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 an interview with AllHipHop.com Alternatives – 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:
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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 [laughter].
Skylar Grey: Yes! [laughter]
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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.
AHHA: 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! [laughter]
AHHA: I see! [laughter] 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.
AHHA: 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.