This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral.
With one look or one listen, it’s clear: H.E.R. is quite possibly the coolest artist in music. The singer-songwriter, born Gabriella Wilson, sings smoothly, writes thoughtfully, and when she picks up a guitar, slices open imaginations with each fuzzy, bending riff. At age 23, H.E.R., who recently launched her own signature line of Fender Stratocaster Guitars, has already entered a stage of global fame. After all, she’s used to this; she signed to RCA Records at 14, and has already been nominated for a handful of Grammys, winning Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Album. Ahead of her turn as this week’s musical guest on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Adele, we caught up with the artist to ask her about the music that has shaped her, from To Pimp A Butterfly to the Proud Family theme song.
JAKE UITTI: What was the last song you listened to?
H.E.R.: The last song that I listened to was “Lone Wolf and Cub” by Thundercat. That was literally the last song I listened to. It’s just so different. I love the beat on it and Thundercat’s a really dope bass player. So, I really like it.
UITTI: Who was the earliest musician to influence you?
H.E.R.: Probably my dad. But I’m a huge Prince and Alicia Keys fan. So, those are my two biggest influences.
UITTI: What was your first concert?
H.E.R.: Hmm, my first concert? I gotta think about that one! I’ve been seeing live shows since I was really little with my dad. It might have been when I saw Buddy Guy perform somewhere in the Bay Area. I was like 7- or 8-years-old.
UITTI: Do you have a favorite movie soundtrack?
H.E.R.: Oooh! Purple Rain.
UITTI: Do you remember when you saw that movie for the first time?
H.E.R.: Yeah, my dad let me watch it when I was—I might have been, like, 11. But he had to skip all the parts that I couldn’t watch. [Laughs]
UITTI: Do you have a favorite TV show theme song?
H.E.R.: Kim Possible is one of my favorite theme songs. Also, The Proud Family.
UITTI: Do you have a favorite Disney song?
H.E.R.: My favorite Disney song? Ooooh, hmmm. There’s so many. I don’t even know what my favorite Disney song would be. Probably anything from The Princess and the Frog. I really love all the songs in that movie.
UITTI: That movie’s great. When they go into the bayou and meet Mama Odie…
H.E.R.: Yeah, exactly!
UITTI: Do you have a dream collaborator?
H.E.R.: Stevie Wonder. He’s just one of the greatest. He’s known for piano-playing but, to me, he’s just one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
UITTI: What’s a song that always puts you in a good mood?
H.E.R.: A song that always puts me in a good mood is “Free” by Deniece Williams. The song is such a feel good song. It makes you want to fall in love and be happy and just, I don’t know, cruise. It’s a nighttime or daytime song, it doesn’t matter. It’s just makes me want to pick up a guitar.
UITTI: What’s a song you have to turn off?
H.E.R.: Oh, man. “Baby Shark” because I’m tired of it!
UITTI: Do you have kids? Do you look after kids?
H.E.R.: No, no, no. I have a lot of cousins and people I consider nieces and nephews and they all love “Baby Shark.”
UITTI: What’s a song you would definitely put on a road trip playlist?
H.E.R.: Oh, a road trip playlist? Hmmm, let me think about this. “Driver” by Buju Banton. It’s a reggae song. It’s a good driving song.
UITTI: What about a dinner party playlist?
H.E.R.: Man, I don’t think I’ve ever put on a dinner party! I have to think on this one. I love Robert Glasper, so I would play some Robert Glasper. I would play some Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly. I might play some Afrobeat. Some Burna Boy, some Snoh Aalegra. Yeah, that would be the playlist. Lianne La Havas, maybe some John Mayer. Some Lauryn Hill. It would be a good mix.
UITTI: How about a house party playlist?
H.E.R.: A house party? Definitely some A Tribe Called Quest. Some Mary J. Blige. Let me think… I would play some Kendrick. I would mix the old school and the new school. I would play a lot of old school hip-hop.
UITTI: When you think of Kendrick and his album To Pimp A Butterfly, what comes to mind?
