Interview: Sevyn Streeter Gets Personal with 'Shoulda Been There,' Talks Chris Brown, B.O.B.
Sevyn Streeter has an ex-boyfriend who "Shoulda Been There," and she's not just going to let him know it, she's going to tell the whole world. Earlier this summer, the quickly emerging R&B star broke away from working on Chris Brown and Ariana Grande singles to release her first full-length album. But, before she could break out with On The Verge, she had some personal business to take care of.
So, earlier this summer, Streeter released the lengthy EP Shoulda Been There Pt. 1, an ode to an ex-boyfriend that she had to wash out of her hair before she could move on to brighter, more diverse songs for her big breakout. Filled with personal songs and an intimate look into her process through interludes, as she puts it in "(Intro) Let's Talk About It," Streeter truly brings her fans into the last year and a half of her life.
Following the release of Shoulda Been There Pt. 1, Music Times caught up with Streeter to talk about the personal LP and what is on the horizon, including a star-studded new album.
Music Times: Your new project, Shoulda Been There Pt. 1, it's really personal and it seems like it's really directly related to a relationship you had. Did you have any reservations before putting this on record?
Sevyn Streeter: Absolutely not. My fans know I'm a singer-songwriter so I feel like it's kind of my job - it's my responsibility - to put myself out there a little bit and to tell my stories. I love the fact that people can learn from my mistakes. I don't make any secret of that, life is a journey and we're not perfect and we make mistakes. And that's OK. We go through crazy situations, and I'm just that type of person and artist who likes to write and sing about that. So I didn't have any reservations, it is what it is you know.
MT: The record's a little unique because you include all those interludes - which are quasi interviews, just discussions. Can you talk a little more about your decision to include that stuff?
SS: Well it's so crazy because a lot of times the fans ask how are your sessions or how do guys come up with the songs and how do you come up with the concepts? And I always tell them it is easy as you and I having a conversation right now, and I've always told them that. But they never really had a chance to see it or to hear it or to really be a part of it. So, with Shoulda Been There Pt. 1 I was like, OK let's use this opportunity to bring them even further into my world a little bit.
I got together with some of my writer friends, some of the writers who actually wrote on the project with me, and we do what we always do when we write records: we stood around, and we had conversations about the different concepts that are on Shoulda Been There Pt. 1. It was like crazy banter back and forth like we always do, between men and women and our different views and perspectives on life, love, and relationships and all that type of stuff. I wanted to put that on Shoulda Been There Pt. 1 because for one, I always told my fans about that and it was nice for them to able to experience it a little bit.
MT: You're just a very real artist, which is sometimes kind of hard to find. Why is being your most authentic self important to you?
SS: It's important to me because, honestly, it's the only way I know how to operate. I'm a Cancer; I wear my heart on my sleeve. If we were in a room together and I was upset, I probably wouldn't even be able to hide it too well. So, when it comes to my music it's the same kind of thing. I can't go into a studio and have a session and be having the worst day ever and then write the happiest song ever. Honestly, I'm not wired that way. So instead of me trying to fight it -- that's more exhausting than me actually just being real and honest about it. And if I feel like crying or I'm upset about an ex or whatever the case may be or I miss my family, it's much easier for me to just go ahead and give into that and write a record about it than it is to try and resist it.
I wish I could take more credit and say that it was my bright idea to be like that, but I cannot. I've literally been that way my entire life. I feel what I feel and I've grown to a place in my life where I don't make any apologizes for it.
MT: You've written for everyone to Ariana Grande to Kelly Rowland, and you obviously write your own music. When you're writing for someone else versus yourself, do you have a different approach?
SS: When I'm writing for somebody else, I think trust is really important. It's important that they feel comfortable in the session because, it's the same thing for them, I kind of take the same approach but obviously it's a little trickier.
So I like to sit and talk to them and find out where they are in their lives, because the worst thing in the world is trying to write a love song for somebody who's just had their heart broken. They're not going to sing that the right way, they're not going to feel it and they're not going to be able to convey those emotions. It's important that I tell their story as truthfully as I tell mine so if they feel like taking a bat to somebody's headlights I want to write about them taking a bat to somebody's headlights or whatever emotion. So I like to talk to them and find out what's going on in their lives, what's going on in their head, how do they feel today. And that's why I always start there with them.
MT: You've collaborated with Chris Brown quite a few times and he can be a little bit of a controversial figure in pop culture. What's he actually like to work with and as a person?
