The 2022 version of Schenay knows exactly who she is.
Schenay Mosley is a multi-instrumentalist solo artist, as well as a backup singer for Smino and his Zero Fatigue collective. The Dayton, Ohio native is also an educator and activist who uses her gifts to give back. In short, she’s a Jack(ie) of all trades.
In an interview with the Weekly, we got to learn more about Schenay’s artistic journey, her experience in the Chicago music scene’s 2010s renaissance, a recent appearance on Jimmy Fallon, and what keeps her going.
For more information and updates on Schenay, follow her Instagram @schenaymosley. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you speak to the work you’ve done teaching people how to make art?
Schenay Mosley: I’ve always been an activist—especially in high school [at Stivers School for The Arts] as a peace ambassador. I’ve always protested and given out supplies to people in the hood.
In my adult life, I was a part of the Mike Brown and George Floyd protests. I’m a teacher as well. I teach children and adults piano and vocals, both privately and at Phil Circle Music School. I’ve always loved teaching and giving back to the community somehow, and I’m working on building my own school.
How did you realize you wanted to be an artist? What moment—or moments—set in stone that you actually are one?
My mom gave me a keyboard when I was around four years old because I used to tap on tables all the time. I started producing around eleven or twelve because my cousin would use our computer and speakers in our basement, and when he was done, I would go down there and mimic his beats and produce my own stuff. I was getting pretty good, and I told my dad, “I wanna be an artist.” He was like, “You wanna be an artist?” and I was like, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, you know artists only make like ten percent. You wanna be a songwriter?” And I was like, “I wanna do that, too—but I wanna be an artist.” And basically, I’ve been crafting myself since I was a child.
But when I had the realization that “I’m really doing this,” I was in my 20s. I had a band and we used to perform at The Shrine, we had our own nights there. It wasn’t until we saw success as a band that I was like, “Wow. We’re really doing this.” Unfortunately, the band broke up, but that’s when it clicked: Like yo… we were poppin’!
Can you describe the feeling of doing something that makes you happy, and living and working towards your purpose?
It feels great. I don’t see me doing anything else. I do see me doing other things, like movie scoring, and other things in my field. I don’t have to just be an artist because I love music. I love everything about the arts and entertainment industry, it’s fun. I do feel like I can do more, through—I feel like I have more to give. I can go to higher levels, and I’m ready to push the boundary and see how far I can go. I’ve done some cool things—I ain’t famous or nothing, but I’ve done some cool stuff. I want to continue to do more cool things on a bigger scale.
If someone was like, “put me on to Schenay,” what would you show them or have them listen to?
I’d have them listen to my music. I put out an EP called Lotus (2018), but I took it off streaming services ‘cause I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t going to pay $250 to renew it. I’ll eventually put it out there through DistroKid. But my Silk Ca$hmere EP, that’s the one I’d put them on to, that’s the one where I was deep in my R&B bag. I don’t have an album out or anything because I’ve been working behind the scenes.
The other cool stuff I’ve done, besides being in a band called She which later changed its name to Highness Collective, was backup singing for artists. I was also playing keys for artists: I’ve done a Lion Babe show, and I’ve sung with Adam Ness, who gave me solos in his show. From then on, I started singing backup for Smino, starting in 2016.
Can you describe the process you go through when you create your music?
I get in the mode of: I wanna make a project. Then I think, what is it going to be about? With this project that I am currently working on, I went through a break-up. I was with my ex for six years, and it kinda got nasty the last two years—it was just not a healthy relationship. And it wasn’t always bad, but it was getting bad. This project is basically me expressing my feelings and processing my emotions, and then healing and moving on.
Then I develop a sound. This is the image I want for this project. This is the sound I want for this project. This is what I’m going for. I’m like Sade, it takes years for me to do stuff. But I’m trying to learn how to work faster, because I do everything. I produce, but I do work with other producers like Renzell and a group called Don’t Trip out of L.A. I just kinda center everything around the vibe of the project.
How did you get involved with Smino and Zero Fatigue? What has your experience been like since joining the team?
My friend Loona mentioned that he needed a singer. So I went to the first rehearsal, and he was like, “You like the missing link!” And I was like, “Bet!”
And then that was it… He was a fan of our group [Highness] before we even knew who he was.
How has that transformed you as an artist? What have you learned along the way, as far as the business side of music?
I’ve definitely learned to make sure your paperwork is straight. And I’ve definitely learned that business is business. Make sure you’re ethical, and have multiple funnels of income to fund your music.
What was the inspiration behind the Silk Ca$hmere EP, and why the title?
With that EP, I was on my “grown and sexy.” When I thought of the sound of the project, I thought of the way it felt—like silk cashmere, a really soft, warm, sexy, sensual vibe. The money sign in it is pretty random. I always liked money. I was at the store and I saw this sweater that said “silk cotton cashmere,” and I said: “I like that!”
For this next project, I’m kinda expanding upon that—but the sound is a bit more futuristic, a bit more experimental. Still vibey, but I want to expand the sound, expand the minds, test the limits of what I can do.
Do you find it challenging to pinpoint the genre of music you make? If someone was to say Schenay is a [blank] type of singer, how would you fill in that blank?
I just tell them alternative R&B. That’s like the blanket term. I like different stuff. I always say, if James Blake and Solange had a baby, that’s me. James Blake is very experimental, yet it’s not [so] experimental where you don’t know what’s going on. Solange is very vibey, but also intense. The band that I was in, we called ourselves “omnisoul.” The basis of everything was soul music, but we dabbled in everything: rock, a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
With navigating the independent and mainstream music industry, have you ever felt pressured to stick to a more recognizable R&B sound? What is it like operating in this alternative R&B space?
A few years ago, I was pressured to sound like everyone else. My Lotus EP was very different, and I don’t know why, but I was nervous having that out. I made every song on there, I produced everything on there. I feel like if it was released a few years from now, people would get it. But yes, I was pressured to sound like everyone else.
Now, I do not care. I feel that because of TikTok and other things, the way things are progressing, people are now open to hearing whatever in 2022 going into 2023. As long as it’s cool, people will listen. Of course, you have your little hits, viral stuff. But I feel like people are searching for something different, something that feeds them, something that’s not ordinary, but still makes sense.
Who was Schenay ten years ago in comparison to Schenay now?
Schenay now knows exactly what she wants; she knows exactly what to do. She knows exactly how to move. She’s not afraid anymore. Schenay, back in the day, used to overthink everything. Now I’m like, “Girl, you is tripping. It’s not that deep.” Back then, I had visions for things. I wanted a certain type of art, I wanted a certain type of aesthetic. So I felt like I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have the money or resources to do it. I wish I would’ve done it back in the day anyway.
Now I’m tapping back into that creativity I had as a teen: “Just go do it. Let’s just make some cool stuff and not overthink it.” Now that I’m an adult, I know how to make things refined. Schenay now knows exactly what the hell she wants to do.
What advice would you give an aspiring artist who wants to share their gift but is too afraid to do so?
Just do it. When it feels good in your gut, that’s when you know. When you can play it without cringing, when you’re excited to share it with others, that’s when you know you’re ready.
Kia Smith is a lover of words and digital storyteller. She previously wrote about the Silver Room Block Party for the Weekly. Keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram @KiaSmithWrites_