Photos by Jessica Lehrman
SZA is not your average, average girl. She loves Pretty Woman, secretly wants to work at a Zoo, and wakes up every morning to prepare an açaí, guarana, coconut milk smoothie with an egg white omelet, referring to herself as the “cookiest bitch that ever lived” (as in, she loves to cook).
The thing that sets her apart from the pack is that she’s signed to the most talked about label in recent years: Top Dawg Entertainment. With the release of her debut album on the label, Z, SZA has a huge year ahead of her, full of tours and new projects. In the middle of cooking up some kale and playing with her French bulldog Piglet, I spoke with the suburban sweetheart about her new project, Z, and a variety of other interesting topics.
Mass Appeal: How are you feeling? Are you excited about your new album, Z?
SZA: Uh, I’m half way into a nap, I’m awake now, but I’m about to make a smoothie [Laughs]
MA: Nice. So how has the feedback on the album been?
SZA: I don’t know. I try to stay away from the Internet. That shit is the devil. I just ask Nick (her PR agent) and he tells me the truth and that’s it. I used to [look] when I was bright eyes and bushy tailed, and didn’t have a fucking clue, but I don’t do that anymore. That’s just not healthy. I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone actually.
MA: Tell me about the artwork symbolism. What is “Suburban Lager”?
SZA: It’s just my life! Beer pong. Beer everything. Living in the suburbs with the massive keg parties. It’s just commonplace. It’s actually designed after a beer bottle, the whole cover. I just loved it. I thought it was super representative, with the colors, and the animals and fruit. There’s something super suburbanite about beer, and forest, and pastilles. There’s something small-towny about it. Very “Maplewood,” where I’m from. I’m obsessed with orangutans. I want one.
MA: Are you a big drinker?
SZA: I’m allergic to beer. I’m gluten-free, but it’s the culture that I used to be into. The best times I’ve had are with my friends, and everybody’s drinking beer, and I’m just smoking a lil bit, laughing with everybody. It’s tight. I don’t smoke when I record or anything like that. I only smoke when I don’t have anything to do. I don’t have any vices really. My only vice is that I want more. I just want more of everything. I can’t really find the joy in the present; I’m always waiting for more.
MA: What’s your biggest fear surrounding the album ?
SZA: I don’t know. I want it to last. I don’t want it to be like a moment, like this album is tight, today, and then no one ever cares or talks about it again. I would hate that. That would be a waste of my time. I feel like lowkey if I had one more weeeek it would have been like way better, but I think that about everything. I’m definitely not upset at it, but I’m not too super excited about any of my work. I don’t know. Somebody told me small victories are for little league coaches, and I always believed that. I’m not really celebrating anything until it’s like massive or my nana knows about it. If my nana can see it on television, then I feel like I’m doing something really cool.
MA: Do you feel like you’re growing? What’s the next step for you?
SZA: I do feel like I’m growing, but at an extremely slow weird rate. I’m growing, but I feel like I could be faster. I’m just impatient. Probably touring and my album album. Like my real album. That’s the next stop and I think that’s just like when I get to pull out a live band for the whole thing, produce that album with who ever I can dream about, but that’s what this was supposed to do, create an opportunity for me to do that. Create a platform for me.
MA: What’s changed now that you have a bigger following?
SZA: Nothing. I don’t go anywhere. No one has to acknowledge that I’m anyone or that I do anything. I love being home. I’m dreading walking to the beauty supply store in a hour. I don’t know. I’m not an outside kinda girl. I’m a active ass bitch, I love to go rock climbing and just be out for no reason. Go-Karting, go to the racetrack, bike riding, surfing, whatever, but I’m not like, in the streets. It’s funny, in those places no one ever recognizes you anyway. Ever! Those are the places people are being really active. No one is checking for anything. It’s funny. I don’t think people care. I don’t think people are like, “Is that SZA?” I mean, I’m gonna be real, it’s happened a couple times. People will stare. I hate that. If you stare from across the way and you just don’t say anything, that’s like my major pet peeve. I’d rather you just come over and say what up and we can talk or whatever, but people stare and then act like they don’t care, and they ruin my dinner. My vibes have been killed several times. It’s from people who pretend they don’t care that I’m around, but they’re staring at me, and like whispering behind me. Its happened several times. It’s like a New York thing too, it’s not like in LA. People are like “Hi, are you such and such?” and I’m like yeah hey, but in New York, people are like “I’m way too Lower East Side for this. I can’t talk to you right now. You don’t have the credentials.” [Laughs]
MA: That must be really annoying. Are your parents protective of you ? Your dad kinda shut my shit down when I introduced myself at your listening party. [Laughs]
SZA: My dad… We have like these conversations where I’m like don’t talk to anyone. Don’t tell me unless you know that they know me. We’ve had like some weird instances so he’s probably on guard like, “not tonight, you’re not gonna get me“.
