Agnez Mo: From Indonesian Celebrity to U.S. Rising Star
In her home country of Indonesia, Agnez Mo reigns supreme. A singer, songwriter, actress, television personality and multiple award winner, Mo is an omnipresent personality known for her ambition, talent and charisma. Yet, just a few years ago, Mo decided to take a leap of faith and fittingly move to the Mecca of stars, Los Angeles.
On the surface, Mo’s move meant starting over. However, in leaving her home behind and starting anew, she had a clear vision of who she was and what she wanted: “The Agnez Mo sound.”
A culmination of gospel, pop, R&B, soul, hip-hop and most importantly “bounce,” her signature sound reflects her years spent singing, performing and absorbing some of her favorite artists — Brandy, Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, to name a few. So, instead of touching down in L.A. and feeling lost, Mo saw the city as a playground.
With collaborators Chris Brown, Timbaland and producer Danja, Mo has spent countless hours in the studio with some of her icons, all the while winning over a new audience in the U.S. and showing fans back home that her work never stops.
In the below Q&A with Mo, she speaks with TIDAL about her latest single “Overdose” with Chris Brown, her new life in L.A., her first time in Timbaland’s studio and, of course, what’s next in the ever-evolving career of Agnez Mo.
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How has moving to the states shaped you as an artist? Coming from a background where you’re acting, singing, and hosting, and from a place where you’re known everywhere, how did moving set you on a new path?
It’s actually the other way around. I feel like everyone who moves L.A., which is a big place for people to lose themselves, and I think it was great that I moved to L.A. when I moved to L.A., when I already knew who I am as an artist without trying to be someone else. It’s easy for artists to get lost in the middle of the high in Hollywood.
What was it like when you first arrived?
The first few months I was living here, I got put in different sessions where I was overwhelmed by all the things that I could do. After that, I took a moment to ask myself, ‘Ag, the moment you moved to the U.S., what exactly was in your mind? You’ve got to stick with that.’ And that is to create Agnez Mo sound. It can be dance, it can be urban, it can be hip-hop, rhythmic, pop, but I stick to the one that … when I feel the bounce, that’s when you know it’s the sound!
Have you always had a strong sense of what your sound is?
I’ve always known what I want to write, how I want to write it, who I want to collaborate with and it’s so clear that it really doesn’t…the move didn’t really change me; it’s only advancing what I’ve always had in my brain. I knew that I wanted to work with Timbaland. I’ve always wanted to work with Makeeba, Esther Dean, Danja. I first knew what my sound was supposed to be. To be able to sit down with them and actually work together, it makes me realize how important it is for you to know yourself before getting into those sessions. It’s so important.
It’s great that you’re able to span so many different genres.
I don’t want to be put in these little boxes. We did some music influenced by reggae and some influenced by my culture, some influences influence by rap-singing. But they all have one thing in common, they make you bounce. When you make that ugly face, that’s when you know!
I’m really blessed to be influenced by a lot of different sounds growing up in Indonesia that has so many different cultures, so many different sounds — percussions, instruments — that shaped me as an artist and musician.
Tell me about collaborating with Timbaland and with Danja and how you developed your sound with both of them.
Timbaland has always been my hero when it comes to music. It always has that bounce. I think the instruments that build that is bass and drums, and Timbaland, of course, is like the master [of that]. Because there’s a lot of percussions coming from Indonesia, beats have always influenced me. So, when I got in the studio with him, I mostly watched. I watched what he did, and as soon as I felt something, I put down something or worked together with co-songwriters.
Danja, we did the X album together. It was easier. The process with Tim was a little…’Oh shit, I’m working with Timbaland right now! Let me just be a student.’ With Danja, it’s more of a collaboration. I know exactly what I can bring to the table, this is what I want, Danj. What can we bring to the table, how can we collaborate? Tim is more like teacher and student.
You and Chris Brown were in the studio for a month working on music. What made “Overdose” that one song you wanted to lead with?
I think ‘Overdose”’is an introduction. It has a really catchy hook and it has enough space for me to show off my vocals but at the same time, that swag. The other songs that we created together have all different sounds. I feel like ‘Overdose’ is more mainstream but at the same time, introducing what I can do and what we can do together in the project.
Before I recorded those songs with Chris, I already had recorded over 50, 60 songs, and I’ve just been waiting for the right time for me to put out everything. I do feel that for the next single, I want it to be my own song. And then, if the time is right, the project with Chris is going to be released, but I want to do my song first before jumping into that.
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