Mixing the resonance of her South London roots with a deeply personal canon of songs, Tawiah has already achieved what many in their lifetime careers can not—a sense of uniqueness. Following her musical development at the Brit School, Tawiah saw a whirlwind entry into the worldwide circuit as she was pursued for stints with Corinne Bailey Rae, Cee Lo Green, and most notably Mark Ronson while being declared the “best newcomer” by Gilles Peterson.
Now with the release of Tawiah’s ‘FREEdom Drop EP,’ the artist known for her “twisted soul” is pivoting into her own career as a solo artist and we couldn’t be more excited. Check out our interview with Tawiah and come out to her New York City debut at SubCulture on June 25th which will feature special guests Muhsinah and Carolyn Malachi!
Tell me about how your love of music really developed.
I always loved music. I started singing from a really young age. I was one of those kids that did sports as well, so I played football, basketball, netball, and stuff like that. It got to a point where I got scouted for a football team which was quite a big deal. But at the same time I was at this center for young musicians studying classical guitar and in choir. My mom was like, “Ok, you’ve got to kind of make a decision—is it sport or is it music.” It wasn’t really a difficult decision to be fair. I was just like, “MUSIC!” I found out about the Brit School and it was and still is the only free performing arts school in the country. So I went to audition and ended up going. I had the time of my life—I was there for five years. I definitely learned a lot in terms of performance, gaining confidence, and I actually had my first ever tour there. They picked like six students to tour around the UK and play some songs and covers. It was really good training.
While at Brit I was part of a collective called Kindred Spirit and I met lots of people through there—Corinne Bailey Rae and a lot more singers. I started doing backing vocals for Corinne and then Mark Ronson heard about me. He was just like, “You want to go on tour?” It was literally that simple [laughs]. A friend of ours told us we had to hook up, so we hooked up, and the next day he was like, “Yeah, you have to come on the road with me.” It was insane and awesome at the same time. After that was when I really started to focus on myself and my art. I actually got Jodi’s Bedroom out when I was on tour with Ronson because people kept coming up to me and saying, “When can we buy something? When can we buy something?” I was like, “Oh shit, maybe I should put something out.” So Jodi [Milliner], who is my best friend, and I wrote those songs in his bedroom and recorded them. Now I’m just focusing on writing and I’m super excited to be doing shows again. I’ve really missed it to be fair. I love being on stage. This will be my first show in New York doing my own thing.
As far as being on stage, you were in front of large audiences early on—is the physical aspect of performance something that came natural to you or did you have to work on it?
It’s so natural for me. I’m a middle child [laughs] so when I get to be up on the stage I go crazy. I always felt comfortable on stage.
You’ve described your music as “honest” in prior interviews. What in your life inspires you to write music?
When I was younger I found confrontation quite difficult, so my way of releasing was to write about it. That’s how it started. My songs have always been honest because I’d be like, “I really like that person, but I feel really shy so I’m going to sing about it” or “This person is really getting on my nerves” so I’d sing about how annoying they were. It’s quite funny because I used to get people coming up to me asking, “Was that about me?” and I’d have to be like, “Can I clear something up!” [laughs]. For me, that was the reason I started writing—I was pretty awkward in conversation. But now I’ve gotten a lot better! I’m also always writing about things that my friends go through that we talk about. So yeah, I really love people watching.
Music isn’t necessarily something that needs any explanation other than experiencing it, but is there anything you’d like audiences to understand about what you do?
Music is really difficult to describe, but I like to describe what I do as Twisted Soul—it’s soul music with a bit of a twist. Like you said, it’s an experience and a journey. I just want people to feel. Even if you hate it, that’s fine. I’d rather have someone hate it than go, “Meh. It’s alright.” Passionately love it or hate, but not in between.
You have recorded as a guest with so many amazing artists. Going into the studio, is there any sort of etiquette or expectations of you as a vocalist or do you generally do your own thing?
I always just go in and do my thing. When it’s a feature-collaboration I’m definitely open to their suggestions and the collaboration aspect. Generally people are just like, “Do your thing,” so I do!
What’s a typical day in your life like?
My latest obsession is the gym. I’m definitely getting back on fitness. I joined my local gym, which is a bodybuilding gym. It’s really interesting. All of the competitions they do and everything is a whole other world. But anyways, I go to the gym and then I go home to write. I’ve got my guitar, I’ve got my piano, and all of that. Sometimes I go over to the studio, we’ve got a wicked space pretty close. But the typical day is really just gym and music—that’s pretty much it.
Going through the music business with some hype behind you, what has been the most difficult aspect about it?
Thus far that hardest part is how a lot of people are telling you what you should be. I find it very difficult. I do what I do. When it’s business and you become a product, it’s like what people think you should do. It’s a bit of a mind-fuck. I have to be true to me though—I can’t really be any other artist or sing anybody else’s songs. If people really love music, they sense integrity in the songs and the artists who sing them—I do anyways. It’s just like, “Yeah, you’re doing you.” But I did find that quite challenging, because people are saying, “You’re so versatile; you could do this or you could do that.” It’s a bit of a blessing and a curse. I have to express myself and the people that feel it will feel it. I just have to keep on keeping on.
On the other side of that, is there anyone who has been continually honest with you about your music and what you can be doing with it?
Yeah, I’d say that is Jodi who has been my longtime collaborator. I really trust his opinion on stuff. So yeah, definitely Jodi.
Are there any specific artists you would love to work with?
I would really love to work with Pharrell. I would also love to work with Hiatus Kaiyote—they’re a dope band. I actually got to meet Nai Palm in LA last year and she’s awesome. That would be pretty cool.
Tell me about the guests that will be at the New York show with you.
I met Muhsinah maybe four years ago in London. We worked together and the stuff we did is actually on my new FREEdom Drop. We’re actually going to get to perform it for the first time ever at the New York show. I haven’t seen her for ages, so it’ll be really good because she is super talented. I’m really looking forward to that. Then I’ve got Jodi playing bass with me and a guy called Blue from London who is going to jump on guitar. I went to Brit School with both of them, so it’s pretty special that they’ll be there.
What are you working on now that we can look forward to?
I’ll be in the studio recording the new stuff soon. I’m really excited!
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)