Tinashe Takes Control

Claire Lobenfeld

By Claire Lobenfeld

on 10.01.14 in Features
‘With this album, I wanted to make sure people had a multidimensional sense of who I am as an artist.’

Los Angeles-based R&B singer Tinashe is probably best known for her transcendent summer hit, the DJ Mustard-produced “2 On” — or, perhaps, her role as Jake Harper’s girlfriend Celeste on Two and a Half Men (he’s the half man) — but with the release of her debut full-length Aquarius, out October 7 on RCA, she’s out to prove she’s more than just a party-anthem princess. Those familiar with her previously released trio of mixtapes (In Case We Die, Reverie and Black Water) know she has a penchant for breathy vocals and moody textures inflected with neo-soul and swaths of alt-synths. The album, which features guest appearances from A$AP Rocky, Future and Dev Hynes, is a more refined version of her brand of alt-R&B, teetering more toward pop but with a daring tone (“2 On” is the only of its kind on the album). Tinashe is so meticulous about its feel that it includes sonically thematic interludes to help transition the listener throughout the record. The album’s final track includes a sample of a performance by a very young Tinashe — a clear nod to her lengthy career in show business.

The 21-year-old singer talked with Wondering Sound from her L.A. home about her girl-group past, taking creative control and a tiger-blood-consuming former co-star of hers.

Oh, and it’s tee-NAH-shay.

How do you feel about releasing something that wasn’t entirely done by you?

It was definitely a process, but I’m really proud of the finished product. For the most part, I still was super in control of all the creative elements from the look and the styling to the title, to the tracklist to the songs themselves — the beats, the lyrics. Everything really does have a lot of my input still, so I think fans will be pleasantly surprised that it does seem so true to who I am.

Tell me about the interludes. They’re a lot more musical than what you usually hear on an album.

It’s like in a movie when the music is playing in the background, it just sets the tone. It puts you in the right mood and the right mindspace. They frame the songs and they kind of put you in the mental state to enjoy them to the best of their potential.

Do you feel like you need to guide your listeners?

Absolutely. That’s something that I’ve always kind of dabbled in. With this album, I wanted to make sure people had a multidimensional sense of who I am as an artist and not just being like this one particular thing and knowing that there’s lots of other sides to me. It was important to really set the stage and make it seem really thoughtful. Just guide people in that way.

You started your music career in a girl group called the Stunners. Do you have people that have been following you since then?

Yeah, absolutely, which is really awesome. To have fans who that go back so far, it makes you really wanna always stay true to your roots and respect where you come from because they’ve supported me throughout this entire process and all these years that I’ve been releasing my own music online and by myself.

‘When I was old enough to pursue music, music was always something that was the most important thing to me. It touched me on a deeper level.’

What inspired you to go from being in a group that was mothered by Vitamin C and opening for Justin Bieber to a mixtape artist? That must have been a strange transition.

I think it was always in me. It was always something I wanted to do. I never planned for the girl group to be a permanent thing. When we disbanded, I just felt like it was the perfect time. “OK, I had developed the skills to do this project and to really excel at a solo career.” That’s why I shifted focus. But I always had it in me and I always knew I wanted to do it, so it seemed natural.

There was a stretch of time that you were doing some acting, too. How did that affect your music?

Well, I started acting when I was really young. I was in my first movie [Cora Unashamed] when I was 5. So, for me it was just a big part of entertaining and putting on a show. But when I was old enough to pursue music, music was always something that was the most important thing to me. It touched me on a deeper level, so I wanted to shift focus to make sure people took the music really seriously and didn’t think it was something that I was just dabbling in — “That singer from that show trying to make an album” or anything like that.

But you were on Two and a Half Men, which had a long stretch of being the No. 1 comedy in America.


Is that something that you don’t like talking about?

‘Charlie Sheen was super professional. He never seemed like he was strung out or anything.’

It was a positive experience. I have no crazy stories to tell. Charlie Sheen was super professional. He never seemed like he was strung out or anything. I thought it was really interesting when that whole thing happened. He always knew his lines, he was on time.

“2 On” did extremely well over the summer. Do you think that there are people who see that video and are like, “Oh my god, that’s Celeste!”?

Absolutely! I see sometimes people on Twitter write, “Oh my god, you were Celeste on Two and a Half Men” or “Oh my god, I didn’t know that Tinashe was on Two and a Half Men.” It’s funny to see people connect the dots.

How does that show compare to something like working with Tom Hanks on The Polar Express?

That was when I was really young. I worked with him for about 10 weeks. I was in fourth grade, so I was like 8 or 9. It was a fun part of my life. It was a good experience in professionalism at a really young age. I loved it.

Does that lengthy experience play into why you try to maintain creative control over all aspects of your work?

I feel like I had an advantage over a lot of these other new artists because I’ve been working in this game for a really long time. In a way, I feel like I’ve always had tunnel vision. I’ve always had the goal.

Are you anticipating your newer fans to be surprised by your taste?

Yeah, definitely. That’s why I wanted to make sure that what I accomplished with this album was showing the people that have only heard “2 On” that there’s more to me as an artist. I think people will hear that song on the radio and automatically assume that’s all I’m about or what my music is like. It has a lot more depth to it than that.

I wanted to talk to you about something silly before we go. I saw on YouTube the Stunners used to have Twilight dance battles…

Nice. Throwback.

I was also Team Jacob, so I feel you.

Yes! All day!

Did you guys do that as a way to connect on another level with your fans?

We did a lot of these really silly videos. That was just an idea we had and we love to dance so we just did that and put it in a video.

Do you think you would do creative fan outreach like that again?

Yeah, hopefully in the future. I’ve just been so caught up. I can’t wait until I have some time to be creative [again].