Andra Day Talks Love Lessons on Cassandra, Her First Album in Nine Years

After her Grammy-nominated debut, the Golden Globe-winning The United States vs. Billie Holiday actress is back with a soul-baring solo record.

by Jessica Herndon

andra day
Photo by Getty. Image treatment by Ashley Peña

Andra Day is over putting up with men’s crap. One of her methods for shaking off romantic dilemmas is calling out her suitors’ mess on her latest album. “This season of my life, it’s just like, kiss my ass, bro,” she says with a sneering grin. “But I’m also trying to be accountable.” Fittingly titled Cassandra (Cherith)—after her birth name, Cassandra Monique Batie—the singer-actress’s first solo record since 2015’s Cheers to the Fall is her most personal soul and R&B outing yet.

Day’s new album, out May 10, is laden with poignant stories rooted in the 39-year-old’s personal growth and search for a deeper sense of self-love and faith over the past nine years. In Cassandra, she lays bare her emotions on romantic love gained and lost—and the beauty (and havoc) that often ensues between the stages of bliss, heartbreak, and clarity. A devout Christian, Day included the biblical term “Cherith” as part of her album’s title to signify the act of isolation as a means to become whole. “I feel like I have been in the wilderness for a while,” she admits over Zoom, before adding that creating this album “has been a process of learning myself.”

When Day’s musical career took off in the mid-2000s after the San Diego native caught the attention of Stevie Wonder, she remembers being asked at the time which artist’s career she wanted to emulate. Back then, she’d said Sade—though she was sure she’d avoid also being the type of artist who releases an album about every 10 years. Yet, here we are.

Still, Day is equally eager for longtime fans and those who may only know her from her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lee Daniels’s biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday to fall in love with the new album. Below, the artist talks about getting petty on her record, why she’s abstained from intercourse for almost 11 years, and what’s next with her acting career.

Photograph by Myriam Santos

You’ve talked openly about struggling with impostor syndrome. Do you still feel it despite all of your success?

I still struggle with it. I don’t know if there’s a level of accomplishment I’ll reach that will make me feel like I’m good enough. But I’m going to keep showing up, even if I feel scared or uncomfortable. Making that a practice helps me to be like, “Yep, I’m supposed to be here.”

It’s been almost 10 years since you released a solo album. Does this new record offer a window into the past decade? Or just a piece of it?

It’s a window into my relationships, how I don’t think I’m very good in them or at them. It’s told from a relational aspect. I lost a relationship, started another one that I probably shouldn’t have, and ended that. I was singing and writing throughout the entire process. The theme of this album is the journey from the wilderness, or the desert, to the water. I’m fighting to get to a place of sustenance and peace in my relationships, career, within myself, and in my faith.

On this album, you get sexier and a little petty, which is so fun!

I wanted to talk honestly about things, and I wanted things to be a little funny because sometimes you just have to laugh at stuff. I did want it to be a little petty. It’s a season where I’m not just going to hold myself accountable; I’m going to hold other people accountable, too.

Andra Day performs on The Kelly Clarkson Show.

Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

When doing press for Billie, you were open about abstaining from sex. Per what you’re singing about on this album, that streak seems to have been broken. Was that freeing, clarifying?

I wanted to feel sexier on this album. But to be very clear, I still haven’t had intercourse. It’s going on 11 years. But I did other things. When I do it again, I want it to be in the context of marriage. But I don’t believe talking about it should be taboo. [Billie] had a part in that. Billie was a very sexy person. There was a bit of that which made its way to me and the album. Not that I was immune to it. I know what that feels like. It felt more like tapping back into a memory as opposed to a new place.

Thank you for being so open about that. Let’s talk about your creative process. What does it look like when inspiration hits?

I have a lyric dump on the Notes app in my phone. I also record voice notes and melody ideas. Sometimes, a street name triggers fodder for songs, or working with friends and family, or seeing how a room is moving. Maybe I see somebody working hard and I think about what they may be thinking. When I’m really present, inspiration hits.

What does “really present” feel like for you?

It’s awareness of where I am spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, in my body, and in my circumstances. It’s almost like this internal voice goes, “Pay attention right now.” It’s an utter truth. The truth is what really speaks. That’s actually what my name, Cassandra, means: a truth-teller.

In your next film projects, you play André Holland’s wife in Exhibiting Forgiveness, which is set to release next fall, and you reunite with Lee Daniels for his horror flick The Deliverance. After tackling the complex Billie Holiday, is there an ease with which you approach roles?

No! In some ways, The Deliverance was harder, which netted, [based on] what Lee told me, a better performance. With Billie, I could lose myself in this whole other life and world, whereas Ebony [Day’s character in The Deliverance] is closer to home. She’s more current. And then, with Exhibiting Forgiveness, it was almost harder to just play a supportive wife not giving over to addiction and something crazy. It was harder to play somebody who was balanced.

Your style is giving Old Hollywood glam these days. Who or what is inspiring your looks lately?

This is going to sound crazy, but I am. In this season of my life, I want to feel sexy and beautiful. Before, I wore stuff I loved, and it was beautiful, but it was about covering up. I wanted the music and aesthetic to feed each other. But right now, I like the way I look. I feel pretty good about myself. The album’s called Cassandra. There’s more of a focus on who I am.