Illustration by Minna Gilligan. Photo courtesy of Abra.

Illustration by Minna Gilligan. Photo courtesy of Abra.

If there’s anyone who’s doing the slow jam right these days, it’s Abra. The London-raised, Atlanta-based singer-songwriter’s music is perfect for when you’d rather swoon over someone or party low-key by yourself than go out. If you like to slow grind in the comfort of your room like I do, Abra’s cover of Beyoncé’s “Me, Myself and I,” this month’s theme song, is pretty perfect:

When I emailed with Abra earlier this month, she shared her thoughts on crafting her sound and the rad ladies who inspired her to lift off into music space. She also gave me a thorough lesson in the importance of alone time.

CHANEL PARKS: What inspired this cover?

ABRA: Learning to fill my own voids is a huge lesson for me, and a lot of my friends. Sometimes you need a best friend or love, and you want it so bad you’ll give that position to anyone who will take it, whether or not they’re treating you right. It’s really important that you know you can lean on yourself and fill the hats of your own needs–being your own friend, boy/girlfriend, confidant, et cetera. If someone comes along that can lift your load, great, but it’s important to be able to say to yourself, “I got me. If you got me, that’s really tight, but I still got me.”

What did you listen to growing up?

Anything I could get my hands on, really. I [listened to] a lot of smooth jazz and church music, and then a lot of radio pop from the early 2000s. [I listened to] rock and punk with my brother.

Who are your role models or personal icons?

Grace Jones, Mariah Carey, and Gwen Stefani. Besides being influenced by their awesome music, those ladies are queens of their craft: Mariah in skill and image; Grace Jones in attitude, determination, and confidence; and Gwen in innovation and style.

What about your childhood, if anything, has influenced who you are now?

I moved a lot when I was little and always felt like I didn’t fit in, so I learned to love being alone. I was always very curious and loved to read. Those many hours of alone time gave me time to develop different skills and learn about weird things that inspire my art. I also had time to think about the person I wanted to become and how I wanted my life to look when I got older: That has helped me avoid a lot of situations that were not good for me and to stay focused.

Your slow jams, like “$Hot,” have a sensual vibe, which I love. Can you talk about embracing your sexuality lyrically?

I grew up in an environment where sexuality wasn’t something to really embrace or exude, but really subdue. I’ve always been aware of my sexuality, but tried to ignore it. I was and still am really shy when it comes to expressing this side of myself, but with music it’s so easy and comfortable.

When you perform or record, do you put on a different persona?

I am, and have always been, a little awkward, and I’m trying to learn to embrace it and make it work for me. It’s still a work in progress as I haven’t had a huge amount of chances to smooth it out, but I’m about to go on tour and will have 22 chances, so hopefully I’ll strike some comfort level.

I think when I record, I take off [all] personas. When I perform, I put on a more engaging, confident persona. I’m a loner with a faraway look always in my eyes, but that isn’t exactly fun to watch, so I try my best and reconcile the two when [I’m on stage]. I don’t know if I’m cool with my onstage persona yet, but I’m working on it.

Has coming from London to Atlanta, where you live now, influenced you in any way?

I can say, without a doubt, that I wouldn’t make the same music I do now if I didn’t get to experience two very different cultures. Moving around exposes you to many different ways of thinking and doing art. I also never put roots down anywhere, so I never really let myself get too close to people until fairly recently in my life. This led to a lot of lonesome times. It was really hard on me because I craved community, but I blocked that pain out by staying in my room writing about running away and craving love. I also didn’t have many people to bounce my music off of, so I had to validate myself. This used to suck, but I’ve grown to realize that when no one is putting their two cents in, you learn what YOU like and what YOU think sounds good. It’s only going to make your sound more YOU–more unique and more true to who you are.

I was able to protect my art until it was ready to be heard, and by that point, I had crafted a sound that was digestible for my friends, but still true to me. I think if I had shown people the stuff I had made in the beginning, they probably wouldn’t have liked it or not understood it, because it was weird and I was figuring it out. And of course, criticism can sometimes make an artist less confident and even want to stop, because we are artists, “we’re sensitive about our shit.” [Editor’s note: As Erykah Badu once said.]

What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to get her music off the ground?

You have to trust the process and don’t give up. Even if you aren’t where you want to be in terms of the quality of your art, you have to keep going and try new things. Keep what works and eliminate what doesn’t. When you’re trying to master your own style, you’ll start standing apart and people will notice that. ♦