Please excuse SZA for the wait for new music; she’s busy saving the world.

In her ongoing journey to embrace and learn more about sustainability, the singer has teamed with TAZO Tea and American Forests to launch TAZO Tree Corps, a paid workforce that will plant trees and create jobs in underprivileged communities of color around the country to help fight climate change. The corps will consist of 25 locally hired fellows who will receive training in climate justice advocacy, tree planting, and maintenance. Over the next two years, they’ll work to achieve Tree Equity in Minneapolis, Detroit, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Bronx, and Richmond—areas where low-income communities have less green space.

Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities bear the brunt of the climate crisis, usually due to discriminatory zoning laws. According to The New York Times, poorer neighborhoods with more residents of color can be up to 20 degrees hotter than white neighborhoods in summer. Planting trees, although seemingly simple, has monumental benefits on air and water quality, mental health, energy use, and economic opportunity.

“There’s something about them creating job opportunity in the disproportionately affected communities that makes me very attracted to the whole situation,” the nine-time Grammy nominee, born Solana Rowe, tells BAZAAR.com over the phone from Los Angeles. By creating a task force, “you’re actually insourcing, rather than outsourcing, from the direct community, then creating value,” she says.

Working with TAZO was a “no-brainer.” She’s been a longtime fan of the tea (peach cobbler and chai are her favorites), even if she says she’s allergic to caffeine. Fans of the singer might’ve already known she had an interest in sustainability. Two years ago, she unveiled plans for a merch line, Ctrl Fishing Co., aimed at saving the oceans, which is “definitely a hundred percent still a thing,” she assures. But now, she’s really out here doing her research. At a Patagonia sustainability summit she learned about bluesign certification. She mentions how Hanes is empowering garment workers in Honduras to make clothing in a green way. She’s talking to photographer and marine biologist Paul Nicklen about joining one of his expeditions to learn about oil drilling in the Bahamas. (“I really am super passionate about that right now.”) She’s linked up with Celine Samaan and Slow Factory. She recommends looking into some of her favorite organizations: Lonely Whale, SeaLegacy, Community Fridge, and One Tree Planted. Currently, she’s learning more about Black farming. “I just want to add my genuine passion for it, because I feel like passion makes stuff happen,” she says.

Aside from her new eco-friendly venture, SZA has been keeping busy with wellness activities. “I consider quarantine as being away from other people, so I’m not necessarily indoors all day,” she says. That means brief solo hikes, yoga, Qigong, hopping on her new stationary bike, and writing and journaling. “I start to feel a little crazy and pent up when I don’t write,” she says. Making new music is on her mind, too—and fans are hungry for it, especially after releasing the laid-back single “Hit Different” in September and the transcendent “Good Days” in December.

Speaking from L.A., the singer shares with BAZAAR.com details about her new partnership with TAZO, plus her thoughts on mindfulness and creativity in lockdown.

Apply to be a part of the TAZO Tree Corps. here.

Was there a moment that sparked an interest in sustainability for you?

It’s more so just realizing that stuff is all connected. The more I traveled, going on tour and seeing places that I never saw before, I really understood the effects. And then, not to mention, just watching the weather change. And then, the more I get connected with magic and the universe and spirituality, I just automatically feel directly connected to the constant shifting of our planet. And I know that it’s shifting regardless, no matter what we want to do. But I feel like there’s so much that can be done on our end, in terms of slowing it down, increasing quality of life while everything is falling apart, because that’s literally our birthright.

I think that it’s just an easy thing to be passionate about. Whether it’s fashion and saying no to fast fashion, even though the money is awesome. But really understanding that there are super-cool, innovative ways to create new fashion that doesn’t jack up your carbon footprint.

Definitely. It seems like a lot of people still don’t realize that the fight for climate change is about justice. It affects communities of color the hardest, whether it’s the labor force or where the waste is being disposed of by big manufacturers. What’s been the biggest takeaway you’ve learned through this journey so far that you want people to realize about this movement?

That environmental racism and classic racism are directly connected, and it’s probably one of the worst aspects of inequality.

First, of course, there’s the guilt of not living in one of those areas that are a product of zoning or worrying about the … just realizing that it’s not a third-world country but for some reason, we’re okay with having people breathe in toxic air or waking up and seeing smog every day in Los Angeles or having children’s quality of life, and learning, be hindered because they don’t have clean water. Or having kids feel frightened by being outside because they’re unfamiliar with trees and nature and everything like that. And I can’t tell you how many children I’ve met in the urban community, from all different colors of Black and Brown, that really just are not comfortable being in nature.

That’s probably the biggest takeaway, is how definitely connected and powerful environmental racism is.

And I think the biggest takeaway from this is that quality of life and racism are so directly connected. Exposure is also one of the direct connections when it comes to racism. And I feel like the privilege of being exposed to a beautiful display of trees or green, or having clean air or clean water, and not living next to a factory, or not having your family end up working in a factory because that’s all that they can do because it’s close to them and that’s the job opportunity in their city, even though it makes them sick and you sick. Just understanding how directly connected.

I think, even as a Black woman, my own peers remind me often about, “Who cares about the environment? What about us as people?” But I’m excited to let my own peers know, and everybody else know, and remind them this is directly connected. And your mental health, the things that your mind associates with your environment, on top of all the toxins that you can’t see that you’re absorbing, that trees could really help with. That’s probably the biggest takeaway, is how definitely connected and powerful environmental racism is.

