Tinashe: “I’m not just a cute girl signed to a record label”

R&B artist Tinashe (pronounced Ti-nah-shay) may only be 21 years old, but she’s already a more accomplished entertainer than most of us will be in our lifetimes. Her gorgeous 2014 offering Aquarius was one of the year’s best R&B albums, and she’s already hard at work on her follow-up release, as well as preparing for her international tour. Her lead singles 2 On (ft. Schoolboy Q) and Pretend (ft. A$AP Rocky) have racked up a collective 50 million plays on Spotify and more than 70 million views on YouTube – wow. She’s also modelled and acted, notably alongside Charlie Sheen in popular sitcom Two And A Half Men and in The Polar Express with Tom Hanks. Set to touch down in Australia next month, I was lucky enough to have a chat with her about sleeping on planes and being taken seriously in the music industry.

Despite being a top-40 artist and her obvious, extensive media-training (she’s been in the spotlight since she was three years old,) her dulcet Californian accent came through the phone with a genuine sense of honesty and kindness. “I’m super excited to come to Australia,” she says warmly. “I wanna go to the beach, I wanna see some cool stuff that I can’t see at home. I like to be able to explore and adventure.”

As an entertainer who clearly has little time to herself, she uses her time wisely; it’s not often that you hear people speak so fondly of long flights. “I usually catch up on sleep and watch a lot of movies. It’s really nice when I’m flying. We don’t get a lot of time to sleep in a bed, so I spend a lot of time sleeping on airplanes and vehicles. I bring my pillow everywhere I go!”

She reads, too, currently engrossed in ‘Outwitting the Devil,’ a 1938 novel by Napoleon Hill. “I love reading all kinds of books. This one’s an older book, but I read whatever interests me at the time.”

She loves reading, sleeping, going to the beach – as the conversation rolls on, it occurs to me that in some ways she’s kind of just like the rest of us. “I try to spend time outside, walk around, be in nature and spend time with my family.” In fact, she still lives at home with her family. “It’s really nice for me,” she says, and I can hear her smiling on the other end. “I’m not home a lot, so when I do come home once in a while it’s nice to not worry about anything, and be around people that are nice, I enjoy their company, it’s the best situation.”

She writes a lot of her music at home too, even recording some of it in her bedroom. “When I’m home I like thinking about creating music and being creative. When I’m on tour it’s hard to focus on being creative – I’m giving so much energy to the shows. I feel most comfortable at home, but I do try to write whenever I’m inspired.” With a small bedroom studio set up, numerous songs from Aquarius were completely written and recorded by her bedside. “I feel a lot of inspiration there, it’s so comfortable. I really like being in my own space and doing my own thing, I feel like I’m able to be more creative there.”

It’s really interesting to hear her speak about how much she loves writing and recording music independently; it’s surprising for a major label artist at her level, particularly when she’s worked with some of the biggest producers and artists, at the most renowned studios, in the world. “Interestingly enough, what I learnt the most [from my time in the studio] was to trust my own instinct and follow my own pace, and really be true to that when going in and creating songs. At the end of the day, those really feel true to me.”

It’s clear that she’s been under pressure to push her music in a certain direction – and not always the way she’s happy with. “It’s subtle,” she says, “but some people don’t necessarily understand exactly what  you want, and the end result becomes something you’re not 200% into, your heart isn’t in it. There’s wasted songs and wasted times, it’s not fun.”

There’s no denying that her beauty and sex appeal permeates her music and her career in general. She’s spoken of how the image of her album cover wasn’t what she wanted (she wanted one which covered her face,) but, upsetting as it was, she’s okay with the decision in the end. “I think sometimes people get caught up in certain rules [about image] but for me, you have to pick your battles. There’s a lot of things [RCA Records] give me a lot of creative control over. They’re a huge supporter and a big help, so at the end of the day the front cover wasn’t the end of the world, it’s still an image that I like. For the most part the album was what I wanted, and that was the most important thing.”

Her career hasn’t been without struggle, particularly as a female in a male-dominated industry. “[A challenge has been] just proving yourself to people, letting them know that you need to be taken seriously and you’re not just a cute girl signed to a record label. Developing that level of respect among other creatives so that they really bring you their best stuff, and to try and really respect you as an artist. I think it was a learning passage. It took a while but it’s exciting now.”

After her world tour, Tinashe will be touring the United States alongside Mullumbimby-born Iggy Azealia, before getting to work on her new album. Known for her energetic and beautifully stylised live shows, be sure to catch her on tour next month.

Tour dates:

Sunday 15th February: The Triffid, Brisbane
(Tix here)
Wednesday 18th February: Metro Theatre, Sydney
(Tix here)
Friday 20th February: The HiFi, Melbourne
(Tix here)