East Coast Pop/R&B songstress Shenna meets up with us at the original Coral Tree Cafe in Brentwood, CA to discuss the importance of having face-to-face “Conversation” in the modern era, having strong female role models in the music industry, and being inspired by things that you wouldn’t expect.
So you are riding the highs of your latest single “Conversation,” wanted to ask, what inspired its lyrics and the instrumental elements that you chose to feature in the song?
Shenna: Yeah! So “Conversation” is basically about what’s happening today where we’re so much in a social media era that we’re not having these face-to-face conversations anymore because there’s just so many distractions going on. Like, we’re sitting down right now face-to-face doing this interview, but on a normal basis, people are always on their phones and you can’t help but ask yourself, ‘Are you really getting to know this person?’ So that’s what the song is about, and the lyrics are very plain and simple saying ‘Let’s have a conversation, just me and you, no distractions.’
And it’s definitely a relatable topic that we have to address.
Shenna: Yeah, we really do.
Social media, it’s crazy!
Shenna: Right!? We can never get away from it! *both laugh*
And how would you say the songwriting and recording process for “Conversation” was similar or different than that of your past work?
Shenna: I felt that “Conversation” was just so natural to write. As a songwriter and musician, a lot of times you really think, ‘How am I going to interpret what I really want to say?’ I didn’t want to do something complicated, I wanted people to hear it and be like, ‘Yes! I feel that!’ *laughs* Something that was different about this one was that it just felt very natural from the beginning. I came in, heard the instrumental, and it was like, ‘Boom!’ I said, ‘Let’s record it! Let’s track it!’ It was just really what I was feeling in that moment, you know?
Totally! And it’s so awesome that everything came naturally for you! It was a sign from the universe!
Shenna: Yeah! It was a really weird moment, but I was like, ‘OK, let’s just do it!’
You also released the accompanying music video for “Conversation.” What made you decide to go in the visual direction that you chose?
Shenna: So a lot of times when I write my songs I picture a video with it. For this song, I really wanted to get a TV and have it basically be a symbol of not only social media but the media in general. So in the video, everything from this guy’s perspective is blurry, like a static TV, but then at the end, you’re like, ‘His head is a TV! What the heck!’ *laughs* and then I take it off of him. It’s so weird, but I just had this vision for what I wanted to do for the video. When I was talking to a whole bunch of video directors I was like, ‘Can you make a TV head?’ and they were like, ‘Umm, excuse me?’ *both laugh* I had to have it because it was just stuck in my head. A lot of my newer songs that I’ve been writing are also about this kind of topic.
Just different iterations.
I mean, it’s definitely a topic that we deal with every day and it’s so awesome that you came up with such an interesting way to visualize it. To be honest, I love it when the characters in music videos have stuff on their heads. *laughs*
Shenna: It was definitely a risk. I was like, ‘I don’t know how this is gonna go.’ Obviously, when you’re recording you can’t have a friggin TV on your head to completely envision it.*laughs*
So no method acting in the recording booth? *laughs*
Shenna: Oh no! *laughs* But I was definitely happy with how it turned out because all I was thinking was, ‘I hope it comes out the way that I wanted it.’
Of course. Now, do you tend to write your lyrics first or do compose or find the instrumentals first? Or do they tend to just go hand in hand with each other?
Shenna: I work with two producers right now, Malcolm Fong and Austin Bello, and I actually like to hear their thoughts on the instrumentation aspect while I’m with them. They’ll ask, ‘So what kind of mood are you in today?’ and I will be like, ‘Well, this happened to me today. Let’s write a song about that!’ or ‘I’m really irritated today about this person’ so I’ll channel that into my lyrics. But my favorite way to write to an instrumental. I used to write poetry a lot, and there was actually one time where I wrote a poem, and then Malcolm found it and made a song to it. He even sang my poem as if they were lyrics and I was like, ‘What?! This is crazy!’ But yeah, I like hearing the instrumentation first and then bringing it to life with the lyrics. When I collaborate with someone I want them to be equally involved in that process. I don’t want to just take over and be like, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ I want to be inspired by the person I’m creating with and just vibe with them.
