With a majestic new record on the horizon, Sky Ferreira appears to be leaving controversy behind.
Sky Ferreira is probably the best pop star on the planet right now and if you disagree then I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. Her bruised but defiant debut album, 2014’s Night Time, My Time, had no right being as magnificent as it was, not least because she was working against a record label who seemingly didn’t want to release her music. But she got it out there, toured the shit out of it (including a stint aboard Miley’s ludicrous Bangerz circus) and has quietly set about creating its follow-up. While that album, Masochism – influenced by Fever Ray and produced in part by Kanye collaborator Mike Dean – is still being recorded, the much-trailed single Guardian is proof enough of its impending majesty. Free of the shackles that weighed down the last album, I had a chat with Sky on the phone about the new album, not dying on stage and how she may have created actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you’re about to learn, she’s a surprisingly chatty Cathy once she gets going.
How are you, Sky?
Sky: I’m good!
You have blue hair at the moment, right?
Sky: I’m in New York. I’m going to guess what you asked me, I think that’s what you said [laughs].
That’s good to know.
Sky: Oh, I have blue hair! Yeah. I do. It was a random thing. I don’t know what got into me. I just went into this store and was like, “Okay I’m going to dye my hair blue and make everyone really angry.”
They say blondes have more fun. What do, er, blues have more of?
Sky: I don’t even know. You get more attention as a blonde in general, but blue hair is another level. It really is. There’s no way of being discrete in any way. Like, if I was breaking the law or didn’t want to get into trouble, blue hair wouldn’t do me any favours. Trying to avoid someone is impossible. It will fade, though, so I’ll be blonde in a month.
When I was coming up with questions for this I struggled a bit, in a good way, because it feels like a clean slate. Like, I don’t want to just talk to you about arrests and record labels and album struggles anymore.
Sky: Not that I made a choice not to get myself in trouble anymore [laughs], but I did consciously want to keep a pretty low profile and not give out too many details about things. I want people to be excited for my record and see it as something else, not just a continuation of something I was doing three years ago. I felt like I needed to pull back a little bit. For me, I get excited when I haven’t seen or heard much from an artist for a while.
Am I a 10-year-old boy or a 60-year-old woman?
Was it exhausting dealing with all the narratives that built up around you on that last album?
Sky: A little bit. I needed to get away from that to be able to write properly. I didn’t want to write songs about touring or airports, you know what I mean? I needed to go back and live my life again, outside of all that stuff. I didn’t want to go on autopilot.
Do you feel older than 23?
Sky: Yeah, I certainly do. But sometimes I feel like I’m about five, so it’s a weird balance. It’s like, “Am I a 10-year-old boy or a 60-year-old woman?”
That’s quite a difference.
Sky: Exactly. It is. I always try to be 23 but I just don’t like any of it. That’s always been my issue. I want to be able to have fun and be normal – I’d love that – but I just can’t.
How do you feel about Night Time, My Time now?
Sky: I’m still really proud of it. It wasn’t the album that was supposed to have been released, or what the label wanted me to release. I didn’t put Everything Is Embarrassing on there and that kind of stuff. For that reason, I didn’t care if it did terribly or if people didn’t like it because it was the album I wanted and was supposed to make. I don’t look back regretting it and I’m the sort of person that gets embarrassed about things after like three months.
Last time I saw you live you were playing in a massive arena supporting Miley Cyrus. How was that tour? I mean, it didn’t start particularly well, what with you splitting your leg open.
Sky: [Laughs] I mean, would it not be me if something didn’t go terribly wrong? I feel like I’m in The Truman Show or something. Like, is someone going to pop out and tell me they’re all actors?
Surprise! I remember thinking you seemed a lot more confident on such a big stage than I was expecting at that point.
Sky: I wasn’t expecting it either because when we played the O2 nothing went right. We didn’t get to soundcheck because I wasn’t supposed to do that show – I found out two days before – so it was a little intense to say the least. Then the power wasn’t working and they were like, “Well you’re going to have to figure it out, go on stage”. What, like, I’m just going to go on stage with no power?! Then finally someone gave us some sort of converter thing two seconds before the lights went up. It was pretty fucking terrifying. After I cut my leg open on stage that one time, nothing else is scary. I don’t feel so compromised anymore. I’ve proved to myself that I’ll be totally fine, playing live isn’t going to kill me. I’m not going to die if something goes wrong.
You could have literally bled to death though.
