in terms of like the format. There’s a lot of like stupid rules in like pop music that people still kind of go by that I’d like to continue to see challenged. I think it’s an artist’s responsibility to kind of lead the way in that because the people behind the scenes are not going to be the innovators. 

Exactly, the ones pulling strings and wearing suits at the very top who are benefiting the most from these structures aren’t going to be making the changes. What I really loved from your album and also seeing Pasadena, is that you’ve got like this nod to virtual reality, technology, alternate universes, maybe even parallel dimensions? Am I right to assume that the visuals for your album will incorporate more of this?
Absolutely, and I think that that’s something that I’ve explored a lot and used as a source of inspiration. Not only for the visuals but as an exploration to where spirituality and technology meet. To me it makes sense that spirituality and technology are kind of intertwined, also with science and spirituality. You can see it with how the public is reacting to the virus, there’s just so many layers to how we’re moving forward with technology, as well as how people are dealing with the psychological and spiritual and mental effects of that. I think that there’s a lot of conversations to be had about the nature of reality in and of itself and how we are able to integrate these technologies moving forward in a way that serves us as spiritual beings because that’s what we are first and foremost, we’re not robots.

Not yet! 
Not yet! And we operate totally differently. Also exploring reality and the world as a simulated reality – the freedom that that could potentially give you in terms of ego death and how these elements of spirituality and technology intersect, I think is really interesting. I’d like to see more of those themes visuals of my videos and as the other little side projects within this project start to roll out you’ll definitely see even more references.

Are you working with any new emerging artists to help you create these visuals that maybe we haven’t heard of or seen before?
I can get you like a whole list of people that I got that I’m excited to be working with. But I feel like, while I’m giving a lot of direction, I’m also giving each person the space to thrive as their best creative-self. I think that that’s really important as well, when working with any creative. 

Now that you’re independent are you also creative directing a lot of your work and your editorials, your visuals? 
Yes, absolutely. And it’s been amazing to have way more of a sense of being able to touch everything I do in terms of yes the editorials, the visuals, the stage show, the design, the merch, every aspect. I thought I had creative control in the past, but when you’re working with big corporations, you don’t have the ultimate say period. And I’ve had to definitely change things and work with different people based on what they want me to work with which obviously affects the output. On an even deeper level, psychologically if you feel like other people are taking care of it, or other people are going to do that part for you, you’re not as responsible for every single detail. I love being responsible for those details and I think when you have that attention to detail that’s when it really translates really well, it’s that thread of connectivity between everything. Being able to feel responsible for that and empowered, that has made my work better.

Dance and movement has always been something that you’ve often incorporated. Can we expect your dance for this album to also have evolved? Have there been new inspirations to your movement? 
I think dance is a very underrated way that we’re able to express ourselves, as well as receive energy from. A visual piece adds an entirely new element of storytelling. It also changes the way I’m able to connect with my fans, as well as it even if it inspires them to dance. A lot of this music on this album has a lot of tempo, and it gives you that energy, when you’re moving and don’t even realize you’re moving – that does something to our psyche, that it gives you energy, it raises your vibration. I want to continue to be active in trying to give that to my fans and give that to people. I created this project when we were so low energy, stuck in the house, not moving. There was a very specific mission in my mind to create music that felt energized, motivational, in a way. In terms of the style of my dance I hope to continue to push the boundaries of what you see on stage in terms of choreography and what you see on stage in terms of visual. I’m building out my stage show now and I’ve been exploring all different types of genres and of course blending of genres and it’s something I’ll continue to do for sure. 

I mean, I figured there might be some new experimentation or given your recent music video for Bouncin’ and that damn trampoline routine. I loved it because you could have definitely gone the pole route, I mean there is still time for that, but the trampoline was super cute and playful; very silly but sexy. 
Totally, I just wanted to come and use an ironic, but totally not ironic prop. I just wanted to have that energy and be funny and it was cool. 

Reflecting on your personal and spiritual journey over the past year, your exploration into ego death and the creation of 333, is there anything that has helped you break through? Have you experimented with anything beyond weed that helped you take your albu, to this new place? I love spiritual aid like psychedelics for a creatively transcendent moment, tell us! 
I mean, for me, first and foremost it’s being in nature, that is always a way that I’m able to tap into that without like any kind of extra services. There’s something about just being in a quiet space or just knowing that you’re in something that was just created totally by the universe and then feeling really small and feeling almost like a little animal, a little creature. Easily nature is my favourite way to tap into that. Aside from that, I mean, I’m a huge fan of weed, I’ve been smoking for like 10 years now, so that’s always great, but I feel like that’s more relaxing, it doesn’t necessarily get my mind like I guess as creative as maybe shrooms do. I definitely have been using shrooms, more since 2020 lockdown than I ever did before. Yeah that definitely was like a part of the creative process as well and the inspiration. 

 It sounds like it! 
Yeah. And you know, having the time to ask those big questions and think about these bigger structures and again, the nature of reality and our purpose here and how we’re a part of this whole big system and I think that for me like mushrooms help me access that for sure. 

Liberation was and continues to be at the forefront of a lot of social and political discussion last year and this year. A lot of topics have come up, your Slumber Party duet partner, Britney Spears and her Free Britney campaign that continues. Also with Free Palestine, and the Palestinian struggle for freedom and equality is finally reaching the international arena despite Israeli government’s many attempts to silence and censor discussion. What’s something you would like to say about this? 
I believe deep down in my core that being free and freedom is an essential part of what makes us feel complete and fulfilled, and that’s been a huge part of my journey and I reflect that in my music a lot. I’m constantly talking about feeling free and being free and letting go and releasing myself, so I just hope that we are able to carry those messages throughout 2021, hopefully into 2022 and the future. And I hope again to see freedom and liberation for anybody who’s oppressed, all oppressed people and oppressed souls and oppressed minds and that we’re continuous in our growth and our evolution and our freedom.

Interview by Leanne Mark
Creative: Franc Fernandez @francfernandez // Tessa Tinglof @tessatinglof @originalcreativeagency
Photography: Marcus Cooper @marcuscooper and Adam Moody @foolishmoody
Styling: Sina Braetz @warriorprincessss assisted by Gabriella Lovazzano @gabriellajlovazzano
Makeup: Milan Morales @mylahmorales
Hair: Malcolm Marquez@malcolm.marquez
Nails: @sojinails
Lighting Tech: Evadne Gonzalez @evadnegonzalez
Art Director: Grace Surnow @grace_surnow
Post: Jeff Dodson @runsilent
Producer: Garrett Brockschmitt @gveews @onemachinemedia
Set dresser: @anjjelicavasquez