Interview: A Conversation With the Amazing H.E.R.
Many budding artists believe they now need to have a large social media presence to achieve any success. To an extent, that is true – the majority of fans’ eyes are now drawn to the Instagram and Facebook pages of various entertainers, many of whom have grown their fame through these platforms. This can put pressure on the musician to put more thought into the character they portray online rather than their actual music. H.E.R. is an example of someone who decided to take the opposite route. Rather than creating a larger than life persona online, and indulging in flashy visuals, she decided to completely shun the glitz and glamour associated with stardom. She personifies mystery, and fans of her music are eager for her to reveal her identity. However, this eagerness stems from an infatuation with the stories she tells in her alluring, sometimes heart wrenching, yet always soulful, music.
Her vocal range is vast, singing regularly at a lower pitch, but with the ability to hit beautiful high notes, most notably in her acclaimed cover of Drake’s “Jungle” at three minutes, twenty-three seconds. For someone so hidden from the public, she is an open book in her music. Her self-titled EPs, H.E.R. Volume 1 and H.E.R. Volume 2, are raw and unfiltered in their content, built on her own personal experiences. A brave decision to let the world know her deepest thoughts, H.E.R.’s honesty has struck a chord with listeners, creating a large fan base that stretches to the elite of the entertainment industry including Usher, Pusha T, Taraji P Henson, and ‘big sister’, Alicia Keys. Staying true to her beliefs, and taking on the role of the ‘anti-star’ has had no adverse effect on her career. She recently supported label-mate, Bryson Tiller, on his ‘Set It Off’ tour, and also completed her own headline Lights On tour across the USA. A huge collaboration with fellow R&B sensation, Daniel Caesar in “Best Part“ and the success of her self-titled projects in 2017, has resulted in H.E.R. being poised to, somewhat ironically, become a star in 2018. With her European tour on the horizon, we had the chance to speak with H.E.R. about her introduction to singing, the creation of her self-titled EPs, her openness in her music, collaborating with Daniel Caesar, and more.
Check out the interview below now:
TP: When did you discover that you could sing?
H.E.R.: I think my family discovered it before I did when I was really young. I’ve been singing since I was two-years-old. I used to do talent shows at school, so music has always been in me and it’s something, I’ve always loved to do.
Would you say your family pushed you towards music? Or was it something that they saw you loved and nurtured it from there?
It was just something I loved – my dad is a musician so all the instruments were in the house. He never had to tell me to play the instruments, I just gravitated towards them. Piano, guitar, all that was in the house… also my family loves to sing karaoke. I’m half Filipino, and that’s what they do (laughs). So, anytime they’d do it, I’d pick up the mic and sing, so it was definitely something I never was told to do.
Has your taste in music changed since you’ve grown up?
Honestly, I’ve listened to all types of music from a young age. My Mom and Dad listened to a lot of old school music, a lot of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a lot of R&B, hip-hop, everything, and everything in between, so I’m inspired by it all. I feel I’m a huge melting pot of things, so I’ve never just listened to one genre, but I feel like R&B is the core of what I do… it’s who I am.
I actually read somewhere that you bought Alicia Keys’ Unplugged album…
I did! That’s one of my favourites…
And Alicia Keys actually mentored you?
I wouldn’t say she mentored me, she’s more like a big sister. I have a lot of mentors, and she’s actually been more like a big sister and supporter of my music.
How did that connection actually come about?
My manager, Jeff Robinson, used to manage her, so that’s how the connection was made.
You’ve mentioned before that Jeff Robinson has had a huge impact on your career – what makes a great artist manager for you?
Someone who helps manage your ultimate dreams and ultimate goals. I just think it’s someone who can mentor you in what you are trying to accomplish, and not what they think is right for you, or to try and make the most money from you, but to help you do what you really love to do. A great manager will help you become who you really want to become in music and make sure you get the right looks and the right people around you.
Why did you decide to combine H.E.R. Volume 1 and H.E.R. Volume 2, into one project?
I added songs and I released The B Sides project and thought why not have one long story and make it cohesive as a project. It ended up being in the top ten in the US charts, so it was quite cool that we managed to do that. I just think it all made sense to go together.
I know you’ve heard these comparisons before, maybe more due to the fact that you’re also mysterious, but it reminds me of The Weeknd when he combined his projects into Trilogy… how do you feel about the comparisons to an artist like The Weeknd?
It’s an honour… I mean The Weeknd is huge and I’m a big fan. The way that he did his thing is really dope, and I think it came naturally to him, and maybe it’s just proof that my project is authentic and people can relate to it. They’re gravitating towards it like they did to The Weeknd, so hopefully, my career grows just as much as he did. I’m honestly just… it’s surreal! I’m excited that people are making that comparison.
You mentioned that it’s “the era of the anti-star”… what do you exactly mean when you say that?
