Erika Tham Embraces Her Sexuality on the Smoldering “Shhh” [Q&A]

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Photo: Yoshi Uemura

Erika Tham is only two singles into her musical career and has all the au courant credentials for pop success: a pivot from acting career with the corresponding eye-watering beauty, a team of co-writers and collaborators (Deion Gill and Major Myjah specifically on this track) who punch out pop gems with routine aplomb, a soft and sultry vocal range built for singles, and most importantly, a tongue-in-cheek irreverence that makes all of her immeasurable talent approachable. 

On her second single, this rising R&B raconteur lets all of those qualities come into play, and we wanted to get the inside scoop on what makes "Shhh" worth speaking up about.

Ones to Watch: Who is Erika Tham, the artist?

Erika Tham: A songwriter, a performer, and a young woman with A VISION BABY! Hahaha. 

How has your upbringing and acting career influenced your music career? What made music feel right to you?

I think I reached a point in my acting career where I realized that creatively I was really at the mercy of what scripts and characters were available to me, and as a young ethnically diverse woman, unfortunately there still isn't always a lot to work with. I'm a creative at heart so at times it felt a little disheartening, but I realized that that wasn't the case when it came to making music. I've always loved to sing and perform, but once I discovered songwriting, music became all I wanted to do. I could write and sing whatever I wanted to, and it didn't matter what I looked like or where I came from. That was freeing.

What is your new song "Shhh" about? Other than you deftly steaming up the other side of the screen.

Hahaha thank you. The song came from a conversation I was having with my good friends (and the co-writers of "Shhh") in Atlanta about how someone can be so cute and then ruin it for themselves once they start talking. We were just laughing and sharing stories about times we'd experienced this, then someone said "Shhh" over the beat playing in the background and we ran with it.

What is your songwriting process? You have some heavy hitters on your team; how do you control your voice and narrative?

I usually like to start a session with just open, honest conversation because I've found, oftentimes, that alone is plenty to inspire and organically start a song from. When it comes to songwriting, my favorite people to work with are those I also have close personal relationships with because I think it creates an environment that's ripe for the most honest, real, and vulnerable songs. I'm just really lucky that those friendships happen to be with such talented, accredited people whom I share great mutual respect for. When I'm writing alone though, I'm usually on my piano and I start with the music. I generally will just start with a progression that feels in line with whatever I'm wanting to talk about in that moment and then the words naturally come from there.

What are some of the worst dates you’ve been on? Does the strong silent type play for you?

Lately they've actually all been pretty great, but I do have one horror story from a couple years ago. At the end of the date he went in to kiss me, only to realize that the gum he had tried to spit out of the Uber we were in earlier (ew) had actually ended up in my hair and created a GIANT knot. We were both mortified and needless to say the date did not end with a kiss… poor guy. Yes… I think I find myself attracted to guys who aren't trying to prove anything when they're conversing. Confidence is sexy and I think true confidence is quiet.

How did you go about stylizing the video? It has this backstage cabaret vibe. Was that deliberate?

Patrick (the director) and I were very excited about the idea of juxtaposing the fantasy and glamour of cabaret, with its ability to also feel like the backdrop of a horror movie. We felt like that contrast fit the mood of the song perfectly. We had found and fallen in love with the location first and then built the styling (hair, makeup, wardrobe etc) around it.

Should we take any Freudian cues from you standing in front of a chef with a knife? Tell us about the direction there…

I just loved the visual of me singing such a tongue-in cheek song to a tatted chef who's twice my size and holding a big knife because of the unexpected power dynamic that creates. In the song, I'm saying things that I probably never would in real life but have definitely wanted to, which to me feels fun and empowering and that's the energy I wanted to capture in these shots.  

Can we expect more of this style (sonically and visually) from you in the future? What should we be on the lookout for?

"Shhh" is part of a three-song EP that I'm releasing in the first half of this year. Sonically, all three songs live in a very similar world because I wanted to implement traditional Asian instrumentation into this project, but framed in a modern pop/R&B structure. In terms of what's next after this EP though, I really think the best is yet to come and I'm SO excited for people to hear what I've been working on.

What’s inspiring you right now outside of music?

Love lol. It's always love…

Musically, who is making all the right moves that inspire you? Who are your current Ones to Watch?

I think The Weeknd had the greatest album rollout of 2021. He created and committed to such a strong, clear, cinematic world that I think we'll all look back on as a significant moment in pop culture. He took it to a new level and really set the bar high… I'm so excited to watch what he does next.

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