MA: That’s exactly how he was! I had to reassure him that I wasn’t weird.
SZA: That’s what they all tell him! Next thing you know they’re talking about my vagina on Twitter.
MA: What!? [Laughs]
SZA: I’m just kidding. That’s never happened. [Laughs]
MA: He’s really nice though. What’s your relationship like?
SZA: It’s funny. It’s taken a lot of different forms. Now we just like smoke together, and chill. We’re just past a lot of shit. I’m too old for it, and he’s too old. We don’t have any energy to beef with each other so we just hang out. I think my dad is just a very logical person. He’s very learned. He tries to arm me with knowledge. I got that from a Spongebob episode. Remember when there was that paperboy kid, and he was handing out the newspapers, and he was like “Extra Extra! Arm yourself with knowledge!‘ He just walked around all of Bikini Bottom for like an hour! Whatever. It was funny. You had to be there. [Laughs]
MA: In your Daillies interview you talk about going through a rebellious phase with your wardrobe. Are you comfortable with your image now?
SZA: It will do. It’s cool. I secretly wanna morph into Lisa Bonet, and be like holistic and glowing, and have that weird misty thing she has on her skin like everyday. I want that effect. I just wanna be like a fine grown woman. I wanna be fine. I don’t wanna be cute, I don’t wanna be like sexy or pretty. I wanna be like Angela Bassett. Fine as hell for no reason. Like my mom. My mom is like the classiest, finest woman in all the land. I’m serious. You gotta see her. She used to be a model when she was younger. My mom is 65, dude. My mom is fine as hell. She on right now [Laughs]
MA: I met her! She’s gorgeous. So what else happened during that phase that inspired some of the lyrics on Z?
SZA: It’s really just like the breakdowns and the quitting and rebuilding part. That’s what creates everything. You like shit on yourself and other people shit on you. Lots of shiting. Once you shower and feel better that’s when you start to grow as an artist. For me, that’s when I started to grow, and thats when my project started to come together.
MA: What makes you uneasy about the image of women in music ?
SZA: Thats the thing. I don’t look at other people, and think ya’ll shouldn’t be doing that cuz’ like I’m really not that far removed from everything, but I just see things that I know are not for me. There’s a pressure that comes with looking a certain way. You wanna wear a dress, okay you have to wear makeup to compliment your dress. Then you have to do your hair to complement your makeup that complements your dress, and then you have bat your lashes and you have to talk and behave a certain way because your in this dress, and the hair and makeup. Suddenly you’re like altering, and becoming this whole person, this whole being and it’s all based on other variables that you can not control. I don’t like that cuz’ I’m a control freak, so I have to be able to control all my elements. If that means I can wear no makeup, and my hair fucked up , and a t-shirt, and some dirty jeans everyday, I will do that. And that’s what I’m on.
MA: I noticed you used Marvin Gaye in your track “Sweet November.” What happened in November ?
SZA: Mmmmm. It wasn’t anything that happened in November, I just felt really ill at one point. I almost died, and I was thinking about the movie Sweet November. I didn’t tell anybody that I was friends with. Had I died, no one would have seen it coming, and it would have been really sad. I was really sick, like physically ill.
MA: I’m sorry to hear that. Do you like Marvin Gaye ?
SZA: Are you kidding me ? I looove Marvin Gaye. He’s the one. He’s amazing. I can’t even believe his estate cleared that!
MA: What would you say to him if you could spend the day with him ?
SZA: Nothing. I wouldn’t do anything. I would just stare at him like a fucking freak like I do with Yukimi from Little Dragon. Every time I see her I’m just like finding things to say so I don’t just stare at her in her face. She’s so perfect. She’s an angel and I just wanna know her and everything about her. Which is weird. I don’t even know how to talk to people I respect. Most of the people I’m a fan of are dead so the people who are still alive, I just like adore.
