Landing a spot on Broadway is undeniably one of the most coveted career achievements for entertainers. But being a part of a show with meteoric success that shifted the industry in the best possible way and nabbed Tony and Grammy Awards in the process—yes, we’re talking about Hamilton—well, that’s truly a career unicorn. For Jasmine Cephas-Jones, however, having a leading role as Maria Reynolds and Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer was just the beginning.
Since leaving the Broadway hit, Cephas-Jones has queued up acting gigs in Netflix’s Marriage Story and Quibi’s #FreeRayShawn, and just released her solo EP, Blue Bird. And just as she was finishing up making her morning smoothie, we chatted about life after Hamilton, finding her sound, and what she’s been up to at home.
What made you decide to release a solo EP?
I met up with a couple of producers when I was a teenager and when I was in college that were trying to make me sound like other people. So for the longest time I didn’t feel that I was a songwriter. That experience made me not want to write. Flash forward to after I left Hamilton, I was in L.A. for a couple of months and I started meeting this amazing group of people that have become some of my closest friends and are really extremely talented musicians, performers, producers. I just started writing—I was like, let me take another crack at this. That’s kind of how it all started.
I was in this blue place after leaving the show. You know, you come from this crazy high of performing eight times a week in this incredible show, and it’s won so many awards, and you’re in this moment, and then you’re back to reality. I was really trying to figure out what I was going to do next.
My fiancé and I were living in California and I felt a bit out of place—I just didn’t feel grounded, so I used this music to get everything out. I met some amazing people, including Zach Golden, who produced my EP. No one was trying to make me sound like anything. It was all so comfortable and I was able to really find my sound and write from this place of full honesty, and really express myself. This whole EP, down to my covers and the pictures that go with it—those are my creative ideas and collaborations with talented people.
Did you have any challenges tapping into yourself with your newfound freedom?
My goal was to have my sound by the end of this. And I didn’t really want to co-write with a lot of songwriters, because I didn’t know what my sound was yet and I didn’t want to be influenced by other people. I think by the end of it, I’d realized my voice is influenced by so many different artists. It’s really hard to put it in a box or put it in one genre. That’s just the kind of artist that I am—you’re gonna get so many different colours and melodies, and different genres of music in my sound.
What has it been like to release music in this time?
People have said that my music has been very comforting for them, which is amazing! For me as an artist to create something that helps people through something is why I do this in the first place. I didn’t want it to be a completely melancholy album, I wanted it to have some hope to it. The whole meaning behind the album is that it’s okay to have these feelings, but it won’t be like this forever.
People right now are finding out who they are; finding out who they’re living with. At this moment, there’s no time to run away from yourself or any of your problems, you have to face them. That’s what this album is—it’s dealing with yourself, and the struggles and the feelings that you have throughout life.
When did you first discover your love of music?
My mom was singing at gigs when she was pregnant with me. I can’t even remember the time where I didn’t love music, to be honest.
Who are some of your music influences?
Oh my god, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Chaka Khan, The Police, U2, Little Dragon, H.E.R.. I love Biggie, Jay Z, Beyonce, OutKast, and Enya.
What was your first concert?
My first big stadium concert was Prince’s Musicology Tour when I was 14 [years old]. My mom got tickets for my birthday. So we drove to Jersey, from New York, and saw him at the Continental.
What is an album that defined your youth?
One is Inner Vision by Stevie Wonder. And the other is Voodoo by D’Angelo.
What’s a song you have on repeat right now?
It’s called “KYIV” by Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes. And I have Lucky Daye’s album Painted on repeat.
Have you tried anything new in isolation?
I tried to make a carbonara for the first time. And I did really well! The thing was carbonara is you have to make sure that when you put the eggs in that you don’t scramble them [laughs]. And I’ve been gardening—I’ve been growing some lilac. And the last thing is we’ve been putting our roof together. So we got some astroturf, and we’ll see how that goes [laughs].
Who would be in your dream group text?
Wow, this is so good. Rihanna, Issa Rae, Jennifer Lawrence because she’s hilarious, and Adele.