That’s so cool that he was able to take one of your poems and turn it into a song!
Shenna: Yeah! I was actually kind of embarrassed about it and I was like, ‘Oh no you saw it, now you’re going to think I’m a weirdo!’ *both laugh*
But when you think about it, a lot of times songs are really just like musical versions of poems.
Shenna: Oh yeah totally! I watch a lot of movies too and I’m really into different kinds of series. I’m actually watching Game of Thrones right now and that’s been really fun. Have you seen it yet?
I watched the first three episodes, but I also watch a lot of other shows so it got to the point where I was just never going to catch up. Now that they finally announced the final season I’m just like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just wait until it’s done!’ *laughs*
Shenna: I hear you! My boyfriend was like, ‘You HAVE to watch it!’ *laughs* But I love it and I’ve been writing a lot of songs about that recently.
You’ll be able to hit a whole new fanbase!
Shenna: Right!? *laughs* I keep referencing kings and queens and I keep trying to tell myself to stop because I don’t mean to do it, it just happens. *laughs*
I mean, you could totally end up going to like Game of Thrones conference and play all your songs!
Shenna: Oooh I like that! It’s like, ‘Hey, so I kind of wrote you some music for next season. Use it please.’ *both laugh*
And kind of going along that line of writing to the films and tv shows that you’re watching, do you feel that fandoms are a new way for musicians to be inspired as apart from real life experiences?
Shenna: I feel like right now people are just being really real in their music, which I absolutely love. For instance, Ariana Grande’s song “Thank You, Next” talks about the people that she’s dated publicly in the media like Big Sean and Pete Davidson, so you feel like you’re part of her life when you listen to the song. I also like when people take the fantasy route where they’re creating this story and this picture within the song. I’m a very visual person so I like to see a picture when I’m listening to a song, and that’s why music videos are so important to me too. I’m sure you can relate when you watch a video and you’re like, ‘No! That wasn’t how the video was supposed to be!’ *laughs*
Oh yeah, I’m totally the same way when I watch a music video. There’s a video I watched a long time ago and I did a Music Video Expectations piece for the website I used to write for, and it was pretty much a comparison of what I thought it would be versus what was released. I don’t know if that band actually read my article, but there was something specific that I wrote down in the piece that they incorporated in their next video. *laughs*
Shenna: You’re just like, ‘You really listened to me. I made a difference! *laughs*
Always use your voice! You never know who’s listening!
Shenna: For real! But I really do like that artists are getting more real, especially with females trying to make music. I feel like it’s really important for us to stand up in our music and say what we’ve got to say and to not be shy or scared or be intimidated by other people and their opinions.
I definitely agree. I really like how there has been more opportunity for artists to open up about their personal struggles.
Shenna: It makes them a real person, right? You feel like, ‘Wow, it’s not just me that’s suffering through this.’
Even though they make lots more money while suffering. *both laugh*
Shenna: Yeah. *laughs* But they are real people, we have to remember that.
And keeping along the lines of women in the music industry, do you feel that female artists need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful?
Shenna: So there was a time, and some people may disagree, when we were selling ‘sexiness’ in every aspect of music. I feel like now there are a lot more badass females in the industry in all different genres, like for instance, you have Alessia Cara, she’s not there in a sexy outfit, she’s just just making feel-good music with no negative lyrics. It’s so uplifting to see females not trying to sell sex, but selling positivity and what they’re going through on a daily basis. I love it, because that’s how I want to be to and how I see myself. I don’t see myself in these little one piece outfits, which is no shame, like, if you’ve got it then you should rock it, own it!
And it could easily be just someone’s fashion sense. No one should ever tell you how to dress.
Shenna: Yeah exactly! Everybody should embrace who they are. But I do like that we are taking over, at least I think we are. *laughs*
I’m really liking the change as well. I mean, yeah the sexy stuff is still around, but even with the sexy stuff, there can still be an underlying tone to it that’s dark sometimes.
