For the past two years, H.E.R. has had R&B lovers of all ages completely under her spell. Making music with the moniker Having Everything Revealed, the singer-songwriter doesn’t just write love songs—she seamlessly chronicles the range of emotions that are attached to the complex experience from every angle. The 21-year-old is a Cancer sign which can explain why her music comes off as “super emotional,” but her body of work represents the stages of growth that she has endured throughout her ongoing journey of womanhood. There’s strength in allowing oneself to be completely vulnerable with someone, and that’s the kind of power that can only be harnessed from within.
When H.E.R. reflects on her past, she recalls how her family fully supported her love for singing from a young age and often documented candid moments of her in the element—there’s a tape recorded of her singing the nursery rhyme “London Bridge Is Falling Down” when she was four years old. “I sang it in a way that had rhythm, and I made a song out of it and my aunts are in the background backing me up,” she says. “That was the very beginning, when they recognized that I loved music and there was something in me that was calling me toward music.”
Buzz around H.E.R. started swirling after the 2017 release of her dreamy duet with Daniel Caesar. Even after all the breakout success around “Best Part,” the mysterious musician continued to suppress her identity from the public eye and quietly pushed out a pair of self-titled EPs on RCA. On her latest project I Used To Know Her: The Prelude, H.E.R. wanted to “show a little bit of a progression and elevation, and showcase what’s to come.”
The six tracks capture some of her IRL experiences while on tour last year and serve as a preview of what fans can expect on her next full-length album. She adds, “I got all that inspiration from the road and all the stuff’s that been inside of me just ready to pour out and the prelude came together.”
Highsnobiety recently sat down with H.E.R. to get a better understanding of her artistic development and dive even deeper into the feelings that consume her heart. Scroll down for the honest and unfiltered conversation.
I know you’ve been writing pretty much since forever, starting with poetry and the little songs, but what really steered you into the direction of becoming a singer-songwriter? When was that moment?
I don’t think there was a specific moment. It’s just always something that’s been natural to me. I always did covers, I always learned songs on piano, I always learned songs on bass and drums and guitar and keys. I really just loved to write. [At] five years old I was writing little silly poems and then I started competing in school with spoken word. My mom used to write down titles for me and then challenge me to write songs for them and I did. I understood song structure so it was always something that was practiced, always something that was exercised, and it was my way of expression so I feel like it was just part of me my whole life.
Going off of that, how have they reacted to you becoming an internationally known artist and seeing the success happening?
Yeah, they’re super proud. I don’t think it’s fully hit them. I don’t think it really fully hits me when I get the accolades, because I’m just doing what I love, but they’re just so happy that I’m able to do what I love every single day. And they really trained me and prepared me for this life, and we hoped for all of the things that I have now. We hoped for and prayed for it, and now that it’s happening, it’s just confirmation, so I’m grateful for them.
I read that RCA signed you and then you had four years to develop yourself?
I was signed at 14 and it’s hard being signed to a label. I would come spend two weeks in New York and then go back home to go to school. I went to regular school and stuff, but I really took the time to develop.
It wasn’t a specific time, it wasn’t like, “OK, you have X amount of time.” It was when I’m ready. I had to figure out myself and what exactly I wanted to do. What was my message? It was never a point where I wanted to change up anything, it was that I was creating exactly who I wanted to be, and you’re not the same person at 13, 14, 15. I’m 21 [and] I’m not the same person I was yesterday so just feeling like, “OK, now it’s time to put myself out there and see what happens” organically. I have a message, I have this collection of songs that represent this period of time, let’s just put it out.
Thinking back on those years, I can’t imagine if people saw the things that I even cared about when I was that age for the public to consume. Obviously, a lot of your songs are about love, heartbreak, loss and putting the pieces back together. What have been some of the most valuable lessons you have learned from your past relationships?
More so situationships. Relationships, situationships…
Thank you for calling it that because that’s what I’ve been saying for the past year! People are always like, “I’ve never heard that word,” but it’s a thing.
Yeah, well when you’re young, is it really a relationship? I would say the biggest thing is listen to yourself. That’s the biggest thing because I think most women, we have intuition. We always know what we always want to find out. We always want to be wrong, and we hate when we’re right at the end of the day. People say we love to be right. That’s not true. We don’t like to be right, because usually we know when it’s the truth, because the truth hurts. The truth hurts a lot, so I think I’ve just learned to listen to myself. We still make mistakes. I still make mistakes, but I’m never going to make the same mistake. I’m never going to repeat the same mistake and allow someone to diminish my value and what I think is best for myself, because then I look back and there’s all this wasted time on something that shouldn’t have been. I guess I just am constantly reminding myself to listen to my intuition and trust myself.
I’m 25 and I still feel it’s so valid. You have to constantly tell yourself that.
And emotions can cloud your judgment sometimes. You have to learn how to separate the two, how to get back to yourself.
Can you talk a little bit about the album?
