The non-conforming spirit of Skylar Grey may be the key to her musical genius. With five GRAMMY nominations secured over two productive years, it is easy to forget that Skylar’s songwriting talents have bolstered the careers of established acts, while crafting the blueprint for her “takeover” of the music establishment. Invinsible, a portmanteau of “invisible” and “invincible”, will serve as the singer-songwriters major label debut.
Prior to the album’s launch, KIDinaKORNER Records and Interscope Records released The Buried Sessions of Skylar Grey. The digital EP features raw cuts of her songs previously performed by Diddy-Dirty Money (“Coming Home”) and Lupe Fiasco (“Words I Never Said”), as well as Eminem and Rihanna (“Love the Way You Lie”). In support of the Buried Sessions and the highly-anticipated release of Invinsible, Skylar Grey squeezed some time out her busy schedule in order to settle down for a two-part interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on Kaskade’s “Room for Happiness” remixes, the quality time spent with Marilyn Manson, and self-discovery in the process of finding comfort in one’s skin.
Clayton Perry: With the recent release of The Buried Sessions of Skylar Grey, several songs from your songwriting catalog have been refashioned – and reincarnated, if you will – for a beautiful afterlife. What beauty have you found in the spirit of your acoustic takes? And when you reflect on the songs’ evolutions, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
Skylar Grey: I initially wrote these songs just as what I would personally do or sing as an artist. And then the fact that it got picked up by other people. It’s not like I wrote “Love the Way you Lie” for Rihanna. It’s just that it happened, and it’s really great, and I’m so grateful for it. But I think it’s cool, too, because being a songwriter, there’s like a different type of connection with the lyrics than somebody who’s been performing it. And the reason I called it The Buried Sessions was because of the raw sessions of the songs in their pure form, before they got taken to these great heights with these amazing other artists. And I just think it’s cool to see the whole evolution of the song.
Clayton Perry: When you compare the raw, cut version of a song against the polished product, what elements make you gravitate towards the raw cut?
Skylar Grey: I just think that sometimes when a lot of production elements get added, it takes it to a different place and emotionally, it’s not as raw. And I’m a big fan of like really raw emotion, so, it’s nice to strip it back sometimes and just hear, you know, where the person is coming from minus all the production to distract you.
Clayton Perry: I guess it’s probably safe to assume then that out of Kaskade’s two versions of “Room for Happiness” – the Fire Mix and the Ice Mix – that you probably prefer the “Ice” rendition [laughing].
Skylar Grey: Yes! [laughing]
Clayton Perry: As a songwriter and instrumentalist, examine the influence production and instrument selection has on the vibe and spiritual mood of a song, in regards to Kaskade’s remixes of your new song, “Room for Happiness.”
Skylar Grey: Well, when I wrote that song it started as the Fire Mix, and Kaskade had the concept to make his album Fire and Ice, so that there was two different mixes of each song. And I had nothing to do with the production of the Ice Mix, but he sent it to me with live strings and some kind of piano. And it blew me away, first of all, to hear Kaskade do a production like that. And then also just to hear how even when I wrote the song and I sang with a certain amount of emotion, but when you’re distracted by pumping beats, you sometimes don’t listen to all the emotion in the vocal. So when he stripped it back, it became a whole different animal and it was really, really interesting to me. And I think that as all the other songs that I wrote with hip-hop people, there’s a place for all of it. Like, I was driving on the PCH listening to the Fire Mix and it was just like a more feel good way to listen to it, whereas the Ice Mix kind of makes me want to cry.
Clayton Perry: The song’s lyrics are powerful – and I wanted to discuss a few lines with you. One particular line: “Don’t be fooled by your emptiness, there’s so much more room for happiness.” Why do you think this is the case?
Skylar Grey: Well, I think that we all have bouts of sadness and loss in our lives, and we can’t just dwell on the loss of something, because we’re just going to be miserable. We have to see that emptiness as a space that is like an opportunity to bring something new into that space now, something that will make you happy. So that’s kind of how I live. I may mourn the loss of something for a minute, but then I have to say, “Okay, so now what am I going to make different about my life now that I have this new opportunity to fill this void?” And I go out and find things that I never thought I would find. So it’s just like something I live by.
Clayton Perry: Speaking of things that you live by, is there a guiding philosophy or life event that made you write: “Sometimes it’s worse to have lost than to have never had at all, because it’s a curse to feel love and to feel it all dissolve”? Is there any particular inspiration behind this quote?
Skylar Grey: No. I mean, sometimes if you never experience something, you don’t even realize what you’re missing. But then when you experience that thing and it goes away, it feels like a piece of you is gone. Like, if I had never met this person that I just lost, just for example, maybe I wouldn’t feel empty now because, you know, I wouldn’t even know what I was missing. But after having experience with that person, and then losing them, it’s like you feel empty and that’s all that line meant.
