At home in America, during Black History Month, Tianna Esperanza officially released a song she had been carrying with her for little over eight years, performing and working on it as she went. Lewis follows the life and story of Lewis H. Michaux, and signals just how Tianna feels at this moment in time. She felt that now was the right time to officially release the track for many reasons.
“I liked the full circle of things, of having it be my debut single in a way, on a label and with the proper marketing behind it. And, you know, of course, it was Black History Month in America, so it was appropriate.”
“I feel like it was the best choice to release that first and kind of show that I care about storytelling. Not necessarily if it's about my story, but I believe in stories that matter.”
As someone who cares deeply about storytelling, the track switches between spoken word and song. It truly is a full circle moment that has led Tianna to become connected to Lewis’ entire family. Sitting down with Tianna, she speaks about the track as well as the importance of her lyricism.
How do you feel now that this song is out?
I feel grateful and excited. It's been about eight years since I wrote it, and I've been performing it out and working on the song for years. But now that I'm signed with BMG, having their support behind it, and getting his message out, has changed the trajectory of the song. And now I've been connected with Lewis H’s entire family, and they've all reached out, and you know, none of that happened when I was playing it out just in my hometown, of course. So I'm just so excited at how many people have been excited about the song, you know?
it’s quite a contrast to the other song that you have on Spotify, Gypsy. Is that a purposeful switch you're trying to make?
It's a mixture. I'm an eclectic listener, and artist. And we've been working on songs that all have very different sounds, so that's a sneak peek into what's to come. And, you know, Gypsy was something released really not that long ago, but it is a transition I would say because it wasn't produced in quite the same way. I wasn't on the label and I have been working with a lot of musicians from New England and from my hometown and I have mainly been working with a trio, as a trio with a violin.
With Lewis in particular, even though you have had this song for quite a while, how did this song come into fruition? Where was point zero of this song?
I watched a documentary called Black Power Mix and I saw this man Lewis. H Michaux reciting a short poem of his. That poem, I drew the song from, and I really wrote the song about him through that poem. And much of the chorus, and the first two verses are kind of paraphrasing that poem. And then I offer in the third verse my thoughts about his words. And so I think that was point zero. This was definitely very lyrically driven. But, right, from, you know, listening to the words, I went to my guitar, and I played a baseline on the first string of the guitar, and I just wanted to do more of a spoken word, because that's how I heard it, really, and then it grew from there.
How important is telling a story to you? Do you always want to say something in particular when you release a track, or is it all dependent?
I don’t necessarily feel I have to say anything in particular, but I do feel it's of the utmost importance to me to say something. I think, even if it's fun, or if it's not necessarily, it doesn't always have to be serious. But I've been told the role of an artist and a musician is to be true to the feeling, true to the story and the emotion, your emotions and the emotions of others. And whether that's anger or joy, or some sort of sincerity about race, like Lewis, then you pursue that and be true to that feeling. So for me, lyrics are probably the most important to me in a song. I think that you can have a great beat, but the song doesn't have much depth in my mind, or value, and I know that might be a strong statement, but I like music that feels important and worth my time.
Would you say that this track was cathartic in that sense, releasing a song with such heavy themes of race and class and where it stemmed from?
Yes, I've noticed, at least in America that, you know, because I've been singing this for eight, seven years, and the George Floyd passing was a transition point for America. And through this song, I noticed the receptiveness of this song, pre George Floyd to after. And it was kind of painful, because I thought people were listening to me, and then I realised that they really weren't. That happened, but it has been cathartic to be listened to and to be heard, not that I wasn't at all before. But it's been a huge transition. And now of course, to have more people hearing about my music because of signing with a label and having a publicity team like Lucidity, it's been more than I was hoping for. And yes, it's definitely been cathartic because I'm seeing people connect the dots to timeless themes, really, at least the American timelessness of the themes, the connection of the Christian Church and the Catholic Church, in connection to oppressing minorities, as well as violence and gun violence. Every year it grows into an even more prevalent topic, so I'm grateful that Lewis can grow with the world and continue to have something to say, because Lewis H. Michaux was a prolific writer.
