"This is my truth. I'm not coming from a place of overcoming," Stacy Barthe confessed about her recently released debut album, "BEcoming," between sips of sake.
Suicidal thoughts, body image issues, alcoholism and depression are some of the album's heavy, deeply personal topics, which Barthe continues to navigate.
"I'm still dealing [with] not being completely OK with myself," she admits.
Haunted by a lifetime of struggling with body image and rejection, she tried to take her own life in December 2010.
"BEcoming" traces all of that. Barthe said she "unknowingly" spent the last four years crafting the album. "I write what I'm going through at the time, and then I progress into whatever I want to feel like in the next thing," she said.
Executive produced by Barthe and Frank Ocean collaborator Malay along with John Legend and Eddie Blackmon, the album moves across self-reflection, inspiration and the quest for acceptance and self-love with lush melodies and complex songwriting that's a refreshing alternative from the R&B steeped in dance or sex that's dominating airwaves.
As an in-demand songwriter who worked on Rihanna's Grammy-nominated album "Loud," the 29-year-old Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based Barthe spent the better part of the decade writing for other performers, including Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Brandy and Kelly Rowland.
But a career as a performer or hitmaker wasn't always of interest.
Barthe grew up writing poetry and excelling in English classes. Interest in music became an escape for her during her formative years, when she was bullied because of her weight.
"My Walkman was my deflector," she recalled.
With ambitions of becoming an entertainment lawyer or manager, Barthe entered New York's St. Johns University as a pre-law major. During her first year, she interned at Geffen Records and then Jive Records' urban marketing department.
At Jive, Barthe met a then-burgeoning producer out of Fontana named Hit-Boy after responding to an inquiry he posted on MySpace.
"He was probably under the assumption that I was in A&R, but I was just an intern," Barthe said, laughing. "It was the first batch of music I had ever written to. He really spawned my perpetual songwriting career."
After Hit-Boy signed to R&B-hip-hop producer Polow Da Don, he drafted Barthe as a collaborator, which eventually led to a publishing deal with Universal Music.
In 2008, Barthe landed her first major songwriting credit with "Blur," for Spears' comeback album, "Circus." She went on to help craft Rihanna's "Cheers (Drink to That)," Perry's "Hummingbird Heartbeat" and Rowland's 2010 FIFA World Cup theme, "Everywhere You Go."
"It was so empty to me," she admitted of her days as a hired hitmaker. "I was pouring myself into other artists ... and being unrecouped in my publishing deal. Whatever I did, I didn't see."
Although reluctant to step into the spotlight, she pieced together a debut EP in 2011, "Sincerely Yours, Stacy Barthe," composed of tracks that other artists had rejected. Packed with poetic R&B that echoed Sade, her dark tales of love and loss landed her on a number of artist-to-watch and year-end lists (including The Times').
Another independently released EP followed in 2012 before she landed a record deal with Motown Records that year. Despite the accomplishments, Barthe was embroiled in darkness.
"I didn't think anybody wanted to hear me sing," she said. "I didn't consider myself anything that anyone wanted to see."
After her suicide attempt, Barthe worked on shedding half her weight.
"I thought my journey was about this weight loss. I went from 380 to 190 pounds — and I ain't been in the 100s since the eighth grade — but I was doing it so that this man that I was with would love me," Barthe said.
"That's all it's ever been about, my whole life: See me, want me, like me, love me."
Barthe addresses her shift in perspective on "BEcoming." "When you get the courage to be honest with yourself / you can stop lying to everybody else / don't you ever get tired of pretending," she sings on the hopeful "Hey You There."
Barthe is grateful for how far she's come physically and mentally but she admits it's not enough for her.
"I do want to be married and have some kids. All of this is cool ... but none of it really matters. When I think about my ultimate happiness, this doesn't make me happy," she said.
She may not have yet found ultimate happiness, but Barthe has learned to live for herself — something that's taken years to do.
"My whole life has been a war. . . Mainly, its been me against me. Me accepting myself," she said. "To go through all that and finally make it, that's the point of all this. It's why I'm still here."