Tinashe’s ‘Joyride’ Is In High-Gear: “What I Want Is What I Need To Do”

It’s 48 hours until Tinashe releases her highly-anticipated sophomore studio album, Joyride, and the singer-dancer-pop-star has been lounging upstairs in her suite at New York City’s Roxy Hotel. That becomes crystal clear when she waltzes into the Roxy’s picturesque bar and restaurant wearing sweatpants and a beanie over her platinum bob.

Her breezy demeanor and get-up is quite different from the usually curated fashion and electric energy she brings to every live show, but there’s a reason for that. “So busy,” she exhausts in laughter. “I’ve been mentally preparing [for the album to drop]. Tomorrow I have to be up. I have rehearsal all day… I’m not going to sleep for awhile.” On top of the long press run ahead, she just performed on Good Morning America on Apr. 6. Through her weariness, the singer is inviting and ready to speak about the moment she and fans have been waiting three years for.

In 2015, when she first announced her forthcoming project, Tinashe was riding in the passenger seat of her own musical career. Joyride was expected to drop that same year, but it’s due date quickly became muddled by a string of misfortunes, including a cancelled tour and frustrations with her label, RCA. In 2016, she raised brows after accusing the label of prioritizing Zayn Malik’s debut solo album over hers. She kept on the media’s radar with a dreamy collaboration with Britney Spears and a stellar tribute to icon Janet Jackson at the 2015 BET Awards (Jackson requested her personally), but still no album.

Now, rocky road behind her, she’s scooted to the driver’s wheel, and the view looks pretty glorious. “I feel more confident than ever before,” she asserts, sipping her mimosa in a booth in the corner. “I feel like I’m in a really good place mentally, like the universe is going to align with my energy. I’m putting those vibes out there.” Well, the stars are in formation, and Joyride has finally arrived (Apr. 13). Tinashe spoke to VIBE about the method to her madness, navigating her 20s, and the path to self-discovery in her music and self.

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VIBE: First of all, congratulations because you’re in the home stretch! But let’s start with your first single off the album, “No Drama.” Was there a feeling or inkling that you had to choose that track as the lead?

Tinashe: I felt like it had something to say. It was power, in your face. It made sense coming back off of a hiatus. It was important to speak to my situation. It had that crazy energy. It feels so urgent and energetic. When we recorded the song, I was like ‘we need to put this song out this week!’ And when we added Offset, it added more energy to the track.

In an era where rollouts for albums are so rushed and chaotic, you did a nice job of leading up to yours, with the string of singles and visuals. Was having a clean rollout part of the vision?

I have had several rollouts of other singles in the past, that haven’t been as well thought out and planned. It was important when we recorded this music this summer, that it was presented in the right way, to the point that we held things back along the way until everything else was ready. That was really important to the presentation and making it look complete and making it look like everyone on the team was on the same page, as opposed to just throwing something out there and seeing what would stick.

I wanted to do Joyride the justice that I felt like it initially deserved.

So, we finished the album over the course of July, August, and around September and October is when we started curating the art around it, shooting the videos, getting all of the photoshoots and the creative vision together. And then over the course of the next months, it was fine-tuning. I think that was really smart. It felt good.

The album definitely sounds like a solid, cohesive body of work. But in particular, you seem to have the slow-burning club songs down to a T. They’re slow and sultry and unconventional, but still work perfectly in the club.

Maybe that’s just tapping into two sides of me that are both equally important. It’s having that energy, stuff that you can dance too… Dance is such a big part of what I do and how I express myself. So it’s important that a lot of my music has that danceability factor. But then at the same time, historically, I’ve really loved creating vibes and moods and music that feels sensual and dark. So, it’s combining both of those things together.

2017 Billboard Hot 100 Festival - Day 1
CREDIT: Getty Images

Are you a perfectionist when it comes to your live performances?

For sure! My live show, it’s such an important aspect or element of who I am as an artist that it’s really critical that the live show is representative of who I am because that dance element and connecting with the fans is so crucial.

If we were to lay out your discography – Aquarius, Nightride, etc. – it’s pretty easy to find the differences between them in terms of theme and mood, but what would you say is the difference in regards to your artistry and technique?

