the age of aquarius with future r&b star tinashe
We catch up with the rapidly ascending pop princess as she drops her lastest single and video from her critically acclaimed debut album.
Tinashe Jorgenson Kachingwe was born to be a star. The singer, dancer, actor, model, producer, director and martial arts queen - she has a black belt in taekwondo - has been slaying it in the entertainment game since she was just three years old. Her parents, an artist from Zimbabwe and a physical therapist from Iowa, moved the whole Kachingwe clan out to Los Angeles in the mid-90s to further their daughter's burgeoning career. It paid off. After working on sitcoms and TV shows Tinashe joined the all girl group, The Stunners, put together by former pop star and now entertainment executive, Vitamin C. The Stunners found mild success supporting Justin Beiber on tour across America but eventually split in 2011 allowing Tinashe to work on her solo, Justin Timberlake-esque career path.
Finding her sound by experimenting and recording in her bedroom, Tinashe dropped solid mixtapes including In Case We Die and Reverie but it was 2013's Black Water, a 13 track project with a darker sound and features from Travis $cott which grabbed the attention of fans and critics and had the major labels calling. Tinashe signed with Sony and late last year dropped her album Aquarius, an extraordinary debut that ranges from club bangers like the radio smash 2 On to the tracks like the Dev Hynes assisted Bet, a moody love song with layered lyrical prowess reminiscent of the late Aaliyah.
Last week Tinashe got back to her mixtape roots by dropping a seven track gift to her fans, Amethyst. As the video for her new single All Hands on Deck infiltrates the internet, i-D caught up with Tinashe ahead of her Melbourne show during her very first Australian tour.
You're headed back to LA after this tour wraps, is it true that you still live with your family in your childhood home? I guess that's the only time you get to see your parents and brothers now?
Right! Yeah it's only for a few days before I leave for Europe so it doesn't make any sense for me to have a place of my own at the moment. It's always really nice to have that kind of family company at home, you don't have to worry about anything.
Let's talk about your record, Aquarius. You recorded over 100 songs during the making of it which is both amazing and insane. What was your process of elimination and final selection?
For me, it's all about the creative journey and as I'm working towards creating an album, you have to kind of just keep creating songs because the journey is constantly shifting and evolving into what the final project eventually ends up being. Towards the end of the project, I usually end up scrapping most of the songs and writing completely new ones because I feel inspired by whatever I'm doing at that moment in time. With Aquarius I certainly decided what was going on the record myself, no one else can do that!
Was there a central theme throughout the record that you would keep coming back to during the writing and recording of Aquarius?
I just wanted it all to feel really true to who I was. Since it was kind of like my introduction to the world, I wanted it to feel of this moment but a timeless, very defined kind of sound. That was something that I constantly kept in mind.
What I love about Aquarius is that it seems like a natural evolution from your last mixtape, Black Water. It didn't seem like 'oh here's Tinashe's new shiny label sound.'
That's exactly what I wanted to do with the record, give my 'day one' fans something that is very true to me whilst debuting my sound and voice as an artist to everyone else.
2 On was of course your breakthrough track that has been this platinum smash worldwide. I was super excited that a female finally got on a DJ Mustard beat because it had been a long time coming. Had you been friends with the Bompton crew for a long time?
Yeah, when you're growing up in the LA music scene, you kind of see the same people over and over. I always felt like there was room for a female to get on a beat like that and get involved in that sound. There were like three different guys all over that sound and I felt a Mustard beat needed that female perspective. It just seemed really natural and I loved the energy of that beat, I've been dancing my whole life so to be able to incorporate that into my debut track and really put on a live show and make a video that was all me was really important.
I'm so hyped for your live show because you're a fucking amazing dancer and I feel like that's been missing recently. Growing up who did you admire in terms of showmanship?
Janet and Michael Jackson were always huge inspirations to me, I loved their music and their music videos. When I was a kid, I loved Britney Spears because she had that element of performance. I feel like it's been missing now too so I'm glad to be able to create that feeling again, where the live performance is given as much creative thought as the album.
