When India Shawn took the stage at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, an overflow of love filled the room. I haven’t seen many artists perform in their hometowns, but can confirm: that hometown love hits different. There was a lot to celebrate following the release of Shawn’s major label debut, BEFORE WE GO (DEEPER). This was also the final stop on her first headlining tour.
With her long boho braids pulled back in a ponytail, Shawn graced the stage in a shimmery lilac mini dress and white patent leather boots. Her set opened with “CALI LOVE” in the jam-packed, intimate venue as the crowd bellowed out every lyric and note. The love her fans, friends, and family showed between songs gave me goosebumps and almost evoked a few tears. As a newer fan of Shawn’s, the set warranted my deep respect, especially after we discussed her decade-long solo career the day prior.
Shawn surprised fans with her “favorite person,” 6LACK, for a live rendition of “Not Too Deep.” Later, she sang an ethereal cover of Brandy’s “Almost Doesn’t Count.” It also turned out that The Roxy was sort of a special place to the songstress; during her last performance there in 2021, she was singing background vocals for Willow. It also happened to be the same venue where Shawn discovered her love for Anderson .Paak in 2011—who she eventually worked with years later.
This 30-something singer is far from a “rising” artist. Shawn is a veteran in the game who is finally on the brink of getting long-overdue recognition. Go deep with this Aries songbird as we discuss her start in music, putting her business in her art, tour, her history with Grammy-winning producer D’Mile, and more.
VIBE: Did you always know that you’d end up here as a singer-songwriter?
India Shawn: Always. I held this vision for a while. I think it was 15 years old that I realized it was possible. That’s when I first started recording and definitely aspired to be on big stages and to be able to do this for a living.
That’s interesting because you’ve been in this business for at least 10 years, but people still consider you an overnight success.
I mean, I definitely hear the “rising artists,” “new artists,” “breakthrough artists”—I hear those often and it’s funny, but those who know that I have been around for a long time because I started in this industry around 15 when I moved to Atlanta and started singing backgrounds for all the songwriters and producers there, and then did my own project eventually.
When did you switch from singing background to being a forefront artist?
I kind of always did both things, but always prioritizing the artistry and the desire to be at the forefront. The background was a means of survival, and also it was school for me. It was a way to absorb this energy from Anderson .Paak and Willow Smith, Daniel Caesar, to watch them and just kind of study and prepare for my turn.
What were some of the biggest lessons that you learned as a background vocalist?
Primarily how to blend and that’s not just vocally but in a group setting. Knowing your part, knowing your strengths and your weaknesses, but also, just watching the star and taking a lot of notes about professionalism and work ethic and understanding what it really takes to do this.
You’re already such a personal storyteller in your music. How do you tap into that vulnerability?
I’m just a vulnerable person.
What’s your sign?
Aries. That’s so funny because I was just about to get into the zodiacs. I’m an Aries, a fire sign. We real direct with it, real open and stuff, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I am open to receiving songs from other songwriters, but to me, I just have to be a part of it. My stories, my experiences have to be a part of it. I mean, that’s the only way that I can really even feel it.
Out of all your songs, what’s one of your most personal?
Let me not tell all my secrets.
Not me in your business.
Oh, man. I mean, all of them are quite personal. I’m going to go with the safe one. “TO CHANGE MY MIND” on this new album. It’s crazy, but that song is about being in a relationship with a person who did not want to be intimate. It’s usually the opposite way, where the woman is holding off. So, the song is giving him this ultimatum. It’s not too late to go there. I’m still here, just do something, but yeah, that one is super personal for me.
Speaking of touring, this is your first headlining tour. What has that been like?
This is the payoff. This is what I’ve been waiting for. I really hadn’t made this connection on the performance side yet, and I was getting really discouraged about it. I’m like, “where are my people?” I want to feel the support. I’m seeing it online, but people aren’t really coming out. Finally having this headlining tour where people are buying tickets and making time to come hear me, sing with me, meet me, talk to me, hug me. I feel important, like I mean something to other people. These songs are the backdrop of things that they’re going on in this season of their lives. It’s so mind-blowing to know that these experiences I have had are now connecting with other people in such a meaningful way. This tour is a dream come true. I’ve just been floating.
You’re glowing when you’re talking about their stories.
I know because it’s so unreal to me. This is just the part that I was missing, the most fulfilling part.
Coming from “Not Too Deep” to ‘Before We Go’ to ‘Before We Go (Deeper),’ what was that process like as a creator?
I like the way that you posed that because it’s definitely an unfoldment, an opening up. “Not Too Deep” is a song about being afraid to go there, to open up, to let my guard down. Then as the project evolves into the EP, there’s a little bit more of the story being told, but it’s still on a surface level. The songs on that EP are still fun and presentable in a way. And then you have the Deeper album, which has songs like “SAME FLOOR,” which is extremely vulnerable and not so pretty. And “PATIENCE,” which is my conversation with God. It’s just an unfoldment of introducing myself to myself and to the listeners and just exposing more of who I am. Honestly, I feel like this album, there’s still so much to talk about and so more to dig into. I feel like this album is still a before whatever comes next. That’s what I’m excited about—what is going to be created next.
Let’s segue into your history with D’Mile because he is the go-to producer right now. What is your relationship with him? How did that lead to this album?
Oh my goodness. He just recently reminded me of how and when we actually met. I, for some reason, was always thinking it was in this Keke Palmer session, 10 years ago, but he reminded me that it was actually much, much earlier than that. I don’t remember the year exactly, but I was auditioning for Rodney Jerkins, and this is when D was producing under Rodney. That’s such a hilarious story because we made a song and then later, I had to come and sing for all the songwriters and producers that Rodney was working for. I remember starting the song too high and before I could even finish, I just dramatically dropped on the floor. I was being silly, but I bombed it. It was old school stuff, but he reminded me that that was our first time working and then full circle, 10, 15 years later, my A&R Zeke at [Epic] connected me back with D’Mile, and the first song we made was “CALI LOVE.”
Magic. The chemistry was so great. [He’s] the only producer who I can say every idea that he makes, I want to do. And I always will always sing his praises. He’s just a good person, and that inspires me. He’s ushering in a new season for just the people with integrity and especially [for] men in the industry. I feel so safe working with him.
Who else would you like to work with?
I would love to work with Lucky. I’ve known Lucky forever. Victoria Monét, all the D’Mile’s little nieces and nephews. (Laughs) Snoh Aalegra, I’m really interested because I get compared to her so often, and I just wonder what the textures of our voices would sound like together.
You consider yourself to be classic. In what ways?
I think the messaging and just sonically [with] the musical choices. Going into the studio, I feel like I have a voice that can do a lot of different genres of music. The core of it is always like whatever we make, I just want it to be classic.
Stream Shawn’s album, BEFORE WE GO (DEEPER) below.