H.E.R.: I do. I mean, he opened a door, I think, for a lot of new artists to really get musical with their stuff. And that being mixed with hip-hop is super innovative. People have been doing that before, but as far as my generation and young people that listen to music, it kind of opened their minds and their ears to old school music. George Clinton worked on that project with him. There were a bunch of collaborators that he kind of brought back that made people just appreciate music. That was that project, to me. But he paved the way for a lot of musicians to be in mainstream music and to really to it and be able to mix that hip-hop and use real instruments on records.
UITTI: What songs would you put on a crying in your bedroom playlist?
H.E.R.: Oh, man. Definitely the song by John Mayer that goes, “All we ever do is say goodbye.” That song! And “For All We Know” by Donny Hathaway. I got a bunch of those songs [Laughs]. “17 Days” by Prince—but the live version, the piano and a microphone version. Definitely Stevie Wonder “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer.” [Singing] I’d never dream you’d leave in summer! I love that song.
UITTI: Well, don’t give them all up. Because my next question is what songs would you put on a breakup playlist?
H.E.R.: Man, yeah, all of those songs work for both of these playlists. “Change Your Mind” by Mac Ayres. There’s the song called “Honesty” by Pink Sweats that I love. Jill Scott, too, maybe, “A Long Walk.” I don’t know, I make my own breakup songs.
UITTI: If you partake in this sort of thing, how about a getting high playlist?
H.E.R.: I don’t partake in that sort of thing! But, I mean, people get high to my music. So, probably my whole H.E.R. project. I’m heavily, heavily played in the smokers’ community. [Laughs]
UITTI: How about a playlist for your own funeral?
H.E.R.: My own funeral? Damn, they better be playing my own music at my funeral!
UITTI: What song would you want to listen to before you die – like your last meal but your last song?
H.E.R.: Oh, man! I got to think about that one. Maybe the Usher song, “Here I Stand.”
UITTI: My wife is a musician, and when she dies wants to hear “Return of the Mack.”
H.E.R.: That’s hilarious! Well, I hope that one day—hopefully many, many years from now—that’s what happens.
UITTI: What’s your go-to karaoke song?
H.E.R.: “Greatest Love Of All” by Whitney Houston, that’s my go-to.
UITTI: Do you sing in the shower?
H.E.R.: You want to know something crazy? I actually don’t sing in the shower! I’m a singer and I know everybody sings in the shower. Maybe it’s because I sing everywhere else and most people don’t sing everywhere—the only private place they can sing is the shower. But I don’t sing in the shower.
UITTI: You probably map out architecture and do high-level mathematics in the shower. Anything that’s not singing.
H.E.R.: [Laughs] Yeah, I think a lot in the shower.
UITTI: What’s an instrument you’d like to learn how to play?
H.E.R.: The harp.
UITTI: Do you have a favorite thing to listen to while making dinner? Are you a person who cooks?
H.E.R.: Yeah, I like to cook sometimes. I listen to Innervisions, that album by Stevie Wonder. That’s one of my favorite albums to listen to.
UITTI: If your life were a TV show, what song would be its theme?
H.E.R.: If my life was a TV show, it would probably be something like “Comfortably Numb,” or something super random and obscure. Maybe “Sweet Life” by Frank Ocean.
UITTI: Do you have a favorite band or song you wish the world knew more about?
H.E.R.: Oh, man, I love Soundgarden. They’re iconic, but still. Vampire Weekend is one of my favorites. Khruangbin, they’re amazing.
UITTI: Do you have a favorite R&B song of all time?
H.E.R.: That’s impossible. It might be that Deniece Williams song, “Free.” But I can’t put that title on it because I love so many different R&B songs.
UITTI: Do you have a favorite guitar song?
H.E.R.: Probably “Purple Rain.”
UITTI: Do you have a favorite song of yours that you’ve written?
H.E.R.: Um, not really. It changes. I don’t think I have a favorite song I’ve written. I think my favorite song that I’ve ever written hasn’t come out yet.
Listen to H.E.R.’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.
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