The singer-songwriter discusses her upcoming album Break, feeling personally broken and her triumphant return to music-making.
Tiffany Houghton not only wears her heart on her sleeve, but her new music—including the powerhouse track "I'm Gonna Love You"—bleeds from within. It wasn't always that easy for her, however, as the past two years have been monumental for her personal growth. First and foremost, she is a human being, equipped with the ability to be completely broken. "I like to compare [my journey] to a process that occurs during a butterfly's metamorphosis when they are in the cocoon and it is in an in-between stage," she reflects exclusively with Popdust over a recent phone call. "You can't really tell anything is going on on the outside, and it's called instar. It's the single most critical stage for a butterfly's strength and livelihood. It's when their exoskeleton continues to be rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt. Nobody can't tell from the outside, though. But on the inside, everything's happening."
She continues, "That's a really good metaphor of what I've been through, personally, in the past two years. On the outside, I needed to turn off everything and really look inward. I really gained confidence because I realized I'm not going to hang my confidence or my self-worth on boys, on my appearance, on my relationships, on my producer. Even in my art, it has to come from something that's bigger than myself. I have to place it on a sturdy foundation. Over the course of those two years, I made a lot mistakes and finally came to this point where I did realize 'OK, this is what I want and this is who I want to be, and I'm not going to allow people to treat me this way.' That renewal only comes from really breaking yourself down and building yourself back up."
Houghton's last release was 2014's This Is Not An EP—a rowdy collection of beat-drive club bangers brimming with sass, funk and rock overtones. Unfortunately, the industry was harsh, leaving the singer feeling beaten down and abandoned. She explains the lessons she learned, "The only person strong enough to really stop me is me. The only person really strong enough to make it happen is me, too. When you realize how much responsibility you have in your own success or failure, it's a very frightening thing. But it's also very empowering if you have set your life up in such a way that you can believe in yourself."
Now, with a fresh mind and new-found confidence, she was released two nearly-perfect pop jams, this summer's "Catch Me If You Can" (which took over the Radio Disney airwaves) and the more recent "I'm Gonna Love You" bopper. "It's so fun [to have new music out]. It really is," she gushes. "So much time goes into it. I'm talking to my fans while working on new music, saying 'well, it's coming out soon, it's coming out soon.' To have it out is a real experience.
Houghton—set to release a full-length album called Break in the new year—discusses her craft, the song which turned her entire life around (aptly called "Glitter") and the boiling debate of gender equality in our exclusive Q&A session. Check it out below:
"Catch Me If You Can" became such a big hit on Radio Disney. Was it easy to follow that up?
It's just exciting. It's funny, we weren't even planning on putting out "Can't Me If You Can," honestly. All the success we had with that song was such a confidence builder. I'm counting my blessings and trying to stay on this really grateful frequency. I hope I can continue to get better and better
Was "I'm Gonna Love You" an easy write?
It's interesting. I did rewrite it a couple times. The lyrics always come pretty naturally to me, just as I write in my journal. Originally, I wrote "if my heart breaks, I wanna blame you, if it's just a game, I wanna play you." It was all "I wanna." I went through this shift in my confidence between the first time I wrote it and then when I revisited it. I was like "I'm gonna love you, I'm gonna break you, I'm gonna take you." It became something else. It was also this whole shift as far as what I wanted in life. Changing the "wanna" to "gonna" really made me sing it differently; it went from a ballad-y song to an anthem.
In the Billboard song premiere, you revealed how a first date inspired the song. Did you have any other encounters which have inspired your upcoming album?
It's always an encounter, a real-life experience. I've always said I'm not going to touch the hearts of anybody else if I'm not speaking from my own. They are all my true stories. For one of them, I was sitting on my bathroom floor and wrote it. There's another song that I wrote as I was running. There's a lot of really cool backstories to all the music.
Is the album is completely finished?
Well, as an artist, I'm never done. I'm going into the studio today. I'm in this place right now, personally, where everything keeps flowing out of me. When you get into these places, I just don't want to leave. I want to keep writing and writing and writing. I know I have all the material. I think when they finally say to me "OK, Tiffany, you have to give us a final decision," it'll probably be very different than what I initially thought would be on there a couple months ago.
Are "I'm Gonna Love You" and "Catch Me If You Can" indicative of the rest of the album, thematically and stylistically?
They are. [The album] is all about realizing that when I thought I was broken, I was just being broken in. All the things that broke me are gonna be the things that break me, in the best way. As far as the messages go, it's a lot of interesting emotions you face when you have the courage to really face yourself. As far as sonically, there are a couple different influences. I wouldn't say every track sounds the same, but there's the Tiffany Houghton anthemic brand to it, for sure.
Who are some of the artists that influenced you the most for this album?
Two years ago, it started with Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Sara Bareilles and Alanis Morissette. They influenced a lot of the songs I was writing. Then, lately, I've been really into this band called Matoma, Borns, Alessia Cara, Zak Abel and Mallrat. I've really been trying to expand my influences and be an absorber of art, be a sponge to a lot of different genres.
What is another song from the album that sticks out in your mind?
I wrote a song called "Glitter" that I think was the breaking point. It was when I really realized "OK, your boyfriend makes you feel horrible, your producer makes you feel horrible, your friends are non-existent." It was a very real time when it was like "wait, now that I'm off tour and back in the studio, everybody went away." Of course, not everyone, I have incredible support with my family and best friends. I isolated myself and started working with a producer who wasn't so good for me. I had this breaking point and let everyone else cut me in half so they can measure up to me. I was so tired of it. I looked in the mirror and didn't see any of the sparkle I used to have. It's a song about losing the relationship with yourself in order to have a relationship with someone else. That's not a good thing. My little sister actually plays me in the video, which will be out within the next couple weeks or months.
Who are you working with on this album (songwriters, producers, etc)?
I worked with Matt Beckley, so talented. I worked with Jordan Schmidt. Jimmie Deeghan. Matt Squire. It was really great to work with all of them. Also, I worked with Steve Tippeconnic. He's the engineer with Matt Squire; so I didn't spend as much time with time. He was really wonderful.
Having such a huge social platform, do you find it your responsibility to help break down gender stereotypes?
I do. It's interesting that you say that. I don't do it in the same way that I think a lot of people will do. Many times, the less you say, the louder you speak. I try to have the attitude of almost—things that are measured by different units can not be equal or not. In terms of gender, there are so many strengths men have that women don't have, and there are so many strengths women have that men don't have. If you're comparing the ocean/beach to the mountains, they're just different. They are both incredible.
What are your plans to tour in the next year?
I hope to get out on tour as soon as possible. I love being on tour. I often say the hardest part of this career is homesickness. I miss my family. But when I get onstage, it is like coming home. I'm pretty homesick now, but I'm ready to get back out.
Take a listen to Houghton's new song "I'm Gonna Love You" below:
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