Atlanta-based artist, Summer Walker, is all about the process of making music. Attention from journalists? Eh, whatever. Accolades and fame? Sure. She’ll take it if she has to, but she doesn’t strive for it. Instead, what Walker wants is the freedom to continue to make more music, to invest in the muse and simply write. Which is why her 2019 LP, Over It, is so aptly titled. Walker, who’s worked many odd jobs to support herself (including stripper, while also teaching herself guitar in off hours), has put in the time and made the sacrifices. Walker has also seen what a life without music at its center may lead to and she wants none of it for herself. Instead, she’ll continue to coyly and expertly write her songs, perform on massive stages (digitally and in-person, when allowed) and grow her passion. We caught up with the creative mind to ask her how she came to love music, how she found her band mates and why she always seems so in-charge.
When did you first find music as a young person?
It has always been in my life. My mom used to play old school music all the time when I was growing up – it was everywhere. That’s when I fell in love with how music made me feel. I connected to it deeply from a very early age. Just hearing music throughout my childhood just spoke to me.
What about it stuck, made you want to invest energy into it?
Soul music really did something for my spirit and made me feel good inside. How could you not be moved? Listening to what great soul singers had to say and how they sang it. To be so in touch with emotion. It gave me something to relate to and helped me express myself. It gave me confidence and understanding that I too could express myself through music and through my writing along with my musicianship.
When would you write and how did that lead to your eventual discovery?
I would write music whenever I was sad. That was my outlet. I wasn’t planning on calling myself an artist. I just felt compelled to write my thoughts down and they became songs. It just happened over time. Writing is my way of capturing my emotion. It’s a safe place for reflection for me and my way of expressing my sadness. I realized, over time, that other people connected with what I was saying. It was a natural progression for me. Every time I would write or perform, becoming a full-time artist became real.
You worked several jobs while also teaching yourself guitar on YouTube before your music became popular. Do you remember what you told yourself through that hard work as you were breaking through?
I didn’t tell myself anything because I wasn’t trying to be famous. I just used music as a form of therapy. I never approached music through the lens of being famous. It was always about the act of creating it for me. Music is therapeutic for me. No matter what goes on around me, I can just sit and write a song. Or sing. Or play my guitar. Just be in the music. I still struggle with that concept of the “fame” part. I wish it was just all about the music and not the other aspects that the industry requires. I love the purity of just creating.
Did working in a strip club atmosphere influence your ear, how you perceived music, how effective it could be – were you observing listeners in that way?
Nope! I was there for monetary reasons. That was my only focus there. I would not attribute that job to my approach to music. Like everyone, I had bills to pay!
The way you sing and perform is often low-key. But it’s also in-charge. Is that a dynamic you’re thinking about – or, how do you think about your style, cadence, energy?
I’m pretty much just a chill person so that follows me onto the stage, as well. Not much changes. I stay true to who I am. I always want to express myself by just being myself, I don’t feel the need to be someone I’m not. I feel very fortunate to have a team of people around me who respect that about me. They believe in my ability to create and share my emotions. So, every time I sing or when I’m on stage, it’s about feeling for me. I let the words come out the way they need to be in that moment and make a connection with my soul. So, I’m in-charge because I say what I feel. I put it out there.
When you write do you make concerted efforts to send messages about issues. Or are you more simply expressing yourself through your work?
I’m just expressing myself how it comes out. It’s not premeditated at all. I am free-flowing soul. I don’t plot it out. That’s just never been my way. I approach my art through pure emotion. I just say what’s on my heart. What’s in my mind. I don’t map it out.
You’re a very versatile artist – musically, visually. To what do you attribute that ability to shift or fit multiple places?
Thank you for your kind words! I don’t know. I don’t think I’m that versatile, but now that you say that, I think I just lean into who I am. I am an artist after all. So, it’s: how am I feeling today? Who do I want to be? I’m singing about heartbreak and relationships. I’m just moving through life and receiving the energy as it passes through me. I appreciate the sentiment!
How did you find your band mates and develop the creative bond with them?
I met them over time off of apps. Now, they’re my friends and I love them. I just wanted to make sure they all came from a Baptist Church so we could really capture that soulful sound. Not just anyone can do that. They help make me feel the music on stage. That deep soul where we can communicate without saying a word. It’s a feeling. It’s a deep friendship. You have to have that with your band. A soulful sound.
What was the process of writing and putting together Over It – exorcising relationships, past attentions?
A lot of the songs I already had written from past experiences. I collected those songs over time. The postproduction process involved me trusting [my producer] London to help put it together and do what he felt like would help elevate the sound. Writing, for me, is so personal. It’s who I am. It’s a solitary thing. The music and the words have to move through me. So, Over It is just a culmination of so many past experiences.
What did making the album open up for you – what are you inspired to do now, what can you do now that you maybe couldn’t or wouldn’t before making it?
Everything is pretty much the same. I’m a very simple person. It’s just about the music for me. I can say that making an album the way I wanted to, how I wanted to, with the collaborators I wanted to gave me the feeling of great creative freedom. Knowing that people connected to something I’m proud of that represents my true self is wonderful. If anything, I can continue on my journey of being someone who leads a simple life while I just share these emotions and experiences. I don’t have restrictions, which I know is a blessing.
Do you have a favorite moment, discovery or song – maybe Usher or the cover?
Wow. This is an impossible question to answer! Nope I can’t really pin it down. There is a vast treasure trove out there. A beautiful sea of music and inspiration. I’m just grateful for all of the music and artists that have inspired me over the years. All of those soul singers, those creators, who just lead by doing the work through music.
What do you love most about music?
The creative process. Making it. That’s it!