Q&A: Sky Ferreira Opens Up About Her Tumultuous Year And Long-Delayed Debut Album
Given the amount of press attention given to her over the past year — and the very polarizing reactions she seems to elicit — it’s kind of amazing that Sky Ferreira is only just now about to release a full-length album. Based on the buzz behind last year’s Ghost EP (not to mention a busy past few months of internet headline grabbing involving drug-related arrests, cancelled tours, and a variety of 11th hour album delays) it’s fair to say that Ferreira’s proper debut — Night Time, My Time, which is now set for release on October 29th — is arguably one of this year’s most hotly anticipated records. It will also likely be one of the year’s most talked about releases, as Ferreira seems to have become a kind of lightning rod for talking about anything from the fucked up nature of the music business to the aesthetics of drugginess to fashion to quasi-feminist discussions of what it means to be a young woman making pop music in the year 2013. To her credit, Ferreira herself is pretty happy to talk about all of these things and she seems to realize that right now the stakes are high. For someone who has spent the better part of her life navigating and negotiating the bullshit side of the entertainment industry, releasing a debut album that she can be proud of (and she should, because it’s pretty great) has been nothing short of a monumental task … and actually something well over a decade in the making.
STEREOGUM: How are you feeling? How’s your voice?
SKY FERREIRA: Well you know I’m going back to the ENT — ear, nose, throat doctor — tomorrow. It’s way better. It was basically like, “Don’t sing for three weeks and you’ll be fine.” And I kind of did not take that well, as you can imagine, because I’ve had quite an intense month already. So the Vampire Weekend tour had to stop because I had a node on my vocal chords. And the thing is, it kept coming back … and I never knew what it was. Everyone kept telling me it was laryngitis but I coudn’t get rid of it ever since SXSW, that was the first time it happened. And it just turns out it was a node that was never getting taken care of. And basically if I kept singing I would have had to get vocal surgery and I could’ve risked changing my voice forever — I would not have been able to play live for four months at least. Or sing at all. Or promote my record. So I thought I guess I have to cancel the last week of the Vampire Weekend tour so I don’t have to cancel the rest of my career! [laughs]. Basically the first week I was just dead silent, writing on notepads and texting while I’m sitting next to someone. That kind of thing. And I had a white dry erase board, but I was way too immature for that. I just kept drawing pictures of other people and arrows and stuff. So that didn’t work out too well. And I’ve been able to speak now, but obviously I’m not going to be like, screaming or yelling or anything. It’s definitely better. So I found out I had the node and at first I thought I was just going to have to cancel three shows, and then I could go back on tour. But I couldn’t cancel the show the day I found out because it would’ve just been really fucked up of me to do that, and I felt really bad. So I played a show with the node. And then I get a hemorrhage, a vessel popped and it made it much worse. So it’s kind of like spraining your ankle or something, you just have to let it heal. But it’s almost done. And tomorrow hopefully I’ll be fully recovered. Fingers crossed, we’re almost there.
STEREOGUM: I’ve known other singers who have that exact same thing happen and I know it never happens at a good time, like when you’re on vacation or something. It’s always when you’re on tour.
SKY FERREIRA: Exactly! Well that’s the thing, I never knew what it was because I would go to these doctors and they’d all tell me something different. Basically I went to two ENTs and they had no clue what they were doing. The other ones kind of didn’t know. They were kind of just taking my money and overcharging me thousands of dollars because insurance doesn’t cover that kind of thing. And putting B12 shots in your ass and telling you you’re going to be fine when you’re not. So they were saying that I had bronchitis, but I shouldn’t have bronchitis or laryngitis for six months straight. And really it was just my voice was giving in. So I can’t sing every single day because it will just take a toll on my vocal chords. But at least now I know that, so when I plan my tours there has to be like two days on, and then one day off. Or two off and then one. That kind of thing. Instead of just going straight through and doing like four shows in a row, cause my voice is just going to give in at some point.
STEREOGUM: The official release date of Night Time, My Time was officially announced recently and people who have been following your career know that this record has been a long time in the making. That being said, I don’t think most people realize just how long you’ve actually been doing this.
