It’s been more than five years since Jorja Smith released her last album, Lost & Found, and within that hiatus, she’s transformed a lot.
The Walsall, United Kingdom native, who moved back to her hometown recently, has grown out of being a teenager, took some much-needed rest and reflection, and centered herself in the midst of where it all began.
At 18, Smith uprooted from Walsall to London to pursue music full-time, and while it helped spring her career forward heavily, she only partially felt comfortable among the constant hustle and bustle of the British capital. It’s helped her, in many ways, focus and return to her innovative and provocative bag with her new album.
On Friday (September 29), Smith is slated to release her new LP Falling or Flying, which is a culmination of the experiences she’s had through the pandemic, romantically, and simply the fun of being in her mid-20s. It’s a collection of moments in a way – moving around from excitement and promise to pain, despair, and the random occurrences of everyday life.
BET recently spoke with Jorja Smith about Falling or Flying, the hiatus between now and her last album, collaboration, and how excited she is to get back in front of fans after a relatively long passage of time.
BET: You moved from London back to your hometown Walsall this year. What was that transition like and how do you feel it’s helped you gain perspective, if it has?
Jorja Smith: I feel like I needed to come home for years, but I feel like a lot of my friends moved to London. I didn't drive, so going back home was just long. Why did I want to go home? I was in the city doing the album and I'm just realizing, Oh, my God, I dreamed of being in the city, but I made all my dreams back in Walsall. So I miss home and I'm actually such a small-town girl. I just like the stillness. I feel like moving back, I've been able to have lots of balance like actually have a balance and have a bit more of a life like I'm not so in everything. I can separate work, and then come back here and just have nothing to do with the crazy side of things. I love it. I really missed it. But yeah, when I passed my test before lockdown to drive – because I failed the day before I moved to London when I was 18 – and then passed the test and then started just going back home more, and then I realized that the distance is not that far when you drive, and you have more freedom when you drive.
BET: Musically, you released the song and visual for “Try Me” in April, which was the kick-off to this whole Falling or Flying season. The song is so powerful but I love the video as well as you sort of play this matador character in it. What was the inspiration behind the song and video?
JS: So the song was kind of about the fact that I have a lot of eyes on me and opinions. So the song was just basically about that. And that's really the main thing that's changed in my life. Before when I used to make songs, I literally would just play them to my mom and dad, and some friends, not even many friends. And now it's the whole world and it's not even about the music. It's more about people's opinions of me as a person, what people have to say about me.
Amber who directed the video, she had this whole treatment on the matador and when she first heard the songs, I didn't tell her what it was about. She heard it as like a love song, although she did say she found it hard to find the meaning. But I think it's because she was listening to it with the idea of it being about love. But in her treatment, she had this big stage and amphitheater and that drew me in because the song kind of is about being on stage and in front of people, and I can't tame people's opinions. I can't take control over these uncontrolled opinions, which is metaphorically the beast. Then when I told her what it was about she was like, “Oh my god, now this makes sense.” And we just reworked the treatment.
I feel like I'm still figuring out what I like to do and videos and stuff, but after that, we did “GO GO GO” the day after. That video is not stripped back, but I literally have one I'm just myself. So I think I prefer doing videos when I'm myself, not really a character or if I'm playing a character it's not too dissimilar to myself. So that's what I've learned from this process of filming videos.
BET: Yeah speaking of “GO GO GO”, it’s your most recent single and kind of that more indie song. You’ve described it in the past as sort of a “f**k you” song and you see in the video with the keying of the car on your way out from someone who betrayed you. Talk about that one a bit…
JS: Creating that song, me and my friends DamDam, we had been making music and we just got stuck. And that was their song. And one of them was like, “Arpeggio to ‘GO GO GO,’” and they played it and I was like, I love this. So we rewrote some of the lyrics but not too many, just to tweak some, but it was just a lot of fun. I feel like the song is fun, despite it being a bit of a like a f**k you song. It's just fun, and I want people to have fun and just sing it in their cars, in their houses, just let go. Basically, I think it is a bit of a letting go song as well.
