Aquarius, released this week, may be Tinashe’s first proper album, but she’s far from a rookie in the entertainment game. The 21-year-old singer got her start early as an actor, appearing in Robert Zemeckis’s CGI Christmas flick The Polar Express and the Bob Dylan-starring surrealist sci-fi project Masked and Anonymous before being recruited at age 14 to join a manufactured teen-pop group. That may not sound like a very auspicious start for a serious music career, but she says it was valuable nonetheless. “I think I learned a lot being in a situation where I wasn’t necessarily able to create music that was totally true to who I was or to present the person who I was,” she says over the phone from her home in Los Angeles.
If anything, her time in The Stunners helped give Tinashe a good idea of what she didn’t want to do when she struck out on her own. After the group split up in 2011 she started working on solo material in her home studio, sans record contract. “When you’re part a group,” she says, “it’s definitely a group effort, creatively. When I wasn’t signed to a record label I was free to make my own decisions. I definitely felt the need to create stuff on my own and just do things and make my own decisions and just put things out there. It was a really important step for me because it really opened the door so that now I have so much creative control in my art.”