When it comes to their two-night stand next weekend at First Avenue, Minnesota music stars Caroline Smith and Lizzo mean business. However, when the sisters from other mothers and music genres sat together for an interview, they weren’t quite so serious.
Asked to name an unknown trait about the other one, Smith cutely instructed her friend, “Tell them how I always smell so good.”
“I wish I could tell them that,” Lizzo shot back as rapidly as she can drop a verse on stage.
The co-headlining First Avenue gigs fall between Lizzo’s seemingly never-ending transatlantic concert schedule behind her breakout album, “Lizzobangers,” which was rereleased overseas by Virgin Records over the summer. The Minneapolis-based, Houston- and Detroit-bred hip-hop star (real name: Melissa Jefferson) easily could have packed First Ave on her own, but she opted instead to do it with Smith, whose band will back up the rapper at these shows.
Smith, who grew up in Ohio and Detroit Lakes, Minn., sold out First Ave last year when she released “Half About Being a Woman.” The album successfully recast her from a folk rocker to a soulful R&B singer and inspired next weekend’s concerts with its messages of empowerment. Proceeds from the shows will benefit the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, as do sales of the infectious, Donna Summer-like single the duo issued online, “Let ’Em Say.”
Interviewed before a recent video shoot, they talked about working — and bonding — with each other.
On their cosmic friendship:
Smith: “I was looking for a backup singer. It started as a working relationship, but it turned into more than that pretty quickly — starting with, ‘When’s your birthday?’ We were both born April 27.”
Lizzo: “I always use someone’s sign to help decide whether I’ll work with them. So when we met, I was thinking, ‘OK, this sounds good, but if she’s a Libra or something it might not work out.’ … And when she said April 27, I was like, ‘What?!’ It’s like some Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen way of going about things, like [in a vapid tone], ‘We discovered each other at the mall!’ ”
On the plans behind these shows:
Smith: “We’ve been talking about doing a show together for so long, but she’s been gone so much, and I’ve been gone a lot. We talked about it going back to before either of us were too big to play First Ave, like, ‘One day, maybe... .”
Lizzo: “And now, we’re doing it. I’m excited to share the experience with Caroline. First Avenue is one of my favorite places to play. All along, they’ve treated me with respect. Every time I’m there it’s one of my favorite nights, and I’m sure these two nights will be my new favorites. We’re sharing our music. I’m going to be playing with her band. She’s going to be singing with my band, which is Lazerbeak. We’re putting a lot of work into it.”
On the message behind these shows:
Smith: “The Women’s Foundation funds workshops that teach young ladies how to be leaders, and their agenda is gender equality. When I get onstage, that’s our agenda, too, to inspire young women to become leaders in one way or another. And that’s not to exclude young men, either.”
Lizzo: “No, I love young men.”
On gender issues within the Twin Cities music scene:
Smith: “It’s not just a local thing, but one of the things that gets frustrating is the need to create a caricature out of a woman performer: She’s bossy, she’s bitchy, she’s arty, or whatever. It seems like men just get to be men.”
Lizzo: “I’ve had conversations with women who’ve been doing hip-hop in Minneapolis way longer than I have, and they’ve come a long way. They said they’d be the only woman at the show a lot of times. I feel super-blessed with the state of affairs now. I can name more women that rap here than men now. Minneapolis is killing it, but I’ve heard straight-up that wasn’t the case even five years ago.”
Smith: “But there’s still talk like, ‘Is the scene big enough for Lizzo and Dessa?’ I mean, come on.”
On their duo single, "Let 'Em Say:"
Lizzo: “Elliot Kozel, aka Tickle Torture, made the beat, and it was just like a strong breeze in your hair.”
Smith: “We were writing it, and Lizzo looked at her phone and got distracted. She said, ‘Man, somebody just left me a mean comment online.’ And I was like [in cheerleader voice], ‘Use! That! Energy!’ And right away, she came up with, ‘Let ’em say what they’re gonna say.’ I think it’s a good, important message about online bullying. It’s not just something an entertainer like Lizzo goes through, but my siblings in high school face it, too.”
On what to expect from their next albums:
Smith: “My last record took a lot of courage and was a big challenge, and my next step, I think, is to just settle into that style of music more — to just kind of relax and keep writing songs that feel honest to me.”
Lizzo: “My record has basically had two lives, which is great, but I made it two years ago and am ready for the next chapter. Like the song, ‘Have you ever been to Paris?/Neither have I.’ I wrote that two years ago. Well, I’ve been to Paris now, and I’ve fallen in love with it, and I’m ready to tell people about that experience and everything else that’s happened.”