In a recording booth, Ari Lennox sounds like a mingling of Erykah Badu, SZA and Minnie Riperton. On the phone, that same voice is as comfortable as a younger sibling and as conversational as an old neighbor. You’d never know that the 28-year-old has a brilliant debut (“Shea Butter Baby”), calls one of hip-hop’s biggest names (J. Cole) her boss and is on the road with pop’s breakout star (Lizzo).
During an interview with Forbes Travel Guide, the Washington, D.C.-area native eagerly addresses those topics while also opening up about her favorite city to visit, finding an apartment and watching HGTV’s Flip or Flop. In fact, it’s not until questions turn to the effects that intense touring may be having on her body that the soul singer’s tone wavers ever so slightly.
At what point in the “Shea Butter Baby” recording process did you know that you had something special?
I honestly never knew that there was anything special. I doubted it a lot. But I just was writing songs from my heart and my soul, and I was praying that people would identify with it and love it. So, I was shocked that it’s been doing so well and that people have been showing so much love.
You’re joining Lizzo on a huge tour. But you just got off the road from your own tour. What’s it like living out of a suitcase for months?
It is very difficult. I mean, it’s a blessing because it’s life changing, and I really want to be as successful as possible. But, yeah, I do wish I had my own apartment right now, and I wish I could spend a lot of time with my dog. But, you know, sacrifices. It’s all for the greater good because this is my dream and it’s here.
You appear to be pretty fit. What are your secrets?
Oh no, honey. I’m trifling. I just had a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with potato bread. I mean, I’ve been drinking tea lately, but I definitely had a lot of wine last night. I don’t know why God has been blessing me to make it look like I’m fit. I haven’t worked out in months.
But that is really my plan when I go back to California, to detox and potentially start my alkaline drinks again because I don’t like what I’ve been putting in my body. They say chicken has a whole bunch of hormones in it, but it tastes so great!
But I have to chill, man. I gotta stop.
And I’m guessing things get even more difficult on the road.
It is terrible. All that’s out there is fast food restaurants. It’s just really hard to commit to clean eating, and then sometimes you don’t want to eat cold salads. Sometimes you want that warm comfort food. I fail every time. But I might consider getting a chef this time because health is really important. I don’t have good discipline at all.
What should fans expect from this tour with Lizzo?
They could just expect me being my natural, crazy, funny, goofy self. Singing, a good strong voice and a couple squats. That’s really what they can expect — me giving my all.
Which cities do you really look forward to
The first city on tour, which was New Orleans. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the entire world.
You mentioned giving fans a strong voice and doing squats. How do you keep your energy up on back-to-back nights? Do you just immediately hop into bed after a show?
Well, you’ve got to monitor your alcohol intake or you’ll crash real fast. You gotta chill with the alcohol. I’m going to try not to do any alcohol on the tour. Definitely get as much sleep as possible. Make sure the energy surrounding you is good, so no arguing because arguing can definitely take all your energy away. Make sure you’re surrounded with people you trust and love and care about. And as long as all of those things are in order, everything should go well.
And drink tea. Really [do] self-care whenever there’s time. Pamper yourself. Go to the nail salon. Get a massage. It is strenuous and the road will beat you up.
And eating bad foods is the quickest way to not only gain weight, but to feel sluggish and terrible. Watch how much you’re partying because that will get you.
That’s a great point you made about the people you surround yourself with affecting your energy. How long did that take you to understand that?
My Shea Butter Baby tour was the first tour where I literally had no problem because everybody there was in it to win it. Beautiful energy, beautiful souls. And they were just all so sweet and comforting, and I was able to be the same to them. It was just good vibes.
I just remember doing some other tours in the past and people had no idea. I was arguing before I got on stage. And it’s the worst, worst, worst thing to ever have to go through. Don’t force a situation that’s not working. If you know you’re not getting along with someone, just let it go and it will be better for everybody.
The tour ends in Las Vegas around Halloween. Do you already have the next thing lined up or are you relaxing for a little bit afterward?
Once the tour ends, I’m blocking everybody. Nobody will be able to contact me. I’m going to go find me an apartment. I’m going to have a beautiful time with my dog. I’m going to keep my mental health in a good place and, you know, maybe work out, do some exercises at least for like the first two weeks. After that, I’m definitely trying to just live in the studio because in December I do my European tour.
With your apartment search, are you going to California or are you looking on the East Coast?
I’d rather live in D.C., but I feel like there is so much work I have to do and I cannot afford a dream living situation in D.C. right now. So, if I can’t get the loft of my dreams in D.C., then I might as well just keep grinding it out in a productive place until then.
In L.A. there’s lots of studios. I have lots of friends out there that always want to work, so I just want to give L.A. a chance. One more year. We’ll see what happens. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll move again. I don’t know.
When you’re not in the recording studio, how do you unwind?
Brainstorming on how I can better the brand with my managers, Justin Lamotte and Paris Cole. I love watching HGTV, Lifetime and the Discovery Channel. I love watching plane crash documentaries. Love watching Goosebumps. Just a lot of beautiful and dark shows. Just watching a lot of my favorite TV shows. Getting my nails done. Just driving in my Jeep. I love that. Yeah, those are the things I do to relax.
So, if there was a House Hunters International marathon, that’d be perfect for you?
Yeah, I love House Hunters and Flip or Flop. I love that whole channel. I want to be able to design a house some day for myself. And who knows, I may even go into a small real estate business. Yeah, [I have] different dreams.