BET: With “Little Things” too, it’s like sort of how to connect with someone romantically or what is someone’s “love language” or the attributes that attract someone to another person. It seems so simple. Where did the inspiration behind the song come from?
JS: When I was making the song, there were drinks flowing, I'd made about three drinks, we were having a party in the studio, but it was a vibe. I come upstairs, and the beats playing – the drums that's playing. And there was a red vibe in the room, and when I walked into this room I imagined being at a party. Kind of as I was singing this song, I was imagining being in a party and seeing someone in a doorway, like in the video, and looking at them and feeling like I’m wanting to talk to this person. I'd seen them before – this was what I was imagining – I've just been out at a party, arrive somewhere, sweaty clothes, music banging, and you see someone that you've been seeing and want to try and talk to them.
BET: What I got from this album in general is a lot of mixed emotions. It makes you want to dance, and laugh, but maybe also be reflective and even cry in some moments. Was this sort of a reflection of sort of the vulnerabilities of life and how they can take over in a way?
JS: I feel like that's how I want you to feel from the album. I want you to feel like you can dance or you can cry or you can laugh or think or feel. That's all I ever want. For you, you obviously enjoy it, but also feel something whether it's happy or sad, or think about the past or future.
I started recording end of 2021, start of 2022. That's when me and DamDam would link up all the time very spontaneously. I'd go to the house or go to the studio, and just jam, talk, laugh, watch stuff, eat food, make tunes. And we just went from there, only had a few songs. The last song on the album. That was always the last song on the album. They agreed, and then we had these three other songs, which we just had in this folder that was album songs.
BET: You kept the features to a minimum on this album (just J Hus and Lila Iké). What is your attitude in regards to collaborating with other featured artists in general?
JS: In the beginning, I had ideas of other people I wanted for certain songs, and then I finished the songs and didn't need anyone on. But then things came back, J Hus came about naturally, he came down to the studio. DamDam played the song. I wasn't gonna play in the song, they played it and then he went straight in the booth, and then Lila Iké, I always thought about her being on that song. I sent it to her and she was down. Then she came to the UK. It's great making friends when you do music too. So that was a gift and it was her birthday as well, and it's called “Greatest Gift.” So it was perfect.
BET: When you began your career you were a teenager and now you’re in your mid-20s. Do you feel that moving into maybe another chapter of your womanhood has helped you gain more perspective and you’re more willing to express yourself more?
JS: I feel like I'm growing up. So this album to me sounds like growth, but then my next album will probably sound like growth and this album will sound like what I was like at 26. So right now, I'm stepping into my womanhood, who I am. I'm more sure of myself and the songs are more about what I'm going through.
BET: I feel like you’re more willing to try new sounds, new ideas, and you’ve experienced more life within that 5-year gap between Lost & Found and now. Do you feel that way as well?
JS: I’ve been experimenting with sounds [for years]. I've got so much music that's not out that I’ve had since I was 16. So my album Lost & Found, they were just songs that I was obsessed with at the time. I was like, Yeah, this is an album, but we had loads of different types of songs on our hard drive that just probably will never come out. So I've always been experimenting and listening to so many different types of music. But with this album, I feel like if you listen to Project 11, and then Lost & Found back-to-back, I think everything's just the next chapter, there's more of a certain sound or less of a certain sound. Lost & Found was quite slow. That's where I was then, and that's what I love to listen to and sing.
BET: In general, what does it feel like to put out an album after a hiatus, one which includes the pandemic?
JS: I can't wait because I get to do all these shows. I can’t wait until they hear it and have it in their ears or in the car or in the houses wherever they want to play the music. And then actually be in front of you, and see how the songs make you feel? That's my favorite bit as well.
BET: Yeah, speaking of that, this fall you’ll be celebrating the album with a series of concerts in the UK…
JS: Can’t wait. It's my favorite thing. Making music in the studio and being on stage are my favorite things. So I just can't wait and see what songs people know the most lyrics or their favorite or get the most cheers or things that might surprise me. Yeah, it's exciting.
Pre-save Jorja Smith’s Falling or Flying here and listen to it when it drops on Friday (September 29).