The artist famously known as H.E.R. is living the dream that most artists only wish for. She’s no overnight sensation, though. Her success and accolades are due to patience, hard work, and a strategy that if she were to remain true to H.E.Rself, audiences would eventually gravitate to this young singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. That tenacity has resulted in a string of critically acclaimed EPs, H.E.R. Volume 1 & 2. The combined project garnered her a pair of Grammy Awards earlier this year for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Album. H.E.R. released another EP last summer, I Used to Know H.E.R., all while composing music for what she calls “her debut album” slated for fall release. In between Coachella performances, a riveting BET Awards performance, and the Essence Music Festival, Music Industry Quarterly was fortunate to catch up to the very busy H.E.R.
Congratulations to all of the success you’ve been having.
Thank you so much. It has been a journey…
Talk to us about your Grammy experience and win.
It was insane and it’s still surreal to me. I’m really happy and still on a high to be honest with you. I performed at the offices of the Recording Academy, and they surprised me with the trophies (winners have to wait for them to be properly engraved).
It was one of my greatest experiences being at the Grammys performing and sharing the stage with so many people that I look up to. You dream and imagine these things. You try and prepare, but you never really know what it feels like until you’re there.
Performing at Coachella for a second year has certainly got to be another feather in your cap.
It was crazy. The first weekend was kind of rough…things started kind of late. You never really can predict things when it comes to festivals. There are so many things that you can’t control, like the change over from the prior artists. But it was a great experience. Coachella has that kind of new Woodstock energy. I wanted people to experience music in that way; me just playing my music – no theatrics, all good vibes. The second weekend was definitely better, as I got to walk around more and experience the festival like most Coachella goers, and not just being a performer on stage. I truly enjoyed that experience.
You’re a musician, who harkens back to the more traditional singer-songwriters lyricists. That’s kind of rare in Black music today. Why do you think someone like yourself, a full-on musician, clicks with audiences?
Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. All I can do is be the best me. I didn’t realize how much people connect and relate to my lyrics. The way that I write my words—they may be your inner thoughts, too – or things you may not know how to say or put into words. Some have told me that my lyrics are like a diary for their life. I didn’t realize I was creating this for my audience, when I was creating it for myself. You never know what’s going to speak to people. I’m a poet. I think blending poetry and melody has given me a different perspective on how I approach songwriting. People tell me that there is a realness they are connecting with, and it ranges from all ages, 15-75. Onstage, there may be a sense of nostalgia because I’m so inspired by old school music. I just love having real instruments and having that musicality experience. It’s not just tracks or dancers, but it’s coming with arrangements that are real, musical and fun.
Do you even do track dates? I only envision you with a band or an acoustic set.
Performing with a band is what I like to do, but there’s always the back-up tracks – to keep the essence of the record as a support for the band. But there was a show when the computer went out and we weren’t able to use the tracks, the songs may not have sounded as full. We had to go straight live, which was great, too.
What’s interesting about you is your invention or reinvention. You could’ve easily been a teen Popstar. You’re a young adult, now, so what went into establishing your look, your musical style, and this mystique about you?
I wouldn’t say easily. A lot of people think, ‘oh, she’s so talented,’ and you put songs out, and get them on the radio. But there is so much more, and a lot of people don’t understand the process. For me, my goal was not to be a manufactured type of artist. I knew that going in. From the time I was little, I knew I couldn’t be the type of artist who simply had songs given to them, along with dancers, and having to go through celebrity boot camp, so to speak. I knew I wasn’t that kind of artist. I really wanted my message to be very pure and very true to me. I’ve always tried to stay true to who I was, but in order for me to do that I had to figure out who I was. You really don’t know who you are at 14 years-old, or 16. You’re constantly evolving especially as a young woman. Being signed at 14 years-old was the beginning of developing my sound. Thankfully, I had the time to creatively find myself, and figure out who I was going to be as an artist. I found things that I liked, things I was inspired by, like Prince. When I did my first project, Volume 1, I was influenced by people like Drake, Bryson Tiller, and artists who had this alternative R&B sound; which was a bit rare when I dropped Volume 1. Yes, I have found my voice since the age 14 and now.
Talk further about your growth as an artist between the EPs.
Absolutely, it was intentional. I’ve always been a writer who gravitates towards guitar and piano based songs. H.E.R. Volume 1 was very specific to that time and very specific to that sound. Each song had a different feel and was very emotional; kind of that blend of Trap R&B, but you still hear guitars, and you still hear piano but it’s very subtle. It’s a lot more organic, you hear other genres within R&B. A lot of those vocals were like demos. There’s definitely a progression. That really is the goal, to be genre-less, but with R&B at the core. The possibilities are endless.
You’re still putting out what you consider your debut album, when you’ve already released between 30 and 40 songs.
It’s funny you’ve said that. With Volume 1 and Volume 2, the goal was to see what happens, and then I combined the two and put it out as one project. We even put it out on vinyl. Initially, it wasn’t supposed to be a debut anything, but an introduction to the beginning of it all. It was whatever. As for the debut album, we probably will release it sometime in the fall.
Your duets with Daniel Caesar and Bryson Tiller are so beautifully raw. Talk about your chemistry with those guys.
When Daniel and I created that song, I was actually in another writing session. The person I was working with at the time, left early, and I was still working in the studio when Daniel came in. We were just playing records for each other and talking for hours. We just picked up guitars and started jamming. We weren’t even supposed to be working together that day. It was supposed to be organic. With Bryson, we were on tour in 2017, just knowing that we needed to work together at some point. I felt like he was the perfect one for the song [“Could’ve Been”]. It felt so organic. The thing about those artists is I don’t like to force anything. I have to feel the vibe. I don’t like to create a song and say, ‘Oh this is a hit.’ I like to work with people who do something different than what I do, so that when we do come together, it’s like this dream collaboration, and creates something people wouldn’t expect.
Who are some other artists you would like to work with?
I definitely want to work with Drake, who I think is dope. There’s Stevie Wonder, that we’re 100% trying to make happen. There’s a lot of people out there.
Tell us about the foundation you’ve recently launched.
Bring The Noise Foundation is in the works. It’s about learning instruments and bringing back music into the schools. We could be witnessing a new Quincy Jones or the next Prince. I want to give kids an opportunity and provide them with the necessary tools to learn and play instruments. It could become their new passion. I had instruments in my house. My dad didn’t force me to do anything, but they were there for me to try and explore.
Anything in closing?
I’m in a really good place in my life, and I’m just excited about what’s to come, especially with my album coming soon.