With the return of Limited Too, Goosebumps, and classic Nickelodeon TV shows, it's apparent that we've reached peak '90s cravings. Singer-songwriter and Vampire Diaries actress Kat Graham is sealing the deal with her new throwback album, Roxbury Drive, which contains upbeat dance tracks and R&B-tinged slow jams that evoke such a strong nostalgia for the halcyon days that you'll be tempted to dust off your JNCOs and dance like you're in a Destiny's Child music video.
The 26-year-old Swiss-born chanteuse, who's been acting since the age of six and released her debut EP, Against the Wall, in 2012, indeed cites the "fearless females" from that decade as her primary musical influences. "I grew up with a single mom, so I was entranced by their achievements," she tells InStyle. In advance of the album's release, we chatted with Graham, who shared her fascination with the '90s, her favorite old-school trends, and more.
You’re a child of the ‘90s, and Roxbury Drive is clearly influenced by the R&B of that decade. Who were some of your favorite artists growing up?
Obviously Babyface. Prince, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Jennifer Lopez were also big for me. There are so many amazing pop acts from that time—especially those fronted by women. It really brought forth a strong sense of empowerment, and a tongue-in-cheek fearlessness that's always resonated with me.
Did you ever see any of them in concert?
We didn’t have enough money, unfortunately, but now I’m playing catch-up. I’ve seen Janet and J.Lo so far. Live performances always feel like such a moment with all of the costumes and theatrics. I think of Aaliyah and her baggy Tommy Hilfiger pants. Fashion was such a staple for these women.
Is fashion an integral part of your musical act, too?
Now that I’ve saved up some money, I’m fortunate enough to be able to wear some archival couture pieces from the '90s. Right now, I’m super into Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana. They all weren’t afraid of embellishments and structured pieces. You really have to go hunting for the good stuff.
What some are your favorite ‘90s trends?
I love a cool bralette paired with a high-waisted jean, maybe with Chanel suspenders and a good platform shoe.
Is it true that you used to be a backup dancer for Missy Elliott?
I’m still dreaming to be the next Missy Elliott. She was the only female producer that was famous back then. It was such a big moment for me, and I’ve always cited her as a preeminent example of what a female producer can achieve.
You put yourself through music engineering school at Musicians Institute. What did you learn there?
How to work Pro Tools and do different plug-ins—everything from a MicA drum kit to recording albums. It was a year-long program.
What was your goal in producing this album yourself?
I wanted it to be about one specific person and the good and the bad that one person had put me through. You hear so many records nowadays that sound like a million different people produced them. I wanted the energy to feel cohesive and sound the same and feel the same.
How did you balance recording it and filming Vampire Diaries?
I just don’t stop working. Fortunately, we have an ensemble cast that focuses on different storylines, and I’m heavier in certain episodes than others. It’s a good situation because it enables me to actually get the music stuff done.
What can we expect from the upcoming season?
A lot of action. With Elena being gone, there’s a sense that no one is safe. Losing her is the biggest thing to ever happen on the show, so coming back, you'll see much more volatile characters. We return at a time when heretics are taking over Mystic Falls, and there will be a lot of new female villains. It’s going to be very interesting.
Watch the video for "Secrets" below, and buy Roxbury Drive inn ($10) the iTunes Store.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.