Alina Baraz on Her Surprise 'Color of You' EP, Working With Khalid, and Getting Over Heartbreak
After capturing the SoundCloud audience with her debut EP, 2015's Urban Flora, Alina Baraz is sinking her perfectly manicured nails even deeper into her atmospheric, genre-defying sound with this year's The Color of You EP. The surprise release finds the 24-year-old singer opening up about her romantic life with unprecedented candor, using the songs as a mirror to reflect on the mistakes she's made throughout her relationship journey. Highlights include the bouncy "I Don't Even Know Why Though," the tender electronic ballad "Yours," and her two melancholic tunes with frequent collaborator Khalid -- "Electric" and "Floating."
Ahead of her headlining North American tour (which kicks off on Sept. 6 in Houston with special guests Cautious Clay, JMSN, and Lolo Zouaï), Alina Baraz spoke to Billboard about getting over heartbreak, discovering her aura, and what's to come on her next album.
The “Yours” video has such a beautiful, ‘70s-inspired aesthetic. How did you come up with that concept?
We actually had a photo shoot that day, so it was a very last minute thing. I thrive on situations like that, where you have to come up with ideas on the spot. Right now I’m super inspired by Super 8 and VHS footage -- I think they made anything look really cool. I was looking at these chandelier reference photos, and I wanted to find a way to make it cool. Instead of just sitting under a chandelier, I thought it would be better to be in one.
You also seem to be inspired by Old Hollywood as well. The way you’re doing your makeup and the glamorous curls give me Rita Hayworth vibes.
Yeah! I love anything super glammed up. Even with my hair [in the “Yours" video], it was slicked back, and I’ve been wanting to do that kind of style for a while.
I love that sample of Mint Condition’s "What Kind of Man Would I Be" in “I Don’t Even Know Why Though,” but the song is surprisingly uptempo compared to your previous work. Were you nervous about how fans would receive the new sound?
I wasn’t nervous, I was just very curious about how it would be received because everything that people have known so far [has been] Urban Flora. You can obviously tell the difference between those two projects, and I love that. You can see that I’m growing and going out of my comfort zone. I could do another Urban Flora, but it’s a thrill to do something else. It was a weird [coincidence] that day [when I chose the sample]. I love Mint Condition and I’ve been listening to them nonstop for the past couple of months, so it had been on my mind. I love that guitar riff. So I came into the studio, and the producer said that we should do something with Mint Condition, which I thought was a weird thing. That guitar riff didn’t inspire me to write the whole song, but it definitely fueled my emotions that day.
And the video for “I Don’t Even Know Why Though” is also quite cinematic.
For that song, I wanted the video to capture my personality. I’m very much an extreme person -- it can be a good and bad thing. I often go through very low lows and high highs, so I wanted to capture the cycles in that song. It’s almost a contradiction. One minute things can be good, and then another everything gets confusing where you’re questioning everything.
I connect with “Fallin” the most on The Color of You. Isn’t it so frustrating when we find ourselves running back to guys even though we know they’re not good for us?
Mood! That song is literally about that. I think my life is so hectic sometimes that I often will go back to the people that comfort me. “Fallin” was playing a little bit into my weaker side when I was running back to someone who wasn’t necessarily the best for me. But it felt good at the time, so I let my emotions just do what they wanted. I think that’s what is cool about the project. I didn’t really avoid talking about those things because they do happen. [The song] is a big moment in that project.
I think that’s why fans relate to your music, because you’re so honest with your relationship experiences. Do you have advice on how to deal with heartbreak?
Hmm. You know, I wanna say that time heals everything but it’s something I constantly go back to. I honestly don’t know if that’s true. But it is what you do with the time in between [the break-up]. Some of the greatest things that I’ve accomplished came after heartbreak. So as much as the world is collapsing and everything seems terrible, the greatest things come when you just take the next step from that heartbreak.
What other important love lessons have you learned so far?
I never really see them as lessons. But I feel like I’m always learning something about myself. [The last] time that I fell in love, it was the deepest that I’ve ever reached of what I thought love was. I didn’t even know I could love or be loved in a capacity like that. As cliché as it sounds, the most important thing I’ve learned is that I have to come to terms with myself and I have to love myself first before I let anyone else do it. The whole world could believe in me, but if I don’t, I don’t know what good that is. Someone’s love and acceptance can’t really fill the void of my unacceptance.