MA: How many times did you change the album name before you settled on, Z ?
SZA: I never changed the name of the album, but I changed the actual album about 6 times, but it was always “Z”. I don’t care about tittles. I’ll name anything like “Dirty Socks”, thats how “glitter-trap” came, it was an accident, I don’t care. I care about the other shit, like what’s on the album.
MA: You named your 3rd track on the album “Julia.” Who is Julia ?
SZA: Fucking Julia Roberts. Julia Roberts is the baddest bitch that’s ever lived. Pretty Woman is my favorite movie by far. I don’t know why I connect with her so much, but it’s the best movie ever. Richard Gere is fine as hell. Her hair is awesome. She doesn’t give a shit. That moment when she walks into that store after she bought a whole bunch of stuff and they like denied her before, like they wouldn’t let her shop, and she was like “Do you remember me from yesterday ?” And they were like, “No we don’t”, and she was like “You wouldn’t help me” and they were like “Oh” and she was like “Big mistake.” [Laughs]
MA: What tracks didn’t make the cut that you wish could have ?
SZA: Mm! So many! There’s one called “Dreams” which is with me and the dude who produced “Aftermath”. Oo, I loved that. There’s another Marvin Gaye produced track called “Cyanide”, there’s so many ! There’s a lot. Imma drop em’.
SZA: Chance ? There’s something about his-he’s very confident. I dont know, it’s almost borderline rude, but he’s so confident! He should be because he’s so ill. He can really sing dude. Like really sing. The way he moves so comfortably, it’s almost conversational on the track. And Isaiah ? He just got it. I spend time with him everyday and I think there’s something about watching him creative all the time, seeing where it comes from is just very inspiring. It’s beautiful. We’re forming a group. We’re like doing an album together. Probably simultaneously, like in between the both of our albums. Yeah. It will be pretty tight.
MA: Why did you decide to put Kendrick Lamar on the track version of “Babylon”, but not in the music video?
SZA: Kendrick did that on his own. He surprised me. He just did it and they sent it to me. He was like, “I love this beat. I love where she took it” and I was like really? It was totally unbenoucned to me. It was just random.
MA: What question about yourself did you answer with Z?
SZA: Hm. Probably “Where are you going?” Where am I going ? I have no idea. I think I finally have some direction. Something happened towards the end, I started working with Thundercat and Mac Miller doing live production, and being around live instruments and being around The Internet, and people who are just musicians, like literally musicians and I realized thats my next step. Thats what I need. That’s what my album is gonna sound like.
MA: Your friend Vanessa was telling me about how hard it was for you to maneuver at SXSW last year. Can you tell me about that ?
SZA: It was just random. We were just mobbing for no reason at The Illmore. I remember when TDE came to The Illmore, and I saw them there and we sorta hung out. It was funny. TDE let me stay at their house last year. I had nowhere to stay. I was just like poor and solo. When I quit my job I had no money to go anywhere, so if I wanted to go to the city to do music I had to like stay on niggas’ couches and just ride the train forever. It was ridiculous. I would never do that again. When I think about all the gritty shit…all the annoying gritty shit. All the random text messages, people telling me to get the fuck out of their emails, all the crazy stuff…it’s definitely interesting to be here..wherever here is now.
MA: What are you most proud of with your success so far ?
SZA: I’m a self-loather so I’m not really proud of anything. I’m being real. I’m shy. I just avoid people. I’d delete Twitter if it wasn’t necessary. I don’t know. My live show. My live show used to be horrendous, just ugh. So bad. It got so much better. I was so worried so thats the most important thing for me. I’m proud of that for sure. My first live show at CMJ I cried and ran off stage. It was last year. I was just nervous and unprepared. I had no sense of self. I had no band. Now I have a full band and a DJ and a little bit of lighting. I didn’t know my tech specs or anything. My mic was all fucked up. I was like “Yo I just want mad delay.” Turns out I don’t want any delay, I just want reverb. It’s things like that… It’s trial and error… You figure it out.
Gyasi also loves smoothies and SZA’s new album. Follow her on Twitter.