It’s definitely going to have pieces of Volume 1 and Volume 2, of course, but it’s definitely more organic, more musical, more open. Volume 1 and Volume 2 was specific to a certain time in my life. It was specific to a certain kind of darkness, and I think this prelude is definitely extremely emotional, but it’s more pieces to the puzzle of my perspective that I’ve created up until now. I’m 21-years-old, and I’ve experienced a lot of things being on the road, with other people, meeting other people, meeting relationships, whatever it is, I used to know HER is my perspective, and where I am currently at in the things I’ve been thinking about and going through, and so it’s going to be that collection of stories.
It’s really amazing that even with people not knowing a ton about you in the beginning stages that you’ve managed to clearly show it’s about the music. It’s about the sound, and all that other noise doesn’t really matter. The fact that you can even have your own identity, doing what you want to do.
It’s so important to me.
I think it’s awesome that you even were able to have a separate moniker and do your own thing and not necessarily even need to be on social media which is so hard to have the separation.
Yeah, it is. I’m on social media, I don’t follow anybody, and I try to keep up with the times just enough, but not enough to where I lose myself, compare myself, or get lost in those thoughts. H.E.R., the idea of and the concept of H.E.R., is really just my inner self. A lot of people say, “Oh, is it separate? Is it somebody else? Is it your alter ego? What is it?” It’s really just my inner self because I say all the things that’s sitting in back of my mind. Now I realize it’s in the back of other people’s minds because they relate to the music. It’s all the things that are extremely deep within my heart and my mind, and those are all the things that I think about and say. This is them both.
It represents me, who I am at this point, so it’s important to separate my younger self and everything that came with being signed at 14 and that has to do with my past. I’ve moved forward. We all grow up, we all talk about the past, and sometimes it’s hard to see your little sister grow up. It’s hard to see anybody younger than you that you’ve watched grow up. It’s hard to accept them as they are when they’re older, so this is just my way of getting away from all the stuff that doesn’t matter and just live in the moment – right now what I feel and what I want to say.
I want to talk about your collaborations with Daniel Caesar and Bryson Tiller. What have those experiences been like?
It’s been dope. I’m surrounded by a lot of creative people. I think music is amazing right now, because R&B is so prominent, and there’s all these artists who are really bringing back that authenticity and that substance in music, and just doing what they love. It’s not about all the glitz and the glam. Everybody’s not golden. I go on stage with track pants on. I just love the culture and where it’s at.
I’m very chill with how I present myself, and there’s so many people who are also chill and just want to create good music, and it was so dope meeting Daniel Caesar, and we just met that day. We weren’t even supposed to really have a session. We just met that day we worked, and we were just talking. Talking for a while, and it organically came out, because he had this guitar and I had mine, and we just were vibing.
But Bryson’s super dope. We were on tour together. It was only right. I really want to work with J Cole. I really want to work with some other legends, like Stevie Wonder. I just think it would be really dope to have collaborations with people that I look up to and that I’m inspired by so I’m excited for the future.
I feel really touched that all of these really amazing and young black artists are thriving and also coming together and putting out beautiful art. I was wondering, what are your thoughts on intimacy and vulnerability in the romantic sense? Through your music, a lot of feelings are being expressed and conveyed, but I feel like even with our generation, we’re almost out of touch with them in some ways.
I guess we’re so busy being on our phones it’s rare to have really good conversation, or it’s rare that we… I don’t know. It just depends on who you talk to. I feel like sometimes we just have to put our phones down and learn to smell roses and learn to enjoy each other and the company of each other, and not think about folks being with each other and snap chatting every single moment, in a general sense.
But romantically, it’s important to be comfortable and not overthink every single moment. Social media romanticizes relationships and makes it this perfect thing. You see people, relationship goals and this is how it’s supposed to be, and that’s not reality. Just because you posted about your relationship, and just because people post their relationship doesn’t mean that it’s happy or that they’re loyal. It doesn’t meant that. You know what I mean?
The main thing is put your phone down and just enjoy each other’s company, and that separation of ‘are we talking? Are we dating? Are we? What is this?’ Sometimes the lines are blurred, but as women we need to be more direct and not settle So I have the freedom. You can’t give a man the freedom. You can’t give anyone the freedom to find loopholes in what you’re comfortable with and how intimate you want to be with somebody, how exclusive you want to be with somebody.
I wish I’d known that when I was in college. I went from high school thinking “OK, everyone dates and as soon as a guy likes you that’s your boyfriend,” to having to learn what hookup culture is.
I don’t know how to give myself to a stranger.
Me neither, that’s why I can’t do Tinder.
I don’t know how. I can’t.
Going back to speaking your truth, when do you feel like you are your truest self? In what settings, environments or moments?
When I’m my truest self? When I think about being my truest self, it can be in the studio. That’s definitely the place, but when I’m by myself it’s in the house and it’s probably 7:00pm. It’s that moment right before the sun goes down, and it’s kind of dark. I reflect a lot when I’m by myself and I’m alone with my thoughts, in bad ways and good ways. Sometimes it’s dangerous to be alone, but I guess when I’m reflecting, like I said, that’s my favorite time of day. I love to write at that time when the sun is going down.