SKY FERREIRA: I’ve spent half of my life pursuing this — literally half. I don’t know anything outside of this, to be honest. Because I really started when I was like, 11 or 12, with doing weird shit. And it was kind of like my mom didn’t really know how to handle it. I was one of those people that was a little too old for my own good, ever since I was little. Like an old spirit. By the time I was 15 I was like, “I’m ready to move out and be an adult. I’m working.” And it wasn’t like I had stage moms. I said stage moms because I have both my mom and my grandma and I call them both mom. But anyway, I really didn’t have any of that. People probably think I did because I started young, but if I’d had a real stage mother pushing me I probably would’ve done Disney or something like that. But yeah I’ve literally been doing this forever … and I always knew I was going to do it. I never even thought about it, like “What am I going to do when I’m older?” I never had to think about it, I just did it. That was kind of the thing. And I don’t really know anything outside of it in some ways. I wouldn’t know what to do if I weren’t pursuing this.
STEREOGUM: This seems really bizarre, but I remember meeting you years ago via a friend of mine. You were photographed for a magazine at his house and I think you had already recorded a bunch of songs then … and I think you were maybe 15 years old? 16?
SKY FERREIRA: I remember! I shot at his house for Purple magazine. I was really young. And I was, like, hanging out with all these much older people. So it’s funny, there are all these people behind the scenes who pretend like I’m this new thing, but they’ve actually known me for years. I’m like, you guys know better. Don’t front. But yeah, this has been my entire life. I didn’t really ask for it. I wouldn’t say it fell into my lap but in a way it did. It’s not like I got discovered on the street and started singing by accident. It didn’t fall in my lap that way. But you can’t really plan on these types of things. You know I’ve been around it for a while and yeah I’ve been in magazines and have done a lot of modeling stuff, but I’m still not used to tabloids talking about me and stuff like that. That part is really weird, because that wasn’t something I was really interested in. I never expected to be talked about in that way … and sometimes it’s really vicious and weird. And it’s annoying because it’s a lie. The entire world lying about you.
STEREOGUM: Now that the record is about to be released, what can you say about the process of putting it together? My sense is that you really had to fight to release the album that you wanted to.
SKY FERREIRA: It’s exhausting. I don’t really know any other way to say it. Like, physically exhausting and emotionally exhausting because I was constantly traveling, I was trying to … the thing is, there’s so much political bullshit behind all of this. You have to go through so many people and you have to make sure not to make this person angry or that person angry so that you can actually do this. And you have to figure out a way to maneuver around this thing and that thing. And you are also trying to get people to actually know YOU outside of your image or whatever. But also, I’m not going to hide and not show myself either. I’m not going to cover up or pretend to be something I’m not in order to satisfy other people. People will say, “If you don’t want to be judged just on your image, then why are you modeling?” Um… because I like modeling. Sorry. It helps me make a living. I don’t know. It’s weird. I’ve just spent soooo much time working on this. I mean, I’ve probably actually made ten albums at this point in order to get this one album that I’m happy with. And I finally got it. And it’s the first time I feel like I can really stand behind it. I never really felt that way before. I wasn’t sure. There’s a lot of pressure involved, not because everyone’s waiting for it, but because it’s just been so long in the making. And I’ve been around so long and I still haven’t released a fucking album! So it has to be good. Even if it’s not good, I have to think it’s good. I can’t be unsure of it. And I really think I got my message across. Actually, I had multiple messages, but I think I got them all across in some way. I feel good about it.
STEREOGUM: I was talking to someone recently who’s a writer and has a book coming out next year. He was arguing with the publisher about what the cover of the book is going to look like…
SKY FERREIRA: Oh trust me, I know that one. You can only imagine.
STEREOGUM: And he was saying to me, “Well maybe they know better than I do what’s going to sell, so maybe I should just let them do what they think is best.” But in the end, he’s the one who is going to have to live with that cover, and you don’t want to spend the rest of your life looking at it and wishing that you’d stuck to your guns and kept the image you wanted. Once it is out in the world, you can’t take it back.
