Cannot—cannot—express how much I love Lorine Chia. I’ve had her new EP, Naked Truth (out tomorrow on Make Millions Music), locked on a Soundcloud repeat loop for what feels like a lifetime. I’m obsessed with her rich, throaty voice, and her sub-bass-heavy songs about finding the strength to be confident and fearless. I saw her live last week in New York and was knocked over by her stage presence and the raw power of her sound. At 20 years old, the Cameroon-born, Cleveland-raised singer is still at the beginning of her career, but she has major star qualities, and I would bet actual money on her bright future.
We’re so psyched to premiere the video for “Might Come Around,” a song about being a boss and not caring about what anyone else thinks. I video-chatted her at home the other day, and it turns out she is as wonderful as her music—very down to earth, smart, and sweet. We talked about everything she overcame—including school bullies and insecurities—to find her musical voice.
JULIANNE: So, Lorine, tell us about this video.
LORINE CHIA: It was my one song where I was kinda like flexin’—where I was like, I’m the shit, pretty much. Doing the video was a lot of fun, ’cause I could get out there and be all in your face and show the world that I’m special! I’m here, pay attention to me! That’s pretty much how it came up with. And the dancers were so tight! They were just dancers we hired from Chicago and they were phenomenal.
It’s cool, because you always see videos where it’s dude musicians with girl backup dancers, but you have boy backup dancers.
Exactly! I’m switching the role. I’m the dude. The entertainment business is so male dominated, and it’s like, yo, women should stand up and make a statement because we’re just as strong and just as talented.
You have a lot of range, stylistically. What did you start out singing?
When I was growing up, I would listen to Coldplay and Kanye and Pharrell and indie rock bands like Band of Horses and even little metal bands like Scary Kids Scaring Kids. I listened to everything and could always find a way to relate to the emotion. It made me want to put it all together and put it out in the world.
You do an impeccable version of the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit.” Then when Kanye West sampled Nina Simone’s version of the song for “Blood on the Leaves,” a lot of people thought it was you. Did you hear that from a lot of people?
People tweeted me, called me, texted me, like, “Congrats! What was it like working with Kanye?” I was like…I’m still waiting to find out! [Laughs] It was crazy. At first I was praying, “God, please say I’m on Kanye’s album—I don’t care if he stole my song from YouTube!” but come to find out it was Nina Simone. It’s a great comparison, though! People have said I’m a lot like her, too.
Like, a vanguard of intellect, talent, and politics? That’s not a bad thing to be! Are you political?
I am. A lot of the things I believe are considered “you’re just a young rebel” and whatnot, but I’m like, “Ugh, I know the truth, so stop lying to me!” You know, I went to school, and I say this all the time: School is very important; you shouldn’t push off school, especially high school. All of that is really just to teach you the fundamentals of life, how to solve things, and how to think critically. You go through school and you see the nerds, you see the popular kids who don’t really care, and then the popular kids that do care. It’s just really teaching you how to mentally take in people. I encourage everyone to get a high school diploma, at least. If you can get through high school, you can get through anything, for real.
Were you in a group at all in high school?
I think I was a lame in high school. I think I was a lame in all grades to be honest.
A lame? What does that mean?
I was treated like I was foreign, all my life. People weren’t familiar with me because I guess I was a little bit ahead. The way I looked at everything was: “Yo, these are our last days. Let’s work and push ourselves to the fullest.” That’s how I’ve been all my life. But in school, kids would say, “Yo, you care too much.” I used to listen to gospel CDs and stuff and people’d be like, “Oh, you’re the Christian” or whatever. I was always ridiculed for doing the right thing. Always made fun of, always picked on. I didn’t do anything but show up to class and learn. I didn’t cause trouble, I didn’t cause drama. I had my friends, but I wasn’t the popular kid at all. But now, everyone from school hits me up like, “It’s great to see you doing good things!” I’m just like, “But you picked on me!”
That’s the best revenge ever, though. It’s such a satisfying feeling! And doing the right thing is a pretty honorable thing to be picked on for.
It is! And going through all that really brought me to where I am today. I’m grateful they put me through that torture because [otherwise] I wouldn’t have been as appreciative of myself.
I’ve read that you’re an multi-instrumentalist. What instruments do you play?
I started playing guitar when I was 15. I also play the keyboard and a bit of violin. I used to perform at talent shows, poetry slams, and church when I was a kid.
What was your talent?
You know, I was never as lively as I am now onstage—I would just sit there and play guitar and sing. Then I met my creative director, Binkie, [of the R&B group Electrik Red] and she told me, “You know, you should just get into the zone and feel it. Just dance and show what you’re about!” I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense!” So I started getting hype onstage.
A lot of your songs seem like they’re about not being afraid to do things.
That’s very true, because I’m writing a lot of the songs as I’m growing. It’s me bursting out of the shell that I was in for my whole entire life. I was a very shy little girl. I knew what I knew, but I was too afraid to tell the world.
When did you finally break out of that shell?
I went to Toledo University for a semester, and during that time period I was very depressed, thinking, What am I doing with my life? I was in pre-med. I’m from a typical African family—the child is supposed to be a doctor. I was trying to be a doctor! But I couldn’t even go back to school. I was depressed. It was the lowest I ever was. Then one day I thought, Well, I was made to be a musician, so let me just accept that role. Then I wrote this song called “You’re Alright,” and I felt like, Dude, I’m awesome. I’m good at this! Let me really find myself and love myself for who I am and let this talent grow.
What do you think got you to that point?
I think getting older and loving myself. It [happened] after situations in life where I felt, you know, maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit! Because I would do something great, and I would look back and say to myself, No, I didn’t do that good—I’m worried about what people think. After that, I just kind of got over it and realized, yo, I’m GREAT! I’m an awesome singer, I’m a great sister, I’m a great friend! I’m a great person! And I’m beautiful, and I need to let the world know that I know! Because nobody’s gonna know that you’re great if you don’t know.
Self-esteem is major in everyone’s life—once you learn to love yourself and accept who you are, you can go as far as you want! There are no limits for you at all after that. But you have to conquer yourself first. That’s probably the greatest challenge you’ll have in your entire life. ♦