I imagine you work quite intensively with a choreographer now?
I have a choreographer named JaQuel Knight, he's amazing and has worked with J Lo and Beyoncé, he actually did the Single Ladies routine. Our performance styles are a perfect match.
I know you wrote J Lo's I Luh you Papi. How does it feel like when someone takes a track that you've written?
I think at the end of the day, you just have to trust your instincts. As far as songs going to other artists, I instantly know there are songs that are right for me and then there are songs I write that I don't necessarily feel as strong of a personal connection towards. That was the case with Papi, I didn't feel I really connected with, so it wasn't hard for me to see it go...and J Lo killed it!
For people who are just catching on to you I feel there's this very cute image but to people who have been down with Tinashe for a long time, they understand you're incredibly deep, sophisticated and pretty raw. How have you created balance and stayed true to yourself?
That's always something that I try to keep in mind and to have to reiterate because it gets forgotten when more people are involved. When I first signed to the label, they did understand where I was coming from as an artist and they respected the fan base that I'd established with myself and the music that I'd created myself. They don't want me to lose that and they do respect my creative opinion, and for the most part, I always feel there's got to be balance. I've got to incorporate the stuff I've always done.
Did you turn down major label offers?
Yeah I did. It's always about finding someone who truly, really understands you, not trying to just force it, and just waiting until the timing is right. There're always these situations that present themselves and it's just like 'mehh', I just don't think that's the right thing to do right now. I held out for the deal that made the most sense as an artist.
You self-directed your last clip for the title track, Aquarius. Are you hoping to direct more?
Yeah, I would love to. On a bigger level especially, like videos that are really grungy and that seem self-made.
It really suited that track because you recorded that song in your bedroom right? It's DIY 100%.
Exactly, so I wanted that to come across in the visuals and not just seem super super glossy.
You've been in the game for most of your life, dancing, acting and singing. Was it a conscious decision to focus on the music and stop with the acting for awhile because you didn't want to be 'the girl from the TV show who sings'?
Absolutely. I wanted people to take the music seriously, I didn't want to be known as that girl on the TV show. You just say the lines and people don't find it as legitimate. Music is super important to me, so I definitely took a step back from acting when I was about 16. I was like right, now it's time to focus on the music so that people know that this is really what comes first for me.
Do you think that you'll ever go back to acting?
Yeah I think I will in the future, but I really wanted to establish that music was for real first. In the future I can grow and do other things, but for now definitely music is number one.
You've spoken out about how the industry often, with female artists, kind of pits them against each other and creates a feeling that there can only be one woman at a time, then with males there can be hundreds of the same kind of performer. Do you think it's simply inherent misogyny?
Yeah, I think some of that has to do with it for sure. I also think a lot of women in general are very competitive, so the industry tends to just make it into a competitive market. I really don't know what it's about, but I hope that it changes.
It was really beautiful when you and Drake flipped each other's tracks. There is a connection there as artists wherein you both make massive hits but it's also raw, emotional music. Do you have any plans to work with Drake in the again?
Maybe, we've actually worked on some stuff, but we have no plans on releasing it or anything. It doesn't live on any existing creative project. so we'll just see what happens. But yes, it was really big for me when he jumped on 2 On.
Are you already thinking and planning the next record?
I am, I'm always planning ahead. I mean obviously, these things take time, so I've definitely been thinking about where I want to go and starting some records as well.
Is there one person in music that you sort of look to as in inspiration in terms of the evolution and longevity of their career, like a Madonna?
Madonna's done that fantastically she is still so relevant after years and years and years and she knows what's going on with new artists too. I personally plan on growing in other aspects and ventures, I want to create fashion and film and just have different enterprises I could choose to do beyond music, so I don't know, the sky's the limit.
Text Courtney DeWitt
Portrait Stephanie Sian Smith
Live photography Courtney DeWitt