Clayton Perry: The closing lines for Verse 1 and Verse 2 of “Invisible” are the same except for the very last few words: “I try everything to make them see me, but all they see is someone that’s not me” [Verse 1] and “I try everything to make them see me, but every one sees what I can’t be” [Verse 2]. Living in the public spotlight, you will certainly be a role model to people of all stripes. What advice do you have for others, as far as feeling comfortable in one’s skin? And taken further, how did you learn to become comfortable in your own skin?
Skylar Grey: I really became comfortable in my own skin when I went away to the woods and lived by myself without influence of other people, because I only had myself out there. I didn’t have anyone to lean on or pump me up when I was feeling down or anything like that. So, I had to do it all myself, and I became my own emotional support and I found out a lot about myself while I was out there. And one of those things was that I felt like the years before, that I had been trying to do so much to please other people or their opinions that I totally lost my own character. I didn’t know who I was. And when I was out in the woods, the unique person that I was when I was a kid kind of came back out again. And that’s how I was able to feel comfortable because I knew at the end of the day we die alone, so I might as well enjoy living in my skin for my whole life here, even if nobody else likes it.
Clayton Perry: Interesting! On a professional level, you have been able to channel your inner strength through your songwriting, which makes me curious about how you grew and developed as a songwriter. I am impressed by the way your lyrics convey a great deal of emotion – even within the span of one line. How did you grow to become fascinated with words and learn to play and experiment with them?
Skylar Grey: Well, all the songs that I write are a reflection of my own thoughts and emotions and experience. It’s my way of letting things out. It’s like when you’re learning something, for example, it’s sometimes easier to teach what you’re learning to somebody else and then it suddenly sinks into you. It’s the same type of thing. When I’m learning about myself, it helps for me to put it down on paper and show other people what I’ve learned, because then, for some reason, it really sinks in with me, so it’s really therapeutic. Not only to write music, but to share it.
Clayton Perry: Music in many ways is emotional therapy – for both you and the listener. You get therapy from writing it, and the listener gains it from listening. When you think of art, in general, what do you aspire or hope that your music will be for others? And on the other hand, what do you consider to be the purpose and function of art?
Skylar Grey: Well, I don’t know if it’s selfish, but I always write for myself because that’s how I started. I needed an outlet. And so every time I write, it’s for myself therapeutically. But I also realize that we’re all human, and we all have a lot of the similar emotions, so other people can easily relate to the things that I say in my songs, and it feels really good to be able to help people. Because, you know, I do a lot of thinking and making realizations and then putting it down on paper, and not everybody has the ability to do that.
Clayton Perry: I know…
Skylar Grey: But it’s cool, though, because when somebody like me comes along and can do that, then I can help that person, Yeah, they said exactly what I was trying to say, and that helps them in their own lives realize things and grow. So that’s, I think, the purpose of art, too, is it makes life more tolerable! [laughing]
Clayton Perry: I see! [laughing] Every time I hear a song that bears your touch, it never sounds like anything that I’ve ever heard before. Even so, they manage to have a contemporary sound – something palpable that mainstream radio can play and people can appreciate. At the same time, your songs are very forward-thinking and feel light years ahead of their time. How do you manage to do that?
Skylar Grey: Well, this is my trick. I’ll tell you my trick. A lot of people in the music industry are always trying to do what’s hot. Oh, what song is hot right now? Let’s do something like that. Do something that’s contrived, because, oh, that’s selling, so we should do something like that. And that works for some people, but for me it doesn’t, because every time I’ve tried to do that, it ends up being a totally uninspired piece of work. And so, I look at it this way. Every song I’ve ever heard in my entire life or song that I’ve created or just even movies that I’ve seen with scores and everything that I’ve experienced makes me who I am today. So if I can just let go of trying to sound like anything and just follow my intuition. Because within my intuition is the inspiration of every single note I’ve ever heard sung or played by anyone. And so if I just follow my intuition, my gut leads the way; that’s going to be the best song. It always is. You know, every song that I’ve ever written that actually has had any success; it’s like I didn’t write it. It’s like I channeled it. It didn’t even feel like work.
Clayton Perry: That is a sign of what I would call genius – and the mark of a true artist.
Skylar Grey: Thank you! I follow my intuition. I know I have a certain path, and that’s to finish my album and get it out.
Clayton Perry: I am quite certain these past few years had a tremendous influence on your album – moving and transitioning between Wisconsin, Oregon and California.
Skylar Grey: I wrote a lot of my album when I was up in Oregon – a beautiful place. I lived in a cabin in the woods for a while. That’s where I wrote “Love the Way You Lie II.” It’s much more inspiring. But the album title is Invinsible and it’s spelled wrong. It’s spelled with an “s.” Because I feel like Skylar Grey is like the three-year-old version of me that I created. And Holly, the person that I was when I was born—and then up until a couple of years ago when I changed myself—she was a very invisible person. So, the transformation I made from Holly to Skylar, you can kind of see in one word, “invinsible” spelled wrong with an “s” because you can kind of see “invisible” in there, too.