Would you say that these are themes that you want to keep writing about? Or are you writing about them as the inspiration hits?
I think it's a mixture of both. I would choose to write as the inspiration hits, but I also would say, as a multiracial woman, that the inspiration always hits because this is my life. And this is what I experience every day and Lewis discusses the issues in some ways. He doesn't say it exactly, but there's lots to be taken, there's lots on the table for us to be taken from all those words and different paths of thinking about whatever he meant. And one of those, at least I thought about more critically, was about colourism. And absolutely, this is part of my experience, you know. I've always discussed that in my music in different ways, I'm sure for the rest of my life, you know. I like to follow all the different parts of me. And it's not just race, but it's also a part of my story, and it's important to me to share it because I know I’m not alone in it.
And how would you say your life has influenced your music in respect to what you gravitate towards? I know that your grandmother is a punk artist, but you don't make punk music, so how did you gravitate to the music that you make today?
I like to think that the music that I've been writing has a punk attitude. And I could say that there may be themes of punk coming on these next few songs, but we'll leave it at that. And I love all music. And going back to what I said earlier, if a song moves me, then I love it. And I've found that in every single genre. My grandmother is very passionate, and she's a writer, so I feel like I leaned from that the most. And what I tried to do is focus on the story. I don't always write lyrics first, but often I do think about the story. And then if that means that rock song sounds better with the feeling, I know how to embody that because it's a part of me, you know, I know that music as well as I know jazz and I know blues. I feel like "why do I have to choose? Why do I have to choose exactly one genre?" I love it all and just finding a way to mix it and blend it and and sometimes stick to the roots of it. You know, it's all part of the fabric of me.
Is there a particular type of music that influences you when you make your music, or any books because you love stories, or TV shows or films that you think about when you're in the studio making music?
Yeah, I like that question a lot, I'm definitely a listener. I'm one of those writers that sits and just listens to all these people, and I get my inspiration from people, from TV shows, I'll hear a good friend say something really prolific. I'll be like, "Oh, by the way, that's mine." And I'll hear my little cousin say something so ridiculous. And so funny, like, I love words, and I love the way they, they have like colours and feelings for me. And when they go together, kids will do a lot of juxtaposition because they don't really understand. I feel like as adults we just talk in this way because we know the language in this specific way.
We put things into boxes when we grow up.
Exactly. And so with kids, like they will use the word, you know, 'apple' in the same sentence as 'painting' or something, and they'll do something random like that. And I like to listen to that. I love watching sitcoms or TV shows, maybe even like really bad soapy TV shows, but they'll occasionally be one article of wisdom that the entire show is hinged on. I like to pull from all of those different sources but stories are a big part of how I listen. And I would say also in terms of listening to artists. That's why I love hip hop, and that's why I fell in love with folk, because the words are always more important sometimes within the genre. You know, some genres focus more on the sound and feeling. At least my interpretation of rock was you want certain cadences and drum beats to get that feeling. I definitely have specific places I'll go to, to get my inspiration, but overall, I take from anything.
And how would you say Lewis, sets the tone for what comes next?
Since this is my debut single, it sets the tone for who Tianna Esperanza is. And I hope that what that shows is that I'm a writer, I'm trying to be as thoughtful as possible about my stories and my lyrics and my words. Whilst I'm 21, I value and try to move towards very mature and sophisticated art, at least in my mind, I like to pursue that, as naturally as possible. You know, of course, I'm going to talk about themes and things that are probably Gen Z specific, but at the same time I have a lot of influence, and I feel I have an old soul in some ways. So I felt like Lewis was a nice starting point.
I hope that people know how important it is to me to be raw, to be vulnerable, and I just want to be thoughtful about that when I write as well, while at the same time, of course, being honest.
Lewis is available now.