You’re a Libra, and I've read that Libras tend to fall harder in relationships. Do you think your Zodiac sign guides your music?
I don’t go hardcore reading about horoscopes and astrology, but it definitely affects me. When I go to a bookstore, I’m heading to the astrology section. Whenever I read about my horoscope, I’m like “Shit, that’s very correct.” I recently took this aura reading, and it was so cool. You put your hand in this meter, and it showed me my aura color. I learned that I’m a yellow personality and read so much about it. So I’m definitely fascinated by astrology and numerology. I don’t know if it necessarily guides my music, but I do learn about myself, and I think that helps my music.
What does the yellow aura mean?
I’ve so far read that it comes from power -- I’ll do whatever it takes to get my work done. But there’s obviously good and bad to power. I literally just went yesterday, so I don’t know much about it. [Laughs] But I’m definitely fascinated by it.
This record is titled The Color of You. What is it about colors that affects you?
Colors are almost like my therapy. If I want to feel a certain way or feel better, I know there are certain colors I can go to. Or if I have to come to terms with something that I don’t want to, there are colors to turn to that can help me. But [the reason] why I named this The Color of You was since I work so much with colors, when something unknown comes by... that was what initially threw me off. Something came into my life, and I couldn’t describe it, so I started thinking of it as a color that didn’t really exist before. It took me time to understand that color.
So what’s your favorite color?
It’s always been red. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always been drawn to red. My favorite color to write in is blue, but I’m always buying things in red.
Your upcoming headlining tour will be your first since your Coachella debut. Do you still get nervous before going on stage?
I don’t get any type of nerves anymore. I’ll still get butterflies before I go on stage, but now it’s more exciting to me. For my first few shows, I was so nervous that I wanted to pass out. I thought that performing was probably going to be my downfall because I assumed I’d always be nervous. But I got over it really fast.
Are there any must-haves that you need on the road?
Bus life is so different because candles on the road are such a hazard -- but I’ll still bring them [Laughs]. It’ll always start out so healthy where I have all the healthy foods, and by the end of it we’ll just eat pizza. So I can’t say anything food-wise! But important things for me are speakers and any musical equipment. I still have to be able to make music if I feel the need to.
The Color of You is the prelude to the actual album. What can we expect from it?
I think there might be a few things coming before the actual album. I wanted The Color of You to be a timeline, and it’s kind of an extension of what the album would be. Everything that you’ve seen from me, you will see a mix of all those things [on the album].
You’ve collaborated with Khalid multiple times now. What is it about your chemistry that makes the music so special?
It’s one of those things that I don’t really try to analyze. Sometimes people just walk into your life and you don’t really know why it’s so good, but it just is. And he’s one of those people. I love when iit’s not a contrived situation. You just need someone [on a song] and not because someone is pressuring you. It’s just one of those connections where I don’t really have to explain myself -- we just understand each other. And especially when we harmonize, there’s something really cool about it that I haven’t experienced with others.
Who else do you have on your collaboration list?
I’d love to work with André 3000. But there’s so many young artists who inspire me right now who are just blowing my mind -- I love Billie Eilish.
You’ve were private at the start of your career. Why was now the right time for you to begin opening up in interviews?
It was just timing. Like even in a relationship, it takes time to get to know someone, and I kind of view [my career] as a relationship. It’s very personal, even though it’s with the whole world. I felt like I needed time to reveal certain layers in order for them to be appreciated. So much is thrown at you, we naturally just miss things. And it just felt right. I didn’t want to think so much of it. I thought maybe it was time to start revealing more of myself.
Your voice is so soulful and leans toward R&B, which is genre pioneered by black artists. Do you ever feel pressure because of that?
I think music can transcend anything: your physical appearance, mentally -- just anything. I make music to heal, and that’s all I want it to be looked at as. I don’t want it to be a dissection of what I look like or who I am. It’s important, but at the end of the day, I just want to get my message across. And I wouldn’t necessarily identify myself as a R&B singer. I’m heavily inspired by R&B, but I want to get to a point where I don’t have to describe it as [a specific genre]. I just want it to be music.