Two and a half years ago when singer/songwriter Sabryna first moved to LA at 21-years-old, she had just realized college wasn’t her thing. She knew that she wanted to do music, but she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do to achieve her goal after taking such a big leap. It wasn’t the first time Sabryna made the jump to a new location. Before attending college in Boston, she grew up in New Zealand. A proud ‘Kiwi,’ she gives credit to her roots stemming from that island nation for her outlook on life and her love of music.
“I grew up in like a surfers town. It [was like] very beach vibe-y: a lot of reggae music, a lot of old music. So, that’s kind of what the environment I grew up in was like. And that’s probably why I had such a love for R&B when I was growing up, it’s part of that,” she describes her coming up. Being surrounded by music and real instruments, Sabryna learned guitar as her very first instrument and took up a little piano while focusing more on singing.
Before releasing her latest single “Try It,” Sabryna’s previous music on her Youtube channel included “Don’t Move” and “Young Sexy Cool.” “I think for those songs—I wrote them about 2 years ago—that was just sort of an idea at the time where we just really wanted to talk about how women can be in a relationship and how sometimes we can be a little ‘crazy’ and over analyze stuff. I kind of wanted to make fun of that,” she says about the unconventional plot of the videos.
The videos exaggerate the portrayal of women in relationships, but even though it’s satirical in nature, there’s also an honesty to it, “I know I have been like that at times in a relationship so it just sort of became this theme and those two songs really reflected that.” Where she was in life at that time also influenced the songs and videos. She mentions that around that time she had just gotten out of a relationship and found her music reflected that. “But since then, I think my music and what I talk about has gone in a different direction just because my life is always constantly going in a different direction,” she adds.
While some songwriters tend to write better when life is going well, others tend to write better when they have to vent about something happening to them. Sabryna admits that she’s definitely the latter. “It’s almost like I have to write, [I] just gotta let it out, you know what I mean? It’s like a diary entry or something when you write a song about it,” she says. Describing those songs as some of her best ones, she explains that songwriting in that state also helps her emotionally, “When I’m going through something and I go into the studio and just write a song about it, it feels like a release, you know? Whereas when I’m in a happy state, sometimes it’s harder for me. It’s like I have writer’s block or something. I feel like I have stuff I need to get off my chest, you know?”
It might also help that some of her biggest musical inspirations include soulful voices with something to say. Sabryna realized she wanted to be a singer by listening to strong female vocalist when she was younger. “I grew up listening to a lot of R&B soul music and a lot of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. They were powerhouse voices and I remember just wanting to sing like them and I tried to copy all of their riffs and vocal acrobatics. I just wanted to sound like them and I think that’s when I realized I wanted to be a singer and really work on my voice and make that a career for me,” she explains.
Her current music now is described as ‘pop with a strong house and R&B influence,’ but growing up Sabryna planned on doing what she knew: R&B and neo-soul. “That was just what I fell in love with. That was my introduction to music; that was honestly what I saw myself singing and I really got into it when I was in college especially. My musical taste was so out there, I was listening to Brazillian jazz and all types of things. It was really when I got to LA that I really started to pay attention to pop,” Sabryna admits.
“I was almost a little anti-pop and I sorta grew to pay attention to what was on the charts and top 10 and Billboard. I started getting in the studio with more pop producers and that really was when I grew an appreciation for pop music and realized just how hard it is to write a pop song. It sounds so simple but it’s so much to it and it’s a real art to that simplicity and it’s not easy.” When Sabryna realized the challenge that comes with trying to write a pop song, she was hooked, “I became obsessed with that; trying to write an amazing pop song. So now, I tend to write more pop music than anything else, especially when it comes to writing for other people too. It’s almost like a chase for me, I want to get a song on the top 10 like I have to do it.” But even though her music gears more towards pop, she’s trained her voice to have an R&B-ish sound so it’ll always carry.
When it comes to writing a pop song, however, she shares a little tip about the rules of writing in a genre that has no rules, “Pop just really means popular so it’s all about less is more sometimes. Especially when it comes to melody and lyrics and keeping it real and honest instead of trying to come up with all these crazy metaphors and stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes you just gotta keep it raw and honest; that’s the stuff that people tend to connect to and relate to the most. So, I always try to keep that in mind.” When it comes to making pop music, Sabryna explains that less is more which includes the production, “What makes pop so great is that it is so simple but there’s a beauty and a relatability in minimalism if that makes sense? So, the trick is kinda getting the knack of that, I think.”
Her latest single, “Try It” is an example of this. With an upbeat yet subtle beat that puts you in a positive and fun mood. “I started working with producer Hannibal Hector and it was like a four bar loop and I was just playing with this idea,” she begins about where the idea came from. “We wanted to have a concept that was kind of like really rhythmic and had this fun summer vibe so we came up with this whole idea of using the opportunities of life; not letting a moment pass you by. That’s really what ‘Try It’ is about and what ‘Try It’ is rooted in. We just wanted to take that idea into a fun, summery record.”
Wanting to make something that embodied summer, Sabryna pictured a song that listeners would listen to while driving in the car with their windows down. And with a music video for the song in the works, she promises that it’ll be released very soon but can’t share details for what we can expect just yet.