I created music from a different approach with this last go around. I was more purposeful on how I would finish tracks in determining which elements I could improve and which elements were still missing. This project also has a lot more energy than pretty much every other project that I put out in the past, which was a conscious effort for sure.

You know better than any of us how strenuous this process was, why did you choose to hold onto Joyride as the title?

For a number of reasons. I still felt like it truly represented where I was in my life, what I’m going through. The concept stuck with me as far as the highs and lows, and enjoying the journey and taking it as a young person going on this adventure through life. A lot of it was pride and not wanting to quit on something that I started. I wanted to do Joyride the justice that I felt like it initially deserved. I felt like it would have felt like a really unfinished piece of the puzzle or something that would’ve felt incomplete.

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CREDIT: Dennis Leupold

Was there anything that you did distinctly different as far as vocals, techniques, etc?

I used a wider range of vocal stylings on this project. There’s a lot of tracks that are in my lower register. There’s also some tracks that are completely in a higher register, kinda playing with different vocal techniques.

In my career and in the rollout of this project, there were highs and lows. There was super fun times. There was discouraging times, times where I felt like I had to come into my own and be a woman and own my intuition.

There’s belting songs, softer songs. Even a lot of my projects and mixtapes in the past have been more sultry and the vocals come from a softer perspective. These vocals have more body. There’s a lot of usage of things I learned along the way and things I wanted to experiment with.

So, you built a studio in the Hills to work on the project, Right? How did that change the dynamic of your creative process?

Yeah, it really changed everything for me. I feel like it was the really big turning point because I had all of these thoughts and songs… I had been working on the project already for almost two years at that point. So I had a lot of material, but I just felt like it was discombobulated. I needed to focus and hone in on what I was doing to finish it to the best of its ability. So having a home base that was centered around creativity and creating music 24/7 helped organize my thoughts. It made me more purposeful because I had a better understanding of what I was working with, what I needed, where I wanted to go.

Did you ever feel like it was hard to separate the artist from the regular girl because you were essentially eating, breathing, and sleeping out of the same place you were creating?

I don’t know if it’s separating it necessarily, but there’s something to be said for recording songs with lots of different people in lots of different studios and locations and you have bits and pieces of things that you like, but not full songs that you really love. You can feel sometimes that it gets a little out of hand and you need to reel it back in and focus on the pieces that you love. How can you make them better? For me, I’m much more comfortable working in a home studio environment. Even if I get something that I really like, when I bring it back into my own personal space, I can elevate it even more.

What was the best memory from working in the Hills?

It was the summer house. We called it the “Hollywood House.” My friends would come over all the time. We would have Taco Tuesday parties. I would cook tacos and invite everyone over, and we would have a really great energy. We’d wake up in the morning, and we’d go down to the Chateau Marmont and have mimosas and then come back and work all day. Go out to dinner, then come back and work all night. Everyone was so positive, and we were having so much fun there. I gained a sense of confidence knowing that I did this. I can get this awesome house and live this cool lifestyle and make music.

Did you find parallels between the process of finally dropping this album to being in your 20-somethings and navigating your own life?

Absolutely. That’s why the concept is so important to me. In your early 20s, there so much uncertainty as far as what’s going to happen next and where’s my life going to go. ‘Where am I gonna live? Who are my friends?’ There’s so much newness that happens all the time. There’s highs, there’s lows. You’re able to have so much fun, but then you’re juggling responsibilities. All of that, is reflective in the music.

At the end of the day, I don’t feel like I fit into any of these genres perfectly, and that’s truly what makes me the most fulfilled as an artists is to dabble in different things and have different influence, and not have to stick to one sound all the time.

In my career and in the rollout of this project, there were highs and lows. There was super fun times. There was discouraging times, times where I felt like I had to come into my own and be a woman and own my intuition.

When you say “be a woman” and “come into my own” do you mean as far as speaking up for yourself and voicing your opinion?

Yeah. It’s not even necessarily speaking up but coming to your own conclusions yourself and owning your own instincts and trusting in yourself and creative power. I think that’s something that is always important to continue to maintain. It’s easy for that sometimes to get derailed, and it’s important to come back to that.

