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Interview: Tiara Thomas

Tiara Thomas, a budding genre-defying multitalented artist whose greatly inspired by sounds of the 90’s, first saw success through her collaboration with Olubowale “Wale” Akintimehin, an artist from Washington, D.C. on Rick Ross’ imprint Maybach Music Group. In February of last year, the aforementioned song “Bad” (originally inspired by “Some Cut” by Atlanta’s Rap group Trillville) was released and subsequently, the music video in which she was featured. According to the 25-year-old Indiana native, she wrote and produced the original song with a friend in a college dorm room. Thomas went to Ball University. Now, she signed to Division 1 / Interscope.

“Wale picked it up and it became what it was,” she recalls.

All in all, we didn’t have much time with her for photos, but we covered as much ground as we could. Her time was so limited, we talked as she got her makeup done. She apologized for having to do so.

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On Bad Influence (title track and album):

Maybe like a year and a half prior, it was a song that I wrote and a lot of the songs on the album correlate with that song — content wise. I have a song on my album called, “Bad Influence”, and it’s basically about this girl who’s messing with someone, she’s hanging out with somebody that she really shouldn’t be. I think everybody does that. I mean, even guys. Guys have girls that are a bad influence on them or vice versa. Everybody’s got somebody that’s a bad influence or some thing that is a bad influence on them. I basically wrote about all of the bad influences that I could have. So I wrote a lot about dysfunctional relationships, drugs —all that fun stuff— but it’s not bad stuff. Sometimes a bad influence can be a good influence because you can write and make incredible music from it. But I didn’t only write about my perspective, also just women in general, and like how women feel, and certain things going on in relationships for women. So I just wrote generally.

At what age did you begin and are you formally trained at all?

I’m not formally trained. I can read a little bit of music because I was in the show choir when I was in high school. We had to read a little bit of “voice” but I took a Music Theory class. Oh my gosh, I hate Music Theory. Just give me the instrument and let me play it. I’m not formally trained but I started playing guitar when I was 12. I used to want to play the drums and my dad said I couldn’t have a drumset because it was too loud. So I was like, ‘Well, can I get a guitar?’ So he bought me a guitar. He bought my first guitar. I was in the backseat of the car with my guitar. I was just back there playing around and I wrote this song. My dad was like, ‘You should call that song “That Day”.’ I don’t even remember how it went. That was the first day I got a guitar.

On Inspiration:

I was really inspired by a lot of those 90’s girls. A lot of people that love India Arie don’t like ratchet music but for me, I liked all of it because I wanted to throw it all together cause I like the tone of her voice, and she really can play guitar. The tone of her voice is ‘crazeballs’. I liked women like India Arie, Lauryn Hill, Brandy, Aaliyah, TLC, Left Eye. I loved all of that but I also liked Pac. I also liked Elton John, Marvin Gaye and Prince because that’s what my dad listened to. So thats what I listened to growing up. I like to take different elements of music and mix them up. When I started playing guitar, I realized that I can rap. So I would rap and I would sing but when I sung the stuff that I was singing, they were almost rap lyrics. I got that from the urban side of music that I was listening to.

You’re very early 90’s too…

Yeah.

Cause we were just in there talking about R&B tracks that had a thug appeal to it…

Exactly.

Like “This Is For My Homies” (DRS’ “Gangsta Lean”)

Exactly. Yeah, and I like that thug appeal in my music but at the same time, it sounds kind of poppy. My voice sometimes, sounds kind of poppy. I have a song on the album called “Right Back To You” and my manager’s like, “Yo man, this could be for a Country artist.”

Oh wow.

But it fits the album. It’s mostly acoustic. I just like to mix different genres of music because I love that thug appeal but at the same time, I love that rich quality. I was attracted to that kind of music. I just kind of mix them together. That’s what I did with “Bad”, and it worked out well.

It’s very nice. It’s a beautiful song. It really is. (Specifically, I was talking about her vocals.)

Thank you! Beautiful? That was good.

It is. Who did you look up to when you were coming into womanhood?

My big sister because I just believed everything she told me and she taught me about tampons. I would always my mom about what tampons were, and she didn’t tell me, I don’t know why she wouldn’t tell me but it’s not that deep. My sister gave me the pamphlet for tampons because I always thought they went in your butt. When I was younger, I thought that and then, I looked at the pamphlet and I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s crazy.’ I really looked up to my sister. I believed everything she said. She told me that Martin Luther King was my uncle, and I believed that for I don’t know how long.

She laughs and continues, “My sister was my role model. My big sis. She’s like my BFF. I love my sis.”

What do you think you’ve learned so far from being in the industry? More specifically, one of the main things that you didn’t know before.

Sometimes, you gotta take a chill pill. Just gotta close your eyes. It’s just fast-paced. There’s a lot going on. Stuff changes. Last minute, frantic stuff going on. That’s just how it happens, you know? It doesn’t go smoothly for anybody. So you just gotta to be prepared for changes and stuff like that. Sometimes, you just gotta learn to take a chill pill and it’s going to be OK. Stuff works out. Especially when you have a good team around you, stuff always work out well.