Shenna: Yeah there really is! I’ve been listening to a lot of like Billie Eilish lately, and she’s like ‘moody pop.’ She’s just doing her thing and I love it! I love that being different is becoming cool now. It’s like, ‘Yes, the underground is winning finally!’ *laughs*
Do you think that people in the modern listening-sphere are more open-minded to those strong, successful female figures in the music industry?
Shenna: I feel like people are adjusting, and I feel like those of us who are strong women like listening to other strong women. We’re like, ‘Yeah this is dope!’ *both laugh* But I feel like the men are still transitioning into it a little bit slower because people just get stuck in their ways. Like, hip-hop is winning right now because it’s so heavy hitting while still being catchy. But for us who are females are putting out our feelings through our lyrics and stuff, people are just barely starting to get used to it. We’re having more of a younger fan base that is growing up liking these strong female artists as opposed to people who have been listening to something they’re always used to.
Yeah, it’s definitely easy to get stuck in our ways because it’s something we know and can rely on. It almost feels a little bit harder to be more open-minded the older we get.
Shenna: Yeah. For me, I’m totally accepting of seeing the new waves and trends because as a musician, you have to learn how to transition while still being yourself, you know what I mean? You can’t be frozen in one time, you have to be open-minded to different ideas and different elements to your music to captivate your listener.
And that also goes along the lines with how it seems like modern pop music is getting stronger.
Shenna: Oh yeah definitely! I’m happy that pop isn’t just, like, bubblegum pop anymore. You can easily be like, ‘Wow that was really deep while you’re dancing.’
And then you’re not even aware of it until you realize what the song is about and you’re completely mind blown! *laughs*
Shenna: You’re just like, ‘Oh my God! It’s my life in a song!’ *laughs*
So going into the modern listening-sphere, do you feel that singles-based releases are more of what today’s music listeners are looking for in terms of consumption?
Shenna: Oh definitely! People’s attention spans suck! *laughs* I fully own up to be doing something for ten seconds and then I’m done. But it sucks as a musician, you know? I have at least twenty songs that I haven’t released yet, and I’m constantly creating and I just want to make an EP or an album of, like, six songs for you guys. But it’s like, if you don’t already have millions and millions of followers then people’s attention spans are just non-existent. With Spotify and all these playlists, they’re really helping with breaking these artists out. The Discover Weekly and the New Music Friday playlists, that’s how people are getting really up there now by just putting out one single. I feel like it’s smart as artists to still stay consistent with releasing a single every month or every other month, then switch to something with a visual, maybe an acoustic version or a dance remix or something. I’m still pushing for the EPs and albums though, and as I wish that we could still do it and get the recognition for all the hard work that gets put into it. Overall, it really just depends on what kind of artist you want to be. Like, are you trying to be this superstar doing all these tours? Or are you just trying to have this loyal fan base in your hometown? Are you trying to get big locally or are you trying to be an international superstar? But yeah, I think that Spotify is definitely how people are getting out there with their singles.
Do you think that there is still a fan base that is still very much into the more in-depth releases?
Shenna: Oh absolutely! I feel like when you do your live shows that’s when people really want the albums and the physical item. So when you only do singles, you might end up being like, ‘Oops, I don’t have anything for you.’ You want to sell your merchandise and stuff at the shows, but the people that go to these shows to see underground music want to come in and buy your mech, they want to get to know you, they want to know your story. In the end they want more than just a single, so that’s why I feel like if you have an EP and you release a single, why not make it like a collective work, you know?
Absolutely! And you’re starting to see a lot bigger artists that have been around for years that are doing just that.
Shenna: It’s crazy right!? I never thought that would happen, like, you’re a superstar and only have five songs for us? *laughs*
Yeah I mean, when Bruno Mars released his 24K Magic EP pretty much every song on there became a hit single.
Shenna: I know! Like, when you see somebody like that doing the smaller releases, it’s like, ‘Wow, let me follow what you’re doing!’
Do you think that social media has made it easier or harder for artists to market themselves?
