Many of us remember listening to Blue Lights by Jorja Smith for the first time, and it was no surprise that her Grammy-nominated, Brit Award-winning debut album in 2018, Lost & Found, would catch the attention of so many of us. In the last 2 months, after having stepped back from releasing new music for a while, the standout soulful singer surprised us all with two new singles, Try Me and Little Things. And of course, the rumours of a new album in the making were bigger than ever, and we weren’t wrong. Mark your calendars, the album is out on September 29th!
“I feel like I’ve stepped into womanhood, and it sounds like it,” she says – still hesitating to reveal much. It’s obvious that, 5 years later, a lot has changed for Jorja Smith. She’s not a new artist anymore, she’s not in her Teenage Fantasy era anymore. She’s turning 26 in a few days; hence, she’s entering a new life chapter, and we’re eager to hear more about it. So, it seemed like the perfect timing to look back at her first releases and reflect on how it has felt being in the public eye, stepping into the limelight at 18, her creative process and the new music we’ve all been waiting for.
First of all, how are you doing?
I am doing really well thank you, just at home in Walsall, the sun is out.
Let’s take a look back at your beginnings. Your career took off in 2016 when you released Blue Lights on SoundCloud, while I believe you were still working at a Starbucks. How do you remember those days?
Ahhh that seems like forever ago but also the other day. I was just so excited but also didn’t have any expectations. I had never uploaded music like that before so it was all like a whirlwind.
Starbucks was cute, I just dreamed all day of leaving, to be honest. I used to sneak into the stock room to record melodies.
Although this happened when you were 18, you started writing music way before. When did you realise you wanted to make a living out of singing?
I’ve been singing ever since I could talk, I believe (laughs). When I was doing my A-levels at school I realised I didn’t want to go to university. That’s when I decided I was going to move to London. I was lucky to have an uncle and auntie that lived in South East, so I moved in with them.
This April you released Try Me after a long time, and we had all been waiting for your comeback. In this track, you talk about being exposed to the public eye and people having all sorts of opinions about you. “I don’t have to tell you what I’ve changed” or even the song’s title is your response to people trying to provoke you. When did the idea for this song come to you?
I had just been for a run, I hadn’t run for about a year and it was just so refreshing, blue skies, times to think. I came back into the studio and the producers Damedame* had the drums playing and one was on the guitar. I needed to shower but I was just too excited and wanted to sing. So, I got singing and just freestyled the melodies and some words were coming out like “try me” and “no challenge.” Then, when we got to writing, me and Damedame* had already spoken about being in the public eye and how things had changed from when I was 18 putting out music. We just got our conversations into the song.
Try Me also came with a very evocative music video, with eye-catching choreography by Diego Vega performed by Andrea Bou OthmaneAmber Grace – the director – explained that the inspiration comes from comparing an artist’s life to being bullfighters, fighting for your life. Do you feel like you’ve learnt how to deal with this?
It was more about being on stage and in front of so many people while not being able to tame the raging bull (people’s opinions and expectations of you). I feel I’m in a good place with myself and knowing who I am it’s easier to let everything else go or slide. And people are always going to have opinions no matter what and who you are.
Ah, I understand your point. Talking about this, we’ve seen you really opening up and being vulnerable when it comes to your lyrics. Knowing you have a bigger audience nowadays, has this affected the way you write your lyrics? Has this made you become more careful for the sake of your privacy?
Not really. It’s so funny, I don’t really like doing spoken interviews and people knowing too much about me and my life. But I’ll let it all out when it comes to writing. I’m just so much more comfortable between melodies, and sitting between instruments.
What artists or songs inspire you? Who would you love to work with?
Jai Paul and Frank Ocean. My friends inspire me too, Wesley Joseph and Damedame*.
I am always super curious about the creative process behind art. Do you usually come up with the lyrics before entering the studio? What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
It depends on the day. Some days I might just voice note a melody and lyrics just come with it when I’m in my house.
When I’m with my friends making music, if they are on the piano or playing the guitar or a beat is playing, we just have the mic recording so if any ideas come we get them down.
Words come when I’m singing or they don’t at all. I always want to just sing so I’ll sometimes move on to something else instead of finishing writing a song. I’m trying to finish when I’m in the moment.
A few days ago, you surprised us with your latest release Little Things, a more upbeat and flirty party song than what we are used to hearing from you. What are those little things you talk about? How did this song come about?
As soon as I heard the drums and piano, I was just imagining myself at a party and thinking about someone I wanted to speak to if I saw them there. So, I was just making up a story but it was semi-true. Little things for me, in this specific scenario of a party, could be something as little as some sexy eye contact – from the person I am trying to give or get attention from only though (laughs).
Of course (laughs). After these two fresh new releases, you confirmed what many of us suspected: the announcement of a new album, Falling or Flying. You are definitely in a new chapter of your life, so what sounds can we expect for this new era?
Yes, new album coming out on September 29th! I can’t wait, honestly, I can’t wait for it to be in people’s lives and for the songs to have a different meaning for everyone who listens to them. I can’t wait to be on stage and sing with everyone. That’s my favourite bit.
I feel like I’ve stepped into womanhood, and it sounds like it.
We’ll be eagerly waiting, no doubt about it. This past weekend Primavera Sound was held here in Barcelona, and last year I was lucky enough to see you perform there on your birthday. I am sure playing at festivals has nothing to do with singing at a small venue. So, what type of show is the most special for you?
Aww, that was a beautiful show. All shows are special to me, being able to give my all and take in everyone’s energy is just so special. Wherever I am is special.
Lastly, what do you hope people get from your music? What do you strive for as an artist? And what can you tell us about the new music you’re working on?
I just want people to feel, always have done. Just want to evoke emotions whether they are sad, happy or nostalgic. Just feel.
I’m not really good at explaining my music and songs, you just got to hear it. But I just love it and can’t wait to know what people’s favourites are.