The anti-star – it’s not really all about the glitz and glamour, it’s more about the honesty and realness of things. It’s not about being so much of a character, but being who you truly are, and it’s about the music.
You are definitely all about the music, and in the process have released quite a brutally, honest project – what would you say is the most difficult thing about letting everything out when making your music?
It’s kind of like… all of the stories are being put out there, like all my secrets… it’s like my diary is being read by the entire world. That’s how it feels, and that’s what it is when it comes to being an artist. It’s just being honest about your stories and putting everything out there. It’s scary, but I think that’s why I decided to release it under H.E.R.. These projects are super true to me and are my true self, so why not just be honest about everything?
Are all of your songs based on personal experience, or do you ever try to mirror what someone else could be going through in your music?
It’s pretty much everything I’m going through, everything that I feel… it’s all my stories, it’s like my diary… and it’s scary.
Looking at the production of “Let Me In” and “Lights On“, I noticed you had two really talented UK-based producers in Knox Brown and GRADES. How did those collaborations come about?
Yeah so, I was in London, and we got together and it was really dope because I produce as well. I felt really free, being in a new environment and I felt really inspired as I had never been to London before. It brought a lot of different things out of me… if you notice, the production in “Let Me In” and “Lights On“, is a lot different from some of my other stuff and it’s because I was in London and I worked with these producers and we just tried different things. So it was such a collaboration… and “2″ as well, was with MNEK, who’s also based in London… but yeah, they’re all just different kind of beats just because of me being in a different environment and working with a different kind of producer you know? So it was just fun.
With “2“, that song, in particular, is such a different vibe to everything else that you’ve made in my opinion, and it shows your versatility as an artist – on which song on your project, did you feel you were most outside of your comfort zone?
I felt like I was on a lot of them. I always try and step out of my comfort zone, but I was definitely outside of my comfort zone with “Let Me In” and “2“. “2“ was fun, just one of the really raw, honest stories, and just bringing it to life with MNEK, was a lot of fun. It kind of had a good Timbaland vibe…
With “2“, listening to the content, it’s kind of what a lot of people go through – for example you’re with someone, and maybe they’re cheating on you, you kind of feel it’s equal if you’re doing the same thing…
Right, right we all kind of seek revenge (laughs)
(Laughs) so what’s your view? Do you feel that cheating is negated if someone is already cheating on you?
I’m not going to encourage people (laughs), but hey, sometimes we act on emotion, sometimes we tend to do things because of how we feel… our emotions cloud our judgment, so I think that’s what happened and Volume 1 and Volume 2 definitely represent that, you know… acting emotional, or feeling a certain way and acting on it.
Speaking of emotion, as a listener, you really do experience every emotion that you can if you were to be in a relationship… which song for you was the most difficult to record?
Probably “Pigment” . This guy, who was actually an intern in the studio and played guitar for me at one point, made the beat, and I asked him to send it to me. I went home and was just listening to it, and at like three in the morning, I just wrote the song. The next day I showed it to a producer that produced a lot of Volume 1 and Volume 2, his name is Swagg (Swagg R’Celious), and he’s like my big bro, so I show him all the stuff I create. I told him not to show it to anyone, and he ended up showing it to my management at RCA. It ended up being on the project, so it’s just one of those things where I was afraid to release it (laughs).
You collaborated with Daniel Caesar, and he’s had a huge year like yourself… I feel like on “Best Part” you guys had a great synergy… what do you think led to that chemistry, and what was it like working with him?
Yeah, so I was in the studio, and I had a session prior to him coming in. It didn’t really work out because the session ended unexpectedly, but someone brought Daniel in. I was just sitting with my guitar in my hand, and he told me he was a fan of my music, and I replied that I was a fan of his. So we just decided to create, and we played these chords, it was a D’Angelo/Lauryn Hill kind of vibe in the room. I don’t know what it was about it… we just spoke about music genuinely… we both love R&B and old school music, so I think the connection was made there, and he’s such a cool person. We’re really good friends now, and the song just wrote itself, it was just a feeling in the moment. I don’t think we could ever get that moment back, you know? We could get a moment similar or maybe write a better song, but that moment was so special and so spectacular to that time… so yeah it was magic.
I feel like you’re so mature in your sound and your content, yet you’re still very young. How come you had to grow up at such an early age?
I don’t know, I don’t feel like I grew up at such an early age, I feel like I just noticed things, and maybe made mistakes and learnt from them first time – I don’t think I grew up too fast, I think I just have a lot of older people around me and I’ve learnt from their mistakes and learnt from their stories and built up a perspective so soon in life for something. Yeah, I guess I just observe everything and I’ve always soaked everything in like a sponge. I’m like a flower on the wall in these rooms where people talk about their lives and I just pay attention I guess.
Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure and thank you for your time.
Thank you so much.