What are your biggest fears?

I don’t want to die but I don’t be worrying about that too much. My biggest fear is like that people won’t understand me. I think everybody feels like that. Everybody wants to be understood, and really as a person, you are the only person that knows how you feel, and you’re the only person who knows what’s going on inside of your head. The way you project it, it hits people differently. I think everybody just wants to be understood. I want people to understand me as an artist and as a musician. I want them to understand that when I’m putting this music out, what you hear, you understand it. And sometimes, I think I can get a little complex with the stuff I’m talking about. and it kind of goes away from the normal that you wouldn’t hear a normal girl talking about. My biggest fear is that people won’t understand that and I really want them to. I’ve always been misunderstood ever since I was in elementary school. My teachers picked on me and shit.

Aw man.

It’s OK. Fuck them. I’m not mad.

We laughed.

I think we kind of spoke about it earlier. In regards to mixing different worlds, like a “soft” and more “edgy” sound. So when you hear the name GrungeCake, what comes to mind?

GrungeCake? Is this a real thing?

Yes, that’s the name of my publication.

‘Oh, why didn’t you? Nobody introduced. You didn’t introduce yourself when you came in.’ She sat back and said, ‘When I think GrungeCake, I think: Well, grunge has got to be some type of — Well, cake is good and it’s sweet, and grunge is like gritty, so maybe it’s like the mix between the two. So it’s like the gritty, the good and the gritty. What would you say? How did you guys come up with that?’

I like to look at it as a dichotomy of two different lifestyles, coming together. “Grunge”, sometimes also symbolizes the beginning of someone’s journey and end destination being that “cake”, whatever it may be. You getting up in the morning…

The ending is the cake?

Yes, someone might just want to make it across the street. Maybe they broke their leg and they can’t walk on it so their destination, that day, is for them to be able to get up and get to the front door, and when you make it to the front door, you’ve gotten your “cake”. It’s moreso about lifestyle and what people go through to get to where they want to be.

That’s good! Everybody has to start from somewhere.

Yes, absolutely.

Everybody.

So your answers are pretty much a guide for someone that might be inspired by you or someone who wants to be a musician or in the business, and they may read what you say and then, they get the inspiration to be able to get to their destination. So, that’s what I am. I’m the middleman, so to speak.

Nice. OK.

What’s next for you, and what advice or tips would you give someone who’s going to be inspired by you?

I think people say this all time: They’re like, Oh yeah, you can be whatever you want to be, and I’m not trying to downplay myself but why would a girl from Indiana, you know, this little black girl from Indiana, how could she get to this point? And that’s based off of me saying that that’s what I was going to do. When I was 12, and I was like, getting in trouble in school all the time, I wasn’t bad but I just had a lot of energy and I didn’t know what to do with my energy so I would just kind of like — I was just a leader. I would tell my parents all the time, “I’m going to be a famous musician” and they’re like, “OK.” That’s what I sad I was going to do. That’s what I stuck to. I was very, very adamant on that. So like whatever you want to do, you gotta stick to that and you gotta really believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else is going to believe in you. You’re going to believe in yourself more than anybody else does. People get discouraged and I think everybody knows that there’s times in your life where you feel like, “Man, this is the worst thing that could possibly happen to me” and then, maybe a month later, you don’t feel that way. When you get discouraged, you gotta keep it moving. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish because you gotta do this shit yourself. So, that’s the advice I would give. To just really believe in yourself and make things happen. Don’t be lazy. You gotta out there and make stuff happen, and there’s a lot of people that want to do exactly what you want to do. There’s a lot of people in the world that want to do exactly what you want to do. There’s kids at Juilliard that want to be recording artists, you know? That’s Juilliard.

Right.

So, you really gotta separate yourself from people, and do what you gotta do.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’m not 100% sure on the next single yet but I have a song called “10” that I really like. It’s my favourite song on the album right now and it’s like “Bad”. It reminds me of “Bad”. It’s just real and sexy, and I like that kind of music. That’s the type of music I like for people to hear from me. I just dropped my music video for my single “One Night”, and I based it off of my favourite movie, Set It Off so I was really excited. It turned out really well. We’re just about to work this single and get out here. We don’t have a release date for the album yet but I’m sure we’ll have one really soon.


“One Night” is available on iTunes, and the name of Tiara Thomas’ album is “Bad Influence”. We really look forward to hearing it when it’s available. Good luck girl! Watch the MTV video below that explains the story behind “Bad”:


For more Tiara Thomas, just click here.

Written by Richardine Bartee

Her unprejudiced love for people, the arts, and business have taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs, and a GRAMMY U Mentor. She is part of the Complex Day Ones, an exclusive community to help make the Complex experiences even better.