Don’t play with her money. Or her emotions.
Tina Yao, an emerging singer/songwriter from Yonkers, N.Y., finds inspiration from her environment. Her breezy, soft vocals belie a tough edge and frank honesty. Her first solo project, S.H.A.D.E., dropped last November and she’s currently putting the finishing touches on her follow up, S.H.O.T.S., which is set for release this fall. We caught up with Tina to talk about her new hip-hop fueled single “My Money,” her musical influences and her love of the classic film “Friday” and Big Perm … I mean Big Worm.
Q: So first, we gotta talk about your latest video. You just dropped the visuals “My Money” and I love it – especially the ode to the classic Friday. What was the inspiration behind it?
A: The video for “My Money” was really inspired by how I ended the track. I screamed my favorite quotable from Friday. “PLAYING WITH MY MONEY IS LIKE PLAYING WITH MY EMOTIONS.” I truly felt like a boss when I recorded this track. When I left the booth, I told my producer that I needed to wear rollers and rent an ice cream truck for the next video. The office scene was meant to show the viewers (and any other future offenders LOL) that I can be a boss in ANY setting.
Speaking of bosses, who had the better perm? Big Snoop Dogg or Big Worm?
The better perm? I’m gonna give you a biased response and say Big Worm.
Aight, I’ll give you that. But let’s get back to the music. Your musical tastes are very diverse – you can hear elements of hip-hop, traditional R&B and pop all mixed in your songs. Who have been some of your biggest influences on your musical journey so far?
My No. 1 influence, which you may not hear in my music, is Alicia Keys. When she first stepped on the scene, I was so impressed with her style and musicianship. In my experience, coming across women who can sing and play an instrument is not very common. I took piano lessons as a child so I really looked up to her. The New York radio station 106.7 Lite FM was played in my house. I grew up on a variety of artists like Madonna, Daryl Hall & John Oates, and Prince so I think that’s why I have an appreciation for genres outside of my own.
Your debut EP is called S.H.A.D.E., or She Had a Demon Enter. That’s heavy. Break down the concept behind that title for us.
When I started working on S.H.A.D.E., I was venting about my experiences at this time. I was “throwing shade” at some people from my past. I believe in letting people know when you’re offended so the offender doesn’t repeat his mistake. When I tell someone they offended me the first time, I make sure to say it with love. Everything I was saying on this project was truthful but not so harsh. When I decided on the project name, I wrote it out in my head and said, “This should stand for something.” “She had a demon enter” pretty much means that something entered my life – a person, a fear – and it changed me.
What’s the response been like? Which songs seems to strike a biggest chord with listeners? Personally, my favorite is probably “L.L.L.”
The response has been positive thankfully. Most people, specifically women, were able to identify with “L.L.L.” It came from such a true place so I think the listeners got to feel where I was coming from. “When you lay, do you lie? Do you lie and tell her that you love her when you really love me?” That’s such an honest thought.
That authenticity works well. Today’s R&B is at a bit of a crossroads – struggling to find its voice between its more soulful past and incorporating hip-hop trends. We need more authenticity. How do you feel about the current state of the genre? And how are you setting yourself apart?
I like the music that I dig for. I honestly don’t have a preference for what’s being played on the radio. Ro James, Sabrina Claudio, and H.E.R. are on heavy rotation right now. Music has to grow. It would be very boring in my personal opinion if music in 2017 sounded like music from the ‘90s. Evolution happens and we can’t control that. I’m not trying to intentionally set myself apart. I’m just being me. My experiences and my environment shape my artistry. My sounds will be affected by my emotions. My environment has an effect on the things I say and how I deliver them. Whenever someone wants me to describe my sound, I tell them that I’m a flute who wears Timbs LOL. My voice is soft and sensual but I throw some New York in my lyrics.
And that takes us to S.H.O.T.S., your upcoming release. What’s the meaning behind that acronym?
S.H.O.T.S. stands for She Heard Omens Through Songs. My songwriting scares me. I’ve written songs in the past that have predicted the future. While working in sessions with my producer, I’d declare what I wanted out loud and these things I wanted would happen. There’s power not only in words but saying these words out loud. Another reason I wanted to name this project S.H.O.T.S. is because I felt the need to put my foot down this time around. Friction occurred in both personal relationships and business relationships and it was time to show my firm side.
What can listeners expect from you this time?
The listeners will still receive honesty this time around. This project was influenced by hip hop so there will be a more aggressive sound in comparison to S.H.A.D.E.
We can definitely hear the hip-hop influence in “My Money.” Are there any current hip-hop artists or production styles that influenced this album? I think an aggressive sound could be a great contrast to your sensual voice.
Nothing was planned during the production process. It never really is planned. My producer, The LX, will listen to what I went through at the top of the session and we’ll create based around what I’m feeling in the moment. “My Money” was the first song I wrote off of the project so it set the tone for the rest of the project. Straight to the point, in your face, direct. Those hip hop drum drum patterns were instrumental, no pun intended, in shaping the tone of the project.
As a reviewer, I always say a good album tells a story about the artist’s journey. What will S.H.O.T.S. say about your journey?
You will see when listening to S.H.O.T.S. that I’m trying but I’m not perfect. I’m blessed with an abundance of patience but I’m human and it runs low every now and then. You will see that I’m a go-getter. I’m from NY and here, if you don’t take what you want right now, someone else will. I won’t allow that moving forward. I was fearless writing this project. I hope the listeners embrace their fearlessness too.