Shenna: It’s so crazy because now as a musician you can’t just be a musician anymore. You have to be a business savvy person on top of the musical aspect. You have to literally learn all of these different algorithms, which are always changing and then you try to figure out what the best time to post is that’s going to get the most maximum exposure. It’s easy to be discovered. People go see your stuff. You could randomly wake up one day and a celebrity re-tweeted your tweet because they explored your page. But it makes it hard because there’s just so much out there. It’s so oversaturated. There’s so much good music and there are so many trends that are always changing, so it’s hard when there’s a lot of people that are doing the same thing. Sometimes people go viral who didn’t mean to go viral, or a person that’s working really hard may not exist after a certain time. It’s all about the universe aligning and the timing and just being consistent. I feel like that’s what it is. Being consistent all the time.
Do you feel like social media also adds on the pressure like what you were saying about you constantly needing to release something?
Shenna: Oh yeah! For instance, if you’re a big celebrity like Beyoncé, let’s say that she went on a hiatus or she hadn’t posted for six months, but then when she finally does you’re freaking out being like, ‘Oh my God! Is she releasing new music?’ *laughs* But if you’re just now getting your buzz up and you disappear off the map, no one is going to be like, ‘What happened?’ They’re just gonna forget about you. So definitely when you’re getting that buzz you have to be as consistent as possible.
The struggles of social media.
Shenna: It’s so tiring too! Can somebody do it for me? *both laugh*
If you could give your younger self some advice in regards to the music industry and what you’ve experienced, what kind of advice would you give her?
Shenna: I would tell her to stop worrying so much about everybody’s opinions and only ask a few trusted people. I’ve been doing music forever, like, I started singing at two and then I was in showcases at seven. As a show kid, I listened to so many opinions. I’m hearing my mom’s side, which of course I trust my mom with everything, but then I had a random person, and my manager at the time. Just hearing so many people’s opinions when you’re so young makes you feel like you’re being pulled in all these different ways, so the time just starts going by when you’re trying to listen to all these people. Just do what you do best – sing, make music, record, grow, and just be a good person. It could be a lot to handle, but outweighing all the distractions will help you stay true to who you are.
And fun question for you, if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Shenna: So I want to choose people that are starting to rise and that I feel are going to be our next big names to know. They’re already superstars to me, but I’d love for them to be known not just nationally, but worldwide. So Alessia Cara is one of them, then Camila Cabello, and Dua Lipa, and I would name it the ‘Dreamers Tour.’ I call my followers and fans ‘dreamers,’ my first EP was called Dream In Color, and then I had Made Of Gold, so I have all these types of color themes that I want to incorporate. Even in my singles, I have a song called “Magenta.” *laughs* Wherever I go with my music I still see all of the titles for my future projects being colors. It’s gonna get hard later on! I’m going to start running out of colors! *laughs*
You’ll have to think of obscure colors like off-white or cobalt blue. Just hit up the Pantone charts! *both laugh*
Shenna: I’m sure I’ll have to do some kind of magic to keep it going. *laughs* But yeah, I would love to tour with them because they’re powerful women and I just feel like women have to start uplifting other women if we’re going to create change in the music industry. I mean, we’re starting to do it now, but from what I see from them in the media they seem to be really genuine. I feel like it’d be a fun tour.
Absolutely! And which artists would you say have influenced your style and sound?
Shenna: So style-wise I would say, Rihanna, because Rihanna is just fearless and does whatever she wants now. It’s been amazing seeing her grow, and she’s really elevated herself as an artist from “Pon De Replay” to now. She gets to be a part of all these features with a bunch of artists, and she’s able to do different genres like “FourFiveSeconds.” I want to be that artist! People always ask, “So what genre are you?” And I’m always like, ‘Pop and R&B,’ but I don’t want to be limited to those because that’s not fun. Like, if you’re a fashion person, you don’t wanna just wear one color all the time, you want to put yourself out there and show off your personality. So Rihanna is awesome. Bruno Mars inspires me as a performer. And as a songwriter, Sia is my go-to. She’s awesome and I wish she was my mentor. *laughs*
I think we all do. *laughs* But when you really think about it, modern music is really starting to blend all of the genres together. You’ve got these rock bands that are incorporating electronic or even hip-hop elements into their music.
