Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I N T E R V I E W | Into The Woods With Skylar Grey

By J a m e s for JUMP magazine.

Skylar Grey finished her 2013 summer tour this weekend in San Francisco.

More importantly, the 27 year-old Wisconsin native kicked it off right here in Philadelphia earlier this month.

In its first week of release, Grey’s second studio album Don't Look Down debuted at #8 on the Billboard 200. 

"First day of tour. Day after album release. Number 3 on iTunes… I've been drinking all night!” she exclaimed through casual sips of beer during her July 10th show at Philly's World Cafe Live .

I spoke with the refreshingly candid and fashionably grunge artist [picture a satisfying cross between rocker Avril Lavigne and model Cara Delevingne] about her album, her experience as a songwriter in the music industry [you may have jammed to some of her hits – Dirty Money’s “Coming Home,” as well as Rihanna and Eminem’s "Love The Way You Lie”], and the relatable journey of self-discovery we all ultimately embark.  

Your album debuted the day before your Philadelphia show and charted number 3 on iTunes. As a native Philadelphian, I’m honored you shared this special moment with us.
Thank you! I LOVE Philly. Every time I come here people treat me really well. I always look forward to coming.

At the World Café Live show, I noticed a pretty cool tattoo on your upper arm? Was that Wisconsin?

I thought so! Such a cool idea for ink. How has where you’re from [Wisconsin] influenced you as an artist?
The fact that I’m from Wisconsin, it definitely plays a major role in my life. I started singing when I was six with my mom. I learned a lot from that whole experience. Just about music and being professional. As far as songwriting goes, I was very influenced by where I grew up because lyrically I tell a lot of stories on my album. I tend to go back to childhood… and a lot of the times, my songs take place in Mazomanie, Wisconsin. My teenage years, I basically learned the most about myself.

What kind of music did you listen to during that time period?
Growing up I listened to a lot of different things. My mom was a folk musician. My dad was a singer. But my sister was really into 90s grunge and pop music, so that’s really where I started listening to the radio and CDs. I got really into Nirvana and Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crowe. Just… the 90s. It’s what I’m usually influenced by.

Who doesn't love the 90s?! Traces of that era are evident in your music. Even more so within your earlier work under your birth name Holly Brook. Why did you change your name?
I went through a transformation a few years ago when I took a period of time away from the music industry. I left because I was broke and things were not working out.  I knew I wanted to pursue music, but I was just tired of the industry. So I went to a cabin in the woods in Oregon and isolated myself.

Wow! So this was your Walkabout.
Exactly. I was by myself. I was out in the woods surviving on nothing. I was living in a little one room cabin with a wood stove. I had to go outside to use the bathroom. ::Laughs:: It was really rustic to say the least, but it was great because I found so much peace… I found myself again out there. I feel like I lost myself for a while after moving to L.A and pursuing my dream and getting caught up in the whole weird world. I needed to reconnect with who I was. It was a soul-searching journey. It changed me.

That’s incredible.
It was. At the end of the trip I made a decision that I needed to continue music. I needed to make it work. I felt stronger. I felt like I was capable of anything I put my mind to at that point, so I went after my dream again. The first thing that I did was write a song called “Love The Way You Lie” and it blew up.

“Love The Way You Lie” was the pivotal moment.  
It was proof that I had made the right choice by going to the woods. It gave me a second chance in the music industry and that’s why I changed my name. couldn't come back the same person that I was before because I wasn't  I’m not that person anymore. I’m totally different. I’m a different artist.

I am so blown away by your journey. I think we could all benefit from a meditative escape.
I would recommend it for most people. I do not know if everyone could necessarily handle it… but I do know you can surprise yourself out in the woods. ::Laughs:: In society there’s a lot of pressure – a lot of people giving their opinions and influencing your opinion of yourself, but when you’re alone, your opinion is the only one that matters. In those moments you realize you can do anything.

That’s a message you convey on this album, Don’t Look Down. What kind of overall experience were you creating for listeners?
Overall this album is about coming into your own and learning from tough times. For the album and live, I just want to take people on a little bit of a journey. I want them to be able to relate to my lyrics and my songs and maybe… and maybe be helped by them. It’s therapeutic when I write a song for myself. To be able to hand it off to someone else… for my fans to get therapy out of it… it feels really good.

I mentioned Diddy earlier. You've worked with Dirty Money, Eminem, and a host of other phenomenal artists.  How did you get started as a behind the scenes hit-maker?
“Love The Way You Lie” set off a chain reaction. People like Diddy and Dr. Dre and Lupe Fiasco and T.I. came to me requesting hooks. That’s how that whole thing started. I got really cool songs placed. 

At your Philadelphia show you highlighted that it was Eminem’s drummer performing on stage with you. What’s your relationship with Eminem?
My relationship with Eminem came about after working with him on the Dr. Dre song “I Need A Doctor” and some of the Slaughterhouse [hip hop super-group associated with Eminem] music. We found that we had a lot in common creatively. There was a point when I was making Don’t Look Down where I felt I needed a fresh ear. Eminem offered to come on board to executive produce the album alongside Alex Da Kid, who I met via “Love The Way You Lie.” I was able to bounce ideas off of Em. He made me more confident when it came to following my instincts.

At your show you switched seamlessly between several instruments. How has being a multi-instrumentalist molded your creative process as a recording artist?
When you play live, you put yourself out there for your fans and let them see you as you are. I like the vulnerability of a live instrument. Because it’s not perfect. I could mess up at any moment. I also find it really helpful when working with producers. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate what you want. It’s easier to just to tell them to move over and physically play for them what you’re hearing. ::Laughs:: I try to be as capable as I can. When I’m collaborating. It makes life a lot easier.

It’s important to show them what’s what! So you've been composing for a while then?
I started playing piano at six and I've been composing ever since. It’s how I express myself. A single chord change can express an emotion without having to say anything.

That’s a beautiful observation.
Thank you.

Okay, so you've rocked out in front of your fans; your studio album is released and making waves on the charts – how does it feel to be Skylar Grey?
It feels so good! It’s a little bit of a relief that the album is out now. Feels good to have such a great response because I've been believing in my album, and my immediate team has been believing in my album for so long. I’m so appreciative to my fans for believing in it and buying it. I’m experiencing somewhat of a I told you so moment.’ ::Laughs::

Word to the hatahs. 

HER Notes:
Skylar Grey is most spellbinding when performing live and when channeling her childhood influences [McLachlan, Morissette, Crow, her mother, etc..]. Personal favorites on Don't Look Down : "White Suburban," "Glow In The Dark," and "Religion."

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