Film Teasers

navigation menu

It’s obvious from SZA’s music that she has a wide range of influences, from classic R&B to Joni Mitchell, jazz to pop-punk and beyond. But just how far those influences range becomes dramatically clear when she talks about the music in her house and at school growing up, and best of all, when starts looking at the playlists in her phone. For much more from this remarkable interview, see our “SZA: Variety’s Hitmaker of the Year” article.

What kinds of music were playing in your house when you were growing up?

My mom has a lot of church music; my dad has a lot of jazz and abstract music; my sister plays a lot of melodic hip-hop and rap. And I love classical music, I love jazz, I love music with color. Maybe that’s because I didn’t start fucking with music until I was old enough to listen to what my parents were listening to.

What do you mean, music with color?

Music that pulls you in and out and makes you feel bad and amazing and strange and you don’t know why. Do you ever listen to something and you don’t even understand what the words are about, but you feel something, you feel strange as fuck? Like in that Lil Yachty song, [“The Black Seminole”], where Diana Gordon is singing. I feel so weird when I hear that, I’m almost sad but I’m not. That note, the way she’s singing it, I feel her, like, dancing in between these emotions and the sway and flow, it’s so strange. I don’t understand it but I love that I can feel it. I don’t feel something from every song.

There are a lot more influences in your music than the ones you mentioned from your family — where did they come from?  

I am a child of a Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy and Blink-182 and Limp Bizkit, that’s all my era of childhood. I did grow up in the burbs [Maplewood, N.J.], going to bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, getting a mix CD or two and being one of the, you know, select Black kids at my school and on my block.

Was [fellow Columbia High School alum] Lauryn Hill basically the patron musical saint of the school?

She was the coolest. They definitely still play her anthems for basketball games and football games, all that. And Eric Hudson, the kid who [produced Kanye West’s 2008 song] “Flashing Lights,” he went to my high school too, so he was also like the coolest. He was class of ’04 or ’05, he came back later [to visit] with a bodyguard.

Have you met Lauryn?

I have, but it wasn’t the meeting I wanted. It was backstage in, like, a kitchen, at an event for Diddy. It was almost the least favorable setting to meet someone that I care deeply about, but it was cool, she was nice. And apparently when I was little she bought me ice cream at Baskin-Robbins [in Maplewood], but I have very little recollection of that.

Just randomly?

It’s a small town, you know how it is.

What else have you been listening to that you really love?

I’m a creature of habit so when I lock in on something, it’s real bad [in a good way]. I listened to Cleo Sol for months, and Jordan Ward… my old Chaka [Khan] playlist… let me look [grabs phone] …

I listen to Thundercat all the time… I have a playlist called “Ultra Songs” that’s my spiritual practice stuff… This is “recently played” so that’s a bunch of Joni Mitchell, obviously… and I have this playlist called “Family Times” for when I’m with my parents, it’s a lot of Cleo Sol, Hiatus Kaiyote, Stevie Wonder, Incognito … and then this one is called “Heartwarming Boys,” with Amy Winehouse, Jill Scott, Little Dragon … soft shit, Jodeci… and then my big one is “Study Boys,” it’s nine hours long.

Why is it called that?

When I was making my album I studied all my favorite songs from my youth, all the things I love… [scrolling]… original Bjork, Animal Collective … the Cars’ “Drive”… a lot of Stevie Wonder, Brandy, Fever Ray, Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell… lots of Joni Mitchell… Erykah Badu, Marvin Gaye, Blink-182, Wheatus, India Arie… there’s a lot of Hiatus Kaiyote … Coldplay, more Bjork, the Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, Good Charlotte, Lit, David Bowie, so many…

Is that “Mack the Knife”?

Yes — I love Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. When I was young, I used to sing that song all the time because I could see it, (sings) “Oh his teeth are… so pearly white” —it was scary but I loved it, like in a whimsical way… Oh, [Ella’s] “Tenderly,” that’s one of the most beautiful songs, I used to cry to it all the time. That and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” [Ella with Louis Armstrong], when she goes (sings), “We may never, never we meet again/ On this bumpy road to love,” and then Louie goes, “Sweet Ella.” And it just feels like, oh my god, what if they really never see each other again? It feels so finite, and so … disastrous as a possibility.

The other day you know what I pulled up? Creed, Nickelback, Train “Drops of Jupiter,” just a whole bunch of that [interviewer facepalms, she bursts out laughing] … I know, I know! Wait, you know what’s crazy? Do white people hate Creed and Nickelback?

Well …

Why? Black people love them! They rock! That shit is bomb! Why do you all hate it so much? That voice…

They’re just kind of cliché. Did you know one of Nickelback’s producers is now working with Morgan Wallen?

Okay, I don’t know if that’s where I was headed in the realm of “Yay, I was listening to Creed and Nickelback the other day in childhood nostalgia!” (laughter) But I like Creed so much — “Higher”? Why are you hating on it? Have you ever felt more inspired and uplifted in your life? I’m in the car and I’m blasting “Higher,” I feel like it’s a gospel song, the vocals are going crazy and it’s also somehow slightly romantic, it just feels so fun. Because even if it’s cliche, he’s so fucking dead ass! I will be a Creed fan forever. Like, it started just on a whim in the shower, “Oh, let’s play this,” and then it became a week of Creed and Nickelback. (laughter)

Anyway [turning back to phone]… King Krule is on here… There’s some [Kid] Cudi, Jamiroquai, All American Rejects, John Mayer, LFO (laughter)… Spice Girls, Cake … oh my god, not Mickey Avalon, child… Sun Ra, Arthur Russell, Jay-Z — lots of Jay-Z, that is my true father! (laughter) … Diplomats, of course… OutKast, Imogen Heap…

And that is me, in a small way.

Source link