ABOVE: TINASHE IN NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2014. PHOTOS: ASTRID STERNER. STYLING: LAURA JONES/JED ROOT. MAKEUP: MARK EDIO FOR SEE MANAGEMENT. HAIR: KEIKO HAMAGUCHI FOR SEE MANAGEMENT. MANICURE: KATHERINE ST. PAUL. STYLING ASSISTANT: TCHESMENI LEONARD. RETOUCHING: RICHY FERRELL/VISION ON.
In October of this year, after three mixtapes, Tinashe Kachingwe released her debut album Aquarius via RCA. With radio-friendly R&B-influenced singles like “2 On” featuring Schoolboy Q and “Pretend” with A$AP Rocky, it was an instant hit. When we spoke with the singer over the phone last month, she was on her way to London and then Abu Dhabi before embarking on a mini U.S. tour. Next month, she’ll be back in Europe.
The Los Angeles-native, however, did not become famous over night. The daughter of a physical therapist from Iowa and an actor born in Zimbabwe, Tinashe began her career when most children start kindergarten. She’s worked professionally her whole life—first as a model and actress and, since the age of 16, as a singer. Singled out as the acting kid, Tinashe didn’t particularly enjoy school. “I was kind of isolated from my peers; I didn’t really get along with them too well. Kids didn’t really understand that I was working as a professional at that age,” she explains. “Once I stopped focusing on people my age that were in school and I started hanging out with people in the industry, like producers, engineers, songwriters, that’s when I was really like, ‘Okay, there’s a life after college and all this other stuff everyone’s focused on.'”
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, California
ENTRY INTO THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY: My dad was a theater actor so he had an agent and he brought me into his agency when I was maybe four years old. That was how I started. I started modeling and it progressed from there. My parents always took me to my auditions and all the places I needed to go to—they drove me around everywhere. They’re extremely supportive, my biggest fans, so I’m really thankful for that.
FIRST FILM: I was in my first movie when I was five. I just loved to entertain and put on a show. I really fell in love with acting at an early age. I always had a great time on set. I knew I was doing something professional, I think. It taught me about professionalism at a really early age and how to conduct myself in the entertainment industry and those types of environments.
SWITCHING MEDIUMS: I have videos of me singing songs at age one, age two. I think music was always my biggest passion; I was just looking for when I could pursue that full time. I took a step back, when I was about 16, from acting to focus on music. I wanted people to know I was taking it really seriously and to think of me as a music artist first and foremost.
CONFIDENCE: Because everybody always encouraged me to sing I assumed that I wasn’t bad at it. It felt like it was obvious what I was going to pursue. I thought I was good for as long as I can remember.
STYLE OF MUSIC: It’s rooted in a place of R&B, but I like to avoid categories because I want to be able to evolve as an artist and for people not to expect the same thing from me all the time. I suppose it’s some grey area in R&B land.
AQUARIUS: This year has been a crazy year for me and my life has totally changed. People look at me differently. I can’t really go places anymore without getting noticed. I’m playing shows, multiple times a week. I’m touring. I’m going overseas. It’s a big difference. It’s awesome.
COLLABORATIONS: I love that [R&B] is collaborative. I think artists should continue in that direction and continue to support other artists, especially female artists. We should continue to collaborate. It only makes us all stronger.
IN-PERSON VS. ON SCREEN: I worked with Dev Hynes face to face multiple times. A$AP Rocky, that song was sent through email. It’s nice to be able to record a song on my own time and send it to someone and work on it through the internet. For me, I prefer to work on my own. I feel like I can tap into a more genuine place and I feel like my best stuff comes from writing on my on in my own zone. Some people like to bounce off of other people’s energy.
THE NICEST PERSON I’VE WORKED WITH: One of them is Boi-1da from Toronto. He’s really nice, really great guy. Another one is Stuart Matthewman of Sade. He had a lot of interesting stories to share. He told me about touring the world with the group Sade and performing in Rio.
WRITER’S BLOCK: Do I get writer’s block? Absolutely. That’s the creative process. It’s a process; you never know what’s going to happen. There’s no step-by-step way to write a song. I’m really very selective about who I play my music to in the early stages. I’m a huge perfectionist. I don’t like people to make judgments before it’s at its full potential, so I’m pretty secretive. I don’t even let my family hear it.
I’VE MADE IT MOMENT: There are small moments, but I always have really high expectations so I continue to push for the next level. I think one of the best moments this year was when I turned on my local radio station and I heard my song and then I turned it to the next local station I listen to and I heard my song. Then I turned to a third local station I listen to and I heard my song. That was really crazy.
THE ONLY THING YOU CAN ASK FOR… As an artist is that people enjoy the music.
For more from the 15 Faces of 2015, click here.