Rising St. Louis songstress, SZA talks quitting her day job to pursue her dream in a recent interview with Billboard. Riding the wave of her debut EP See.SZA.Run and the critically acclaimed follow-up S EP, she references the controlled musical influences of her strict upbringing and an abiding love of science as major influences on her sound. SZA also cites Brazilian jazz, Bjork and Eartha Kitt as a few of her greatest inspirations and comforts. The singer raised between Maplewood, New Jersey and Missouri admits that her heart is always in the Gateway City, despite the fact that her career was born on a whim in a suburb of the hard-scrabble east coast state. After receiving her walking papers from several jobs, she recently had the pleasure of quitting one on her own terms. Pursuing music full time, SZA is finally about to blow. While Okayplayer‘s been up on game since the beginning, we love to see the rest of the world catching on. Take a peek at some of what SZA had to say about her crazy employment record and her recent ascent:
What were you doing to get fired so much?
The last time I was bartending and I had a show. I asked to take Saturday off and the manager was just like “No! There are tons of girls that would love to replace you!” I had made up some excuse, but I’m the worst liar. I said I had to stay home to babysit my sister and he goes “I don’t give a fuck about your family!” I was like “Wow. That’s harsh.”
When was the last time you had a day job?
I think it was five months ago at Sephora. That’s the one I quit. I went in there earlier today and everyone was like “Oh my god! I heard your songs and they’re awesome!” That was cool. But now I’m just poor and singing all day. It’s nice, though, because I feel so much more compelled to create, as opposed to when I was standing around with an ear piece in, asking people if they needed help with their face cream.
When did you start singing?
I started singing like yesterday. Literally it was like a year ago. “See.SZA.Run” was totally accidental. I just recorded one song and then another and then it was like ‘You should probably record some other songs and make something out of it.’ I recorded the songs with my friend who lives around the corner from me in Jersey and stole a bunch of beats off the Internet. I had never sang growing up and wasn’t in the church choir or anything like that. And my dad was super strict, so most of the music he let me hear didn’t have any words to it. It was a lot of Miles Davis, Coltrane and that kind of stuff.
Did you have a background in writing? How did you approach that?
So in school, the thing that I was most passionate and excited about, besides science, was writing. It just came natural to me without much effort. I had a lot of fun learning about poetic license and different kinds of prose. And my parents were just very poetic people. When they’re angry and they yell at each other, they yell in prose.
But it’s funny, now that I’m actually singing I don’t write any of my lyrics. I just kind of freestyle them off the top of my head. Whatever comes to my mind I just let it out the way it comes, which sometimes doesn’t make any sense even to me. Poetry to me is audio/visual now. I’ll see an image or hear a beat and it will make me think about fields or something I saw on TV or a place that I read about, like Tahiti or Bali. And then I try and sing based on the imagery I see in my head.
Besides your dad’s jazz, what else did you listen to growing up?
Some Jamiroquai, Bjork’s “Joga.” A lot of my contemporary music tastes came from dance, because I was dancing in the American Dance Theater and the American Ballet Theater. I also had this mix CD from a friend with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Lucy Pearl, LFO— all of this stuff that was being played on the radio that I didn’t really know much about. I guess now I’m a mixture of all of those things. A little bit of cheesy LFO, a little bit of Miles Davis, a little bit of Bjork. Everything I’ve experienced I just kind of absorbed and regurgitated.
How did you end up working with Holy Other? He hasn’t done much producing for other people.
We basically found each other through people telling each of us how amazing the other was. He finally happened to be in town and working out of the same studio I use [Crush] so I swung through and I was blown away. We’ve been working together for two days now just having a good ol’ time.
How did you meet your other producers?
Felix [Snow, the main producer on “S”] and I had a mutual friend who said we should meet and we just started hanging out. He’s completely not the textbook producer. If you’ve ever seen him he wears sunglasses inside all day and sandals all year round. He’s basically always in yacht mode. He has a Tamagachi and a Giga Pet, so he’s a character-and-a-half. But we’re like family. I went to his house in Connecticut and played with his menagerie of animals and met his parents and ate soup. Patrick [Lukens] and WNDRBRD [other producers on “S”] are friends of Felix.
“S” is the first in a trilogy of EPs, right? “Z” and “A” are next?
Yes. But there’s so much other stuff that’s happening now. I’m working on a lot of interesting things that I’m not allowed to talk about that weren’t a part of the original plan. But I promise they’re interesting. Some cool partnerships and collaborations.