Clayton Perry: When you compare and contrast these two separate but still bound lives, in what way did that resonate with you in terms of you being invincible now in trying to make your name and claim the fame in the music landscape?
Skylar Grey: Invincible is something in your head. I wouldn’t associate it with any type of success or fame or any of that stuff. It’s like a switch in your own head you’ve got to figure out to go from feeling invisible to feeling invincible. And other people aren’t responsible for your feelings. You’re responsible for your own feelings of happiness or feelings of invincibility. So I don’t associate that with any type of success or anything like that.
Clayton Perry: As a singer and a songwriter and a producer, you wear a lot of different hats. Which talent do you think you developed first? Which do you feel that you have to work the hardest to better and hone?
Skylar Grey: I mean, it’s all hard. I’m a creative person, but it’s like a real artist who’s pushing themselves to do better each time. It’s like we stress ourselves out just trying to do better on each thing that we do. Right now I’m finishing up my album, so the songwriting aspect has been on my mind a lot lately. But then there’s also the putting together of a live show, and what I want it to look like, and getting the right people involved. And it’s all my art. Like I’m involved in every level of everything that happens. I don’t know what I’m better at. I just think that it’s all part of this same picture that I’m painting. And it’s all difficult to get it to a place where I feel satisfied, because I’m never satisfied.
Clayton Perry: When you reflect on the recording experience for this album, did you set any expectations upon yourself or did you just go in and have an organic kind of experience?
Skylar Grey: I don’t really have expectations for myself, but other people have expectations for me, because everybody got spoiled with “Love the Way You Lie.” To me, that is something that happens like once in a lifetime. And I’m not saying that I can’t have another big song one day, but it’s a lot to have to live up to. Something big like that doesn’t happen like that every day.
Clayton Perry: From the potential tracks that I have seen, there is an intriguing guest feature: Marilyn Manson.
Skylar Grey: I reached out to Manson because I wanted to do something unexpected on my album besides the features. I didn’t want to just go to Lil Wayne and do the most expected thing. So I reached out to him and we really hit it off on the first meeting. The first few weeks, we just got together and played each other’s music. Not just our own records, but other things that we really liked. And we talked a lot! [laughing] He played me a lot of really gruesome and offensive movies and we had a lot of really in-depth conversations. I was over there thinking I was going to spend an hour talking to him or playing him something, and it turned into fifteen hours – without knowing where the time went. It was really a cool experience to work with him. The song we ended up doing together is called “Can’t Haunt Me.”
Clayton Perry: As the initial hour of your meeting turned into fifteen hours, what professional advice or tips did Marilyn Manson give you?
Skylar Grey: He gave me a lot of advice. So much that I can’t even repeat it all. It was that overwhelming. He was constantly—not lecturing me—telling me where he went wrong and where I could do better than he did. And he gave me tips on how to deal with people in the industry and how to do my shows right and everything. Just every aspect of it. He was constantly giving me little tips.
Clayton Perry: Coming into this whole process, one person who has been attached to your name is Alex Da Kid. Talk about the magic that the two of you seem to have when it comes to putting things together. It appears you have a special musical partnership.
Skylar Grey: Before I met him, I felt so invincible and like I could conquer the world, and I thought if I just get the right teammate, we’re going to conquer the world. We really will. And so, I had this confidence. And then I reached out through my publisher – because she introduced me to him. It was like my first “try it” and immediately we wrote “Love the Way You Lie.” It was the first thing we did together. So it was an immediate type of thing. Then we decided, “Okay, this is great. Let’s continue this.” And he signed me to a production deal back then. And then we didn’t sign in Nashville until after the GRAMMYs, but we’d been working pretty closely. We’ve only been working really closely since “Love the Way You Lie.”
Clayton Perry: When you look at your entire musical journey, is there a particular experience that made you think: “This is the life that I wish to lead – or this is the life that I choose to lead?” And prior to the GRAMMYs, going back even further into your childhood, what turned on the light switch for you?
Skylar Grey: I don’t think I ever really know what life I want to lead because the fact is like every time I’m within a certain life, I look across the valley and see greener grass over there and think: “Maybe I’m not doing the right thing!” So, I’m constantly questioning my personal life. But I know that I’m in the right place now, even if it’s really hard and sometimes not enjoyable, because I will kill myself later if I don’t give just 100 percent of my effort to what I’m doing for right now. That’s one of the things that I came back into this for. I’m still young, but I’m not that young from music industry standards and if I wanted to have any type of success in music, time was of the essence, and I needed to jump back into the industry and give it 100 percent of my energy. And at least if I did that, in ten years if it didn’t work out, I could look back and say: “At least I gave it my all and I tried my best.” And I can’t get mad myself for that. But if I didn’t even try, then I would be really angry that I never tried.
For more information on Skylar Grey, visit her official website: http://www.skylargreymusic.com