Ford Front Row: Up Close and Personal With… Tinashe

Tinashe attends the iHeartSummer '17 Weekend By AT&T, Day 1 at Fontainebleau Miami Beach on June 9, 2017 in Miami Beach, Fla.
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Tinashe attends the iHeartSummer '17 Weekend By AT&T, Day 1 at Fontainebleau Miami Beach on June 9, 2017 in Miami Beach, Fla.

This year, Billboard and Ford have teamed up to bring you a stellar run of intimate experiences, allowing a few thousand lucky gig-goers across four events the chance to get up-close-and-personal with chart-topping and future music stars. Kicking off at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles on July 27 is R&B star Tinashe. Herself a resident of LA, the singer, actress and dancer responsible for smashes such as “2 On” and “All Hands On Deck” is super-excited to play on home turf, promising a night of fun and positivity ahead of the release of her next highly anticipated album Joyride, due sometime later this year.

We caught up with her in advance of the Ford Front Row show to talk about how she got to where she is today, what's in the pipeline and writing deep songs from the age of five.

Let's go back to the beginning of your career. Your parents worked in education growing up and you turned to music at such a young age. What inspired that in you?

Tinashe: It was instinctual. I gravitated towards being creative. I like to make something out of nothing and I've loved to entertain and put on a show since I was a baby. It's always been in me.

You moved to LA at the age of 8 from Lexington, Kentucky. Was that to benefit your career?

T: Not necessarily. I had just shot a movie in LA so maybe that was part of the reason why it was a possibility. My parents were interested in taking a chance. They wanted to get out of the Midwest and were either going to move to New York or LA. They ended up in LA.

Because you were working so hard as a kid, did you feel like music and performance became an all or nothing goal of yours? You have to make this work?

T: Yeah, absolutely. It's always been Plan A for me and something I've worked towards as long as I can remember.

You talked about having this natural inclination. You started songwriting at such a young age. What informed that?

T: I was always just singing. I was probably a loud kid. You know how kids make things up and play pretend? That was the way songwriting came to me. I naturally would just sing about things. I'm not sure they were songs or structural in the pop sense, but I was always just singing, creating melodies and writing. The first time I ever wrote a song down on paper I was five.

What was it about?

T: It was about being there for somebody when they're afraid or lonely. Really deep for a five-year-old.

Your songs are confessional in style. How has your songwriting evolved? What kind of messages are you promoting?

T: I always go back to the same overriding themes even if they're discussed through different narratives. In general I try to go for empowerment, to write songs that are about being fully in control of yourself, accepting the things that make you you. As a general note I shy away from being self-deprecating and super vulnerable. I just wanna uplift people, make them feel good about themselves.

You left High School early to pursue music and you had a tough time there. Did you turn to music to uplift yourself in those times?

T: Yeah, of course. Even at that age when I didn't necessarily want to be in high school, I was able to focus on my songwriting and career and really just made the decision that I was gonna go 150% towards what I want. That's something I try to encourage young people to do: go after the things that they want instead of waiting for everything to fall into your lap. Take the initiative.

You began releasing music via mixtapes. What do you think mixtape culture does to build your identity as an artist? How important was that to you?

T: It was a really special time. Now mixtapes aren't as popular. When I was putting it out a lot of people were putting out free music. You didn't have these parameters on what you could and couldn't release because nobody was making any money off of them. That was really exciting to have so much creative freedom.

You've been able to collaborate with many behind-the-scenes producers and major star players, like Britney and Nick Jonas, Clams Casino, DJ Mustard, Wolf Cousins etc…

T: I've been very lucky to work with a lot of people that I admire. I've got to work with people who were on my bucket list.

Of all those collaborators, who surprised you the most or taught you something you weren't expecting?

T: Seeing people's process is very intriguing. I don't know who's been the most surprising. Britney Spears was huge. I loved working with Future and Travis Scott. Chance The Rapper, too. It's fun to look back and see how far we've all come.

Do you still have people on your bucket list?

T: Andre 3000, Sade and Janet Jackson. I used to not think I could put people like that on my bucket list. Britney was on there and I thought – that'll never happen. But then these things do happen, so I'll just go ahead and say: I'd like to work with Beyonce, Jay Z, Kanye West and Andre 3000, ha!

You produce and write all of your own music. Why did you want to teach yourself production? Was it challenging? Is that something that other females are perhaps mislead about?

T: I'm not sure why less women do it. Perhaps it's been a numbers game. When it's a super male-dominated field, obviously other males are attracted to those same positions in production and engineering. For me, getting involved in that side was just out of necessity. I was unsigned at the time and I didn't wanna sign a production deal or find a mentor to create the music for me. I took it upon myself to create the music myself and I figured out how to do that, watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials and taught myself. It was advantageous because it takes away some of the limitations.

Let's talk about your forthcoming album Joyride. Are you still working on it? When's it coming?

T: Yeah. Who knows? It's been almost finished for a while now. I'm just focused on making a ton of music and making it the best I can. I'm super creative right now, I've been in the zone making songs every single day, and the project could come out at any time. It'll feel right when it's right, but it's not for lack of music. I'm excited.

Looking forward to this show you're playing at the Belasco, what do you have in store?

T: I may have some surprises. We'll see. Every time I perform it's super high-energy and I want everyone to dance with us and leave feeling inspired. It'll be fun.

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