H.E.R. on ‘Back Of My Mind,’ California Roots & Career Ambitions

(upbeat music)

– You’ve been doing this a long time.

When you were coming up,

what were your goals like early on?

Was fame on your mind?

– I wasn’t craving a radio hit.

I wasn’t craving popularity.

That’s never been the goal.

And I think people see that as a goal,

having that lifestyle
of the rich and famous.

Don’t you want your name in lights?

Don’t you want to be on the red carpets?

And I’m like, I just wanna play music.

That’s all I want is to make music

and for people to love the music

and respect the art that I create,

’cause it comes from my spirit.

It comes from my own soul.

It comes from my own personal thing.

So that was never the goal.

You know, it’s always been
to make something great

and to be named among legends

and to be named amongst people that

I’ve grown up looking up to.

(upbeat music)

– Every H.E.R. fan knows that

you’re a Cali girl through and through:

Vallejo, to be exact.

What was your upbringing like?

– I grew up in a Filipino
and Black household.

My mom, she came to America
when she was 17 or 18.

And my grandparents lived
with us, majority of the time,

and my dad, he was in a cover band.

So growing up, him and his friends,

on the weekend, they would do gigs.

And they would rehearse
in our living room.

I grew up in a musical household and yeah,

we used to just jam and have gatherings

and that was, like, the vibe in my house.

– What came first for you,

singing or playing instruments?

– When I started talking, I was singing,

like, I have an old tape,

me singing “London Bridge Is Falling Down”

and being like 3 years old

and my aunts are hyping
me up in the background,

they’re like, “Ay, ay,”

and I’m just singing “London Bridge.”

And like, I kept the
same key the whole time,

so I think they knew I could sing then.

– It sounds like you were
born with a mic in your hand,

but when you started listening to music

and cultivating your sound,

who were some of your earliest influences?

– There’s so many influences.

I mean, Alicia Keys was definitely No. 1.

You know, she was playing
piano and singing,

and I rarely saw that.

So she was like, No. 1 for me.

Anytime Alicia had braids, I had braids.

Anytime she wore a hat, I wore a hat.

I really loved Alicia
Keys and looked up to her.

She influenced me to even
be just more confident.

– You can tell you knew what
your passion was very early on,

but at what point did you decide that

you were going to pursue music full-time?

– I was a young kid performing

and then going back to school

and not really realizing, like,

this was going to be my path.

I just knew it was something that I loved.

It was something that came natural to me.

So when I got a little
bit older in high school,

I was known as, that’s the girl

who sings and she plays instruments.

And when I graduated,

it was like, OK, am I
going to do this 100%?

Or am I going to go to college?

When you are faced with
those major decisions

that really determines, I think,

where you’re meant to be.

When I dropped ‘Volume 1,’ that was 2016.

It was a year after I
graduated high school.

The reaction alone kind of made me feel

like I made the right decision.

And I don’t know if it
was ever apparent to me,

even still think today, you
know, accolades and all,

I’m like, am I doing the right thing?

Am I exactly where I’m supposed to be?

And all of these beautiful
things that have happened

have been that confirmation

and not validation, but confirmation.

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– With the folks around you

clearly seeing how talented you are,

did you ever feel pressured
to pursue a career in music?

– I’ve been so blessed to
have the people around me,

my parents included,
but everybody, you know,

expecting the world of me,
saying I’m going to be great

and saying that I’m
meant for amazing things.

I’ve always been, like,

kind of a bossy kid,

just marching to the beat
of my own drum, you know?

And I’ve always been open to learning,

but also very sure of myself.

And even if I was frustrated and confused

or unsure of what my future
was going to look like,

I never lost sight of who I am,

and who I really was at the core,

from being a young kid to now.

And I feel like that’s just part of life.

You’re tested to see if you’re gonna

just do you and be you.

– In 2016, we get H.E.R. volumes 1 and 2,

which is the first time
we’re introduced to H.E.R.,

or Having Everything Revealed.

What did “Having Everything Revealed”

mean to you at that time?

