Simone talked to Billboard about collaborating with her wife, her love for Demi Lovato, her upcoming EP and more.
What was the process of writing "War Paint" like for you? What was the message you were trying to get across with the song?
So a few years ago I moved to Portland, and at that time, I didn't know anyone yet. I had never produced my own music, I didn't play any other instruments, I was just singing. So I bought a loop pedal and started looping my vocals and started making beats, and that's where I came up with the hook for "War Paint." That was a few years ago. And eventually, the song evolved.
The meaning itself is really about all of the shitty things that people have said to myself or my friends in the queer community, and I feel like it can relate to anyone who's ever felt ostracized for being who they are. In the song, you'll hear me say "lesbian bullshit." A family member had said that to my wife and I once. She was like, "Y'all need to stop posting that lesbian bullshit on Instagram and everywhere else." I laughed, but I was also like, "I'm gonna put this is in a fucking song. Hell no." [laughs] I should've thanked her, right? Yeah. That kind of catapulted into me pulling out different things that have been said to myself and my wife and our friends. Things that have been really hurtful, we should be reclaiming those words and using them as fuel to fire us up in a positive way, and fuel us to be empowered in ourselves. Really, the deeper message is about knowing your self-worth so deeply no matter what anyone has to say about it. Like, having this love armor on, so that no matter what anyone says about who you are and who you're being in the world, you can stand true and proud in yourself.
Speaking of your wife, is it true that she’s one of the dancers in this video?
Yeah it is! That's her, that's Che Che.
What was it like getting to work with her on this video?
Oh my gosh, it was the best ever. [laughs] We've been together for a little over five years now, we just got married in September. We've always wanted to work together, like the first couple years, we were like, "Oh, what if this doesn't go over well?" But it's gone great, we've collaborated a ton since.
She's a professional dancer and choreographer, so of course she was the first person I thought of when we were like, "Oh, let's make a music video." And she was obviously a huge part of this song, and a lot of it is inspired by conversations we're having or experiences that we're having together or separately. She is very much intertwined in all of it, and she's an inspiration for me. I am so excited that I got to work with her on every single one of the songs for our live show, and choreographing for each of the music videos that will be coming out, too.
The thing I noticed in this lyric and in others is that you speak directly in the music about your queerness. Is that important to you, to be overt in your music?
It's something I'm actively thinking about all of the time. I feel this duty, that I have to talk about it and I have to be open about it. I am so grateful for every queer artist that's being recognized for what they're doing, or for any artist that happens to be queer. And I think it's so important to have every type of music out there represented.
I personally feel this duty that in my own music, I want to be that person that I wish I had growing up, that would've made it ok for me to feel more comfortable in my own skin a lot sooner. Like, I want to see that vision for our queer youth, and just youth in general. Like, "Oh wow, this person's doing this? That's possible?" I think that's probably the biggest driver for me. I am all of these intertwined identities, and by me being really vocal about it and really loud about it, I feel like it can only create more tolerance in the world. If people see this more and more, then it starts to become less and less of an issue.
How does your Puerto Rican heritage factor into the music that you perform?
It's kind of, like, at the root of all of it. I grew up in Southern California, in a primarily white area, and there were definitely no Puerto Rican people in sight. Where I grew up, it was like, going to high school, no one spoke Spanish. There was none of my culture around, and then I would go home and as soon as I'd go inside my house, it was like Spanish-speaking only, Celia Cruz and Latin music playing all of the time. We would dance after dinner together, we would salsa, and so that's where music was born for me. I feel like that is my heritage, and that is like at the root of everything I'm creating. And that's how it's intertwined.
I found a cover you sang of Demi Lovato’s "You Don't Do It For Me Anymore." I love that song. What attracted you to singing that song and then uploading it?
First of all, I love Demi Lovato. I think she is such a powerhouse, and she's offering so much to the world right now. So I really look up to her.
The day she released that song was a Friday, and I heard it and I could not stop listening to it. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I need to make a cover of this." So I called my producer, got in the studio the next morning, I think, and then that Saturday, the day after she released that, I released my cover. So, it was a really nice easy turnaround.
Specifically to the song itself, I just felt really connected with it, because I loved how she's talking about how “oh, you don't do it for me anymore,” but she's talking about herself. She's talking about the old self, and for me that was like, "Oh yeah, the old, disempowered self that doesn't believe I can do anything. Can't do this thing that I'm going after that I know is my calling in life, that I believe down to my core." But we all have these internal demons that can get the best of us a lot of the time. I think that was just a really empowering song.
You've got your EP, LOVE//WARRIOR, coming out in June. What can we expect, in comparison with "War Paint"?
I think "War Paint" is definitely in the zone of, you know, unapologetic, empowering music, and being authentic to who you and celebrating that. I think that those themes really run throughout the entire EP. There's a love song on there that brings the tempo down a bit. I call myself a "love warrior," and that's the name of the EP, and I think it speaks to the fire that I have inside of me right now, and all of these songs will definitely point to that. Expect a lot of fire and feistiness and a lot of love.