Since the release of her two self-produced mixtapes in 2018, Chelsea Cutler has been on the rise. Her debut album How to be Human will be released January 17, 2020. Within those two years, Cutler has written and produced hit after hit, gaining over 750-million streams and 30 cumulative weeks on Billboard’s charts. How to be Human will be Cutler’s first album released since signing to Republic Records in early 2019. I had the opportunity to speak with her a week before the release, and she opened up about her writing process, the hidden difficulties of touring, and how she’s grown over the last two years.
We are officially one week away from your debut album. What are you most excited for?
I’m really excited to tour it to be honest. That’s probably what I’m most excited for, to play these songs. It’s the first project, really, that I’ve worked on where I have a lot of experience touring, so I feel like I know better how to translate the songs into the live set.
For this album, what made the writing process different, other than your touring experience?
I think the biggest thing, you know, is obviously growth. You’re always growing as an artist. It’s the same as a professional athlete. Anyone with any job wants to get better with each season, with each year. I think just being able to push myself to be even more honest, to be even more vulnerable, to pay closer attention to detail.
You’ve spoken about your favorite theme to write about is impermanence. Can you explain what that means to you and how it related to your process of writing How to be Human?
It’s just something I’ve had conversations with my team about- my drummer Gavin specifically. It’s his favorite word, actually. It really resonated with me and I think that a huge part of becoming an adult is coming to peace with the fact that life is always changing, you’re always in transition, and things come and go. I think it’s kind of impossible to be happy if you can’t accept that because you’re always longing for something from the past or you’re always wanting something to come into your life in the future. I think it’s just really important to be present and enjoy what you’re given right now.
So it’s about enjoying the journey, as opposed to waiting for the ultimate end goal of whatever you want for your life.
With all the tracks on How to be Human, how did you go about choosing “Sad Tonight” as the next single?
Well, I definitely knew it was something special when I wrote it. It’s a great song and I love it. I love all my songs, but it’s like trying to pick a child. Part of the reason I signed to this label and have such a great management team is to have help with the direction of how we roll out and present the album. I just trust them and their gut; that’s why we have everyone on board.
You’ve mentioned that “nj” is the song you’re most excited and most nervous for people to hear. What inspired that song?
That song comes from personal experience. I like to write everything from my own life and my personal experiences. I really love the song because I pushed myself to be more honest than I think I am on any other song on the record. It’s really special to me because it’s so raw and I think it will really resonate with people because of that.
I’m sure writing songs like that has its own healing aspect to it, but also probably after that, playing it for other people and having others hear it must have its own healing capacity in itself.
Yeah, I’m definitely excited to do it live. I think it will be a big moment.
You’ve got your tour coming up in February and also a couple festivals like Coachella and Hangout Fest. What makes performing at festivals different, either worse or better, than performing shows on your own tour?
I think festivals are really unique because there’s definitely a lot of opportunity for people to come to the set who, ya know, aren’t diehard fans or maybe they haven’t heard of me before. So festivals are really special in that way. It gives you a really great opportunity to work on your ability with demanding attention from a crowd and keeping them engaged, especially when you’re working with a crowd that may not be as familiar with your music as when you’re headlining your own shows. It’s really special. I think to an extent you definitely have to work harder because these people didn’t pay specifically to see you, in most cases. They’re there for a comprehensive experience.
When you’re performing, is there ever a time during the show when you just kind of pause to take it all in? Does it tend to happen at the same time in the set because of one song that really gets to you when you’re performing, or does it just sort of happen?
I think it just sort of happens. There are definitely songs in the set you can expect to be crowd favorites or big moments, especially because we definitely deliberately design moments in the set to be special. But sometimes there’s a song in the set, maybe it’s kind of a sleeper, it didn’t stream particularly well, or you don’t perform it often. And then when you do, everyone knows the words and you’re pretty blown away by it. I think those moments are really special when you see just how devoted people are to your music.
I actually met you at Firefly in 2018- you were just in the crowd in the VIP section I believe. And then last year you were there performing. So that was pretty cool to see your growth in one year. How does that feel? Knowing that you’ve been there as someone in the crowd and a year later you were able to perform.
I just feel really grateful. It’s a really difficult feeling to put into words and it’s pretty surreal. I definitely used to be really apprehensive about the idea of ever being a performer and being on stage. It seems scary and you think like “damn that must take a lot of energy and a lot of extroversion and a lot of like, umph.” It’s brave too. I was scared, ya know, as all hell, the first couple times I performed and sometimes I definitely still get kind of butterflies and whatnot. For me it’s like, even now I see performers on stage and I’m so in awe. the fact that I’m even capable of doing that now is pretty remarkable to me, and the fact that the feeling that comes with that. It’s just so remarkable, being able to perform. I can’t really express how special it is.
You’ve mentioned you’re keeping this upcoming tour kind of short because it does get really tiring and can make you unhappy and that sort of thing. What is the hardest part about being on tour? Is there anything you want people to realize is harder than it actually looks?
I think in a lot of circumstances, people glamorize touring. People think it’s this really fun thing where we’re doing shows and we’re partying and getting to see the world. In reality, it’s really awesome to get to travel. In a lot of cases, we don’t really have time to even see the city because we drive overnight. I usually sleep pretty late on tour because obviously you have to stay healthy and I think getting a lot of sleep is important for that. We have soundchecking and making sure we get food, doing VIP and meet and greets, and then once doors are open I really need to be in the green room. So I’m stuck in a room for a couple hours and then I perform and then I’m really tired so I usually just shower and get on the bus and go to bed. So, I don’t know, long story short, I think people just glamorize it and it’s really about staying healthy and putting in the work. I mean I love it, don’t get me wrong, I love it. But like anything you love, moderation is good.
Last night you tweeted “ask me what you wanna know” and you got hundreds of replies from your fans. One asked you what you’re most scared of and you replied “sometimes I feel like I have this whole narrative in my head for how my life should go and it scares me that it won’t”. Looking back on all the success you’ve had in your past couple years, is this the plan you had? Is this the plan you could ever really imagine for yourself?
Definitely not. I think you’re probably crazy if you were to ever imagine this for yourself. Ya know, I was in school studying history and LGST, pre-law stuff, and I really was lost. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I told people I wanted to work for like, National Geographic maybe, doing something relevant to history, maybe like human rights law. I don’t even know. I try as hard as I can to be present and to let life take me where it’s going to take me. I am such a perfectionist, so I definitely get in my head about where I want to settle down and the goals I have for myself and when I want to get married and how many kids I want to have and what I want to do when I’m 30 or 40 or 50. And the reality is, you just can’t plan ahead. You have to get a little excited about the unknown. You don’t ever really figure it out, I think it figures you out.
Another fan tweeted that they’re skipping their college graduation to come see you at Hangout fest. Is that a lot of pressure?
Yeah I think that’s fake. No it’s not any pressure I just think that’s absurd. I would not do that for anybody. There’s not a single artist in the world. Your college graduation! I wish I could graduate, that’d be great. He or she should go to his or her graduation. The festival happens every year.
Last question- What can you tell us about the possibility of a collaboration with The Band CAMINO?
Oh! Yeah I worked with them. I’m super stoked, we wrote some really cool stuff. I don’t know how it’s going to unfold in terms of — I mean I haven’t even thought, I don’t think anyone’s thought too far in the future. But we wrote some really cool songs so we’ll see. They’re like, my favorite band right now, they’re amazing. I would love to work with them more.
To read more about her recent singles, view the track list, and check if the How to be Human Tour is coming to your city, click here.