Everyone’s been talking about Assassination Nation since before it was even close to coming out. But now it finally is, and we can’t wait to see it.
Oyster #110 star Abra stars in the film alongside Suki Waterhouse, Odessa Young and Hari Nef. Apparently, it’s an epic feminist thriller, so before we head out to see it in theaters, we thought we’d revisit our feature with the singer. The Sam Levinson-directed film is Abra’s acting debut, something she touched on in her interview with Ava Nirui, while she was working on the film.
“It just kind of came out of nowhere and I was surprised,” she said about her role in the flick. “I used to want to be an actress when I was younger — but when Sam [Levinson], the director, hit me up, I was really shocked.”
As for whether she’ll continue with movies, or stick to creating moody R&B jams as the darkwave duchess, well “Music is my number one priority —but I’m open to it,” she said.
Peep the rest of the interview, below.
The first time Abra was moved by music, it transported her out of the classroom into another realm — specifically, the lagoon scene from The Little Mermaid. She found herself floating on a sort of tropical lake opposite a low-key desperate Prince Eric, fish egging him on in unison from below: “Sha la la la la la / Don’t be scared / You better be prepared / Go on and kiss the girl”. It was a fitting beginning for the ethereal singer, who bounces, elastic-like, between R&B, pop and disco to create timeless classics.
Abra has always had otherworldly ambitions (“adventurer” was her dream job as a kid) and it is something that reveals itself in her songs. The self-dubbed “darkwave duchess” and Awful Records progeny is also making her acting debut this year alongside Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, and Odessa Young in Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation. When we call Abra at her Atlanta home, where she’s taking a rare break between tours, we get a sense of the scope and flow of her work that push the adaptive artist into a world of her own. – Ava Nirui
Ava Nirui: You’ve been labelled an R&B artist, but I get eighties and nineties house and disco vibes from your songs. Do you feel your music transcends genre?
Abra: I feel that my music is just a blend of my influences. The one thing that sets mine apart from what’s going on right now is that it’s very nostalgic and time-travel-y. I’m drawing upon influences from the past, from my childhood and the eighties and nineties. I’m blending the past, present and future. I just want to make classic music; music you could have played in the eighties and music you can play in 3013.
Do you refer back to music from those eras when you’re writing?
I actually try and do the opposite; I don’t listen to other people’s music when I’m making an album. There’s a lot of good music out right now and I’m always, like, seven months behind because I only listen to stuff when my project is finished. If I start listening to Migos’ new music, I’ll be like, “Fuck I wanna make a trap album now!” and that will affect my project. I’m very filtered when it comes to what I listen to when I’m in the process of production. For Rose I was listening to lots of eighties power ballads and [watching] eighties romance movies, really trying to capture the emotion of that decade.
Do you have any significant early memories related to music?
Definitely. I remember when I was in the second grade, my teacher was playing ‘Moments in Love’ by Art of Noise — the Quiet Storm version — during our music period and she was like, “This is what I walked down the aisle to.” Once I heard that song, it changed my life. It was the first time I had been transported somewhere through music, and that was crazy. I remember sitting in class and all of the sudden I wasn’t in the class. I kept having visions of the scene in The Little Mermaid when she’s in the lagoon with Prince Eric — I kept having strong visuals of her in a boat but it was me instead. I will never forget that moment. My dad also listened to a lot of smooth jazz so I was listening to Sade and classics like that. It was a form of escapism for me… whenever I was going through something, I could listen to a song and close my eyes and visualise.
From Ariel back to Abra! Many musicians are very meticulous about their image and how they appear to the public, especially on social media. Do you try to control your image or just let it flow?
It’s a bit of both. It’s controlled in the sense that I’m mindful of my internal state of being — how your inside [is] going to affect your outside — and I’m mindful of having a consistent stream of media that I’m paying attention to. I’m always monitoring what’s going on inside of myself. I feel like if you stick to yourself, your brand will always be consistent. I do monitor my brand but it’s not meticulous, like how on Instagram people will post three photos in a row — that’s a super stylised thing and you can tell a lot of effort goes into that. I let the output flow, and control the input.
How considered are the musical moods you create?
I’m trying to create a world, not so much an atmosphere. When I made Black Velvet, I wanted you to feel like you’re in a dark hall, and all of a sudden you’re running and people are trying to attack you. I want to make a soundtrack to a visual that plays in your head. It’s not a mood like “sad” or “happy” — I want to create an environment.
The Awful Records family has obviously been a huge part of your career. Do you also try to step outside of that and bounce ideas off other women in the industry?
I just recently started [doing that]. I met with Kali Uchis last time I was in LA and that was really cool … I have a few friends in the industry and we don’t work together too much, but when we do it’s so natural. There’s not too much ego involved. They understand the [idea] of: if you don’t like something, you can say no. Women are really understanding.
The ‘No Hands’ YouTube cover you did kick-started your career and boosted your social media presence, but do you feel there are downsides to being active on the internet?
Definitely … You’re influencing a lot of people and it’s nerve-wracking. It creates a lot of anxiety. But on the other hand, it’s made me more careful of what I say. I’m influencing people but I’m also still human and I hope people understand that.
What do you do for fun?
Everything has been moving really fast. When I put out BLQ Velvet, I was bartending every night just trying to make money so I could quit my job and make music. But now I’m making music, I haven’t had much time to do anything else. I was on tour all last year and I’ve been home since Art Basel in December. I don’t really know what to do with myself now. I’ve just been cooking and having friends over. For the most part, I’m just trying to stay on my business and not get too comfortable. I mainly stay to myself and work on music and writing and producing for myself and people like Archibald Slim and Rich Poe Slim, just trying to keep my skills up.
You make your acting debut this year in Assassination Nation alongside Hari Nef. Is acting something you’ve always wanted to pursue?
It just kind of came out of nowhere and I was surprised — I used to want to be an actress when I was younger — but when Sam [Levinson], the director, hit me up, I was really shocked. It’s super fun and my goal is always music, but it’s a cool project. What he’s doing with this movie is incredible; I’m really excited. I don’t know if I’m going to actively pursue acting — music is my number one priority —but I’m open to it.
So you’re in the music game for the long haul?
Sometimes I say that and then I think maybe I’ll switch it up and do something else, but music is all I want to do. I’ll be anywhere and just want to go home and make music. I’ll be drunk at a party and just want to go home and make music. If something is in your heart like that, I don’t think it’s ever going to stop. It might be an on-again/off-again relationship over time, but music is always going to be my number one love.
What was your dream job when you were younger?
Nothing ‘real’. That was a huge source of contention for me when I was younger, ’cos my parents would be like, “You should be a lawyer”, and it just wasn’t in my heart. I wanted to be something out of this world. I read a lot of fantasy books and I wanted to be an adventurer. That’s not a job, really. Maybe a therapist? My friends always want to drink tea and tell me about their problems, so maybe I could get into therapy or something that requires empathy and compassion, ’cos that’s a big strength and weakness of mine. I feel for people heavily.
What do you stand for?
I’ve been trying to figure that out as I get older. I do wish people would slow down and understand more. Understanding, community and friendship are so important. I’m starting to realise things that I wish the world at large had a better grasp on. The world would run so much more smoothly if people would just know themselves and interact with people without hurting them or causing damage. That’s not a mission statement; I just wish that was a part of everyone’s curriculum at school.
Interview by Ava Nirui; Photos by June Canedo; Styling by Tess Herbert for Oyster 110.