Meanwhile, listeners can look forward to her next single ‘Be the One’ which comes out soon. “It’s definitely different to ‘Try It.’ It’s got a little Caribbean flavor to it production wise and I really like it. I think the fans are going to be pleasantly surprised,” she says with excitement in her voice. Following the release of that single, Sabryna has hopes to release a 5-track EP in September that comes about 6 months in the making, “I worked with on producer, Hannibal Hector, and two songwriters and it was just the four of us. It was so much fun too. My favorite time was that solid block of time just writing and being in the studio. It was the most fun for me. I wish it could be like that all the time.”
Sharing a little bit about what listeners can expect from the EP, she tells me that there are definitely some autobiographical lyrics on the EP. And not only are there some autobiographical lines but the EP, in general, gets personal.
Last month, Sabryna got the chance to perform at LA Pride which she says was one of the most fun shows she’s ever done. “The crowd was so enthusiastic and supportive and just giving me so much energy and love when I was on stage that I just had a blast when I was up there,” she recalls the day. “How it came about was one of my good friends, DJ Wizard had a set during the show. I had wanted to perform at Pride but we hadn’t gotten the arrangement done and it wasn’t going to work out. I was so disappointed and he called me and was just like, ‘Hey if you wanna have a section of time during my set you’re more than welcome.’ That was so generous of him.” Performing ‘Try It,’ afterward, she was able to engage with audience further; meeting fans and taking pictures.
As for the message she’d want to give her fans who in the LGBT community? She couldn’t stop gushing about how they’re some of her favorite fans. “They’re just some of the most loving and supportive and sweet and kind people that I’ve ever met,” she says with excitement in her voice. “No matter what people say about you or judge or whatever, none of that really matters; it’s just ignorance. Just know that you’re worthy and special and valuable and God loves you and that’s all that really matters.”
Learning to grow into her own person was a process in itself for Sabryna. Finding that balance between having a social life, a family life, and a career is something she says she’s still learning how to do especially as her her music begins to take off, “It’s an ongoing thing, I don’t think you ever fully conquer it. I would say for me, my cousin growing up was a really big part of why I wanted to do this and why I wanted to, I guess, really build that strong connection to my younger female fans.” Completely aware of the eyes on her (and the potential for so much more), Sabryna doesn’t have plans on taking it lightly. “It just sorta seemed like a natural thing and I felt like in a way I could probably help them or inspire them or, I don’t know, be some kind of guiding light for them in my own way; just setting an example, you know? I know a lot of teen girls look up to me as a role model and I don’t like to think of myself as one because I feel like it scares me a little bit, but I know that that probably has a truth to it,” she explains with passion in her voice. Later, she adds that she hopes to one day go back to the college she attended in Boston and teach a workshop that’ll help young girls.
When it comes to handling this responsibility, she looks at the world in an optimistic view, “I would say I try to just live the best life that I possibly can each day, but it is an ongoing thing and there are struggles and tough times and often things don’t go the way that I plan them, but I know now that there’s always a reason for that: a purpose for every struggle whether we realize it at the time or not.” She advises that in times of trouble and struggle, remember that everything happens for a reason and to make lemonade out of any lemons that life gives you.
This outlook on life wasn’t something Sabryna always had. In fact, at first, Sabryna found herself struggling with her public image before finding comfort in honesty. “I definitely used to feel the pressure and I definitely don’t anymore. And I’m really proud of that,” she says confidently. “Once you take that pressure off and you just kinda do what you want, it’s like the biggest relief ever and it’s like life becomes so much more enjoyable—and my art is enjoyable too because it’s me.”
“I wish there was a certain thing that happened that helped me with that, but it was just a process,” she explains about how she got over that pressure. Thanks to surrounding herself with good and supportive people and learning how to drown out everyone else’s opinions in order to tap into her own, she was able to figure out what worked for her as a person but also as an artist striving towards success.
Being her true self isn’t just for the media, although she expresses that it’s important to give audiences credit for their intelligence; rather than sell fake images and personas, give them the truth, “They see right through it and I think we don’t give audiences enough credit in that retrospect. So, I’m trying to be authentic as much as possible because I know they can see it if I’m not.”
In order to establish a closer connection to her fan base, Sabryna allows her fans to text her, something that she admits she was originally a little hesitant about, but that she is grateful for doing. “It was probably one of the most impractical things I’ve done in my career and I love it. I legit have these real conversations with fans and I get to know them. They tell me about their lives and ask me advice on stuff some times and send me pictures and it’s really fun,” she says with excitement. Along with texting, Sabryna also interacts with her fans on the app Live.ly and through calling on the phone. She admits that one of the reasons she’s able to do this now is because her fanbase is still small and growing, but that she plans on continuing interacting with her fans in intimate and personal ways no matter how far she goes.
“Luckily, I was born with parents who are super supportive. Like, they let me do what I wanted to do and I think they believed in me too, luckily,” Sabryna begins when I ask her about how her upbringing helped shape her into the mature, outspoken, creative and confident woman she is. With the help of her parents seeing her talent and supporting her every step of the way, she explains how grateful she is to have parents that supported her dream, “I see so many people who don’t have parents like that and that sucks when your parents expect something of you and that’s not really what you wanna be and your heart isn’t in it. I can’t imagine what that must feel like so I got really lucky. Even when I wanted to drop out of college they supported me so that was really cool.”
Repping her place, she also gives credit to New Zealand for giving her the freedom to live her life, “I think just living in New Zealand and the childhood I had; it was just laid back and relaxed. It wasn’t a lot of pressure going up—you could just be who you wanted to be. I think that’s definitely helped shape me as a person and go after my dream.”
(photo cred: Shawn Artero)
(hair stylist: Gui)