Saving Room For Herself: Tinashe Interviewed

Saving Room For Herself: Tinashe Interviewed

R&B superstar talks newfound independence and lessons from ‘Songs For You’ era...

As Tinashe and much of the world sit home in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic this week and for weeks to come, fans have recognized the importance of one of the R&B superstar’s recent career moves.

Back in January, Tinashe partnered with Wave VR to present a full-length virtual-reality concert for fans who may not regularly have access to her live performances. The internet has since labeled her “ahead of her time” as musicians worldwide now turn to Instagram livestreams and entertain fans remotely amid social-distancing regulations.

“The performance element for me is such a huge part of who I am as an artist,” Tinashe tells Clash on Monday, calling from her home. “I just want to be able to get that across to even more people and I've been brainstorming how to execute that in a way where people still feel like they're engaged in the show.”

The VR venture came just months after Tinashe released her first independent album, 'Songs For You', to critical acclaim. A few of the album’s ingredients don’t stray too far from her previous musical projects, like her emotionally raw visuals - in particular, for pop anthem 'Save Room For Us' - or her signature melodic bridges like that on album stand-out 'Cash Race'. But the project wouldn’t be the same without Tinashe’s Chemical X, or rather, her newfound creative freedom.

While she says her creative freedom has never been completely limited, as debut album 'Aquarius' still proves nearly six years after its release, Tinashe’s 2019 departure from longtime label RCA Records has allowed her to rebuild her team. And this process has led to her most candid work yet in 'Songs For You'.

“I don’t think I’ve predicted any career turn or path I’ve taken,” Tinashe says of her shift to independence. “It's always been kind of a journey, an adventure.”

Adjusting to self-isolation measures, Tinashe spoke with Clash over the phone this week about 'Songs For You' and the adventure of making the perfect debut independent album.

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Obviously, these are unprecedented times to be doing an interview. Where are you now and how are you adjusting to quarantine?

I think pretty well. It’s not too disruptive of my typical day. I’m still able to be creative for the most part but obviously, it's still emotionally taxing.

During this, it's still been a good time for TikTok and you’ve put together your own challenge with Link Up. As a choreographer, can you describe approaching the creation of a TikTok challenge?

I think it's just about doing something that’s within people’s grasps that they can understand without being a professional dancer. It’s about everyone participating. That’s the ultimate goal. Of course.

And how do you feel fan reactions and submissions have been?

They’ve been so cute. I can’t think of any that have stuck out more than others, but there’s been so many good ones.

Do you think it's helping people get through these strange times?

I think just people are starved for positive content and they want to see stuff that makes them feel good and smile and is something happy, a happy distraction. That's where that falls in.

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And you’ve already been ahead of the curve with the work-from-home stuff. I remember your VR concert back in January, and with all going on with self-isolation, Twitter is now saying you were ahead of your time. How was that experience and do you think it could be the future of concerts?

Yeah. I was really interested in working on being able to bring live experiences, like on demand, to basically people who maybe don't live in major markets or can't easily access concerts.

The performance element for me is such a huge part of who I am as an artist. I just want to be able to get that across to even more people and I've been brainstorming how to execute that in a way where people still feel like they're engaged in the show.

Because obviously, that’s a one-time, you-can-never-see-this-again experience, kind of like in sports. It’s what's intriguing about it or what makes it so special.

So how do you bring that same energy to these concert experiences, where it feels like this is the only time you can get this or this is the only way you can get it?

I was thinking about that and trying to figure out what's next in that realm, and then collaborating with Wave VR on actually making a digital avatar. So bringing that content experience, but doing it digitally was kind of a cool experiment.

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How long was that process?

It took maybe three months to do. And that’s something you’d be down to do again?

Yes, absolutely. And I want to talk about this album because there would not be a VR show without 'Songs For You'.

It’s been a long road to this record, but would you have predicted eight years ago - when you dropped your first mixtape - that you’d be back releasing independently again?

I don’t think I’ve predicted any career turn or path I’ve taken. It's always been kind of a journey, an adventure. And I just try to try to take that in stride, but yeah, I don't think I would have ever definitely seen that coming.

Do you remember how you felt on release day?

I was really excited. I just read all the comments once, for literally all day. This project felt differently to finally get it out there and felt like a big accomplishment personally.

I know it was meant to be a release for you, but do you feel it's been just as much an album for your fans?

Yeah. I think it touches on a lot of how I was feeling when I was creating the music and it’s really authentic to who I am. And I think that translates in the music itself. So I really love everything [about it].

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I love how often you switched it up with these melodic bridges, too, specifically in 'Link Up' and 'Cash Race'. (I've been playing favorites, etc.) Do you see this as your signature? What goes into giving a song that perfect second-half spin?

I think it’s something that I’ve experimented with for a while. I just love being able to combine [sounds] at the expense of any structure or any rules, being able to just piece together the parts that I think will make the song better and having that be the main focus is the goal.

That video of you putting the project together showed how the melodies clearly come to you before the lyrics. Was this usually the process with 'Songs For You'? And at least for this album, did it feel the same in terms of the creative process for the other records?

I think the writing process was really natural and organic and felt like it really flowed, which as a creative is all you can ask for and hope for. And I think that that's when your best stuff happens as well. So I felt like I was really tapped in. And it was almost easy.

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Are you one of those artists who can listen to a track and just have a melody enter your head?

I'm usually my first instinct. I first initially see the idea that I end up going with, or typically my best idea, toward the beginning of when I start singing. So yeah, it's really natural and instinctual for me how I create music.

Is that how the visuals for 'Songs For You' have come together?

Not as much. The visuals are different, usually I conceptualize them later. These have been some of your best yet, most recently 'Save Room For Us'.

With this seemingly being your most emotional video for the project, what was different about filming this one?

I wanted it to be very dance-based and very simple in terms of what the focus of it was. But I also wanted to really cut through because the song itself, for me, has a lot of underlying emotion in it.

So I definitely just wanted to highlight those two things. And I think that's exactly what we accomplished.

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What has the musical independence done for your visuals?

I can kind of have the freedom to make whatever kind of creative decisions I want, which I was able to do before, but there's always this kind of chain of command that you still have to kind of get approval from. So it's never purely your decision. As opposed to now, where it is. You’ve mentioned already working on new music on Twitter.

As an independent artist now, do you feel like you’re finally moving at your own pace?

A much, much quicker pace than I could before. I mean, there's still a legal aspect to releasing music that's always a factor, but I think I have much more control over the pace and in general, just decisions.

And, before we go, what has the journey to this album taught you?

I think probably the most is to be open and vulnerable, but also to just really again, trust your instincts because they will always kind of guide you to the right place and when you do that, that's when the best results will come.

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Words: Brenton Blanchet

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