What is the name of your new album and what is it about?
The name of my new album is “Alive”. Alive is a fairly eclectic album, although I would say it is much more political than the songs I typically write. It’s about so many things—there are songs about triumph, about pride, strength, love…and some of the songs are cautionary tales. I think it’s like a snapshot of what it means to be Alive—what it means to exist in a world that largely discourages true acceptance of people where they are, and what it means to live in a world that really isn’t just for everyone. I spoke a lot about how conformity informs the way we love one another.
This is your junior (3rd) album, what have you learned about making music?
I’ve learned that the music you make really does act as a companion to where you are in your life. My music has grown with me as I’ve grown. On this album, I felt like the lyrics were more important than the actual sound, if that makes sense. We’re so used to listening to music that has just been over-processed, almost like food….just engineered and sanitized to the extent that the nutrients are no longer there. When I was working on this album, I felt like I just wanted to get back the basics of really go lyrical music. Good music really is good medicine. A lot of people in the US are hurting right now, and this is a little medicine for that pain—but not the kind of medication, which encourages people to sleep. I want people to be awake.
I know that you’ve attended quite a few award shows, like the Grammy awards and the Emmy awards, and that you’re gaining visibility. What’s it feel like to lose privacy within your personal life?
I suppose that like everything else, it’s a doubled-edged sword. There are things that I’m intensely private about and when it comes to those topics, I often wish I could have a little more of a private life. Yet, in this culture there is a fascination with performers and we’re so often placed on a pedestal we don’t want or even really deserve. I have friends that spend far more time in the public than I do. I’m grateful that people are interested in me, but I want it to be about the music. That said, without my fans, I would be nothing. Really and truly—so I guess I have a complicated relationship with all that stuff.
If you could play one instrument that you don’t actually play, what would it be?
I think it would be pretty cool to be able to play a sitar.
It’s early in 2017, but there’s already a lot of Grammy buzz surrounding your next album, Julian. How do you feel about that?
I feel really glad that my music is gaining momentum; I am so happy about that. But that said, I’ve never been in this for awards. I’m in this because I love music, and I just feel privileged to be able to do what I love.
Who are your music idols?
Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel. There are too many to name. Right now, I love Jacob Collier. I have a tremendous respect for Beyonce—especially after Lemonde.
If you could be any kind of dog, what dog would you be?
I would probably be a Labrador Retriever, because I’m very loyal.
I know you’re a huge activist. What cause would you most like people to get behind?
There’s a website called DearAdoption.com and if you really want to be informed about the reality of adoption, you should check it out. My friend Reshma McClintock is really committed to educating people about adoption, and as an adoptee that is hugely important to me. We need to change the adoption system so that adoptees needs don’t come last anymore. I’m adopted and I feel like agencies and the general public need to listen to what we’re saying about our life experiences, draw upon that wisdom, and create better options for people.
You’ve said over and over again in interviews throughout the years that you’re a music purist–and this is about the music. Would you say that you’re anti-fame?
Maybe for myself I’m a little bit anti-fame. I just think we’ve gone too far with that as a society. Ever since auto-tune came out, I think many young people want to be widely known more than they really love music. Music is hard work! Light songs are nice, but I think I’m just afraid that we’ll end up with an industry that is just about selling sex and has lost a sense of all the other important things we can write songs about. Music is supposed to really reflect our internal and external conflicts. There are so many things happening right now with the Dakota Pipeline, with Immigration, with climate change. I think that we should be talking about these things and singing about these things. The older generation would have put it to music.
Who inspires you?
There are many sources of inspiration in my life. I was deeply inspired by Maya Angelou who I met before her death. My grandparents were a huge inspiration to me. Malala is a huge inspiration for me. I’m most inspired by people who are awake and active. I’m inspired by people that are involved and invested in their lives and in the fate of our world. Those people inspire me. Anyone can sit on Facebook and complain, but people who are actually putting their feelings into action—we need more people like that. I like people that really understand that we’re in this together—regardless of the country, or nation—the human race shares one fate. When one of us loses, we all lose. We need to learn to love one another.