Tinashe knows how quickly people can lose interest in artists in today’s overloaded environment. “I really didn’t waste any time,” she says, talking about the past five months of studio time she’s clocked prepping for the release of her sophomore album, which she hopes to have completely finished by early fall. “Any opportunity that I had, I really focused and honed in on it.”
A self-described workhorse, the 22-year-old had a whirlwind 2014, finding huge chart success with her DJ Mustard-produced single “2 On,” followed by the release of her acclaimed debut LP, Aquarius. Just two months ago, she released a six-track mixtape called Amethyst, a set she recorded over Christmas break in her bedroom as a way of tiding fans over until Album No. 2 hits shelves.
She’s also rumored to have worked on Janet Jackson’s purported upcoming comeback album, something she says isn’t true, “but I’m 100 percent ready and waiting.” In February, she joined Ty Dolla $ign and Charli XCX on the springy crossover single “Drop That Kitty,” a collaboration that originally just featured her on the chorus until Charli managed to hop on and add her own vocals. Just over a week ago, a Drake and Tinashe collaboration called “On a Wave” found its way online — a track she says was recorded just after last year’s OVO Fest in September, meant for her debut (not Drizzy’s forthcoming Views From the 6), but was scrapped due to time constraints.
“Obviously my album had already been out for six months [by the time “On a Wave” leaked], which really isn’t that long in classic album timeframe,” she says, “But in this day and age, I always feel like there’s so much to be said for momentum. That’s why I’m doing all these other things. I would love to just release new material just to keep people talking, to keep my music relatively relevant.”
With everything Tinashe tells SPIN about her upcoming full-length, it’s hard not to imagine her name on the tip of millions of tongues once it hits. Though Aquarius was a stellar introduction, the singer acknowledges that this time around, the recording process feels different. For starters, she’s enlisted some big guns in search of crossover success: Dr. Luke, Max Martin (who just racked up his twentieth No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Bad Blood”), Cirkut, Rock City, and other pop-minded producers have been brought in since January to work with Tinashe on what she’s envisioning as her most authentic statement thus far.
“With this album, I have a very much clearer direction going into it of what I wanted as opposed to just shooting darts at the wall,” she says. “[With Aquarius], I knew what I wanted to do, but everybody that I was working with really had no clue who I was or what I wanted to do. They came up with a lot of stuff that wasn’t necessarily true to me. What I’ve learned with this second album is to not waste time making records that aren’t going to end up on the project. Don’t waste time spending the first day getting to know the producer and just cutting whatever they want. I used to do stuff like that, breaking the ice, and we would end up with a lot of material that I didn’t necessarily want in the end.”
The clout she’s picked up in the past year has also made Tinashe happier to get her point across in the studio. “I think it came with gaining more respect as an artist, she says. “I’m able to say to people a lot easier, ‘Look, you’re great, but I don’t think that this is right for me.'”
As for what is right for the singer in this phase of her career, Tinashe promises bolder hooks and newer sounds. “With Dr. Luke, I’ve actually been in the studio with him for five days total and we’ve made a handful of records,” she says. “The momentum felt really cool. With the second album, you always want to push it forward and I think that that one thing I was looking for from him was those big hooks, those super catchy, huge, smash hooks while still integrating that into what I do.”
With Martin onboard “seven or eight songs, depending on how many we keep,” the California native’s hoping to have the golden opportunity to bridge her R&B past with what seems like a faster, poppier future. “Obviously I feel like I’ve kind of created a lane for myself,” she says. “I’ve definitely created a sound, and I’m not trying to just abandon that or the fan base that I’ve created doing that type of music. [With this album], I’d like to play with some more tempos, to not have it all be in the mid-tempo range even though a lot of my music is. It’s been an adventure for me to figure out how to do my version of an uptempo, because the fastest song I’ve kind of ever really put out is ‘2 On,’ which is really only kind of like an upper/mid, 95-beat jam. I’m not really interested in doing like, down-the-middle EDM songs, but I’d like to figure out how to do that uptempo. I’m definitely trying to make songs that are hooky enough to cross over.”
Lyrically, though the songwriter is excited to head in a more extroverted direction, she says she assures that she’s sticking to the subject matter she knows. “I read a really interesting article recently that said when we analyzed the last however-many songs that were the No. 1 song in America, the average reading level of those songs was second-grade,” she says, stifling a laugh. “I was thinking about that a lot because obviously I like to write things that are somewhat sophisticated… but at the same time, there is an art to being able to make things incredibly simple as well. I think I’m always about finding the balance for me. It’s about having records on there that are lyrically challenging and then also having records that still can maintain a level of simplicity without going just big and dumb.”
And even though she’s already put a good amount of work into the album this year, Tinashe says she’ll bring her studio with her on the road during her upcoming opening slot on Nicki Minaj’s summer tour, hoping to collaborate with the headliner and the other openers Rae Sremmurd, Meek Mill, and DeJ Loaf.
“I need to get my No. 1,” she says with determination. “I am so impatient that I’m already thinking so far in the future. In my head we’re in 2016 and I’m winning my Grammy for this next album that’s already come out. Once I released Aquarius, even though I knew I had a lot of touring left to do, I felt like I was creatively done with that project. I’m 22, so might as well do as much as I can now while I have no responsibilities.”