T.Fernandez is a new name in the R’n’B scene, but the potential and the talent are there. After a debut album in 2021 and some time away, she returned this year with the ‘Once Upon a Melody‘ EP. This return proved her gifts as a singer and songwriter and provided insight into herself during recent times.
Back at the end of April, I sat down with T.Fernandez and had a thought-provoking and deep chat. We discussed everything from the state of R’n’B, her mother’s influence on her career, and the power of authenticity. It was a great chat and one you will want to get stuck into…
How did you get into being a performer, and what were the influences that melded that career path?
For me, getting into music and being a performer was natural, like it is with a lot of people. I love music, and performing in my bedroom was my first stage. It came quite natural to me because my mum was a ballet dancer, and it wasn’t really out of the ordinary to be like, ‘Mum, I really enjoy singing; I think this is what I want to do’. It wasn’t like, ‘No I think you should become a lawyer’. (laughs) So, it was a very natural progression for me. It wasn’t thought out; it wasn’t ‘I wanna be famous’. It was like I want to sing. That is where it came from for me.
Did that also help the performance side of things, being able to experience your mother being a performer?
For sure, because I would ask her advice on if you’re nervous, what do you do with your nerves. Just that support of her being like, ‘That’s normal to feel this way; this is what I do’. Also, her (saying), ‘You have to be disciplined; this isn’t a joke.’ ‘This isn’t (like) you decide to perform one day; there’s a lot of hard graft that goes on behind the scenes.’ It impacted me in a good way.
With your most recent project, ‘Once Upon a Melody‘, what were the ideas and inspirations behind that project?
I wrote a lot of those songs quite a while ago; 2020, 2021. It was just my inner thoughts basically and just things I was going through in general, which I think a lot of artists do. But, sometimes, I can write from other people’s perspectives or when I hear the beat, it gives me a certain vibe, and I’m like, ‘We’re going to go with this root today’. I had a lot of things that I thought I want to get out.
For example, ‘Make It Make Sense‘ is about my feelings of anxiety. The lyrics are like ‘Make it make sense, living life from the bench’ because it can sometimes feel like you are an observer of your own life. I know a lot of other people feel that way, so I was like; bite the bullet, write some songs that you know are about things that are quite personal and sensitive but quite a few of us can relate to.
I do find music that has come out recently quite interesting. We’ve all had an insight into the pandemic years and how we dealt with that. It has been very interesting to see how people have dealt with it in different ways.
It’s changed people.
How would you say your creative process or the way you make music evolved between this project and the last?
From that last project, it didn’t change massively in terms of the creative process. This project was produced, mixed, (and) mastered by Scam, and the last project ‘In My Poetic Feels‘, was mixed, mastered, and produced by him. So, the creative process was quite similar in that we would get into (the) studio, (and) we’d have a little chat about how we were feeling. We would sometimes let that dictate what we wanted to create, so it was quite free-flowing. It wasn’t like, ‘Today I want to make this type of bop, or today I want to write about this’. It was, ‘Ok, right, the feeling is this; ok, let’s go with it, let us create something out of that’. It’s similar in that sense. But, I’d say the content was different to the first project, as in my lyrical content.
Going forward, is there anything you’ve learnt from this project cycle that you think you will change or improve on going into your future music?
I think that it’s always a learning process. This one for sure; rolling it out in the sense of getting it to people, I could do it a bit differently and maybe have some visuals. I’ve never done a whole video and rolled that out with a project before. Especially, when you are quite an unknown artist.
With R’n’B, it is not like you have platforms on YouTube that you can put your video on, and thousands of people are going to see it now. There’s not that for R’n’B. But, I think there is a big enough stronghold now for things like that, which could develop the essence of the project, rather than here’s my cover art and a little 20 second-video teaser, that’s going to give people the feeling of cover art coming to life. But I didn’t do a whole video, so that’s something I want to do to make more of a meal of it.
That will help you because it’s another side to the art, and it’s a very different creative process that is a companion piece.
You know what, that is a very good point. With rap, for example, you’ve got SB.TV; GRM Daily; Link Up TV, and there isn’t any really for R’n’B. Someone needs to take notes.
Exactly. Someone, please, thank you.
I feel that would help push and expose R’n’B. It did the same back in the early 2010s with Grime and U.K. Rap music.
It really would. It would be excellent if there was a platform like that.
There has been a lot of discussion about the place of R’n’B in the U.K. at the moment. What do you think besides, what you’ve already mentioned, is lacking that hasn’t allowed it to get out there or is it more of an issue with people who like R’n’B/the major publications not pushing it out enough?
