On a hot April afternoon, the sun in all of its unforgiving and stifling mercy is fiercely beating down on the Empire Polo Club, a grassy, 78-acre stretch of land, in Indio, Calif. housing the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Quietly tucked away between two stages and towering palm trees, singer-songwriter SZA is pleasantly sitting in the press area with a bottle of water in tow in hopes of shielding the vulgar heatwave that would make even the most confident free-baller think twice and grab a cotton pair of undergarments before hitting the streets. Her publicist is next to her, monitoring her schedule with a steady eye and her caramel-complected gal pal is taking in the scenery and simultaneously scrolling through her phone. Aside from the bothersome weather, SZA’s presence is cool and collected. She’s wearing a baby blue crop top and her bottom half is dressed in distressed denim cut off shorts. Sk8-Hi Vans and a pair of off-set striped socks wade at her ankles. Her chocolate brown mane is massive and purveying serious bed head vibes with a few quirky with braids plaited throughout.
But more than her outer appearance, it’s her personality that shines brightest on this 91 degree day. As we all know, there’s been plenty of natural hair, drug store beauty must-have lists, and vintage t-shirt talk when it comes to the artist born, Solána Rowe. But as of late it, seems like the world has forgotten that at the end of the day, there’s an authentic 25-year-old chick behind the highly-coveted Top Dawg Entertainment first lady, who has risen to prominence for her otherworldly R&B roar. If her contribution to Rihanna’s “Consideration” wasn’t enough of a plea of doing “things her own way, darling,” her Coachella debut made it apparent.
Twenty-four hours after gracing the Gobi stage, VIBE caught up with the mesmerizing singer on her off day to talk about her Coachella debut, finally debunking the mystery surrounding her, and what fans can expect from her debut album, A.
VIBE: Yesterday you had your first Coachella performance. How was that feeling?
SZA: I was terrified. Before I got on stage, I randomly got super sick. I started throwing up and even passed out so I was late to the stage. By God’s grace, there was a medic when I got here. They gave me a shot, and then I went on the stage and it kept me up, and I didn’t throw up, and I had a great time in terms of my equilibrium. But in terms of everything else, I’m excited for next week because I had to get a sense of what it was and what was happening. And my nerves are crazy, but it’s like I’m still going.
So were you just kind of going off of adrenaline at that point?
Yeah, for sure. All of it was adrenaline. I was just like, “Don’t stop. Whatever you do, don’t stop.”
Wow! How was this festival different from others you’ve done?
You know, Bonnaroo is probably the first time I performed in a crazy space, because it was like maybe double the size of that Coachella tent, which was wild and it still felt super intimate though. But last night, I don’t know. I think it’s more like the type of festival and what it is more than anything. Coachella is like a culture festival, and I really appreciate it. It’s like a vibe; it’s like a feeling. It’s just like a learning experience. It’s about conversion and just pushing through sh*t.
Now that you’ve gotten your debut jitters out, what are you most excited for with the second weekend quickly approaching?
Honestly, I’m excited about using this experience to just grow. I came two years ago as a spectator, and that was awesome. And I think I had more fun then than I did now because it was just different. I could just run around, I had nothing to do and be like I’m just go see what I could see. But this year, it’s just like they’re live streaming, you better get your sh*t together, something.
Because people are going to see it everywhere…
Yeah, it’s terrifying and I have asthma. So before we went on stage, I was like give me some space between the songs so I can breathe. But everybody was so nervous that they just breezed through the songs and I was trying to catch them. But we made it. It’s funny now because it’s just like whatever you do, just don’t stop singing even if you sound f**king crazy and out of breath, just don’t stop. So next week, I’m excited. We have a whole different stage set up, a whole different set design, different lighting, different people coming out.
From the outside looking in, it appears that you and your Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates have really good relationships with one another. Did they have any advice for you when it comes to festival crowds?
Those guys are like my family, like really my family. It’s like a sense of safety and a lot of things. I believe that they would really hurt somebody for me. And I thoroughly appreciate that [laughs]. When a whole bunch of stuff went bad before my set, Dot called me and was like, ‘So, I heard everything is going wrong. How do you feel?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ And he just centered my whole thoughts and said what he needed to say and just went back to doing what he was doing. But he took that time out to be a brother to me in that moment. And they all do that. And I do that for them. There’s nothing that they couldn’t call me for. Q called me 10 a.m. this morning. Random things. Sure, I’m going to wake up and answer the phone because I don’t know what you need but I’m going to get to it. And the same way, if I call him.
So according to the TDE whiteboard, which surfaced in late February, you were in the fourth stage of your project. Where are you now?
I don’t even know what that means [laughs]. I saw the whiteboard when you saw the whiteboard. It’s kind of true, actually. I mean, I’m way past that now. I’m almost done. I’m going to drop something. I was supposed to drop something before Coachella, but I felt like I was rushing. It’s like when people are like where the f**k is your album, and then people just start to bandwagon like, where’s your album. And it’s like y’all people don’t even care if my album’s out, you just…
A photo posted by SZA (@justsza) on
Are asking for no reason?
No, not for no reason. I mean, I understand. The pressure makes me just want to throw something out, but I have to be careful. I’m a hasty person. It’s not safe to just throw out music because you could f**k up you whole album, or your whole plan putting out the wrong thing just because it feels good when you recorded it today. I just want to do it right. I feel like last time I was winging it, and winging it with fear involved, doing the best that I could, not being a classically trained artist, not having a background in music, and never really having a vocal coach. I didn’t grow up in church so I wasn’t in the choir either. I just threw myself in this whole situation. I didn’t know what the hell I was thinking, but this year, I’ve learned that I just have to take the responsibility for my job and myself. I’m like now you have to learn about music theory, now you need to sing more because before I was like I’m just going to sing when I’m in the studio and that’s it. But I feel that in this past year and a half, music has gone from a serious hobby to something I’m in love with. Seriously, I’m just neck deep in love with music right now.
What’s been your creative process this time around since you said you were working out of fear before?
It’s just like understanding that as long as you stick to yourself, it doesn’t matter what you do. But sticking to yourself 100% is hard because it’s a lot of responsibility and it’s kind of painful because you also have to accept parts of yourself that are borderline sh*tty. Then, you’re just like ehh. But doing that is so important to move on and get better. Like you do need a vocal coach or you do need XYZ. Or maybe you should I don’t know, shave your legs this time for this shoot or something. It’s just a number of things. Writing my music and this album has helped me confront sh*t in life. Going to the studio was scary before because it was like it’s a job, I have to go in there and do something awesome and come out with something complete. But now I just see it as a exercise. It’s interesting; it’s healing.
You said that this debut album is the end of a trilogy. So, what can people expect to hear from you?
I’m not mincing words. It’s super over for that. I don’t think people really know who I am; they don’t know anything about me. People assume I went on this random weight loss journey; that never happened. Or just assume all kinds of things, but people do that when you don’t let them know who you are. So I’m talking about a lot of foul sh*t on this album. I think it’s super important to just lay your things bare. I’m off everything; I’m just releasing so many things. I think when I first got here, I was super nervous about what people thought about me. Are people judging me? Do they dislike me? I realized life is life. It’s always continual, it’s always moving; it’s always growing.