Jhene Aiko, The Wanderer: "I Wanna Go Everywhere"

Written By Sam Murphy on 02/29/2016

“I’m a wanderer,” Jhene Aiko sings on the centrepiece of her 2015 debut record Souled Out and it could be taken as her mantra. Currently on tour in Australia, the Grammy-nominated artist has spent much of the past year touring the globe and bringing her blissful, personal brand of R&B/soul to different pockets of the world.

While most artists creativity is stunted while they’re on the road, it seems that’s not the case for Aiko. Speaking to the interns while touring through New Zealand she’s relaxed telling us that one of the best places to create is on a plane. Maybe that’s why the ace material continues to flow from her. In five years, Aiko has released a mixtape, an EP and a debut album in addition to collaborating with Drake, Hudson Mohawke, Vince Staples, Big Sean and plenty more. Despite the heavy workload she always sounds refreshed, brimming with creativity.

With a catalogue that includes introspective ballads, R&B party cuts and soulful musings, Aiko is delivering one of the most multi-faceted shows around right now, connecting with audiences everywhere. We chatted with her about designing sets for different audiences, creating while on the go and opening your diary for the world.

Is it your first time in New Zealand?
Yes it is. We’ve been here for a couple of days. We did Wellington, last night we were in Dunedin. It’s been pretty cool.

Are you able to remember all the cities you’ve been to or does it start to feel like a blur after a while touring?
Only when I know how to say the names. They’re a little harder to remember when I’m not sure how to pronounce them. This run in particular, tonight, will be the fourth show in a row. So there hasn’t been a lot of downtime to see the places that we’re in. So far it’s been pretty crazy.

Are there any places you haven’t toured yet that you’re excited to go to?
Yes. I really wanna go to Asia. I’ve never been, never performed there. I would even be down to just go on vacation. I wanna go everywhere. I want to experience every type of audience that I can.

It must feel pretty good to have had the album out for a year and be playing to crowds that know your music quite well. Are you still happy performing songs from the record?
Yeah I am. When I was younger, when I was a teenager, I was performing songs that I didn’t write. I didn’t really know what I was doing out there, I was just sort of on autopilot. But when I did my mixtape Sailing Soul and then the EP and then the album, those are all songs that I wrote myself, so for me it’s kind of like a therapy session where I’m getting to share my stories with people that have experienced some of the same things and can really feel where I’m coming from. I’ll never get tired of doing that.

Does it feel like the songs take on a different life live? They were written in the studio and now you’ve taken them out and shown them to people.
Yeah for sure. It took me a while to understand the different crowds and what different crowds want and what I should play for a certain type of show like when it’s outdoor at a festival as opposed to an intimate show. So, the songs definitely have their own place at different types of shows. It’s always so cool for me to see at different venues and with different audiences what songs connect. It can literally be the same city, two shows back-to-back, but one night one of the slower songs will really have the people very emotional and I’ll see the girls crying to it and that will be the song everyone knows the words to and then another night it will be one of the more fun songs that people are more into. So yeah, it’s cool to actually share my own words with people.

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It’s such a personal record so does it surprise you when people tweet you or come up to you and tell you that the song has really connected with them?
Yeah, I definitely think that it’s something that keeps me writing from that personal place. When I’m writing, especially when I wrote those three projects, it was very introspective. So yeah it is surprising when someone comes up to me and are like, “oh my god, it’s like you read my diary, that’s exactly what I went through.” Some songs are very specific and I’m like, “whoah, you went through the same thing, that’s crazy.” It just goes to show that no matter where we are from or what we look like we are more alike than we are different.

Now you have your debut album out and people know what to expect from you in terms of sound and style does that lessen the pressure going into future releases?
No. I go back and forth but I think I’m at a point of my adult life where I am really balanced as far as giving myself what I want and also being considerate of other people. I feel the pressure sometimes but I think for the most part there is no pressure because I have a very active imagination also and I feel like the more that I write the more that I will work on my imagination. But it will always be personal because even when I went to school and I would write short stories with fictional characters, it would always have something to do with me and my personal life. I think that’s just my style and that’s what comes naturally to me so if people expect that then they will get that but plus more because as an artist and a writer, I have so many different sides to me that it will be a steady build - a steady growth that people will see.

You’ve worked with so many incredible collaborators from Hudson Mohawke to Big Sean and Drake, is it difficult to open up when you’re working with someone else?
It always depends. With the Drake collaboration, when I got the music it was just the music. He hadn’t recorded his part or written his part yet. When I got that one it was really easy to just do what I normally do and just be introspective. But when I get songs that they basically just want my feedback or wanna see if I wanna do the song or not and there’s already a concept, for me that’s when I let them take the lead on the song and let them give me input about what to talk about on a song. Especially if it’s a fun song, I make sure it stays fun. It depends on the collaboration but for the most part I always make sure it’s a true collaboration and we’re making the song together.

You’re so busy touring at the moment, do you have any time to get in the studio and record?
When I travel, I travel with a studio set-up and at my house I have a studio and I’m always writing. For me it’s like a constant creative process. I have melodies in voice memos and stuff written on napkins so I’m continuously creating. Actually one of the best places to write is on the plane and to record I have a really nice setup. So sometimes even If I’m on the plane I’ll record just a little reference. 

Read our review of Jhené Aiko's Sydney show. 

Jhene Aiko is currently on tour in Australia. Head to her Facebook for all the details