Trust in Alina Baraz’ sinuous vocal. The Cleveland-born and LA-based singer makes heart-tugging pop R&B, with a heavy emphasis on compelling imagery. Her first song, “Roses Dipped in Gold,” appeared in 2013 with her first EP Urban Flora—produced by electronic artist Galimatias—arriving in 2015. Since 2016, Baraz, 26, has been working on her debut album, It Was Divine, releasing in May. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: what a divine album it is. Baraz’ voice is twisty and engrossing. On the 6LACK-featured “Morocco,” Baraz’ gentle staccato gives way to a sweeping “Yeah, yeah, yeah” section existing for us to sink into. Elsewhere, on “More Than Enough,” Baraz delivers a gorgeous love song dotted with tickling harmonies and wavy production.
“I’ve always been image-based,” Alina tells me of her writing. “With each project, it changes. My first project, I wanted it to be extremely poetic and read exactly like a poem. My second project, I wanted it to be more conversational. With [It Was Divine], I wanted to combine both. I don’t want to say I romanticize things, but I do see things in the light I write about them, and I’m a super visual person, so it naturally comes out.”
There’s such a tender vividness to Alina’s work. Every love song on It Was Divine feels full. These are songs to which people will dance at their weddings. These are songs to which people will fall in love for all-time. For Alina, too, love is one of the most important emotions. As she explains, it makes her world spin. As she closes in on several capital “B” billion streams, though, she reveals to me that fame is not on her radar as much as impact.
“I have disassociated with all words like that, but I feel the love,” Alina tells me of fame. “It’s insane. The support feels insanely real. I can feel each person. In that sense, it feels real… I feel like the right thing to focus on is the support. I would not be here without the listeners. If I could impact one listener, that’s what means the most to me.”
Alina Baraz’ heart shines through in her music and our conversation. Alina, from her start at 19 to now, has come a long way as a singer to watch, to hold, and to treasure. Five years from now, Alina sees herself in the same position as she is in today: “Unapologetic about my work, and I never wanna compromise.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did music first come into your life as something you could do?
Alina Baraz: I’ve dreamed about it since my earliest memories. I just didn’t know when—I never questioned how—I would do it. Life passed by, and in a way, I distracted myself by doing things like college and things I was not passionate about whatsoever. Then my friend sat me down [and said], “If you don’t do this, you’re not gonna make it.” I needed someone I cared about to give it to me straight, and then I started when I was 19.
How, if at all, did your family play a role in your musical journey?
My mom played the biggest role. No one knew I could sing, so it was a surprise to my mom. I came home after my friend sat me down and [told her], “I need to move to LA. I can sing.” I was so nervous because I’d thought she’d be like, “Fuck, no!” Instead, she quit her job of 12 years, she sold her condo, she left another relationship—it’s crazy to me to think about…
I was reading that your parents are Ukrainian immigrants—mine are, too—how did being a daughter of immigrants impact your career? I find there’s a lot of pressure on us.
I have an unusual family [experience]. I was sent to private school, and I would listen to all my friends say, “Ugh, my parents are busting my ass to go to college and work a cubicle job.” I never had that kind of pressure. While I was growing up, I did so many things by myself, so I always felt independent. Overall, too, I’ve always been grateful hearing the immigrant story of how hard it was to even get into the US. That whole journey made me naturally grateful for how attainable everything is.
How did you find your voice as Alina Baraz?
I never—and I still don’t really—think about it. It just comes out, and it works the way it does. In the beginning, I remember growing up and feeling like I couldn’t sing. I was listening to these powerhouse vocalists, and I would try to emulate them, and think, “I fucking suck.” I discovered these tone singers, and I tried it. There was something beautiful in that moment when I realized there’s so much you could do with the tone of your voice.
Your debut album is called It Was Divine. What is the “It” in your title referring to?
I wanted it to be as vague as possible because, for me, it means so many different things. It has many meanings for me, but it was important to include the word “Divine.” It was a recurring word—it came out in my dreams, I saw it on signs, everywhere around me.
The big single for you right now is “Morocco” with 6LACK. How was working with him on the song?
We weren’t together in the studio for this song. I sent it to him, and I didn’t wanna say anything. I’m reaching out to these artists because I’m obsessed with their work. The last thing I wanna do is tell someone how to do what they’re best at. So I just let him do his thing, and I didn’t have any feedback whatsoever. It was effortless. I think it would be super easy if we were in the room together, just natural.
You’ve amassed billions of streams so far—does the looming fame feel real?
That word is so… I have disassociated with all words like that, but I feel the love. It’s insane. The support feels insanely real. I can feel each and every person. In that sense, it feels real.
Do you not care about fame, then?
It’s not that I don’t care for it, it’s just I feel like the right thing to focus on is the support. I would not be here without the listeners. If I could impact one listener, that’s what means the most to me. I make the music for myself, but I release it for the listener. It’s not for myself at that point. That means everything.
Your songwriting has a heavy emphasis on imagery. What’s your writing process like?
Thank you; I’ve always been image-based. With each project, it changes. My first project, I wanted it to be extremely poetic and read exactly like a poem. My second project, I wanted it to be more conversational. With [It Was Divine], I wanted to combine both. I don’t want to say I romanticize things, but I do see things in the light I write about them, and I’m a super visual person, so it naturally comes out.
It Was Divine is full of touching love songs. What makes love such a catching topic for you?
It’s one of the most important things in life, for me. Not even relationships, but any type of love. That makes my world go ‘round. That’s what I write about, what keeps me inspired. I do paint things, often, in ways I want to see them and not the way it is, sometimes. It’s not always what it seems, but I do often talk about love.
Thus far, which song has been most vital for you to write?
Writing “To Me;” I released it on my birthday. They’re my favorite words I’ve ever written. It’s different from any record I’ve written because I specifically wrote it to tell myself what I wanted to hear. I heard the beat a week before my birthday, and I promised myself, “I’m gonna write every single thing I wanna hear on my birthday.” I wrote it and [had] just left a toxic thing that day, and it took me to write that song, to do that. It’s close to my heart.
Who do you want Alina Baraz to become in five years?
I would like to say I just want to be in the same position: unapologetic about my work, and I never wanna compromise.