– I decided to release this
project that represented

this very vulnerable time in
my life, being a teenager,

you know, I released ‘Volume 1’

and I wanted it to just be my silhouette,

no name, no face, nothing,

just because it was
just such honest music.

And there weren’t that many people

that had seen me before that.

But for those that did, it was a way to

get away from the person that I was at 14.

It was like, this is me now.

This is the evolution of
me, the evolution of woman.

And so I was having everything
revealed in the music.

I decided I want people
to focus on the music

and that’s why I wanted to be H.E.R.

– And with the, ‘I Used
to Know Her’ projects,

how did that music help
to evolve your sound

and develop you as an artist?

– These weren’t albums,

and that’s the thing, it’s, like, crazy,

and people ask me, like,
what’s the difference?

You know, and for me,

‘Volume 1′ was a piece
of who I was, right.

You hear the high school influences.

And I was listening to Partynextdoor,

and I was listening to Drake,

and I was listening to Jhené Aiko,

and even Jill Scott.

And then when I started performing live,

when I started doing live shows,

in 2017, I opened up for Bryson Tiller

and I pulled out the electric guitar.

And that was the first
time people had seen me

really play instruments onstage besides

being a little kid, or whatever.

It was like, oh, OK, so
there’s another layer

that’s being uncovered, and

lyrically it was an evolution
of who I was becoming,

and things that I started to
go through as a young woman.

– Fast forward to 2020, and
you release “I Can’t Breathe.”

What was going through
your mind at that time?

– The George Floyd protests happened.

And just seeing all these things,

I didn’t know how to feel or what to do.

And I wrote “I Can’t Breathe.”

When it happens to you and
people that look like you,

people that look like your loved ones,

how could you not have cared?

And I’ve always championed
being a Black and Filipino woman

being a Black and Asian woman,

because that’s just part of my DNA.

How could I not?

I always write from the heart

and it was what I was
feeling in that moment,

but also what I was seeing.

I think about artists like
Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone

and how they were literally
the soundtrack to that time,

that time in America,
that time in history.

So I feel like as an artist,

I have a responsibility
to sing what I feel,

but also what I see.

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And that’s kind of how
the song came about.

Some of the questions
in the song, it’s like,

how do we cope when we
don’t love each other?

What is a gun to a man that surrenders?

Praying for change ’cause
the pain makes you tender.

It’s like, there’s all of these things

that I personally felt.

And I think that’s what I’m about,

is telling my own truth,
speaking my own truth,

singing my truth.

– Now while 2020 was
painful and challenging,

your year this year
started off with a bang.

Two more Grammys on your
shelf, as well as an Oscar.

What was it like winning an Oscar?

– I don’t know if I can
describe that feeling.

It was so chill, and we go in, and

I’m a little bit intimidated.

I had never been to the Oscars before

and I’m like, wow, I’m here.

When they call my name,
I stopped for a second.

Everything’s just kind of stopped.

And I was like, wait, what,
did I just win an Oscar?

Like, that was my initial reaction.

Like, wait, what?

And I see my mom, and
she’s crying, she’s proud.

She’s jumping up. Everybody’s going crazy.

You know, me and Tiara
[Thomas], we look at each other,

we’re like, wow, we did it.

I’ll never be able to
have that feeling again.

And I can’t describe it
because it was such a moment

that I couldn’t have prepared for.

– And after having those major successes,

you’re back with the new
album, ‘Back of My Mind.’

What inspired the title for the project?

And what does that mean to you?

– I wanted to name it ‘Back of My Mind’

because oftentimes, people
say, you’re speaking my life,

you’re articulating things

I wouldn’t have been able
to articulate myself.

I couldn’t put that feeling
into words like you did.

And I realized,

I say the things that sit
in the back of my mind.

My album is everything
up until this point.

It’s ‘Volume 1,’ it’s
‘I Used to Know Her,’

it’s my musicality and
me wanting to have fun,

have a good time in
life and making records

that just are in the moment,

but also the records that I really sat

and thought hard about and felt.

And musically, it’s all of these things.

And I think that’s really
what this album is.

It’s not just another project.

