The Source Magazine sat down with Sevyn Streeter where she discussed co-writing Ariana Grande and Mac Miller’s smash “The Way,” working with Chris Brown and her debut solo album.
Many people know Chris Brown’s new artist and breakout Atlantic Records signee Sevyn Streeter, as the singer who has such radio hits as “I Like It” and her newest single “It Won’t Stop.” But she has been a part of our iPods for much longer with writing credits on Alicia Keys’ “New Day,” Chris Brown’s “Fine China,” and most recently Ariana Grande and Mac Miller’s new single “The Way.” Her ability to write hits for so many artist seems to be magical. We caught up with the beautiful Sevyn Streeter to see exactly how she does it all and what she has in store for her debut album.
Sevyn, you are originally from Haines City, Florida. How does a Florida girl make it to the top of the charts?
Just a lot of late nights and early mornings, and a lot of perseverance. Honestly a lot of being deliriously tired, but you just keep going. But, the way that it actually happened, because I’ve been singing forever…I always say one door leads to another. And literally it was a journey from TG4 (Tomgirls Forever) to Sevyn Streeter signing to Atlantic because I’ve been in two girl groups. And I’ve been writing a lot. I started off writing for Chris Brown about four years ago and that just developed and turned into a whole other life of its own. And he’s been a blessing, Tina’s (manager Tina Davis) been a blessing, and we’re at Atlantic Records now and they’ve been a blessing, so it’s been quite a journey. The songwriting part has a lot to do with it….because I feel like it kind of started there with me working and writing with Chris.
Chris Brown and you shared the same management when you were in the girl group RichGirl, but how did you end up meeting and working together?
Tina Davis managed RichGirl, and we met Chris through Tina. And one day we actually had a session at the same studio and I just asked him, “Hey, I heard you’re about to go write. Do you care if I come write?”, and he was like “Yeah, I going to come get you”. I remember being excited, I told the girls “Chris said we could write”. And just like he said that he would, he came out and said, “Hey, we’re about to start, come on” and we went in. And honestly, the rest is history. I remember that night we wrote a record called “Smile & Wave”, which RichGirl actually ended up cutting, so that was pretty cool. I just remember writing more records with him and then I went on tour with RichGirl. We toured with Beyonce and did a couple of other tours. And by the time we got off that tour, Chris was in Orlando recording “Graffiti.” And I just remember asking him, because I live 20 minutes from Orlando, I’m from Florida in Haines City, so I’m like “Hey, are you writing and do you care if I come and write?” and he was like “Yeah, come on”. Me and the girls would be on tour, I think, for maybe 4 or 5 days out of the week. And the rest of the days when we were off and I was in Florida, I would go to the studio with Chris and try to write for “Graffiti.” And that went on for that whole album cycle, and I didn’t even get one placement on the album, but I just learned so much. I got to get a really good sense of him, what melodies he liked, and what he liked to sing about, and his vibe. And probably about a year later when it was time to work on “Fame,” I was in LA, and again he welcomed me with open arms to the studio with him. And him, Kevin McCall, and I were writing a lot together, and that’s how I started writing on “Fame” with him. Because if he went to Miami, me and Kevin went to Miami with him to work, if he went to New York, me and Kevin would come to New York to work with him. And that’s how placements on “Fame” and “Fortune” came about. But, it’s been nice, I still get excited when I talk about it, because I just feel like…it didn’t have to be that way. I’m just appreciative it turned out that way, I really am.
And what would you say are your musical influences?
Definitely, church. I love singing the Clark Sisters, Yolanda Adams, and I love Kirk Franklin so much. Me and all my cousins, we had a family gospel choir and it was all teenage kids. And it was called Eryk Anglin and the Voices of Praise, and you couldn’t tell us we weren’t Kirk Franklin. We had matching silver platinum looking shirts or at one point we had FUBU jerseys. And we used to march into church, and we were dope. I loved being in it. Church is a huge inspiration to me. I also love people who put on great shows, too. Obviously, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson, and Beyonce. They just give you everything. When you go and see them you feel like they’ve exhausted every ounce of their being and left it out there on the stage. Like if you only knew how much I watched Beyonce’s DVD’s or Janet’s concert DVD “Live In Hawaii”. I’m so influenced by them.
And you mentioned the two girl groups you were a part of, the first being Tomgirls Forever (TG4) and RichGirl. Was there ever a time during your career where these different transitions, from groups to management, discouraged you?
You know how when you’re in school and the teacher gives you busy work and it’s not real work, but you’re still doing something? I feel like God never let me feel like I wasn’t doing anything in my life. I’ve always felt like, “OK, I’m in this situation, this is great. At least I have something.” And I loved being in my groups, it was fun. I mean, you’re with three other girls all the time; it’s like having built-in friends and I got to do what I love. So, from situation to situation, I didn’t feel like I was going from place to place, it just felt like, “Hey, I got a record deal today, that’s dope”. You know what I mean? And that’s kind of how I live my life. So, I never felt like it was situation to situation, I was just happy to be in a situation.
And we got to talk about your writing. You’ve written so many hits from; “Strip” and “Fine China” with Chris Brown, “Gone” with Kelly Rowland, and Ariana Grande’s single with Mac Miller “That Way” is now platinum. How did the move to songwriting come into play?