I love when it’s raining, and I’m looking out over downtown Brooklyn, and it’s just so much inspiration around, outside my window, even walking around, but the studio. The studio and those moments that I have the time to reflect, and I have the time to think and have those realizations of what I’ve learned in my growth and finding those moments to be proud of myself, and sometimes those moments where I doubt myself, and accepting, ‘I’m not okay today, but tomorrow is going to be different.’ I haven’t figured it all out. I haven’t figured out what the next move is. That’s where my true self is.
I know you’re probably constantly writing as things come to mind, but do you find that it’s better for you to work that way and then you go to the studio when you know you have something, or do you have to set up sessions and focus on doing the writing then? How does it work for you?
It can be that way sometimes. I’m constantly writing stuff, and I get distracted so easily. I have to sit down and focus, especially since I’ve been so busy, but I like to talk a lot. I talk to the producer. I talk to a writer. I like to talk sometimes when I create, but it depends. I write down stuff all the time. I have to focus when I write a song. I have to really focus, otherwise I write it in fragments. As a creative person, my creative process is not one way. It’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s a bad thing, I guess, but it’s not one way. It’s very free.
In terms of completing projects, do you know when it’s done or do they have to throw deadlines at you?
It’s never done. It’s never done until it’s out. I never stop until it’s completely out. Volume 2 was something completely different, and then two weeks before it dropped, I wanted to put “Avenue” on it in replacement of another song. Yeah, there’s never pressure, deadline pressure. Just because I’m always creating, and I have so much music. I hope it stays that way. I always make time to make music. I’m never going to put out something where I feel like I settled.
Most people have an A&R, one person. It’s their project together, and the way that my team works. My manager Jeff, he’s a beast at sequencing, and we all work together. Everybody on my team, we just work together, like what feels good, what feels right. Let’s make a great project that we can have people listen to, and they don’t want to skip. There’s no skips on it. There’s no album fillers. Let’s just make a great body of work, that’s the goal.
You’re always wearing sunglasses so I was wondering what are some of your favorite shades that you have in your collection?
It changes. I have phases where I wear one pair of shades. I found these, they’re goggles, at Nordstrom Rack. I love Ray-Bans, but I don’t want to exclude any brand. They’re just whatever. Gucci has really dope glasses.
I’m surprised that brands haven’t come to you.
They have. It’s about the right situation. I want to do my own thing, and it’s my thing, so whatever I do has to be extremely special and not just like, “Oh a little campaign here.” It has to be something where I have creative control. I want to do something that’s totally me.
I really respect that you have so much control over your image, music, and the whole package. I feel like that’s often lost when people are first coming up and then get that big public recognition and attention.
It’s important to take it. I’m just really thankful for my team and the foundation that I have, because they embrace me. They give me the freedom to be who I want to be, and I don’t ever feel boxed in. And when I do, it’s really up to me to say, “No, this is not what’s happening.” When you do, and that’s the thing with artists, and sometimes we’re tripping, so you also need people around you who are going to tell you, “You’re bugging out.” You can’t let outside influence come in and try to change stuff and make you feel like, “Okay, maybe I need to be doing this.”
You can’t look through other people’s windows and compare yourself. You have to stay on the path and focus. When you’re in a race, you’re not looking at the people next to you and behind you. You’re looking at the finish line, and so that’s important to keep those people who are doing that for you, and the rest will follow. The rest just happens. It’s just about not letting anything take away from who you are and who you want to be and your true self. Stay true to yourself.
What keeps you grounded, aside from the other people on your team, in your life? What helps you to stay focused on what you’re doing?
It’s difficult… I guess what I believe in. The things that I believe and how strong my beliefs are, and the things that my parents raised me on, even just my moral compass. The things that I will not allow distract me. At the end of the day, if anything takes away or can risk me not being able to do what I love to do every single day, then it’s not for me. It’s not worth it. I’m not willing to sacrifice anything for my situation. I’m sensitive about my art. I’m sensitive about my look and who I am as a person, and I feel so deeply about everything so it’s just about being a boss. You know what I mean? It’s about being a boss and reminding yourself, “I’m the best in the world at what I do, not what anybody else does. I’m not trying to be better than anybody else or the person I was yesterday,” so I just keep those reminders.
The title I used to know H.E.R. is really just me getting back to my younger self. I was young and fearless when I started music. It came naturally to me, and it was something I loved to do, but I had no insecurities. I wasn’t thinking. I was just a kid having fun, and the next day I would be on the playground, playing with other kids and not thinking about the next move. I’m just playing. I’m being a kid, and it’s about keeping that fun, that youthful mentality of “What do I have to lose?” And there’s no reason to try to be anything else or to be afraid of failure, and all those shots that you don’t take. I could be in college, taking a midterm right now. There’s just so many things that contribute to this blessing that I have that will keep me focused.
What else do you have going on?
Acting. I love acting. It’s always been a low-key passion of mine. It’s really dope. I love a lot of things outside of music, but that’s one thing that I’m trying to get into and find the time for. I’m starting a foundation. I can’t really talk too much about it, but I’m giving back. I’m starting these initiatives with different brands and different people now that I’m in a position to help people. I’m starting to take control of that and really give back.
For more of our interview features, read our chat with the incomparable producer and multi-instrumentalist Dâm-Funk right here.