I think it’s more industry-based than the listener. People want songs that are an immediate bop if (they) hear it on (the) radio. R’n’B in general, is a slow burn. You might hear an R’n’B song at first and be like ‘That was pleasant, that was nice’. But then, after the third time listening, you’re like ‘Wow, I am super connected to this song’. It takes a little bit longer.
With anything a little bit slower, more chilled, you might need a little bit more time (before you say) ‘Ooo, I love it’. I think in the fast-paced world that we live in now, people want that instant dopamine of ‘Oh yeah, there’s the bass’. (laughs) That’s not the listener, that is the industry. They don’t really support R’n’B, yet everyone listens to R’n’B. To be honest, (with) R’n’B, especially in this country, people look to America for their R’n’B fix. Whereas, there is a massive pool of R’n’B artists here that are excellent and are appreciated in America and other countries. But, for some reason, the industry is a little bit slower on the uptake. I do think it will get there, but it’s being a bit slower; like, ‘Oh ok, it’s here; that’s nice’. They’re not investing in it.
I do think as a society we are moving towards more short-burst, immediate-impact content. But, that is because that is what is being advertised to the consumer. For example, I was listening to Capital Xtra the other day and they were like ‘the home of rap and R’n’B’. You heard a Mahalia track; a FLO track, but then the rest was from the early 2000s. There’s clearly an audience for this, you’ve got to push more of the upcoming artists.
There is plenty. It isn’t because there aren’t any. I think it is just laziness as well. Oh ok, we’ll fling on like a Mahalia track or FLO; who are excellent by the way, but there are loads of other people. You don’t have to go back decades to get your R’n’B fix. There is current R’n’B you can be listening to as well.
Like you said before, it’s about finding the right spaces to advertise it. On the mainstream stations, they want that more short-burst music. Also, with the BRIT Awards, the way they did that category (Pop/R’n’B) was not good at all. First of all, there are no R’n’B artists there. Second of all, putting them in a category with pop music is odd as they are two very different forms of music, and pop, alongside rap, is the most popular form of music at the moment. To put an artist from R’n’B who isn’t pushed as much, it’s not fair.
It’s just a bit lazy and that is where I sit with the industry. How I view it at the moment with R’n’B, they are just a bit lazy because they don’t get it. They want virality with everything. If you’re on TikTok and something goes viral, they are on it. If an R’n’B artist is to go viral, it’s like ‘Ok, we’ll push that one artist’. But, they want the artist to do the whole build themselves of a genre. You need everyone to participate to build a genre up, if you want it to be accessible and artists to keep on creating.
If you could go back in time to one concert, who would you go to see and where?
Oh wow! I guess it would have to be something along the lines of a Michael Jackson concert. A big one would be like ‘Billie Jean‘. You know when he did the moonwalk for the first time? Something like that, where it’s just like ‘wow’. You can never know in the moment that can be something that would be so iconic. But, something along those lines.
Is there anyone you’ve seen live yourself besides your mom who has impacted or changed the way you perform?
I think when I go and see people live; it can be singers; it can be dancers; ballet; anything; I always try and take something from it. For me, it was quite recent. Last year I went to see Kendrick Lamar. It was just the fact that it was so unique and authentic. It felt like you were in a real theatrical show, as opposed to ‘Hi, I am the artist’. I don’t know, it just gave me encouragement that actually to be yourself; to be different with your performances and as an artist, you can do it. You don’t have to try and follow a cookie-cutter way of doing things.
Kendrick Lamar is a fantastic performer. I’ve only seen him once. I am seeing him again this summer, which I am very much looking forward to. But, I remember when I saw him at Reading Festival in 2018. You can tell when an artist has made an effort and people do reciprocate that back. They go ‘I want to see this person again in the future because I know they are going to do something a bit different’.
For sure. Like you said, something a bit different. That is what it gave me, as well.
Who is one artist that you’d like to collaborate with, who you think would take your sound in a new direction?
There are two people. I love Victoria Monét. She is an incredible writer; performer; singer; everything. I like everything that she does from top to bottom. I’d love to work with her because I feel like there is an essence of what I do that would fit well with her. She has got a sound that I think is quite uniquely her. A lot of her stuff sounds like live instrumentation mixed with synths and other bits and bobs.
And KAYTRANADA. I know it’s a bit left-field, but I love KAYTRANADA. Something could be done that could be quite interesting there.
What would you say is the most impactful lyric you’ve ever written, that after you wrote it down it hit you?
It was on my first EP and it’s the song called ‘Worst Day‘. The lyrics are ‘Even on my worst day, I’m still worthy’. I wrote that song in the nature I explained at the beginning, coming into the studio and being like ‘This is how I feel today’ and then just started writing. In the moment, it was how I felt. I was going through a bit of a low time. But, I wasn’t like ‘I am going to write a song about this to make me feel better’. I was just in the quagmire of it.
