Tatiana Hazel is 21-years-old and a Chicago native. Her music though, is unbounded from time, genre or regionalism. Her recently released EP, Toxic, is an authentically dynamic project with huge ambitions. Seven songs that alternate between making you sing your problems away and facing them head-on. Toxic is as much about manifesting positive changes in one’s life as it is an earnest attempt at exhuming unhealthy tendencies.
I’m ten minutes late for our interview, but the young Mexican American artist isn’t bothered by my gaffe. In fact, she’s taken full advantage of the time. A self-taught multidisciplinary, she is sketching out a new dress on her iPad as I walk in. On top of singing, producing and writing songs —she’s also a designer. Any free moment is an opportunity for Hazel to work on one of her passions. Often she manages to consolidate the two worlds. Her EP’s release party held at the Apple Store on Michigan Ave. last month preceded a fashion show for her latest collection.
Raised as a multicultural individual in the internet age, the ability to shift between genres with ease is embedded in Hazel. Showcasing a plethora of sounds —ranging from big club records to more submerged production—and singing in both English and Spanish, Toxic shines through its multitudes. Her voice serving as the intersection between pop, dance, R&B and Latin records.
During our conversation, Hazel isn’t shy of making grand statements and her music reflects that. “Patience’s” electric guitar and thoughtful writing is an intense soundtrack to fighting personal demons. But the most touching moments surface when she’s reckoning with her toxic relationships, jobs, and behavior. “Doin’ Fine” acknowledges her dangerous tendencies while learning to love the self; “Imma Be” is part manifestation to be better and part exercise in self-accountability; while “Por Ti” gives love one more chance.
There are hours of footage of a teenaged Hazel doing covers and original songs on her YouTube channel, but she sees Toxic as her proper debut. It certainly is her most complete body of work and a great first step into a promising career for a superstar in the making. I met with Hazel in Logan Square to talk about the EP, the recording process and singing in Spanish. Read Below.
In Toxic, you confront a lot of past mistakes but also manifest positive changes, is that something you did on purpose
Yeah, totally. It’s super important to do so. Sometimes it’s like “oh I did a mistake, I’m never going to do that again. I’m just going to forget about it.” But for me it was more about taking all of those things and making them a part of me and carrying those things with me. It’s not so much “I would love to do this again,” It just influences future decisions.
I think it’s brave that you still have your old videos from when you were thirteen on the same Youtube page because when I look at a lot of my past work I want to delete it forever.
[laughs] I did too for a long time and then one of those songs was placed on a commercial and I was like nah, I’m keeping them.
But it’s also really cool to see your progression.
Exactly and it shows that I’ve been doing it for so long.
I also felt Toxic was very therapeutic, was that something you felt while recording it
It was, totally. The reason it was called Toxic, was because I was releasing all these toxic elements from my life.
Was it hard to confront some of that stuff
Yeah, it’s always hard. Especially because I know it’s going to be out there for everybody to listen to it. But the way I think of it is; I just deal personally and then people apply it to their own lives and make it something different.
You’ve already played a couple of shows and also have a headlining show coming soon, how does it feel preparing to play those songs live
It’s pretty cool. It’s weird because I already started writing for the next thing, so even though they’re newish they feel so old to me. So it’s weird, but it feels good to perform them live. It’s a whole other experience.
In one of your old videos you mentioned that you don’t write lyrics down, is that still something you don’t do or has your approach changed
I write them down now. I used to produce everything myself and I still mostly do. But now that I’m working with producers and recording in studios —I tend to write just because it takes so long to memorize it and play back. I only have these many hours in a session so I have to write so I can go record right away.
I was impressed, that’s like a rapper’s mindset. Speaking of your production, here you don’t shy away from big sounding records, what made you gravitate towards that?
I just really want to make pop music. My whole life growing up I was angsty, anti-pop. And then I realized that this music is really good. Technically good. And it’s the easiest thing for me to make.
I hear a bunch of influences in the songs but all they come from a wide range of genres —one of my favorite records is “Can’t Help But Notice,” because of its Latin sound. How were you able to grab a little bit from everywhere and put it together
It’s not even intentional. It’s not like I sit down and say “I’m going to make something that sounds like this.” I just sit down and make whatever I feel. It happens to be a result of everything I listen to. I’ll listen to some punk music, and then I’ll listen to some J Balvin or Bad Bunny and then I’ll listen to some Drake. It’s so different every second that when I sit down all those different things combine.
I enjoyed your ability to seamlessly sing both in Spanish and English in certain songs. I feel like that’s how most Latinos talk, but we didn’t hear that in the mainstream until very recently.
Yeah! I think it’s also becoming more prevalent that people who don’t speak Spanish are still listening to those songs. So I feel if I make it half and half, even if you only speak one of the two, you can understand half the song [laughs]. And also, I grew up in a household with two older sisters and we’d always speak spanglish. Always switching back and forth. It’s just natural for me.
That’s also very cool because, in Spanish speaking countries, you’re kind of forced to consume songs in English and in America I don’t see that as much. They’ll actually reject songs in Spanish because they can’t understand them.
Yeah, exactly. A couple of years ago, when I went back to Durango, every store I was going into had Rihanna or Taylor Swift playing. Which is fine, but it sucked that the things people were listening to couldn’t really mean as much to them. But now that I went back, it was cool because everything was in Spanish.
I noticed that your songs are pop, but the songwriting resembles Spanish ballads. Is that something that was self-taught or did you have somebody guide you through that
No, I learned everything myself. Ever since those youtube videos, not much has changed from that. I still pretty much write everything myself and I guess it’s just from the music I listen that I’ve caught on to those things.
On top of the music, you’re also a designer and I saw that your Apple Store release show also had a line that you showed. How are you able to multitask without sacrificing time for one or the other.
I feel like people always act like they don’t have enough time, but literally before you got here I had ten minutes–because you said you were going to be ten minutes late–so I began working on a design. If I can’t sleep, I’ll do three outfits. Yesterday, I had a free day and I spent seven hours working. I spend every day on music but in the few hours I have free I can get so much done.
You’re a key example of our generation and the power of growing up with the internet, teaching yourself how to do things and being more efficient by doing so. Were you able to connect with other people on the internet and how does it feel to have long-time passionate fans still commenting in your videos?
It’s cool! Because there are people that found my music then who now that I’m doing stuff they’re like “I’ve been there since day one!” and there are people that think right now is day one. And I’ve been able to connect with a lot of musicians and it’s cool because I’ll hear about someone and then I can just go and DM them to work. The internet is a huge factor.
Yeah, it’s interesting. Toxic feels like an introductory project, but there’s also a huge catalog behind it. Did you consider Toxic as a new era for you or a continuation of past work
It was a debut for me. Everything before was practice and I was just trying to find my sound. The production wasn’t really there. I never considered myself a producer until this project. So it was just loose singles and once the attention was there, I had to do something big so that was kind of Toxic. Even though I’ve been doing this for so long, it really feels like I just started.