Willow Smith on Playing Rock and Heavy Metal: “You Don’t Have to Be Radio Friendly to Be Cool”


As the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith—who creates music under the moniker Willow—is no stranger to work. After cutting her chops in acting as a child and venturing into pop music, Willow took a break to recalibrate and decide what she wanted to be next: a “true musician” who played guitar.

In a new interview with Guitar World, Willow discussed playing the guitar, lessons from Yvette Young and the future of rock music.

On her new, fifth album, Coping Mechanism, Willow displays a more guitar-centric sound than ever before. She tells Guitar World that she thinks the genre is broad, with room for more niche sounds than ever before.

“I feel that rock is such an expansive genre. People focus on pop-punk a lot. We all love pop-punk, it’s beautiful and amazing. But let’s not forget the metal, thrash and classic rock. There are all these different forms that rock takes and all these different feelings it can express. This album is a love letter to all the flavors rock can have, from Smashing Pumpkins to Lamb of God.”

On the importance of hard work, Willow says her parents demonstrated that early on by their dedication to their own crafts.

“When I was young my parents were, and still are, extremely creative. They’re constantly stretching themselves into new areas and learning new things about their craft. Whether that was acting or writing or playing music, they were always expanding themselves in different directions. I could always see that. 

“From a very young age, it was clear to me how they were continually working on their artistic craft and I understood how important that is when it comes to your passions and things you want to do with your life. I guess I was hip to the game from early on.”

The rapidly-growing musician also discussed how she got into playing guitar in the first place, following a loss of interest in making pop.

“It was around the age of 13 or 14 where I felt like I didn’t just want to be a singer-songwriter kind of artist. In order to realize my vision, I needed to be a true musician. To me, that meant learning how to play an instrument and solidifying that into the way I write and perform music. So in my very early teens, that’s when I knew I wanted to pick up the guitar and make that my pride and joy.”

Smith also recalled when she met Covet guitarist Yvette Young, who gave her a signature guitar and tapping lessons.

“Her two-handed techniques are insane. When I first met her, she tried teaching me how to do a little bit of that tapping. Obviously, I’m not as talented at that as she is, but it stuck a little bit. There are a few riffs I’ve written since which have a good amount of tapping. I’m so grateful for the times we’ve spent together and the things she’s taught me.”

Near the end of the interview, Guitar World asked Willow about the time that Les Claypool responded to a Primus cover that she posted. According to Willow, Primus is the perfect example of the fact that you don’t need to be mainstream to be sick as hell.

“Primus are so cool. You don’t have to be radio-friendly to be cool. Radio-friendly is dead! We only want amazing musicians, thought-provoking lyricism and the most hard riffs ever. That’s what sounds cool to me. Radio-friendly… whatever. We just want amazing music.”

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