It was later on down the line when I released it and started performing it and seeing people’s reactions to it, that I realised ‘Wow, this really means something to people’. It’s an affirmation of even on your worst day, whatever the worst day of your life is, you’re still worthy. There is nothing more you would want someone to know in this life. Regardless of whatever, you are worthy. That for me is my most impactful lyric. Simple, but it works.
With Summer and Festival Season Coming Up, Do You Have Anything Planned?
Not yet. I’m looking into it. I am hoping to get onto some lineups and some things. Hopefully, I’ll be putting some stuff out soon about performances coming up.
Are there any you are pivoting towards this year?
Not really. I’m a bit of a little hippie in the sense of free flow. As much as I am like, ‘That would be nice’, I am just grateful for every opportunity that comes my way. I don’t disregard anything in that sense. So, I don’t have anything in mind, but I am open to what will come my way.
That’s good to know if someone is a fan of yours. They know you are going to come there (a festival) and bring your A-game to every performance. You don’t want an artist thinking ‘Oh, it’s only this festival; I’ll give them like 60% of my best stuff and when I go to Glastonbury it’s 100%’. You‘ve got to give your A-game every time.
It’s your one job. (laughs)
What would be your advice to up-and-coming artists on how to build their career path?
It goes without saying to be authentic to yourself. It can be really easy to think ‘I’m going to do this route because I think that person got success because of this’. But, it doesn’t work like that. A lot of people, either forge a career out of being wholeheartedly themselves, or being given the path.
For me, it is about authentic to yourself, as consistent as you can, and putting blinkers on a bit, as well. In the sense of, not comparing yourself too much to what’s out there and just coming back to the art and thinking, ‘What is it I want to create’, and doing the best version of that you can with the resources you have. Don’t let not having certain resources stop you from creating. (For example, you might think,) ‘This isn’t the best studio I have ever worked in, or I can’t afford that videographer, or I can’t afford that producer’. Then, (you) work smaller and work up. Don’t let your current circumstance stop you from creating.
The first few comments about authenticity ring true. You can potentially get somewhere when making something you think is going to do well. But, eventually, you are going to get lost in the noise. If you keep things true to yourself, you may not necessarily get that top 40 straight away, but you’re going to grow and build. As a result, your career will last longer. People will still be going to you in fifty years because they’ll know that is T.Fernandez, that is what I want.
What would suck is if you make music that you think other people will like and you don’t make that top 40 anyway. All along, you could be making the music that is in your heart and soul. Maybe not make the top 40, but at least it’s the music that (comes) from the heart. Rather than trying to make this other thing that doesn’t give anyone anything.
Even some artists who do get some success with that kind of music, still look back on it and go, ‘I didn’t really like that’. I imagine as an artist as you mature and grow if you have gone down that path, you wish you didn’t do that. I imagine you want to look back fondly on your music.
For me, people create for different reasons. But, I create because it’s as if I can’t help it. I would be making this music, whether people listen or they don’t. It’s just in me and I have to get it out. That’s my reason for creating. Some people, create because they want fame. That’s fine, everyone’s purpose is different; you do you. But, I think if you’re an artist who has this longing inside of you to create, just start anywhere with what you got. Don’t be disheartened with the barriers you have around you. Do it anyway.
That is a positive mentality. I have always seen art, whether it’s music; movies; etc., as pure; truthful. It’s somebody just putting themselves out there, and creating something that has a message and meaning and passion in it. As you said, if people just want to make a quick buck and sort their house out, that’s fair enough. But, the music that is going to stand the test of time is the one with meaning and power, and emotion in it.
You can definitely make stuff on a lower budget. Sometimes, it comes out even better because people have made the most of those resources.
Adversity can breed creativity as well. That is why it’s important to just not stop and think, ‘I can’t work with that person or get into that studio, so I’m not going to do it’. Some of the places I have previously had to work in; I have had to record in a cupboard in someone’s room. We all have to go through this process. I carried on and thankfully, I am in a position where I don’t have to do that. To be honest, it is one of those things. If I had to do it again I would. Just do what you have to do in order to create because you don’t know where that is going to get you. It’s all part of the journey.
You don’t know where that’s going to get you. I’m pretty sure that I read that Mike Skinner from The Streets recorded his first album in his wardrobe in his bedroom. That ended up becoming a top-10 album. You never know what is going to happen. You’ve got to keep pushing, keep going.
At the end of the day, if it’s what you love you have to do it. You have to find meaning and passion in life. It’s not all about money. It helps obviously and you need it to live.
It’s not the be-all and end-all. Like you said, you need it to live, but you need to have happiness. Whatever that happiness is for you, you have to follow it.