Her voice is sweet and her lyrics are filled with emotion. Her music digs deeper than the surface, and is crafted with precision. Her name is Sza and she is here to share her music and herself to the world. Take a glimpse inside her mind in this interview with Giant Step contributor, Andrea K. Castillo.
I first became familiar with your EP through Giant Step and I immediately downloaded, and I listened, and listened, and thought, “Wow, this is really great! Let me learn more about this girl.” So I read all your press stuff and decided to do an interview, so here it is. We’re in the time of Sza. Your EP, See Sza Run, has been out for a few weeks now, tell me a little bit about the process, I know you worked with a bunch of different producers, how was that experience?
Sza: Super. A lot of these happened by chance. You’d be surprised at how any people don’t give you beats or don’t give you permission for anything, so I pretty much stole three-quarters of my project. Once they [the producers] heard it, they weren’t as angry with me. It was definitely interesting, I was like “That sounds good, MINE!”, and just ran with it.
So it’s seven tracks, and when listening it is very atmospheric and I can see what you are talking about. It’s a little dark, but I like that, and your lyrics are very refined. How long have you been writing?
Sza: That’s a really good question. I’ve been a writer, prior to singing or anything, for a very long time. That was my strong suit. Even in high school I was in AP English…writing is my thing. I’m a serious reader and heavily into poetry, so before I even opened my mouth and thought “Maybe I should try to translate this into something, it’s crowded in here”, I had to find a way to get these thoughts out of my brain.
You paint a picture with your words, and in regards to your visuals, I noticed across the board there are a lot of flowers; the album artwork, the music videos. Can you tell us more about your choice to use floral imagery in your work?
Sza: My mom was somewhat of a botanist, so gardening, plant life, that’s all her sh*t, and my dad was super into science. I went to school for science, so I love plant life and wild life. Knowing a lot about flowers and what they represent and the energy they bring…I use a lot of tiger lilies in my work because they used to grow in my backyard all the time; those are my favorite, they’re so pretty.
Pink tiger lilies are my favorite.
Sza: Orange are mine, or the all white ones are gorgeous too. That’s [white tiger lilies] what’s on my album cover.
Album artwork by Kareem Blair
It almost reminded me of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.
Sza: Awesome! So funny that you say that! It was definitely Georgia O’Keeffe inspired.
Georgia O’Keeffe - Calla Lillies
The more I listened and viewed, I became a little art nerd and said to myself, “It’s more than just music, it’s actual art!” So I go through the songs more, and one song in particular “Once Upon a High” stood out to me.
Sza: So with “Once Upon a High” I was recording on Garage Band and it was the only song on my project that was last minute. I had a session with my home girl, it’s not all me singing, it’s my best friend Ashley, and she doesn’t sing. We were high and in my attic and she just chimed in and I let it rock. She has a really pretty voice…that was definitely the ‘wing it’ song.
I was listening to the lyrics and heard a Sade reference from “No Ordinary Love”. Would you say she is an inspiration to you?
Sza: Not the biggest. I listen to Sade on Pandora, but only when I’m riding my bike at night. It’s very momentary. If I’m in the tub, Sade, or riding my bike, Sade, or if I just want to super chill. But any other time, Beirut, Little Dragon…
LOVE Little Dragon.
Sza: I love Yukimi, she’s amazing. So funny, I bumped into her at The Roots Picnic last year, and ran up on her; it was super awkward. She’s the only person I stan out for; pretty funny.
Have you had any other experiences with different musicians where you’re like “I really like you, but I don’t want to be a creep.”?
Sza: You know what’s crazy? I’m such…no, no. I don’t like very many people, but it’s not because I don’t think they are awesome, it’s just that there are few people that I respect enough to stan out for. Most people I would stan out for are dead anyway.
So who’s in your top, dead or alive?
Sza: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, Bjork …I love Bjork. I would say I would stan for Lauryn Hill, but she went to my high school so I ran into her a thousand times. She’s worth hearing a thousand times, and I don’t even care; she’s amazing. I love Clockwork Orange, Coldplay, SBTRKT…there are some that I would allow myself to get in fan mode for. I met Kendrick Lamar once. That was awesome.
I really like his music. He seems super chill.
Sza: So sweet, super shy. I had to do an impromptu interview for The Source magazine with him. I had to interview him for my friend from college at The Source, they said “We don’t have anyone in there and the show is over so this is where you come in.” So basically I ended up interviewing Kendrick Lamar.
How was that?
Sza: It was his first New York show, so he was super stunned at how much people loved him, but seriously, they zombied out for him that whole show. This was at Gramercy Theatre during CMJ. It was so epic…beautiful.
So in regards to artists of this generation, who are you looking forward to, or would like to work with in the not too distant future?
Sza: I’ve been trying to find Zoo Kid/King Krule, he did Fader Fort a while ago. He’s some kid from Britain, ginger baby, super thin, freckles, probably the most amazing, I talk about him all the time. My InstaGram is flooded with pictures of him; I LOVE him. He’s so emotive. He’s like the personification of teenage angst. I would love to find him, but I heard that it’s next to impossible to get a collaboration with him, but I’ll stale mate. I will wait it out until I get it. Frank Ocean for sure, but not really, I just want to pick his brain…and rapper-wise, that can wait.
Music Video for King Krule “The Noose of Jah City”
In regards to live shows, what can the crowd expect from you?
Sza: Honestly I feel everything should be an experience, even if I wasn’t live. I love harmonies because they create a moment; they create a certain head space, a certain energy. As long as you can create an experience or an energy, whether in person or MP3, or over the phone, that’s where my angle is. I’m gonna bring out the six candles and a bottle of wine, and I’m gonna talk to you, and we’re gonna be low-key in my living room but not really. That’s what it’s all about. Just connecting the people, so that’s what they should expect. My band is Mr. Tough; they’re amazing, super amazing, so it’s just an experience for sure. At rehearsals recently I’ve just been so excited. I just want to share.
So talk to me a little bit more about this New York show you have coming up in December.
Sza: That’s something I’m really excited about. I think it will give me an opportunity to just do whatever. I’m sure my manager is nervous because I don’t really give a f*ck. I will probably just be on stage in a T-shirt and no pants, and some sneakers. It’s because I feel like if I’m most comfortable, everyone else will be comfortable and open themselves up, and chill out with me. I’m hoping to open people’s eyes. I know I don’t have a ton of photos on the Internet and I’m not a super visually accessible person, so I want to give this the opportunity to be like “Don’t fret! You wanna see me? Come see me.” I will give you something to watch and something to experience.