SS: Working with Chris is really... it's a lesson the entire session. Whether I'm writing records with him or doing a video with him or we have a show together, I just always learn so much. Because aside from the things that people say about it, he is such an amazing talent at the end of the day. He's amazing and I just learn from him.
In terms of writing, I tell people all the time I give him a lot of credit for helping me. He was like the foundation of my songwriting. I started writing with him so much, more than I've written with anyone else and I just learned tricks about melodies and how to flip different concepts and not be afraid to go for it. If I want to yell on the track I can yell on a track. I just always learn so much from him in terms of just music, it's really amazing. I wish people could see him in that element.
MT: On this record you also worked with your boyfriend B.o.B. Can you tell me what it was like to get in the studio with him?
SS: We have the best time working together. He's super creative and I like to consider myself super creative too, so in our sessions together, we just have ideas bouncing off the wall and that's always cool. We've been writing together and working together for a really long time now so we have other records that people have never heard. So this wasn't something new to us, like, oh we're in a relationship let's do a song together, like no. We've always done records together; we've always worked together. If I was in Atlanta, I was in his studio. If he was in L.A., he would stop by mine. We've always done that.
With "Shoulda Been There," it just ended up working out just perfectly, like icing on top of the cake to have him on "Shoulda Been There" because, like I said, the record is very personal. It's talking about me going through something with my last situation and then getting out of that and making a decision like, "OK you know what you didn't appreciate me, you didn't get it. I'm in a different space now you know what - you should've been there." And then to have Bob get on the record and make that story even more real, it couldn't have been any more perfect. It worked out perfectly and I love his verse, he killed his verse and it kind of got to tell his own little part of the story with his verse too. So it was really cool.
MT: I'm sure for that ex it's like the ultimate screw you, like, look at my new man he's so talented.
SS: [Laughs] Pretty much, absolutely.
MT: So the EP is called Shoulda Been There Pt. 1, can we expect a part two anytime soon?
SS: That's so crazy. I mean, Shoulda Been There Pt. 1 is about what I went through with my ex and definitely going through some crazy stories on there. I don't know, we just have to see how life unfolds. I mean right now I'm really, I'm happy. I'm happy, I'm in a good space. I don't know, we have to see how life unfolds. We just got to wait and see.
MT: How does this EP differ from your upcoming album On the Verge?
SS: I say all the time, in terms of the level of honesty and truth and transparency in Shoulda Been There Pt. 1, that'll never change. You'll always get that on any project, any song that I'm a part of. So you can definitely expect that on my album On the Verge.
In terms of tempo, we definitely have more tempo on some songs, more collaborations on a couple other ones. And some of the records go even a little bit deeper and made me turn the mirror on myself a little bit. So I can't wait for you guys to hear this. You may see it from a couple of different points of view, and I'm really looking forward to everybody hearing that as well. But in terms of the vibe and the truth and all that, they're still going to get that. They're still going to get that vibe.
MT: Can you give me any details about On the Verge? Do you have a timeline, any collaborations you're excited about?
SS: Yeah I have a couple of collabs on there I'm really excited about. I have one with August Alsina that's called "Been a Minute" that I'm just so excited about. Like, extremely excited about that. Can't wait for you guys to hear. And August he just killed his feature, he killed his verse, he sounds amazing. And I actually enjoy hearing our voice together. It was our first time working together, and we're obsessed with the record. So I can't wait for our fans to hear that.
Then I have another record on the album called "Fallen" that features Ty Dolla $ign that is so cool. We flipped an old R&B classic, we flipped that in the... I dont' want to give that away yet, but when you hear it - I love it when you can do records where, from the first line in the hook everybody automatically knows the rest of the hook and they jump right in because we flipped a classic. So I'm excited about that. That's like really exciting. I just can't wait man.
On the Verge is something really, really cool and really great, and I can't wait until I get to release that.
But for right now, for me, it's just all about Shoulda Been There Pt. 1 and I'm just appreciative for the fact that my label and my management, they understood and the allowed me to get this project off of my chest. Because I really didn't want to carry this energy into On the Verge. I needed to release this and move past it and put that out there at the same time for the fans too, because they've been really patient waiting on the album. So it just all worked together. They got to get new music, I got to have my personal therapy session [laughs] and they got to get records that they can learn from my mistakes through the honesty in the song. Everybody's covered, I wanted to make sure they were covered and they were OK.