The singer-songwriter is taking on one year of a Trump presidency and more in her music.
"I think it's not so much an issue of being a woman in the music industry as it is just being a woman, period."
Women are killing it in the music industry, and the world of song lovers couldn't be happier! In our column, #WomenCrushWednesday, we'll feature an awesome lady whose tunes are blowing up our playlists and ask them about their musical journey.
We spoke with Terra Naomi this week about her most recent, politically charged release, and her projects coming up in the future. Through her songwriting, she had been able to discuss her anger and frustration toward a number of problems in our society, including issues that hit closer to home. There is a reason her songs have gone on to become global treasurers, and likely will continue to do so with the upcoming release of her next album. Read on for even more.
How did you become interested in pursuing music?
I don't even remember, really — I sang from the time I was a baby. Apparently at 8 months old I was singing melodies and freaking people out in the grocery store (I still do that, just with more hair). I started playing piano at age 4 and French horn at 8. Music is all I ever wanted to do, in one form or another, and I never really considered doing anything else.
Your music often tackles cultural topics in its subject matter. Why do you choose to write about this material?
It's funny because the times I've written culturally relevant songs, I didn't choose to write them — it was more like they chose me. The first time it happened was with my song "Say It's Possible" — I'd just seen Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, and I left the theater completely freaked out. I woke up the next morning and felt a strong urge to pick up my guitar, and the song came out in under 15 minutes, beginning to end. It was only after I'd written it that I knew what it was about. Similarly, with "Machine Age," I was in the shower and this line came to me: "Now our screams are a reoccurring theme, and I screamed so many times, I used my voice til I was hoarse, and don't tell me I'm a poet in a Machine Age…" And I jumped out of the shower, grabbed my guitar, and wrote the song. But again, it was more like the song wrote itself, almost exactly as it is now, from beginning to end. And this time, too, I didn't know what I'd written until I'd finished writing it.
My songs more often than not come from my own experiences. Writing is how I process things, and I think sometimes I'm just so shaken by something that's happening in our world, that it affects me as deeply as the direct personal experiences that often become the basis for my songs. This post-election year has definitely affected me both culturally and personally.
Your first hit single in 2007, "Say It's Possible," gathered a global fan base. What do you think about that track and what it says about the power of music?
Music has always been a shelter for me, and I've understood its power since I was a child. But seeing people connect to that song so deeply, that was a new experience. I think "Say It's Possible" is a good song. I like the raw acoustic version on YouTube infinitely more than the produced version, which is the case for most of the music I've recorded up to this point. This song, "Machine Age," is the first song that's felt 100% authentic to who I am. And that's probably because I co-produced it.
The power of music — I mean, it's vibration and frequency, sound waves, it gets into us like nothing else can. This idea came into my head recently: "A song can't change the world, but it can inspire the people who can." I don't think I can say it any better than that.
How do you think your music has changed over time since that first release? How has your perspective on the things you're writing about changed?
Everything has changed. I've changed, the circumstances of my life have changed, the world has changed, and therefore my writing has changed, along with my perspective on everything I write about. In the last 10 years, I've reached some of my greatest goals and experienced some of my biggest failures. I've had some of the happiest times, and the pain of things I never even could have imagined. It's been intense. I've had many experiences of feeling humbled. I must have needed it. I think when I first started writing, it was a more selfish process. I was writing to get things out, for my own benefit. I didn't know who I was, and I was looking for answers from the outside, as well as validation and acceptance.
The time between 2007 and the present was extremely difficult, but in that time I learned to take responsibility for myself, my life, my choices. I faced a lot of challenges head on, and embraced the power in that. When I create music now, whether writing, recording, or performing, it feels like I'm creating something I want to give, vs. something that helps me receive.
What has your experience been like as a woman in the music industry?
I think it's not so much an issue of being a woman in the music industry as it is just being a woman, period. The power dynamics; the condescending remarks; the doubt of my ability and judgement, suggested at first by others and then by myself; the questioning of my needs; the comments on my physical appearance, or my style, or my age -- my experience isn't unique, and it's not unique to the music industry. It's the dynamic on this planet, and it's currently in the process of a major shift.
You recently released the song, "Machine Age," to correspond with the one-year anniversary of the Presidential Inauguration. Why did you want to work on material inspired by this?
Like I mentioned, I didn't want to work on this material — it's just what came out. I spent a year feeling outraged and depressed and frustrated and scared. I experienced various traumas, both personally and as part of my community, as a direct result of the election of our current president. I watched people shed any inhibitions or culturally appropriate civilities, and I saw some really ugly shit. This all affected me deeply, which resulted in the song. My album was finished, it was being mastered — I definitely did not plan to record anything additional. But when I listened to the song on my iPhone, after I'd finished writing it, I knew it needed to be shared.
You're also working on an album to be released this year. What can you tell us about that?
I'm really excited to share it. I recorded with Tom Schick at Wilco's studio in Chicago, which is where I met Joe Adamik, my co-producer on "Machine Age." Recording the album with Tom and Joe was a validating, comfortable experience, and I think that comes through in the authenticity of the recordings. It was actually the first time I ever enjoyed being in the studio, and completely changed the way I feel about recording; showed me that I could trust my own instincts and ideas.
Your album was crowd-funded online, and also raised funds to support numerous charities. What was the experience of this process of fundraising like? Why did you choose to fund the album in this way?
Crowdfunding as an artist is really hard. It's essentially asking people to support you, with money, every day, for the entire length of the campaign. And people have been trained to expect music for free at this point, so you have to come up with all kinds of creative experiences for them, and that alone is an exhausting process…never mind actually recording the album. Research shows that people need to be contacted an average of 5-7 times before they take action. So you have to email and text and call and post on social media…I can't say I enjoyed it, but I did raise over $50,000 in a month. And there was no other way I would have been able to do that independently.
What else is coming up next for you?
I've been working on a musical for the last 5 years and there's talk of it going to Broadway sometime in the next year. The creator wrote it in Spanish, and I'm writing the English adaptation of the lyrics. But 95% of my time is focused on releasing this album in the summer and doing everything I can between now and then to make sure lots of people hear it.
Have a female or femme-identifying artist we should profile? Send a pitch email to Rachel.
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