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CREDIT: Getty Images

Do you think that it’s particularly hard to navigate that as a female artist?

Yeah, absolutely. And when you’re coming into your sophomore album, it’s a completely different set up than the first project. You have all the expectations of the public, people inserting their opinions – from the media to the fans and the label – about which direction you should take. That can definitely play into how you view your own music and path. I think it took some time for me to truly understand what I want is what I need to do. I need to follow that gut instinct.

Do feel like your fans’ impatience clouded your judgement in terms of creating your vision?

For sure. I’m the type of person that doesn’t like being told what to do. Fans are like, do this, put out the album, make it sound like this. And then I’m like, ‘Screw you guys! I’m going to do what I want. And sometimes that’s not even what I want. It’s just a reaction to feeling like people are trying to control me or box me in.

In interviews, people always seem to ask you whether you’d categorize yourself as a pop star or and R&B singer. Do you ever think people don’t understand what a pop star is?

Yeah, there’s a categorization issue. Being a black woman adds to the confusion. Coming from a place that’s “urban” or rhythmic, confused people initially. To me, the pop stars that I always look up to, were the Britney Spears’, the Christina Aguilera’s, the Beyonce’s. That’s what I viewed as a pop star. So when people started to minimize me and make me an R&B or this or that, it would just rub me the wrong way. Now, I just try to brush off all titles and do me. At the end of the day, I don’t feel like I fit into any of these genres perfectly, and that’s truly what makes me the most fulfilled as an artists is to dabble in different things and have different influence, and not have to stick to one sound all the time. It’s super boring.

What advice or words of wisdom would you have given yourself before jumping into this journey?

Be patient. I would always get so excited about the new music. I’m like, ‘It has to come out now!’ That at the time felt like the best case scenario. But in hindsight, it’s like you see the time that it did take was important for my creative evolution. So, appreciate the time that it takes, appreciate the stuff that you go through. I think the other thing that I’d tell myself is that nothing is really going to go according to your plan, and that’s alright. When things don’t happen the way that you expected them to happen, it’s not the end of the world. Just re-evaluate and keeping pushing forward. That’s life. And also, none of this stuff matters as much. At the end of the day, it’s just about the fact that I’m still able to create my music, maintain my business, travel, and play shows. That’s really the dream. I’m in it, so enjoy it.

What’s the vision behind the album art?

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CREDIT: Dennis Leupold

I wanted it to be all from a futuristic perspective. I wanted to take the Joyride concept even further, to say it wasn’t just a ride through this world, but a ride through time and space. You’re creating your own universe. I’m creating my own destiny, and Joyride universe, and taking that out of this world in a sense. Say, we’re on this crazy adventure, and I wanted the art to represent strength, power, and confidence from a body perspective. I also wanted to mirror Nightride in the sense that they both have this silhouette. And then adding the element of cyborg robot is representative of me creating myself and being the master of my own universe. It’s really out there.

As an artist the journey is probably never finished, but as Tinashe, when do you think you’ll reach your full journey of self-discovery?

I don’t know if that ever stops. That’s probably what always keeps me going, is that I have this hunger and drive to improve upon myself, not even as an artist but a personal level. Just to become a more well-rounded person, more confident, and more happy and calm and centered. All of those things play into how I go about creating my music. I feel more confident than ever before. I feel like I’m in a really good place mentally, like the universe is going to align itself with my energy. I’m putting those vibes out there. I’m still growing and evolving and looking to forward to how I will continue to do that in the future.

What do you want your fan base to take away from this album as far as you and your growth as an artist, and what do you want them to take away for themselves?

So, I would like them to take away from me, that you don’t give up on something. This project really did come out. That I’m a real artist. I feel like there’s this weird misconception that if something feels more mainstream that it’s less artistic or less respectable, which is not true. The same energy or thought is going into these as well. So, I would like people to respect the art. And then from their own perspective, I think the music itself speaks to this level of confidence. It’s important for me to give people a sense of escapism. When they listen to this project [I hope] it makes them feel good regardless of factors in their life. I want them to empowered, sexy, like they can have fun. Even the more vulnerable songs, they still come from a place of power.