It’s a piece of everything.

– We get the album’s
lead single, “Damage,”

your first record to
go No. 1 on urban radio

without a feature.

How did you process that moment?

– Oh man. It meant the world to me,

the support that I got from that record

and people asking me, like,
what’d you put in that record?

Like, I love that song.

You know, it was just really dope.

It was straight vibe.

♪ If you got it, it ain’t no question ♪

Like, it just came out
like that, you know?

And we both started
singing all these melodies

and putting the pieces together.

And I just thought about like,

what is that feeling?

Damage. You could do damage.

And it just happened.

♪ If you got it, it ain’t no question ♪

♪ No, it ain’t no room for guessing ♪

♪ No more than emotionally invested ♪

♪ Showing you all my imperfections, oh ♪

– It’s kind of a vulnerable thing,

when you get in a situation with somebody

or you feel like you’re getting
to that point with somebody,

like, ah, man, it’s kind of getting real.

You don’t want to give your all,

you don’t want to give
your heart to somebody

if you feel like they’re going
to just destroy it. You know?

And of course, if you’ve been hurt before,

it’s even harder to give somebody

the love that they may need
or that you want to give,

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because you don’t want anybody
to take you for granted.

You don’t want anybody to just think that

it’s easy and you gotta let people know,

listen, I don’t do this, so if I let you,

don’t take me for granted.

♪ So just be ♪

♪ Careful what you take
for granted, yeah ♪

♪ ‘Cause with me know
you could do damage ♪

♪ You, you could do damage ♪

– [Dometi] The music video
shows H.E.R. in her element,

with your band. Tell me what
it was like shooting with them.

– Oh, it was fun. It was dope.

Like, we really wanted this raw feeling.

I work with child, the
director. She’s amazing.

And I’ve known her since I was,
I want to say 15 years old.

So we kind of kept it all in the family.

The vision that she had and that I had,

it really came together and
made this beautiful, vulnerable,

but still, like, this edgy kind of thing.

And bringing the band was,
like, the perfect thing.

– Having achieved so
many milestones so young,

are you ever overwhelmed with

how much you’ve accomplished
up to this point?

– It doesn’t get overwhelming.

I get really proud and happy

and I’m like, oh my gosh, I did that. Wow.

And I’m like, wait, this doesn’t happen.

You know, this is not something
that happens all the time,

so I can’t help but just be grateful.

I’m grateful every single day.

And it’s just part of who I am

to want to conquer so much.

I know I have higher highs to reach.

I know I have more to work for.

You know, sometimes I feel like this is

the point at which people
get comfortable and say,

all right, you know, I won the Grammy

or, oh, I have success,

I got the No. 1. I’m good.

And it’s like, that’s not how I see this.

I mean, if I get overwhelmed,

I’ll be a little tired sometimes,

’cause I like to work
really hard, you know?

And I may overwhelm myself
with how much I take on,

but I would go crazy if
I had to sit still, so.

– You’re an artist who continues
to push the boundaries of

what an R&B artist is expected to be.

How do you hope to see the
genre continue to evolve?

– With R&B, I feel like we’re realizing

that it is the foundation of music,

that it’s rhythm and
blues, and I’m just seeing

so many people take it and flip the sounds

and be experimental and
change it and challenge it.

You know, people like Timbaland did,

people like Babyface, Pharrell even.

I’m seeing a new generation of people

that are continuing to flip it

and bring it back, too, and pay homage

to the old school R&B.

I’m just excited to see the new artists

and the new generation of
producers and songwriters

that gonna continue to keep
it alive and make it dope.

– When it’s all said and done,

what do you want your legacy to be?

– There’s so many things
that I didn’t imagine

that I would even do.

I had a vision board in 2016

and I accomplished more than
half of the things on there.

And, well, everything on there really.

And now I’m trying to
make a new vision board

and I’m in the middle of
creating it right now.

So I can’t tell you what that looks like

and what people are going to say about me,

that I made some good music?

We’ll see. We’ll see.

I’m still discovering all my purposes.

So ask me again in 10 years.

(upbeat music)


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