SZA: R&B’s dazzling new talent talks living in a commune and new album ‘Ctrl’

She’s R&B’s most dazzling new talent, lives in a commune and wants to save the world. Catch her while you can because her next album will be her last

Solána Imani Rowe aka SZA, 26, from New Jersey via Missouri is a stone-cold superstar with an epic CV to match. She wrote ‘Consideration’ for Rihanna – and performed it with her at last year’s BRIT Awards – has collaborated with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Chance The Rapper, is best buds with Solange Knowles, and has modelled for Beyoncé’s Ivy Park sportswear line.

Earlier this summer, she released her killer debut album, ‘Ctrl’ – a sublime, inventive R&B record that proves she’s ready to go it alone. We met up with her during a flying visit to the UK to talk about being plagued by self-doubt, and her sideline in science.

You’ve been making music for a while, but the debut album has only just come out. What took so long?

“I don’t know. I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I didn’t really have a direction for who I was and what I wanted, but I started figuring it out.”

What helped you?

“You have to just keep trying different things and then eventually one of them sucks less. It’s weird, once you start to get better and realise you can get better, it’s very encouraging. I always thought music was a God-given talent where it’s ‘either you got it, or you don’t’ but that’s not true. You can grow – music is in everyone. I feel like it’s innate. But some things can be done really fast and some things can’t. I’ll go back in on the same s**t for, like, three weeks. It’s really just because I’m scared to finish things.”

Is that another reason why the album took so long?

“I have some anxiety. It’s hard for me to complete things because I feel like people will hate it and then it’s just like, ‘What am I gonna do with my life?’ because this is supposed to be my job and I just got signed and people gave me a cheque for this. I wish they gave me the cheque after I put the album out because then I wouldn’t have all this pressure to not suck!”

So how did you know when the album was finished?

“I didn’t. They just cut me off. They didn’t even say stop. They just prohibited me from going in to the studio!”

In October last year you tweeted, ‘I quit’. What brought you back?

“Well, I ended up putting my album out, and now I’m contracted for another album I think, so I’m at least gonna explore that and do that to the best of my ability, because you can’t half-ass s**t, you have to really invest your energy 100 per cent. So I’m excited to just take that as far as I can and I think I’m gonna focus on making my next album my best album, because I do believe that might be my last.”

Really? Why so?

“I need to grow and learn. I feel like music is something that is an amazing medium for me but I don’t know if I can really apply my purpose in the world quick enough, because I get lost. Four years went by and I didn’t even realise it until someone said, ‘Trayvon Martin died five years ago’. I remember I was in the studio writing for Beyoncé at the time, not focusing on what was going on.”

So what’s the plan for after the next album then?

“I just want to learn. I definitely want to get into environmental science and environmental politics, learning a lot more and preserving what’s left of the world. That’s such a sacred circle to be in. I’d love to contribute to that.”

What do you do when you’re not making music?

“Biochemical interactions are very interesting to me. [I’m taking] Lypo-Spheric vitamin C – you get 100 per cent value of the vitamin intake. You can feel it, you can see it. It feels crazy, very bright. The vitamin’s very energising. It’s good for your brain; things that help your brain synapses are very interesting to me.”

So you’re kind of a part-time scientist?

“The place I just moved to is like this commune where this homeopathic gastroenterologist does all these cool, very gnarly experiments with healing via food. Everyone there’s buff. It’s run by this old man who used to do all these full-moon rituals in the desert. I need to definitely release negative energy every full moon – that’s a good idea.”

How did you end up there?

“Airbnb! Then it turned out to be amazing so I stayed.”

I’ve heard you’re a big fan of SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas, the radical feminist who tried to assassinate Andy Warhol. What did you get out of that book?

“I felt really connected to her. I related to her, just the fact that she wanted to be loved and seen. She was very inspiring. I did my thesis on her in college and got a C-. That’s the paper that broke me! My teacher just didn’t wanna hear that s**t. She thought it was too vulgar for the class. That book is racy – she’s like, ‘Men are not worth s**t’. At the time I wanted to make a society for cutting up men. Like, if I lead a tribe of Amazon women with this secret bible that they all read from that keeps us all motivated – but now I don’t feel that way! I don’t feel so violent about men.”

Have you read any other empowering feminist literature?

“No, not feminist literature. I don’t think I’m inherently feminist, I think the universe wants me to be feminist, and I think I resonate with that. I think it just chose me to be this female energy… thing. And I’m very drawn to female energy but I don’t really have any prerequisites in feminism. I just roll with it. I love empowering women, I think it’s crazy if you ever try to belittle women, you’re playing yourself – I ride with whoever rides with me.”

SZA’s new album ‘CTRL’ is out now