How did you come up with your stage name?
My family in my neighborhood in Bed-Sty called me Chocolate because of my mom; she used to call me Chocolate. When I turned 16 years old, I got the name Cocoa Sarai. My real name is Teamarie but Terria Marie came out, and it’s too close to my name. My middle name is Sarai which is Hebrew, so I called my mom like ‘What about Sarai,’ and she goes ‘How about Cocoa Sarai?’ I’m like ‘No,’ but the people from the label put my name as Cocoa Sarai without my consent and that’s been my name ever since. Now I love it [because] it’s a representation of my heritage.
Which love came first for you: The singing or the songwriting?
Definitely the singing I started singing at three years old. I come from a family of musicians, singers and songwriters. My family came together as a band and a choir, and we use to travel and sing.
So it’s literally in your blood?
My aunt Lucy would tell me, ‘Sing this’ and play different notes on the piano for me to sing it. She would try different types of scales and if I couldn’t sing it back to her, she would say, ‘You’re going to need a little more work.’ From a really young age I was able to hear the note and sing it back. I always had a good ear for pitch.
If you had to pick between singing and songwriting, which would you choose?
That’s like asking do you want your legs or your arms. It’s a huge part of me. I started singing at three years old and started writing poetry at 11. I wrote my first songs at 13. My uncle Garvey use to work at Rocafella Records in the promotional department, and he would say to me: ‘The road is no place for a girl.’ I didn’t get what he meant, but there was a lot of wild and crazy things that goes on tour. He gave me a CD and said, ‘Write a song,” and when he came back, I had two full songs, a hook, chorus, bridge and everything. At the time I didn’t know singers didn’t write their own songs. I thought that if you wanted to sing it, you had to write it. I didn’t know until a few years ago that singers didn’t write their own songs, when I was writing songs for other artists in the industry that’s when I found out.
So you could never split them up?
I split it up now when I’m in a writing session. I’ll probably have to reference the song, I still have to sing it and write the melody. The biggest thing about songwriters is there’s a million people who can write words but can’t write a melody and when you can’t write a melody it’s not as strong as the words because anybody can write words to a melody. It’s actually a big big thing. You can have great words, but if the melody sucks, it’s not going to work.
Who in the business would you love to write a song for you?
Quite a few. James Fauntleroy, Bryan Michael Cox, Tank, and I’m actually a T-Pain fan. I love his melodies; that man is a genius writer. I think he would be fun to work with. I would want to write with Ne-Yo, too. I want to watch him write and see what he does. I want to understand him and same things with The Dream. Also Ester Dean. She seems like she would be fun, and she’s as edgy as I am. I feel she pushes the limits a bit.
Tell me about the “Raining In My Room” record?
Last year my old manager got a beat CD from somebody, and he was playing it in the car. And when he played that beat, it was raining coming from a meeting in Jersey, and I was going through a really bad break up. I was just really messed up, and I was in a really bad state but I was still working. We’re on my way to my house, and I’m telling [my manager] about my ex-boyfriend. The beat comes on and I just went crazy and kept getting lost in the music. By the third time, I had a hook. I started freestyling and words came out and that was it. I thought about my ex-boyfriend at the time and just wrote. At that time, I wanted us to get back together and I was in this big ass loft by myself and it was just a really easy process.
That track seems very raw, girls can relate to that. Now, explain the pop soul sound to me.
Pop music is simply popular music, they consider Alicia Keys a pop singer not a soul singer, so because of that that’s important me. Why ask for peanuts when I can have steak? I want it all, I can still do what I love and be one of the biggest artists in the world, and that’s what I want. I don’t want to be stuck in the underground. I don’t want to be anyone’s Girl Next Door and never gets past the next door. All she gets is performing at the local community centers. I do that and I will always do that, but I want to be at the community center in Madrid, I want to be at the community center in Guam. If I’m going to do it, I want to do it everywhere. And people don’t speak English everywhere but they can feel my music and that’s where the soul comes in, the soul is where you can feel it. The pop is only because I want to be popular and that’s pop soul. Black and White people both love it and I want everybody to love it.