combine aaliyah, james blake and janet jackson and you might just get a tinashe
Describing her sound as Progressive R&B, 21 year-old Tinashe (pronounced Tin-AH-shay) recalls a musical lineage that includes James Blake, the XX, Solange and Sampha, certain to match their success in years to come...
Tinashe by Stephanie Sian Smith
Not only creating and innovating, the LA singer evokes the days of Aaliyah and Janet Jackson with her cutting edge choreography. With her DJ Mustard produced, ScHoolboy Q featuring lead single, the smoky, sultry, Sean Paul referencing '2 On', we're slowly falling in California Love with this new singer…
Where are you from in LA?
I grew up in LA, in Pasadena. It's more suburban than 'LA LA', more neighborhoods, lots of hiking.
Were you a typical Hollywood child actor?
Well, yeah, I started performing when I was really, really young. I was in my first movie when I was five years old. It was a TV movie called Cora Unashamed, and we filmed it in Iowa. It was a period drama so it was set in 1930 so we got to dress up and I had my hair in pin curls and a really old doll. It was fun, like paying dress up but getting paid.
Did you save your money and buy, like, a pony when you got older?
Yeah, you have an account where you deposit a certain percentage and you can access it when you're 18. I bought a car, an Audi. That was dope, a nice little treat.
What music did you listen to growing up?
Music has always been my biggest passion. I actually stopped acting when I was 15 so I could focus on music because I wanted people to know I was serious about it. My dad is from Zimbabwe so his culture is very musical and I was always encouraged to sing. Everyone was always singing, relatives would be there, and no one ever told me to be quiet so I carried on! My parents played a lot of R&B in the house; Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Sade. They were big influences on me.
You were in a band called Stunner. What was it like?
I got into that group when I was 14, I auditioned for it because it was available and I was too young to actively purse a solo career. I figured I'd try it out for a couple of years to see how it went. We were together for four years. It was a great learning experience for me, to get my feet wet in the music industry and learn how to record music. We also went on tour with Justin Bieber, so that whole experience was interesting. It was great training.
How was The Bieber?
The crowd was so excited, like, stoked. That was when he was still... you know, clean, around the first album.
Would he still remember you, do you think?
Yeah, well I was in one of the videos, I was in Baby for a split second, standing right behind Drake. It was fun, I wasn't expecting to be in the video. I was just at the set and they were like 'Hey, want to get in a shot?' so I was like 'sure'.
Post-Stunner, your music is much more in the school of nu-R&B. You're into a lot of British producers right?
Oh yeah, James Blake, The xx and SBTRKT are huge influences. I worked with Dev Hynes on my album, who is great. He has that balance of the fun, poppy sensibility but uses a lot of live instrumentation that makes it really fresh. I love how progressive R&B is definitely influenced by other genres, especially the alternative genre, and hip hop too. It's changing. It's fun to be part of.
Lyrically, what do you like to write about?
I like to write about things that are relative to me and my life; whether that's relationships I've had or relationships that people I know are in, because I can put myself into other people's mindstates and write from that point of view too. I like to write about society as well; different things that affect me day to day from more of a philosophical standpoint rather than just the obvious stuff.
A$AP Rocky features on your new album, Aquarius. How did you two hook up?
Well we have the same record label for one, so that makes it easier. He was one of my favourite upcoming rappers so he was top of my list of people who I wanted to collaborate with. I had a song that I wanted him to get on and he really liked it. It's about being in a relationship and things are going wrong but you don't want to take the time to figure it out or deal with the emotional issues that go along with it, so you just put in on the back burner and pretend everything is going ok.
Schoolboy Q has a great verse on 2 On, your new single...
Schoolboy is so cool, super intense. He's super sweet, very polite. I wanted to put out a song that people could dance to. I don't want to be stuck in a box and make everything sound one way or the other. As a creative person I want to have the freedom to make songs that are interesting and fun to me so I want people to get used to the fact that I can put out a fun song to dance to, but still have this credibility as an artist. What I do is not fabricated in any way.
One great aspect about 2 On is that it gives us serious Aaliyah vibes, with the whole choreography thing. Why doesn't anyone dance anymore?
Yeah, I don't understand where the dance has gone. Growing up, that was so awesome for me to see girls onstage dancing, it made the performance so much bigger and exciting. I think the dance, live, aspect will be interesting cos no one is doing that and if they are they're kind of half-assing it. I have no limit as to how big this can go. I want to be able to perform a real show with full band, with full choreography. The sky is the limit. I saw The xx at The Armory in New York recently and it was amazing. That's the type of levels of creativity that I aspire to.
If you could only follow one person on each digital platform, who would it be?
No one tweets good things, they just tweet promo and shit so I'd probably follow someone from my family so I could stay connected and see what's up. Literally, no one tweets good stuff apart from Amanda Bynes and she's gone. On Instagram, I'll say National Geographic.
If you were on a desert island and you could have the entire back - and future - catalogue of one artist, who would you choose?
Someone who has some differentiation cos I wouldn't want to get depressed - so I can't pick James Blake cos that would be no good for a desert island! I'll go with Michael Jackson cos he has one of the most diverse catalogues ever.
2 On is out now
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Stephanie Sian Smith