2020 was a really rough year. 2021, thus far, has been too. How are you staying grounded? How are you finding peace?

I spend most of my time—literally, even if it’s just in my direct yard outside, really—a lot of talking to myself, a lot of saying things out loud, because I just recognize how powerful speaking possibility is, out loud. So I’ve been doing a lot of that, because I’m super anxious, and I talk myself out of lovely things all the time. So I’ve just been trying to also identify harmful behavior of my own that just doesn’t serve me anymore.

Like random, irrational thought that takes me to a dark tangent of like, “I don’t want to do any of this anymore because I suck at it.” All those kinds of things, I just allow those emotions and those thoughts to flow through my head without being the end-all, be-all, of everything or my value, or ruining my value based on something that I fucked up on. Trying to get out of that and writing down ways that I still have intrinsic value without anything external.

During this time of isolation, do you feel like it’s harder to be creative? Are thoughts and music flowing?

I feel like naturally, I have an unstoppable faucet of thoughts. So I’m never in a place where I’m thoughtless, but I definitely sometimes have so much in my mind I have no outlet to get it out on. And that buildup creates toxic behavior in me, personally. So lots of switching up random things, redesigning my house, myself. I’ve almost shaved my hair off twice.

Some moments, I feel like I don’t know what’s good, like I don’t know what is a good song or what’s a good concept. And sometimes, when I’m not thinking of trying at all is when something popular happens or something that connects with people happens. Which is kind of what happened with “Good Days,” that’s also a quarantine situation.

I don’t know, this is probably the most unsure I’ve ever been of myself, but I guess it’s really fun. And I feel I’m repeating a section of my life that happened, probably in 2013 or 2014, and now I’m trying to figure out how to ride that uncertainty and not let it cripple me or just do whatever, or let anything happen. I want to be very, I don’t know … not in control because that’s fake. But I want to at least decide the trajectory of my chaos. Creativity has been a wild-ass ride.

I read that as you’re working on your album, you’re “making all different types of shit every day from different places in my spirit.” How would you describe that process?

It’s confusing. I’ll start a song like, “Okay, I’m going to write this song as the last text that I send to this boy. If this was the last text that I ever wrote to him and I had to say all these things that I wanted to say, how would I start it, and what would I say?” Then I’m like, “But I also want to say this as a stream of consciousness, flowing right off the top of my dome.” But I also feel really insecure and a small person and all of this is beyond me. And maybe I’m about to write from that place where I’m just like, “I know that I deserve to be broken up with, and I just hope that I don’t die alone, and I’m really sorry that all this worked out this way.” But part of me is also like, “I’m going to write this from the place of triumph and your loss and fuck you and moving forward.”

And then there’s like, I wonder if I’m not trying and I allow God to speak through me super clearly, what is that behavior in action? What’s the best way to be inactive so that the channel can flow the freest? And then, I try to figure out like, “How does that happen?” I don’t know. Sometimes, I go through 30 voices on the same track, so random, just to test out the energy. I’ll be like, “If I was Joni Mitchell and was onstage with my guitar right now, what would I be saying?” And then, I’ll just sing over a trap beat with Joni Mitchell in my mind. It’s so many random things.

Because I saw this on your Instagram: What can you tell us about a possible Blackpink collab?

Oh, my God. So, I didn’t know that they fucked with me, and when I saw Rosé playing my stuff on her birthday … So, earlier in the day, literally, I was talking to someone else about Blackpink. Their fandom, randomly, voluntarily linked with my fandom to do stuff together. It’s very cute.

I think they’re the second K-pop group that has shown interest in me, but these are gals so I’m super all about the gals. I want to do something completely out of my box. I want to learn, and I don’t want to speak English on it, genuinely. Because I just did this song with Kali Uchis and it’s in Spanish, it’s my first song that I’ve done entirely in Spanish. But I just want to do things that are a hundred percent out of my bubble. And Blackpink just seems like we would vibe together, but also we’re completely different. I want to do it!

Ctrl reentered the top 40 last month, and it was three and a half years after you released it. Are you surprised to still see people vibing with this record?

I genuinely, in my spirit, consider that record to be a seven. A seven-minus.

Really?

Yeah. Because I just wasn’t sure in what I was doing and I didn’t get enough time on it, even though it’s like, “Damn, bitch, four years, how much time do you need?” But I really just feel flabbergasted and very confused, and more so just grateful. But it’s confusing. I can’t explain what it feels like to not know how people see you. Because you don’t know how to duplicate anything. You just don’t know.

Even with my new music, the song that people chose to gravitate towards versus the song that I thought people would gravitate towards, I really have no idea. And I don’t know if other people are unsure as me or maybe they really just don’t care. I am very confused. I’m super grateful. I try not to let the confusion overshadow the gratitude.

And I have to ask, do we have a general date or time we can expect another new release from you?

Initially, I was just dropping songs because I was bored and in quarantine, losing my mind and doing a lot of self-comparison, and I just had to drop music. And my manager said that I could. But then, it turned into this thing where now people want the album and they want it now. And I’m like, “That’s crazy because that wasn’t my plan.” … This is a very, very winging-it situation.

It could come out in February, it could come out in March. It could come out later, next year. Look, I don’t know. I don’t see it coming out next year, I definitely see it coming out this year. I definitely didn’t plan for it to be happening this way. But my manager definitely came to the studio and got my shit together, and told me that we’re putting an album out. So we’ll see, boo.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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