From Buried in Books to Behind the Bar, Solana Rowe Sings Her Way Out
For the longest time, Solana Rowe just wanted to be Lisa Simpson.
"She was so jazzy. She played the saxophone. She was an outsider," the 23-year-old musician giggles in a basement bar in the East Village, leaning back into a brick wall. She touches the pile of floppy curly hair on top of her head, and winks. "She had big hair."
Over the past year, Rowe and her big hair have created music under the name SZA, stumbling upon a spacey, modulated sound that crosses the swirling beauty of Purity Ring and hollow emptiness of the Weeknd. She's just released an EP, S, the first of three she'll put out in the coming months (the others will be named, yes, Z and A), and her latest single, "Aftermath," has already caught the attention of the tastemaking Internet, and has been featured on blogs like Stereogum and SPIN.
Not bad for someone who started making music only 11 months ago.
"My boyfriend's best friend was rapping and suggested I come to the studio and try something, and he was like, 'Just sing whatever's on your mind,'" she says. "Then it played back and it sounded fly."
Rowe, in a T-shirt and skinny jeans, has a big personality that bubbles over when she speaks. Her hands add to the conversation, landing on the table before her to help solidify certain points. She carries herself with a charming self-aware assurance, and is constantly joking. You'd expect nothing less from a vegan who writes lyrics about being made of bacon, like she does on the aforementioned "Aftermath." She's learned confidence over time, and reaching this point of ease wasn't simple.
Raised an Orthodox Muslim, Rowe spent the first 10 years of her life in St. Louis, Missouri, before moving to Maplewood, New Jersey. Her parents kept her sheltered, not letting her listen to the radio, watch MTV, or experience culture outside of their approval (an exception was made for The Simpsons, which her father loved). "It alienated me," she recalls. "It made me weird and uncomfortable, and I had freckles and all these things that made me awkward. I wore a hijab on my head and people would wonder, 'Are you bald under there? Do you have hair?'"
It's a lot to heap on the already simmering cauldron of teenage angst. She sought relief.