We caught your Bonnaroo set last weekend, and you were amazing! You were totally rocking out. How was it for you?
It was so great! This was my second time at Bonnaroo, but it’s my first time playing. I came last year and I had a very good time. This year was definitely more work, and last time was more for fun, but it’s always a great festival. I was pretty much working the whole time, but I saw Kendrick! I saw a bunch of people, but for some of them, I was a little bit schwasted… I ate the jambalaya! Did you have the jambalaya? It was amazing.
Speaking of Bonnaroo, Nashville is very close. I heard that you once spent some time there working on some country songs?
Oh, yeah! I bunch of people from my publishing company went on a road trip, and we ended up in Nashville to do a writing camp and work on some country songs. A lot of it was about building relationships, but we wrote some really cool songs that we put on hold. We’re going to kind of see what happens with them. There’s a whole game to being a professional songwriter, and I really do love country music. I love Bobbie Gentry and older names in country like Dolly Parton. I love that twang!
Did you always want to be a musician or did you have other career aspirations?
Music has always been my number one. I think a lot of artists appreciate different elements and different arts. I’m also a painter and I draw; I do a lot of abstract portraiture. I also did theatre and acting. I think from each art form, you pull out different sides of yourself. There’s such an empathetic quality and a different perspective in theater, and the fun of that is you’re taking on a character. You have to learn why they do the things they do, and you have to justify it. You might have to play a character that you don’t relate to. If you saw them on the street, you might think, "what a bitch!" But you have to figure out why they act the way they do. You become empathetic. I think I learned a lot from acting, because it’s really more of a character study of human nature. From painting or visual art, you learn patience and craft. Music is a bit of both, but it’s also this exorcision of emotions. So, I really love all different art forms, and I don’t believe that anyone should limit himself or herself to one. I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in music, simply because you get to hold the reins more. I like to be creating my own world; I like to have it be true to me.
Do you ever wish that “Octahate” wouldn’t have been such an overnight success? You were essentially thrown into the spotlight all at once with that track.
I think it was really just chaos, right? I got lucky. For anyone who gets their name out there and gets any sort of attention, or anything people just gravitate toward an image or a song or a little bit of both. There are plenty of people who have wanted to build something based on their looks and go from that. Everyone’s got roots. For me, I’ve just been making a lot of music. I guess in a way, I needed that song. It’s definitely the most pop-sounding one that I have, but I just thought, why not bang the door down with a big anthem? It was nerve-wracking, too, because when you start with something like that—something that’s more pop-oriented—some people shrug you off. They just think, "Oh, she’s another pop star." I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of with liking pop. The legends were all pop stars. People say, oh they’re just pop stars, you know? The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac—they stand the test of time. Joni, in her day, had pop songs on the radio. I wanted to embrace that with the song. I think you just catch a break and try to keep the ball rolling.
What are your earliest music memories? When did you start writing?
Music has always been a part of me. I was always singing when I was cleaning the house or going to the potty. Yes, I had potty songs when I was young. I’d write musicals, too. I had my little brothers play whatever parts I wanted them to, and we’d just sing songs when I was three or four. I think it’s a creative pulse that some people kind of have. I think you can learn it, but you also have to be born on a level of being that weird. Like in a place where you’d actually try to sing songs before you could write. I like all of the arts, but music is my first child.
It seems like all of the other arts you’ve been involved with kind of go into your musical ventures, especially theater.
It’s part of being an artist. I think all of our favorite artists incorporate elements of theatre, and that’s why we love them. You think, "Oh, what a ham!" They’re not necessarily playing a role, but they’re playing an amplified version of themselves. And that’s theater.
You’ve battled stage fright and nerves, but you definitely cannot tell when you’re onstage; you have such a confident presence. Has that disappeared at all since you’ve been playing more live shows recently?
Oh, I definitely have stage fright. When I started this particular journey, I had other bands and [projects], but my first show I ever played was a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. Most of [the audience] were industry people who had furrowed brows and were thinking, "Let’s see if this girl can really do it." A lot of what’s happened [was] because of me having to prove myself and [perform] to a room full of people when I’d only ever played small gigs. This is also my first year doing songs for television.
There are a lot of things that you have to overcome. I was so nervous in the beginning, and then I had to do David Letterman. Just a couple of days ago, I did Fallon and looked so much more comfortable. You’re constantly growing into a flower. I’ve had the opportunity (or maybe misfortune?) to grow and try to carry out my dreams in front of people. I think that’s a part of my journey and it's really special. I’ve had the opportunity to have a really wonderful relationship with my fans and the people who are really rooting for me. I just write music and hope people like it. You know, I think today’s actually the anniversary of my first song coming out!