I don’t even know. Honestly, I know it sounds so crazy, but it’s just like you grow into something. And I like to credit a lot of the writers that I’ve had the pleasure of being around because I wasn’t born knowing how to write, just like you’re not born knowing how to ride a bike. So, when I was younger I didn’t say I wanted to be a songwriter, but I’ve just had the privilege of being around some really dope writers and I learn from them all the time. From getting placements on Chris’ albums and people don’t realize, but he’s a really dope songwriter. He has this freedom when it comes to his writing. And being able to work with Alicia Keys, the way that she cares about what she writes. She likes to get lost in it. So, songs like “Strip” and the Ariana song, and working with Harmony (music producer)…I think it’s about surrounding yourself with great producers and great songwriters. And when that happens, the stars kind of align, it’s like magic. It really is like magic. It doesn’t happen all the time, you can write a bad record, but you just get in there and throw something against the wall and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t you move on, but those records have been blessings and I’m very excited about them. I can talk about the Kelly record forever.
How was it writing and recording “Gone” with Kelly Rowland?
Recording with Kelly didn’t really feel like a session. For one, we are both really country. When we first got in there we were just staring at each other because we were both like “This is like staring at my sister”. It was so crazy, because we kinda look alike, we talk alike, and she’s just so freaking great. We just had so much fun. It was her, myself, and Courtney Harrell, who is a freaking phenomenal songwriter. She is absolutely amazing. So, we were just in there, and having conversations, and it was just great. Harmony, who did my single “I Like It”, did the “Gone” single. But the spirit in the room was just great, those sessions were so much fun, we just had a really great time and she sounds great on the record.
And how did writing “The Way” for Ariana Grande come to be?
The record was originally for Jordin Sparks. So, Jordin, myself, and another incredible writer named Al Sherrod Lambert, wrote that song together. And Harmony again, who is just killing it right now, did the beat. And that was another really fun session. We just knew, the second Harmony started playing it, it was reminiscent of that feeling you had when it was the last day of school, and it was summertime, and the sprinklers were going. That’s just my vision for it, it just feels so good. I actually was on the road when I heard that Ariana Grande had cut the record and I was like “Oh!”. Because I knew of her, but I looked her up and she had like a trillion and something million followers on Twitter; she has a huge fan base and those kids love her, so I was really excited and happy about that. Then I heard the record and I was like, “Woah, she can go. She can really sing”. She definitely brought the record to life and she definitely did the record justice, it sounds great.
How was the process for your own single “I Like It”?
I actually heard the song in my head while I was driving. So, I called Harmony and told him I had this idea, and I was singing some of it over the phone, and asked if we could create something. This was about a year ago, and it was a year before the song came out when we finished the song. But he was like “Yeah”, so we went to the studio and I was kind of singing the chords I heard, and beating on the table to show him the drums that I heard. And he took that and ran with it, because he’s Harmony and he’s a little genius. But man, that record was really organic. We literally sat there and built it from the ground up; from my head, to his keyboard, to the drums that he brought in, to the vocals we put on it. And another session, I came back and did the bridge and all the harmonies for it. And we just built it, brick by brick, and I’m just overjoyed with the way that it came out. It’s a baby, I feel like it took 9 months to make it.
And now you have your second single on the radio, “It Won’t Stop”. And that’s a very smooth and sexy record, how was it created?
I did that record with Diplo and Free School and a writer named Micah, who is really freaking dope too. See, that’s what I’m talking about, I love being around dope songwriters, he’s different and super dope. But, with that record, the beat came on and we were just like “Oooooh”. When it comes on it’s like you get lost in a trance, so we just flowed over it. And I just remember it popping out like, “I love when you pulling up in your Jeep…”. And it just felt good, it made you want to tell a story to it, like you wanted to paint the picture of how it made you feel, or at least I did. And I definitely took from some of my own life in that record, that I get teased about till this day, “Like pulling up in your Jeep, Bumpin’ all your beats”, I mean that’s definitely from my real life, but it just feels really good, I hope people like it. And it’s going to radio this upcoming week. Can’t wait for the video, because every time I hear it I picture what I want it to be like and my choreographer Rhapsody is freaking amazing, she is gonna kill that video. I’m pretty sure we will be doing a video sooner than later.
You mentioned you like to pull for your own life, is that where all of your writing comes from?
A lot of the times I do and if it’s not my life, it’s probably a friend’s life. Like we joke all the time, “If you don’t want to hear it in a song, then don’t tell me about it. Because it will definitely end up in a record”. But you get inspired by everything, I believe that art inspires life and life inspires art, they go hand in hand. I can watch a movie, I can read a book, I can go through something personally, or I can watch you go through something, and then get in the studio and get inspired by those different places.
And now that you have two great singles, what is the album looking like? Any tentative release dates?
We don’t have a release date yet. But, I’m really excited; it’s just coming along so well. We just have some really great records. I’ve worked with some dope producers like Da Internz, and The Runners, obviously FreeSchool, and Pop & Oak, and Harmony; just a lot of really great producers and dope songwriters. Like Eric Bellinger, who is like my brother, love me some Eric. Also Courtney Harrell again and Micah on “Won’t Stop”. I would also love to have a record with Chris on the album, so that might be something that you might hear. And it just feels good. I honestly can’t believe I get to make an album. Like to be all the way real, sometimes I wake up and I’m like “I get to wake up and go to the studio and make an album for a living”. And that’s just dope, so I’m so appreciative about my album. And I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. I love me some crazy drums, chord changes, stuff you can dance to, stuff that you can grind to; there’s gonna be some of everything so I’m very excited.
And you mentioned Chris Brown, is there anyone else you would love to work with on the album?
I would definitely want to do something with Miguel, I love Miguel, he’s dope. And we have some really dope artists, especially male artists like I freaking love B.O.B. And you got Wiz Khalifa and Trey Songz, and Ty$ whose my boy, I really mess with Ty. So, there’s a lot of artists. And of course you have your Chris Brown, and your Usher, and your Beyonce; but they go without saying. I mean who wouldn’t love to work with them.