Today, Billboard launches a new franchise highlighting up-and-coming country acts. Rookie of the Month will showcase one rising star each month who has caught our eyes and ears.
The series kicks off with Tiera, who self-releases her debut EP today (March 12). The set, which includes a soaring duet with Breland, is an upbeat ode to romantic love with Tiera’s sweet and supple vocals upfront. She also serves up a feisty reminder that she’s in charge on “Not Your Girl.”
The release is the latest in a banner year for the 22-year old Birmingham, Alabama native. Tiera was the first songwriter signed to Songs & Daughters, the female-focused publishing company started by hit songwriter Nicolle Galyon. She was also a member of CMT’s 2020 Next Women of Country and hosts her own weekly show on Apple Music Country.
You describe your music as R&B country. How did growing up in Alabama form your sound?
I grew up around both R&B and country because my parents would play it around the house all the time so I think it’s just something that naturally comes out when I’m writing!
Your EP is very upbeat, but on focus track “Not Your Girl,” you also make it clear that you have to stay true to yourself. Was there something specific that inspired it?
I wrote “Not Your Girl” with Cameron Bedell and Jack Newsome — and we were just talking about the nature of the music business, and how it’s really easy to be swayed into putting out music that’s not authentic to the artist. It’s always been important to me to stay true to who I am, and only put out music that’s 100% me. We wrote this song from a relationship perspective, but I really want this song to be encouragement for anybody to just stay true to themselves and not let anybody change that.
The music on your EP sounds thoroughly modern, but you have touchstones to classic ‘70s country females. Who influenced you the most on both the country and R&B side?
Oooh love that! I’m a huge Dolly Parton fan — who isn’t?! — and I also really love JoJo and Beyonce! Their runs and melodies are insane, and definitely something I draw inspiration from for my own music.
“Miles,” your duet with Breland, was your first collaboration. The song draws from your own love life. Why did you choose him, even though you hadn’t met him?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Breland’s voice, and how he’s not afraid to pull from different genres in his own music — so it just felt right to have him on “Miles.” He added such a cool hip hop/country vibe to “Miles” that I don’t think anybody else could have, so I’m so glad he hopped on the song!
You were the first artist signed to Songs & Daughters’ publishing company. What is the best advice that the company’s president Nicolle Galyon has given you and what did it mean to be the first signing?
It’s still so surreal hearing those words! I’ve looked up to Nicolle ever since I started writing my own music, and even listened to a lot of the songs she’s written to learn how to write for myself. It’s so crazy to be able to work with her on a daily basis. One of the biggest things she always tells me is to trust my gut with everything I do.
Why did you decide to release the EP on your own?
It all comes back to what we wrote “Not Your Girl” about. I wanted to make my mark on country music my own way.
Are you looking to sign a record deal? If so, what are you looking for?
Absolutely! For me it’s all about finding the right partner that is just as excited about the vision and music as I am and isn’t afraid to step out of the box a little.
People may have first learned of you from USA Network’s music showcase series Real Country. What did you take away from that experience that shaped you as a songwriter and artist?
One of my biggest takeaways from being on Real Country was when we got to talk to Shania Twain standing on the Grand Ole Opry stage. That in itself was such a surreal moment — but I specifically remember Shania talking about her story, and her journey in country music, and then saying to always stay true to who you are. Shania has never been afraid to be who she is, whether people like it or not.
You were part of CMT’s Next Women of Country class of 2020. How did that help build a sense of community with your fellow female artists?
I went to a couple of the CMT Next Women of Country events before I moved to Nashville and was always just so amazed at the level of talent there was — so it’s such an honor to be a part of the group! I’ve written with a lot of the ladies in my class and other classes, and it’s so fun to get to collaborate with these girls.
The country music community is going through a reckoning in how to be more inclusive. What has your experience been like as a Black country artist?
I’ve been so blessed to have some amazing mentors in this business. When I first moved to Nashville I met two publishers named Laurel Kittleson and JD Groover. They introduced me to every publisher and writer in town and were always there for advice when I needed it. I’ve been in Nashville for three years, and throughout that time I’ve gained some amazing champions that have pushed for some incredible opportunities for me. I’ve truly been blessed with such a great musical family here in Nashville.
Artists like Carly Pearce and Kelsea Ballerini have tweeted support for you. What has that meant to you in terms of boosting your confidence or signs that you’re on the right path? Do you have collaborations coming with either one of them?
Before I moved to Nashville, I would do covers of some of my favorite country artists — including Kelsea and Carly — so when they tweeted about my song I flipped out! I recently went out to lunch with Carly, and she was so genuine and supportive and just wanted to be there in any way I needed. She’s become like a big sister to me, and it’s so great to be able to talk candidly about this season of life for me musically, and get advice from her.
As far as collaborations go, Kelsea and I are planning to write together at some point, so who knows what could happen. I’ve been such a fan of Kelsea’s since she started, and I am just so flattered and grateful that she has been listening to and sharing my music with her fans.
Most of your play has come from streaming. Do you see yourself as a radio artist now, or do you expect that to come later as you continue to build?
I definitely want to hit radio at the right time. I see myself building my career and fanbase right now, and then jumping to radio when the time is right.
You have a daily show on Apple Music Country where you have different musical themes and interview artists. How has that helped you grow as an artist yourself?
We do this thing called “Fan Friday” every week, where listeners send in some of their favorite songs to play on the show so I’ve discovered so much music through that. It’s given me a lot of insight on what people like to listen to everyday, and I’ve been able to carry that into the writers room when thinking about content for new songs.
What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment so far?
Seeing my face on a billboard in Times Square for Spotify! That was an absolute dream come true and definitely something I will never forget!