Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, R&B newcomer Tiara Thomas was raised in the church. Encouraged by her parents, she began her foray into music by showcasing her talent at church, school, and at venues within her community. Although she appreciated her upbringing in Indiana, the singer-songwriter, who taught herself how to play the guitar, pulled an enormous amount of inspiration from the outside world early in her development to create her own unique sound.
While in college, Tiara received a lift in her career in 2009 after meeting Le’Greg O. Harrison, part founder of The Board Administration (BOA) with rapper Wale. She signed to the imprint in 2011 and shared the stage with artists like Diggy Simmons, J. Cole, and Fabolous.
After graduating from Ball State University in 2012, Tiara began to fully focus on her music career. In 2013, she received her big break after Wale placed her song “Bad” on his mixtape. The song became an instant success and the D.C. rapper used the record as the lead single on his third studio album, The Gifted, which peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. The same year, Tiara signed with Rico Love’s Division 1 label, and released the EP, Dear Sallie Mae, which she says is “a collection of songs that I wrote when I was in college, when it was just me and my guitar.”
Now with the excitement of Rihanna singing her song, Tiara is readying her much-anticipated debut album, Bad Influence, led by the single “One Night.”
For our latest cover story, Tiara shared her plans for her upcoming project, what life was like growing up in Indiana, recording secular music after growing up in the church, her break with “Bad,” and much more. Check out this rising starlet.
You’ve put in a lot of work over the years, and now you have your debut album coming out soon; it’s called Bad Influence. Why the title?
The most obvious reason is from the influence of “Bad” the song, the first successful song that I had with Wale, but I wanted to name my album ‘Bad Influence’ because… there’s a title track on the album called “Bad Influence,” where I’m basically talking about a girl that’s messing with a guy that maybe she shouldn’t be messing with. Everybody has that kind of situation where somebody is f**king with somebody, and they shouldn’t be f**king with them, but they still do! I took it from the perspective like that person was a bad influence on me because I’ve had people that are bad influences on me, but it’s also a good influence in a way because you're able to get dope music from it. I’ve also been a bad influence on people… I shouldn’t smoke [weed], but I do. I like to turn up; I’m young and I like to have fun. Also, in this album, I talk a lot about dysfunctional relationships, sex (I talk a lot about sex, there are a lot of sexy music), drugs and being under the influence, so I thought this collection of music should be called the “Bad Influence.”
What was life like growing up? What are some of the bad things that you used to do?
I grew up in Indiana, and my mom and dad are really religious, so I’m a church girl, I went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. I used to get in trouble in kids' service; they hold you after until your parents came and got you, but I had a pretty good upbringing. I’m happy I was raised that way, because when I went to college, it was easy for me to figure a bunch of stuff out on my own. I pushed the reset button and started making the kind of music I wasn’t allowed to listen to, because that’s who I’m truly am; I’m like the outcast of my family. I believe in female liberation and sexual liberation, I think girls should be able to say the same things guys say; I really believe in women being comfortable being who they are. I write from that person’s perspective.
So, when most people grow up in the church and transition to secular music, people usually label them rebellious. Would you say you’re a rebellious person now or are people you grew up with, like your parents, are accepting of the content you produce?
I don’t think I’m rebellious, I think I’ve always been the way that I am. I’ve always kind of tested the waters; I’ve tried to get away with as much as I can get away with. I was a kid with a smart ass mouth and I was funny, I had a lot of energy, which could have all gotten misinterpreted as rebellious. My mother… I don’t know if she listens to all my music. When I first found out that “Bad” was gonna be Wale’s single, first thing I thought of, ‘Oh my God, my mom and dad are going to hear this song, and [they’re] gonna hear me talk like this.’ [Laughs] I called my dad and told him, ‘there’s a song that’s gonna come out and it’s Wale’s song’ and they’re like ‘where do we find it?’ That was kind of nerve wracking, but I think I got pass that point. I don’t think my mom listens to all my music, I think eventually she will, but they’re definitely proud, they’re definitely happy and excited about everything that’s happened. Some of the things I say may make my mother a little uncomfortable though.
One of the greatest musicians of all time comes from Indiana [Michael Jackson], how does this influence your music, the content that you put out now?
There’s a lot of talented people in Indiana. When you’re from a community like that, that’s not known for their music, and there are actually talented people there, you can actually come together and make some really dope stuff happen. I was like 16, I had one of my first shows in Indiana for Valentine’s Day, it was my own show, and by that time, people in Indianapolis knew who I was… but at the same time, its Indiana, not much extremely exciting is going on there. I kind of had to create my own world outside of Indiana in a sense that I was listening to a bunch of different types of music. I was taking those elements and inspirations and putting it to something that felt true to me.
So with the new EP, how much of your past content will live on your debut album?
The ‘Bad Influence’ is all new music. I put out the ‘Dear Sallie Mae’ EP that I did with Rico Love and Division 1; those were like a collection of songs that I wrote when I was in college, when it was just me and my guitar, and obviously back then I didn’t have the means to make the music how I wanted to make it on a larger scale, so when a signed my deal, me and Rico decided to produce those songs and put it out as an EP. ‘Bad Influence,’ it’s all new music, and “One Night” is the first single off the album.
How involved is your musical side on this debut project?
I’m really involved, I’ve written about 85% of my album. I like for my music to come directly from my perspective, I’m not one of those artists you can just hand a song and expect me to sing it, unless it’s a song that’s true to me. I like to write all my music, and I was involved in a lot of the production process.
So, what’s the creative process like for you in the studio?
I did a lot of the album in my house in Miami. I had a little studio setup in my house and my engineer would come through, and we would vibe out all day. That was cool because a lot of times when you go in the studio, you feel really pressured to write something right then, but when you’re in the crib, if you do if you don’t! I also did a lot of writing in my car. When I’m riding around and it’s quiet, that’s when I’m able to really think. I’m not writing when I’m driving, but I freestyle stuff in the car.
So, I watched the music video for “One Night,” which was inspired by the “Set It Off” film, were you the set it off kind of girl?
Obviously I’m not going to go rob a bank, but it’s fun to be somebody that you’re not. When I grew up, ‘Set It Off’ was my favorite movie; I loved the characters and I loved the storyline. I didn’t grow up with the life like any of those characters, but for some reason I really connected with that movie, so for the music video, I wanted to become that.
Being that you were on the hit single “Bad,” do you feel pressured at all to live up to that song or the popularity that it brought you?
“Bad” was a really special song, it was really organic, and people did love that song a lot, so now you want to go in the studio and re-create that energy again, but this time you’re thinking about it. When I wrote “Bad,” I wasn’t thinking about it, I just freestyled it. I tried to maintain that mindset on this album; just be the same person. Of course I get nervous, a lot of people do know me from “Bad,” but I think if you loved “bad,” you will love this album.
Did you feel anyway when the Rihanna version of “Bad” began getting more airplay than your version?
I mean, its Rihanna singing my song, that’s dope. From somebody that was just making that song in their dorm room, not thinking anything, then Wale puts it on his mixtape, and then everybody was loving it, and then it became his single, then it became gold, and then Rihanna got on it, and then it went platinum; that shits dope! I have publishing on that song so [Tiara does the money clap]. I f*ck with Rihanna; I like her. If it was somebody that would of f*cked it up, I probably would have been mad, but she killed it.
What do you want fans to take away from your official first body of work?
I’m just trying to keep it as real as possible, so I hope when people listen to it, they feel inspired to be just like that. Inspired to feel sexy or feel free. Inspired to be themselves. And then with people going through bad relationships, I talk about shit like that, so I hope they have someone to relate to. This is life!
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