Q+A: For the Love of Lizzo

”Cuz I Love You” details, a Sasha Flute intro, and Prince-inspired positivity
Lizzo performing at Icehouse in 2018

Photo by Darin Kamnetz

Lizzo had no time for the music industry to find a category for her, so she just created her own. Now based in Los Angeles, the singer and rapper grew up in Houston and Detroit, and built her career in the Twin Cities over the past decade, eventually even recording with Prince. Today, she’s got a major-label record deal, TV gigs, major music festival appearances, and well over half a million people following her Instagram timeline of self-love and swagger. (Another 60,000 follow her flute’s account and Will Ferrell as Anchorman‘s Ron Burgundy is hip to it.)

Lizzo’s third full-length album, Cuz I Love You, comes out April 19, but the eye-catching video for her bouncy lead single “Juice” has racked up 8 million views since January, and she performed it on The Ellen Show and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Apt that she was sipping some cold-press juice at home for this catch-up by phone.

What was special about “Juice” when you were making it?

It was one of the final songs we made. As soon as we heard the instrumental, we were like, “Oh, this is great.” I kinda had a feeling. My career has been so steady and even. I had no idea it was going to go off like this. I still can’t really even fathom how much it’s going off.

What’s your process behind creating Instagram posts?

It is a stream of consciousness. It’s like a gut feeling that I get. To be honest with you, I’m just having fun. Today I was on Sasha Flute’s Instagram just answering DMs, just laughing. Having a blast talking as my flute [laughs]. Don’t tell nobody that it’s not really her.

How does it feel to have a platform where you can truly be heard?

I needed that. First, I was an obscure indie artist. Second, when I did get to a place in the industry, how do you describe me? You know? How do you describe something that’s kind of novel and not the norm? Social media gave people a window into me, when “the media” couldn’t write the words.

Introduce us to Sasha Flute.

She’s a Muramatsu flute, which is Japanese. I’ve had this flute since my senior year of high school. It was my college flute. She’s really special. I had a marching flute, but I was really broke in Houston and had to pawn it for money. I would never pawn Sasha Flute. I guarded her with my life. Sleeping with her tucked underneath the seat of my car, just making sure that she wouldn’t get stolen. There’s a lot of love in that flute. Sometimes people are like, “Well, we’ll just rent a flute and you can play it.” I’m like, “No, it’s not going to sound the same or feel the same.” There’s an energy and a timbre that every musician has with their instrument. Sasha Flute definitely has it.

Two members of your crew, Sophia Eris and Quinn Wilson, have been with you since your time in Minnesota. What has it been like to see their careers grow?

People from Minneapolis know Quinn and me and Sophia Eris from the Chalice, GRRRL PRTY, and Absynthe days. Quinn rose from doing makeup and graphic design to the photos, and now she’s doing my major music videos. We don’t even realize what that looks like because we’re so in it. And Sophia being there by my side is just really special. The more I talk to people in this industry, the more I realize how rare that is. I really do cherish it. They’re both killing it. Sophia’s killing it in her own right in Minnesota on the radio [as a morning host on Go 95.3] just being herself, and her solo music. That sisterhood we have can’t be broken by distance or any type of industry or fame or success. Those are my girls.

Where is the craziest place you’ve heard one of your songs pop up?

It was at a festival in London. We were all outside with 75,000 people waiting to see Kendrick Lamar. All the music he had before his set was all [artists from his label, Top Dawg Entertainment], just SZA or Ab-Soul or Jay Rock or Schoolboy Q. Then out of nowhere “Ain’t I” from [my 2015 album] Big Grrrl Small World started playing. It was so surreal. At first, I was like, “Oh, this is a TDE song.” Kinda sounds like one in the beginning. And then we all looked at each other and started freaking out. “Oh my god, Kendrick is playing my song in front of 75,000 people in London.” It was insane.

How do you keep bringing that same happiness and excitement to your work?

After working with Prince on [his 2014 album] Plectrumelectrum and going to Paisley Park a bunch after that, performing at his parties, I got a sense of what type of energy goes into being positive in your music. We were given notes to be super positive in our verses, making sure that they had a certain energy about them. I remember shortly after Prince had gone to the next realm, I made a commitment: I have to make positive music. If you think I’m too happy, there’s something wrong with you. I don’t even try to be moody or cool or dark. I just try to smile. When I’m writing songs, and it’s a good line, I’m laughing. That’s a sign. Even if it’s a sad lyric, like “He don’t love you anymore” in the song “Good as Hell,” it’s part of something uplifting. The reason why it makes people feel good is because I’m literally using it as therapy. It’s almost laughing through the tears.

How much work did it take to pull off your TV appearances this year?

Me and my creative team went in. It’s second nature to us and innate to come up with a theme. The disco ball [on Fallon] just happened while we were talking. “What if I just brought the light into the room? And then it’d be like a disco ball.” Really spontaneous, but then the actual work and the planning that comes into it is just blood, sweat, and tears. I have the greatest creative team in the world. No amount of costumes, no amount of lighting, no amount of choreography or styling could compensate for the energy that our shows bring to television. When we were in that room at Fallon and we performed, people were like, “That was a religious experience.” Everyone stood up and clapped. Jimmy was crying backstage with me and my family. It was like extremely emotional. The costume and the lighting and the hair and the dancing add that extra icing on the cake. We’re all in this for very special reasons, from me all the way down to the dancers. We’re all so wholeheartedly in this that every performance you see feels like this special, secret moment.

Which career milestones have been the biggest for you?

My New Year’s resolution was more milestones. Literally as soon as January 1 hit, the milestones came rolling in. I made a promise to myself that I would celebrate these things instead of just letting them go by like I have the past five years. We celebrated Ellen, we celebrated Fallon, we celebrated being in Europe, we celebrated the Brit Awards and London shows. I’m not letting one rose go unsmelled this time.

How will it feel to come back to Minnesota for your show at the Palace Theatre?

That’s where my career began. I was doing the same thing in Houston that I was doing in Minneapolis. It wasn’t just me. It was the energy of the Twin Cities and the support of the local scene that really uplifted me. I’m so grateful for that. It always puts me in a really emotional, sentimental place. I get really nostalgic for the Twin Cities and those days when we were running around. Like, the Pizza Lucé Block Party, playing 1,000 shows in one night, jumping in and playing the flute with Sean Anonymous, and jumping out and doing a show with the Chalice or GRRRL PRTY. I definitely have so much history there. Every time we come back to the Twin Cities I get so excited to eat my favorite food and see my favorite people.

What’s the food?

I like to get Quang.

How would you describe the sound of Cuz I Love You?

If you’ve been following me for a while, you hear the progression. You know what I mean? I remember back in the day playing 7th Street Entry or Icehouse. People came up to me and they would be like—this was back in Lizzobangers days—they’d say, “Yo, I love your live show. I tell my friends I have to see you live. The music is okay, but the live show is amazing.” Whoever that person was, I want to give them a big hug. They really motivated me to make my album sound like I do onstage. All of that soul, all of that gospel, all of that energy you get from my live show that wouldn’t necessarily translate to my album, you can hear it finally start to sync up. I feel like this is the first time I can perform my album and it sounds exactly the same on the stage. That’s been a huge goal of mine for a long time. I’m really excited and proud to bring that to people. It’s going to be a great show, and the tour’s going to be insane.

Lizzo has a sold-out show at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul on May 5. Follow Lizzo on Instagram, @lizzobeeating and @sashabefluting.

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