Smart Moves: Meet Tahj Mowry, The Musician

If you were out in Austin, Texas, last week, enjoying the music extravaganza that was SXSW, you probably peeped a very familiar face on the Samsung stage. That was Tahj Mowry performing his brand new single “Flirt.”

In case you missed it, the 28-year-old Los Angeles native is making big moves in a funky way. While most millennials will remember him from Smart Guy and Seventeen Again, the Baby Daddy stud is shifting gears from acting to music. Skilled and trained in dancing with veteran choreographer Debbie Allen, he has the trifecta of entertainment two-stepping in his blood.

This summer, Tahj is unpacking his yet-to-be-titled album, a cocktail of sounds created while in the studio with his all-girl band. “My sound is soulful, funky and alternative, with electronic undertones,” he says. The difference between him and the FM rotation you hear today? True musicianship, he says. “A lot of people don’t know that I am making music from scratch. I’m putting in the work and creating these songs.”

With the strong support of his two (also famous) sisters, Tia and Tamera, Tahj is thrilled about his future in music. “I feel complete now. I have both aspects of my artistic loves.” His first single “Flirt” will hit iTunes on April 28 while his LP will roll out summer 2015. For now, reconnect with Tahj, the musician, as he discusses his creative process, the art of flirting and how Usher pushed him to do music.—Olivia Jade Khoury, Cook T.P. and Kristal Lewis

VIBE: What’s your game plan when it comes to flirting?
Tahj Mowry: I think anybody can be a good flirt if you’re confident in what you’re flirting about. It’s all about being yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re quirky, be quirky. You’ll get that special somebody–just keep flirting. With [apps] like Tinder, you lose all the fun of going out and flirting, and the song is all about “liquid courage” and how sometimes alcohol can make it a little bit easier.

Do you have Tinder?
No, I don’t.

Your EP is coming out this year. Sonically, what can we expect?
I call it “future funk” so it’s funk at heart, soulful, and like I said, it’s got those electronic/alternative undertones to it, because I listen to a lot of different music. I want to make a blend of genres, and do something that no one has done before. For me, it seems like everything on the radio is the same five songs. If you were in the future at a jazz nightclub, my music is what you would hear playing.

So your latest single, “Dancing Alone,” has a Prince feel to it. Did you reach out to him for any advice?
Oh man, I wish I did text him like ‘Ayo Prince, can you come through?’ He was one of the main influences. I definitely wanted to do a song like that. When we were working on that beat, me and my producer, Excel Beats, created everything from scratch. When I go to the studio, I want people to know I’m not going to the studio and people are giving me a sheet of paper with lyrics on it. I’m literally going in there, writing my stuff, putting in the work and creating these songs, and that’s what makes it fun for me. Prince was definitely an inspiration for my whole sound and a little Lenny Kravitz in the hook as well. Then I mix it up with a little EDM at the end just to play off the whole dance phrase in the song. It’s a fun breakup song or a fun “catching your boyfriend/girlfriend in the act” [track] but I made it in a fun way. Not all sad songs have to be slow.

Are there any collaborations you’re working on?
Yeah, definitely. I’m very picky when it comes to collaborations [because] it has to go with the song. I think that sometimes the song requires a feature and sometimes a song doesn’t. You don’t need to get a feature if the song can speak for itself. I don’t wanna make it too feature-heavy, especially since this is my first music project. There are a few songs that I’ve done [where] we’re talking about having some [features] that I can’t tell you.

Do you have a title for the project yet?
It might be self-titled. I might mess around with the “future funk” thing and do a title with that, but the album won’t be till summer. I try not to think too far, because it’s a lot, but it might just be my name or completely random.

Have your sisters given you any feedback?
Yeah, they love it. Tia, especially. She was like, “This is what you’re supposed to be doing, Tahj. You’re so comfortable doing it.” I’m a performer at heart. I grew up dancing with Debbie Allen. I’m a dancer also—a lot of people don’t know that. I want to be able to showcase that with my music. I made my music to perform live, that’s why I use live instruments; it gives my sound a whole different feel when you hear it live. It brings all that funk out.

Do you enjoy performing more than acting?
I don’t know. They give me different things. With acting, you can escape and be somebody else for a little bit and pretend to be another character whereas music, it’s you and more personal. You can write what you’re going through, feeling, and what other people are going through. It’s a high for me.

You’re a trained dancer but are you also trained vocally?
No. I found out later on in life. After Usher’s 8701 [dropped], I was like, ‘I’m tryna be Usher.’ I think I was 14, 15 years old but the timing wasn’t right. I was young. I just didn’t have patience. I allowed God to do what he does and now it’s music time.

What do you do to stay sane and focused?
When I’m in the zone, I don’t like there to be too many distractions or people in there. I light a candle. I’ve had some friends come through and they love it, because they see me in a different light, like a businessman. I’m serious about my craft and what I do, so when I’m in the studio, it’s work—it’s fun work and I just vibe out.

What are your necessities?
I don’t have any crazy demands, maybe like my 5-hour energy shots because I go to the studio at night. The nighttime is the best for creative purposes, in my opinion, and I don’t finish sometimes until like 4:30 [in the morning].

You also star in ABC’s Baby Daddy. Is there any trait that your character, Tucker, has that you wish you had?
Oh gosh, no. He has no filter whatsoever. He is completely opposite of me and that’s why he’s fun to play. I get to do ridiculous things on that show, but he thinks he knows everything. He thinks he has gifts, and he can be kind of a douchebag sometimes. I don’t want people to think we’re similar now. He likes his clothes though; I’m a big fashion guy—that’s one similarity. Nothing of Tucker I wanna be.

You’ve made you’re mark as an actor since Smart Guy. Why do music now?
Honestly, to get this other outlet of artistic [creativity] that I need to get out. I’ve been so hungry to come out with music for so long, it’s been like an itch. But it’s also been kind of like, ‘Wait, I don’t know. This is my baby. I wrote it.’ It’s a little bit frightening because it’s a new thing for me, but I want people to hear it and I want to be respected as a musician and an artist that’s unique. I’m not asking for everybody to go out and like my new music. I know some people may not, but at least they can respect the fact that it’s new and fresh.