Shenna: Yes! It’s so funny that you mention that because I’ve been hearing that a lot lately. I swear I heard a country/hip-hop song the other day, like, I heard like the hi-hats from hip-hop under the country song guitars.
It was probably Florida Georgia Line. *laughs*
Shenna: Maybe that’s who it was! *laughs* It was cool though!
One day all music will just be ‘music’ with no strict definition.
Shenna: Right!? That’s the goal.
And what one word describes you as an artist?
Shenna: I would say ‘determined.’ As an artist, we have to learn to take criticism, you’re either going to take it negatively or you’re going to turn that negative energy into a learning experience. Whether I hear ‘Oh, that wasn’t that good, you should work on this.’ I’ll be like, ‘Ok, cool,’ and then I’ll work on it so much that next time I come back I can be like, ‘Hey, I listened to you and I didn’t let it get to me.’ I don’t have this big team or all this money behind me, I’m determined because I make sure I find a way. I’m determined to fund my own stuff, so if I don’t have a budget then I’m going to get a budget. If I want to go on tour to California and meet up here with you, I’m going to make it happen. I’m not going to let anything get in the way of what I want to accomplish.
What do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Shenna: I want them to embrace who they are. I want people to really identify with who they are and to not be ashamed of your race or your gender or whatever love interest you have. I just want people to not be scared or feel like people are judging them. You shouldn’t have to hide who you are. It’s your life and you should live it the best way you want to.
And everybody wants to know the real you in the end.
So apart from riding the highs of your single, what other fun things should we be expecting from you? Maybe one of the songs that you have ready just waiting to be released?
Shenna: Yes! One of the many color themed songs that I have in mind, like “Off White.” *laughs*
Just do the entire color spectrum. *laughs*
Shenna: Yes! *laughs* But I have a lot of singles I’m releasing in the New Year that I’m really excited about. Right now I’m just working on a lot of content visuals so everything in the next year can be like, ‘Boom, here you go. Boom, here you go. Boom, boom, boom.’ *laughs* These songs have been recorded for a while and they’re my babies, so I’m just ready to let them go.
They’re ready to leave the nest.
Shenna: Yes, the nest of my computer. *laughs* I’m also planning to be touring a lot more on the West Coast. I’m from Virginia, I live in New York, and I’m just ready for a new chapter.
Well, California will be welcoming you with open arms!
Shenna: Thank you! I love it!
About Coral Tree Cafe Brentwood:
San Vicente Boulevard, one of the many streets in Los Angeles, well, specifically on the Westside, that we are unable to say that something is located on without receiving a response of, ‘Umm, but where exactly on San Vicente?’ For lengthy streets such as this one, it’s practically a given that you will find your next favorite cafe here, and if you’re located in Brentwood, then you’ve probably paid a visit to Coral Tree Cafe once or twice or fifty times. Coral Tree Cafe is a wonderful example of a local community coming together to bring ‘healthy dining in a casual atmosphere’ to their neighborhood, and considering it has flourished since its birth in 2002, I would say that the demand has not diminished one bit even from competition from Starbucks, The Coffee Bean Tea & Leaf, Whole Foods, and other popular chains located in close proximity. Honestly, its refreshingly cozy ambiance in both its inside and outside seating areas is probably what entices customers to keep coming back because you can actually sit and enjoy your stay without the pressure of being shooed to make space for another guest.
While parking can be unsurprisingly tricky due to its location on one of the busiest streets in town, Coral Tree Cafe’s impressive selection of organic beverages and food options along with numerous ways to park (when valet, metered, and residential) give you no excuse to pop on by. Right when you step through the door, you’re able to smell all of the amazing things that leave its kitchen from omelettes to paninis to pastas to baked goods as well as the aroma of a fresh brewed espressos, lattes, teas, and the like. As I am luckily in walking distance from my day job, I can proudly vouch for their pastry selection, their seasonal fares, the Capellini Pommodoro, and of course, their wonderful caffeinated drinks (specifically their espresso signature drinks). And if Brentwood is a bit out of the way for you, have no fear because there is also a location in Beverly Hills and in Encino!