These days, if you’re a musician who’s not on the Internet, you should probably rethink your career path, and maybe a few other basic elements about being a human in modern society. Everyone is on the Internet, but very few have carved out a lane as distinct as Abra, a New York-born singer-songwriter and producer in her early 20s who gets down with Atlanta hitmakers Awful Records. In the past year, this up-and-coming star has logged road time with singer-rapper D.R.A.M. and fellow singer-songwriter Empress Of, but these days she’s got her head buried in a computer, producing the follow-up album to last summer’s excellent Rose LP. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Abra to discuss her dizzying rise to fame, the current crop of talent bubbling over in Atlanta, and how the Internet is ruining her life.
How did you start making music?
I was writing my own songs, doing covers of rap songs on the guitar in the summer of 2007.
I didn’t think I had a future in it. I just really enjoyed doing it.
When did you start taking it seriously?
It would soften the blows from things that didn’t work out in real life. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and I was like, “Fuck this. I’m about to be great.” I came out of the relationship after a lot of self-examination. I didn’t think of myself doing anything great in life. I just wanted to do something that mattered.
How did you find Awful Records?
I was under my boyfriend’s ass and wasn’t hanging out with anybody. But when I was single, I had all this emotional space and time to indulge in other people. I knew [Awful Records’ rapper/producer] Father loosely; we’d end up at the same parties. We started working as equals, going to the Awful Records house every day, and I started building my confidence enough to be around other people who took music as seriously as I do. It’s like when you discover something you like when you’re young and there are no rules.
This past year was huge for Awful, and you specifically. Was it overwhelming?
It was overwhelming because a lot of the stuff interviewers were asking me about my life and where I wanted to go—things that I always thought about but never had words [for]—it was like, now I have to give you answers that are going to be on the Internet. I’m just starting to realize that I have a hard time expressing myself to people, especially when it comes to feelings that are really strong. If I feel something deeply, which I feel a lot of things deeply, it’s really hard to communicate that to somebody. Through music I can.
Did you find that music sites automatically boxed you in as an R&B singer?
I’m just happy that people were covering it at all. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an R&B singer and I’m not so keen about everyone putting me in that box, I can understand why they do. If that’s how it’s being interpreted, who am I to say, “Well, no. It’s not.” Part of me wonders if it’s just because I’m black that people want to consider me R&B. I don’t consider my music to be R&B. I wish that, as a culture, we could work on this: Just because a singer is a black female doesn’t mean she’s singing R&B. It could be alternative pop, experimental soul, soulful electronic. You could create new names for things that are better at describing them instead of putting a generic I-fit-in-this-because-I’m-a-black-girl tag.
You used the Internet to get your music out, but do you spend a lot of time online in your personal life these days?
I don’t like how much time I spend on it. If I wanted to get rid of my phone, I couldn’t do that. If I just wanted to take calls from people who aren’t on Twitter, I couldn’t do that. My brand, as an artist, would suffer. I have to engage, which sucks for someone like me. I’m an escapist. I need to go and be able to be in a completely different environment for me to maintain the creative mindspace that I want. I can’t do that sometimes.
What’s your plan for this year?
It’s the EP and it’s done. It’s never been this way before. Now I’m deciding what I want the title to be, what I want the aesthetic to be. The sound has evolved throughout. It’s going to be different than what everybody has heard so far. It’s definitely a graduation from what I was doing. The songwriting has evolved, too. It’s less in my feelings. I didn’t want my music to be self-concerned all the time. It’s more lighthearted. It’s more fun.