Sky: That’s true, I could have died in that situation. But I didn’t. Fear was really the one thing I had and actually it’s worse in the moment than it really is. That very last tour I did was the first one where people saw me in the way I wanted to be represented as an artist.
Even when the album came out there was controversy – the artwork, the video for I Blame Myself, etc. Is that sort of thing exhausting?
Sky: I’m glad I have people talking. That wasn’t my intention, but it’s cool people are talking about those things. I didn’t think the cover would be that big a deal, but on Rolling Stone or somewhere it was considered one of the top 10 banned album covers in the US in the past ten years. It’s funny because there will be people fucking on TV but God forbid I have an album cover that’s not even sexual. That’s what makes people uncomfortable, I think. The fact that it wasn’t sexual. That’s considered bad, because they couldn’t make money off me being hot or sexy.
When did you start working on Masochism?
Sky: Probably during my last tour. Ironically I had the title really quickly, unlike last time. Melodies started coming to me right after Night Time, My Time I guess.
Did you always want to move on to the next one quickly?
Sky: It’s been a work in progress to say the least, because it’s not going as quickly as I thought it would, but that’s usually the case with me. I’ve been working on it for the last two years, but now it’s starting to grow into something more. I feel like I’ll know when it’s right, but they’re turning into actual songs more than just a bunch of ideas.
Did you have an idea of what you wanted it to be before you started?
Sky: I had a bunch of ideas but not a specific sound necessarily. For me, I see music more than I hear it – I’m more of a visual person. So when I make songs I see them. Sort of. More like a dream. Like I’m projecting from my brain when I’m doing it, so it feels more visual than the last album.
What are you seeing?
Sky: I don’t want to give too much away. It’s not S&M shit though, that’s what drives me crazy. The title is not a sexual thing. It’s more emotional masochism.
You were writing with Bobby Gillespie at the start, right? Are those songs still in the mix?
Sky: Yeah, I still am. I’m also working with Mike Dean, who’s worked with Kanye and Travis Scott. And this guy called Rahki who did some of the Kendrick Lamar stuff.
So is it more beats driven?
Sky: I wouldn’t say that. It’s a lot heavier than the last one for sure, but it’s not hip-hop. It’s more like The Knife or Fever Ray in terms of the production, I guess.
So it’s a big cheery bundle of fun, right?
Sky: (Laughs) It still sounds like me. It’s not me sounding like someone else. It’s probably more like me than the last one. It takes off from the deeper songs from that album, I’d say. Some of it’s a little weird, but not all of it. I also feel like it’s going to be a long album in general.
A 70 minute opus?
Sky: Well, yeah. But more like, and I’m not saying it will sound like this, but how Frank Ocean had sixteen songs on his album.
I always thought I had to suffer for it to be real or feel good. But that’s not always the case.
Is it as personal as the last one?
Sky: Yes. There are a lot of personal moments. I feel like now because I’m getting older that I’m getting more perspective on things, a greater understanding of situations. Stepping away from them has helped, if you know what I mean. I’m still a pretty angry person – it’s not like it’s going to be zen or anything – but I feel more confident about myself. In a way that I wasn’t at all, ever. I’m learning my own self value. There are songs about being self-destructive, you know, or being around things that aren’t good for you, but it’s about realising that I don’t have to feel miserable. I always thought I had to suffer for it to be real or feel good. But that’s not always the case. I went through this stage of being numb because I was exhausted from people making me feel bad about feeling things. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore,” so I shut down. I was a dormant volcano. I couldn’t work properly. Now I feel like I’m about to write much better songs. I could put this stuff out in three months from now or I could wait and it would be a lot better.
So, Guardian. Why’s that the first song you want people to hear?
Sky: I felt like it was a good transition between both of them. It’s the point between getting out of Night Time, My Time and then getting into something else. Lyrically it’s where some of the record is, too. I delayed it initially because of the video, but now I’m doing way better stuff so I didn’t want to put it out and it become an Everything Is Embarrassing situation where there’s a song, it comes out, and then nothing else comes out for ages. If I did that again then it would delay the album and I want to make sure it’s promoted properly this time.
Finally, I saw on Twitter that someone left you an envelope of sand outside your door – WTF?
Sky: Yes. I don’t know what that was, but I hope it wasn’t anthrax or something. It had a heart on the envelope.
Did you open it?
Sky: NO! [Laughs] I didn’t want to know what was in there. It could have been some government-controlled dust or some shit. It was so creepy. I shook it and then threw it in one of those giant dumpsters so now it’s probably in the sewage system of New York and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could be a reality.
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