INTERVIEW WITH AWA LEMEN
Awa Lemen is fresh off the release of her debut EP, Volume 1—the first of many expected to drop in 2019. Her sultry R&B sound creates a slow burn, making a strong debut for the singer. Her bubbly, warm spirit was evident when I sat down with her to speak about Volume 1, her life in France and how she ended up drawn to Toronto’s music scene.
How would you describe yourself to someone new to your music?
I’m a very passionate person. I moved from France 8 months ago to make music in Toronto. I record very independent. I do everything by myself. I record myself, I write my own songs and I make it. I would describe myself as self-made. I’m not there yet but definitely what I aim to be.
Where in France are you from?
I grew up in a small town [Rouen]. You know know Joan of Arc? She was actually burned in the city where I grew up! It’s not really far from Paris, it’s actually like an hour and a half, and then I moved to Paris like five years ago.
What made you decide to come to Toronto?
Yeah that’s a good question actually...the weather is driving me crazy! I was telling my friend two nights ago that I don’t think I can stay here because the weather is just...I’m getting depressed honestly! I came here in mid June and the weather was so hot and fun and I was like ‘yeeaah!’
But why Toronto? First of all I wanted to be in the U.S., so I was in California for a year. It was so cool, I was in the Bay Area, San Francisco, it was so cool. But the Visa to be over there was just so hard, so I went back to France, trying to figure out what I was going to do. But Canada has been in the back of my mind, like I always thought about it because I heard it was nice...unless the weather, you know! But the vibe and everything, and the music scene with Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR and Jordyn came out of all these places in Canada, so I was like yeah lemme go there.
What is France’s perception of Canadian music? Do they even know about us?
People are so into it. They don’t even know Toronto, but they love Toronto. But it’s probably because Drake is so famous everyone knows. Justin Bieber too, The Weeknd. So everybody knows the artists in France and they’re like ‘oh they’re from Toronto, Toronto must be so sweet’ and I was, like, the same so I was like ‘I’m going to go there.’ I knew it was going to be a vibe.
How have you liked the city since moving? Aside from the weather, obviously!
Yeah if we don’t talk about the weather, honestly it’s a really cool city. I love it. It’s quite expensive, I was so shocked. But it’s a cool city and what I really love about Toronto is that you have so many opportunities. There’s so many things going on everywhere.
In my hometown it was so small and nothing was happening there. Like nothing at all, fuck. I was like ‘oh my god, I can’t stay here.’
When did you start performing?
I’ve been performing for dance groups and when I was a kid I was doing some comedy. But with my music, I started to perform about two years ago. I was doing comedy, but I was like a kid—from nine years old to 12 years old. But my father was a musician and he had a group where they performed with dancers, from every age group. So I was dancing but with my father’s band. Then I was taking hip hop classes and I think that I first start writing songs when I was twelve years old. I think I was just not ready to put myself out in the world with my music, because that was really what was important to me. I was not confident. My friends were telling me, ‘girl you have a voice’ but it’s a thing to know you can sing, it’s a whole other thing to put yourself out there and make it. It’s just a whole process for me to say I want to make music for real, I want people to hear my music. So when I was really ready to share my music and actually make some beats and everything, it was about two years ago. I had to tell myself, ‘shut the fuck up and just do it!’
What artists have influenced your music the most?
Honestly, I listen to a lot of Aliyah. Always. Justin TImberlake, Destiny’s Child. Like all the R&B classic, Usher...I’m so typical. But sometimes I listen to some rock bands, like I listen to really everything. I discovered the Weeknd in 2011 and I really loved that album—I was like ‘oh my god, I want to make good music like that.’ I also really love Rihanna. Since Pon de Replay, I’ve been here for it. Everything she does, she does right.
I love the cover of your EP! So cute—is it you?
Yeah it’s me. I loved the attitude.
Why did you choose that for your cover?
I was looking through photos, having no idea what the cover was going to be and I was trying to find inspiration from photoshoots and stuff like that. Then I was in the photos from when I was a little girl and I was like, ‘ah fuck , I like that one.’ I had the crown like a queen, but like girl you’re five! I laughed and I was like yeah I feel that.
What was the inspiration behind the EP?
You know I had a lot of...like I said, the hardest thing for me was finding confidence about what I was doing and getting myself out there. So this EP is really about ‘fuck whatever they’re going to say,’ I know I’m worth it and I know I can do it and I don’t need nobody to tell me whatever.
Who produced the EP?
I work alone but a lot of producers send me their instrumentals through my email and sometimes I would get into it and sometimes I would be like ‘oh I like that one, I feel like I want to write on it.’ Then I do all the work. So a few different producers for each song, but mostly just me.
Where do you record? Do you go to a studio?
My bedroom. Everything is in my bedroom, every song you hear, is my bedroom.
What can we expect from 2019?
I’M GOING TO BLOW UP, BLOW UP! But really, I feel like I’m so ready for it right now. Honestly, when I think about a year ago, I thought ‘when is it going to happen? I’m going to put out some music,’ but honestly, I was not putting out as much as I’m putting out now. I need to be consistent. So a year ago I would say I want to grow up. I mean I wasn’t saying that, but I thought I was ready to do it. But when I think about it, I’m like ‘oh girl, you weren’t ready at all.”
But today I am ready. I can feel it, I can feel it in my bones! Honestly. So I’m going to be dropping an EP every month—until I grow up! Because I see it that way, the more music, the more potential for hits. The more fans, the more streaming, the more exposure—there’s no other way. So go get it.