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On 'flora + fana,' Fana Hues creates an ecosystem of self-sufficiency

Fana Hues' sophomore project, <em>f</em><em>lora + fana</em>, is out March 25.
Randijiah Simmons
Courtesy of the artist
Fana Hues' sophomore project, flora + fana, is out March 25.

Fana Hues has an acute sense of self-awareness. You can hear it in the way she sings about showing compassion to herself. Her forthcoming sophomore project, flora + fana, opens with: "I found myself in the bottom of this Moscato / Can't see no day ain't no tomorrow." But instead of drowning in those sorrowful feelings, Hues immediately self-soothes her dark thoughts with therapeutic optimism — a lyrical style that the Pasadena artist introduced on her 2020 debut EP, Hues.

Last year, Hues was featured on Tyler, the Creator's Grammy-nominated album CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, an experience she describes as "divine order" for her career, on the track "SWEET /I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE." She didn't understand the impact the collaboration would have on her career until she saw hundreds of people singing along to her lyrics when she performed the song with Tyler, the Creator at a show at The Roxy Theatre last year. She says Hues was an introduction to her music for her then-intimate audience, but flora + fana, out today, is her real, "formal introduction" — and thanks to that feature, she knows more people will be listening.

The 11-track project is a meditative exploration of how Hues builds a dynamic system of self-sufficiency while trudging through self-discovery and heartbreak. She understands the intensity of those moments, but on the project, she cultivates a blossoming internal terrain that has what she needs to heal while reminding herself that, with patience and care, she'll be OK. On "breakfast," a soulful single backed by psychedelic beats that punctuate its somber lyrics, Hues croons about feeling remorseful about initiating a breakup while acknowledging it was the right decision. "pieces," an upbeat, groovy track, finds Hues accepting that she's settling for less than what she deserves in a situationship: "What do I believe in," she sings, "the light in your eyes or the dark I see?" Hues credits her emotional literacy to her musical family — Hues is one of nine children and performed in a family band — and listening to soul-baring artists like Anita Baker and Chaka Khan growing up. Her skills were later sharpened at Aim 4 The Heart, a nonprofit where she learned to write songs and use music as a creative outlet for her emotions.

The diaristic, reflective quality of flora + fana makes Hues a highlight among current R&B newcomers: "I really wanted to create this ecosystem that reflected my needs and my wants in my real life," she says. She spoke to NPR about this ecosystem, self-care amid budding fame and how she positions herself in the R&B soundscape.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NPR Music: What was the creative process behind flora + fana and what headspace were you in at the time?

Fana Hues: This project was different because it was the first time that I had gone into the studio knowing that there was going to be an audience receiving this [music] and listening. There was a little bit of — I don't want to call it pressure, it was just a new note for me. Before, when I would make music, my music was like a journal — which it still is to this day. [Now,] I know that people are going to be reading this journal, so I wanted to make sure that the messages came across as clear as possible.

When I first signed my deal [with Bright Antenna Records] and moved back to Los Angeles, one of the most important things for me — it wasn't to get a car, it wasn't to get a new wardrobe, it was to get a house. I needed to be in a home and to feel safe, and I didn't want to be sharing walls with anybody. My privacy is very important to me. So when making flora + fana, I was basically creating that world for me.

You seem very compassionate with yourself in your music. Does that come effortlessly for you?

I had this acting coach when I was 21, 22. She would always ask us if we're aware of how we affect each other, and I feel like that's been following me. It's been something that I've asked myself. ... It's not easy. It's something that I'm still working on, with trusting myself and knowing that in the end that everything will be OK. I mean, it comes and goes, but at the end of the day, I do know that I'll always have me, and I want to make sure that the me that I have is someone that I want to be with.

"high roller" seems to mark a shift in the album where you sound the most compassionate to yourself. Was that intentional?

Absolutely. I want everything to be a complete story; I want every project that I work on to be a complete thought. I start the project with "moscato," which is so reflective because during the pandemic, I was drinking more than I had ever in my entire life. I wrote it because I was talking to myself, and it was thinking: OK, this is getting a little out of hand. My relationships weren't that good with my friends. I felt like I even forgot how to be social without drinking. I was like, alright, I need to get a handle on it. And then I ended the album with "wait" because I wanted to showcase me being patient with myself. Everything that I put out is reminders for me as well. I'm going to fail sometimes, but that doesn't mean I fail at life or I fail forever. There's nothing that's unredeemable for me.

You paint vivid images in your lyrics in songs that are only two minutes long. "wild horses" is a great example. How do you do that?

When I'm writing a song, it is always about wanting the instrumental to be cinematic. It's the singer's job to relay these big emotions in super succinct moments. It's our job to talk about all these things that are so deep and that can completely engulf people or engulf us, but also make it within these three minutes, or these less than two minutes.

As a rising R&B musician, how do you think your sound fits in with or stands out from today's selection of artists?

I have so many soul influences in my music. I do feel like the music that I make is R&B, and then some.

And R&B is commonly critiqued for being a dying genre...

Popular music is R&B music, you know what I mean? A lot of people who are in pop pull from R&B, so I don't feel like it'll ever be dead. I don't think that the current state of R&B is in disarray or in distress. I feel like R&B is very strong. It always has been.

flora + fana has a distinct earthly theme. What made you choose that for this project?

I felt like you need to tend to your own garden. We as Black women, especially, don't do it enough. I don't do it enough. Sometimes I feel like I am being selfish by taking care of myself, so it's something that I'm trying to unlearn. Because it's true — if you're not taking care of yourself, you can't take care of others.

How do you tend to your own garden?

It's hard for me, because I do come from such a big family and there's always a need. I just always want to put myself in a position to help and so in doing that, I often forget about me, but I've been trying to remind myself like it's small things.

I have a song on the project called "dayxday." That is my reminder to take everything one day at a time and not carry so much because, truthfully, I'm not even able to fully help and be available to those that I love if I'm not taking care of myself. It's also about taking care of myself, like, taking care of my skin, taking care of my body, taking care of my mental, so that I can be the best me for my nieces and my little sisters who are looking up to me.

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DeAsia Paige