Hip-Hop

After Celebrating a Birthday & New EP, Alina Baraz Is Enjoying Her Golden Hour

Alina Baraz
Baz/Jason Lee

Alina Baraz

Last Friday (Sept. 24), Alina Baraz celebrated her 28th birthday. While some people would typically stuff their faces in a cake to celebrate reaching another year, the singer-songwriter was in more of a giving mood -- gifting her fans a new batch of music in the form of her latest EP, Sunbeam

Baraz's EP is a four-song missive dedicated to lovers in need of a balmy soundtrack. By locking in with producers Lophilie and Spencer Stewart, Baraz pens gutsy anthems where she unapologetically submits to the grips of love. "Between Us" finds her swirling through a colorful sample and appreciating the days shared between her and her beau. 

"That was such a cool session," remembers Baraz. "Lophilie was like, 'Hey. I want you to listen to this side project I made.' I was going on my way to the studio, and that sample is a sample from his [SoundCloud] project years ago... I was so obsessed with the sample that I ended up making the whole melody in the car on my way to the session. It was so effortless and natural. I came into the session and said, 'This is what we're doing.'"

Baraz's altruism will shine on beyond Sunbeam, as she plans to release a follow-up EP "very soon." In the meantime, she will embark on her latest tour beginning this week, where she hopes to transport fans to different worlds. "I think as I'm growing my catalog, there's so much music and I'm excited to connect things," she gushes. "I think [fans] can expect to be transported to all these worlds that I've now created."

Billboard spoke to Baraz about her new EP Sunbeam, learning about herself during the pandemic, becoming more vocal as an artist, and more. 

Your debut album dropped right at the start of the pandemic last year. Were you able to celebrate you at all?

It was definitely very humbling. I was at my mom's house in Ohio. I felt like it was only right. It was my debut. It brought me back to all of the reasons why I started this. To me, even though it felt like I had so much planned -- like, I wanted a release party -- it just always felt right to humble myself, sit at my mom's house, look at my dog and say, "I did this s--t." 

Did you face any creative roadblocks during the pandemic?

So I made these EPs during quarantine, each one in a month. I remember during my first session back -- I'm already so introverted and I'm good in my own world and bubble -- but coming back to sessions were really hard. Like I didn't even know how to carry a conversation. I was like, "What are we doing?" It took me few sessions to make something that I enjoyed because I couldn't get out of my head.

Do you remember the first record you finished that made you feel like you were out of that rut?

So I made the second EP first. That was the first one I made. I knew exactly the sound I was going for and it was the lane that I wanted to be in thematically. It was like everything didn't matter after that. I felt so driven. I felt good again.

Were there any experiences that you went through as a woman that maybe helped served as a benefit to you later from an artistic standpoint? 

I don't know as a woman, but I think that I talked to more people in my quarantine life than I normally would. I think we all felt a little bit more lonely. So it caused me to develop more relationships in my life. I think that I actually had a lot to talk about. It was totally opposite. I was fully getting involved in way more things than I normally used to entertain.

What does turning 28 mean to you? 

It's always the same for me. I love releasing music on every birthday. It's like the best present that I can ever receive. For me, releasing that EP on my birthday is just the reminder that this is what it looks like to not compromise. This is what it looks like to unapologetically go for something.  That's always my goal every year. I love bringing that on a birthday because to me, it's just like a new year.

Is there anything that you want to leave behind at 27 and not bring into this new chapter of your life?

I think I will happily leave any toxic remaining relationships that I choose to entertain. I think I've grown strong enough to walk away from something like that and I think I'm choosing better things for myself.

Why did you think it was a better idea to separate the music into two EPs instead of coming out with one entire collection of music? 

I think they're so thematically different. They're two sets of different emotions. Sunbeam is so focused on outwardly thoughts. It's like a new relationship: "What can I do for you? I wanna get to know you." It feels like the sun. It feels good whereas the second EP, there's so much grit to it. It's so dark and it's like the aftermath of a relationship where you're left with these thoughts in your head. They're so different and I just want people to hear them at separate times.

You've referred to these EPs as "bookmarks" and "self-reminders." Are there records for you on Sunbeam that maybe have the most color and bring out the best memories for you?

Yeah, the fourth song, "I Could Imagine." My favorite songs are the ones where I'm the most honest with myself. I think as much as I love to talk about escaping, there's nothing like an emotion coming to the surface that I love to avoid. This [feeling] just came and I couldn't avoid it. That always sticks out for me. It's just a true, raw emotion to me.

Do you feel like you've been able to untap a new, different level of honesty because of this pandemic? 

Yes, but I don't think so much with this pandemic. I think just growing as a woman, as an artist, as a daughter, as a sister or anything, I'm now so crazy sure of my emotions. I remember I was so nervous to address any type of pain or trauma because it was way out of peoples' shoulders, but I clearly learned that we all come together through pain or through joy but we all relate to it. It's way easier.

You've collaborated in the past with Khalid and 6LACK. Is there anything that you sometimes try to take and emulate from other artists and make into your own artistically?

For sure. It's not a lot of times that I collaborate with other artists. I'm super picky, but with Khalid, I love working in the studio with him. Everyone has such a different process. This is such a random thing, but I remember one time my friend took me to a Brent Faiyaz [session]. It was super early on and he was working on something. I was blown away by how people have such different processes. Even building stacks of harmonies or I remember listening to the bass and it just changed my perspective. There's so many instruments that I can start from. I can just start with melodies and harmonies stacks, but everyone's processes is so different that I learn each time.

I loved the beat-switch on "Alone With You." Whose idea was it to implement that?

We ended up making "Alone With You" and we didn't have any of the bass to switch up, but I kept hearing something in my brain -- like it wasn't right. I think that's when you have such an amazing connection. Me and Spencer both kind of had the same feeling and we just sat there [and] went through bass-lines until it felt right. It just suddenly became that and it felt so right. I feel like it brings elements from Urban Flora to It Was Divine. There's so many things that mesh together on that song.

If you could pick one word or phrase to title this current chapter in your life, what would it be and why?

It would probably be "golden hour."  I think it's the most blissful moment in a day. It's my favorite time of the day and this is what it feels like coming into this chapter. It feels like this is the moment that I've been waiting for.