SKY FERREIRA: Well that’s totally what I’ve learned from experience of that very thing happening. Early on I would be like “I guess they know what they’re doing. I guess I’ll try to let them do it.” And then it just ends up totally fucked and I’m embarrassed. I don’t like being embarrassed. No one likes being embarrassed of themselves. And the thing is, I’ve publicly had to learn from my mistakes in front of everyone … in front of the Internet. Anyone can basically track down everything I’ve done wrong since the age of 15 so that’s kind of weird. But I’ve learned that from before, which was why at a certain point I was like, “I’m not letting you guys take control over the creative process. You guys can fuck up everything else — like how to market it or whatever — but you can’t control my actual songs.” And yes I do want it to sell, but I don’t know how it’s going to sell and music doesn’t sell much anyways anymore, does it? But I know I made a good record and I don’t expect it to be number one the first week it comes out or anything like, cause that’s just not how it’s set up for me. I’m fine with that because I feel like something is going to happen. And I feel like once it’s out at least I’ll have the music to stand behind me, because that’s kind of the issue. There is music out there now, but there’s like three songs. That’s not enough.
STEREOGUM: The album cover shot by Gaspar Noé [NSFW] was just revealed. How did that come to be?
SKY FERREIRA: Well, originally I shot an album cover with someone else. But the thing was, while I really wanted to use that image for something, they were so busy we couldn’t get it turned in on time. Also I switched managers for a minute — it was just not working and I was being told ten different things and it was a mess. And I was supposed to release an EP, so Gaspar shot the cover for the EP. During this time I kept being told that I needed to write more songs, but I really didn’t need to. But anyway, originally I was going to put out this EP, which is now the album. So I had the other image I could have used, but the Gaspar one just made so much more sense for the album. When we shot it, it was just how I felt in that moment … and that’s also kind of how I feel on the album. Even though the original image I had was really strong and beautiful, the Gaspar shot is strong and beautiful too, just in a very different way. It’s much more raw. I think my label wanted … well they sent me mockups of photos of a shoot I did two years ago. I had long blonde hair and I’m sitting on a bed looking cute. I’m in a black dress looking pretty. It’s whatever. It’s a beautiful photo but that’s just what it is: me, modeling. And that’s what they wanted me to use instead of me looking demented in the shower. I thought it was great to have the opportunity to have an album cover shot by Gaspar, who’s one of my favorite directors ever. I was so fortunate. I’m so grateful to work with him. I think it’s the first album cover he’s ever shot too. And he’s a huge influence on me and that image is really important to me. It says a lot to me … my face says it all. I don’t really feel like my left nipple is all that important … and yeah people are going to make that the main focus, but I don’t really have an issue with nudity. It’s not the first time I’ve shot topless either. I don’t really find anything wrong with being topless. My mom and I used to go tanning at the beach topless. So I don’t really look at is as a sexual thing.
STEREOGUM: Well it is very provocative. You have to know that people are going to react to it … not that it’s a bad thing.
SKY FERREIRA: Well pop music is provocative. Well not always, but it should be. Maybe in some ways the image is distasteful, but I don’t feel that it’s trashy. At least not trashy in a bad way. I feel like it’s pretty spot on.
STEREOGUM: I think it’s interesting to hear you talk about this stuff. You know, a good cultural critic could probably write an entire feminist treatise based solely on the way people talk about you in the press. The Internet comments alone…
SKY FERREIRA: Yeah I mean I feel it too. I feel it. I experience feminist culture calling me out and saying I’m not a feminist, but I think I definitely am a feminist, in my own way. I didn’t know there was a book about how to be a proper feminist, but I think of myself as one because I am doing what I want to do. No one’s telling me to do it. And the most ridiculous thing I hear right now is, “Oh she got topless for record sales.” It’s like, are you kidding me? I’d sell way more if I just put a picture of my face. That’s the fact. I’d sell more copies of me just looking cute. That’s what sells more. That’s what sells at Wal-Mart. Not someone in a bathtub looking like they’re about to kill someone. Topless.
STEREOGUM: There is always this fucked up assumption — and not just for you but for a lot of women who make music…
SKY FERREIRA: That we’re all controlled by someone? Yeah. Someone is making our decisions for us. Well that’s what everything is about, every write-up. Like, this producer did this song for me. Well, guess who wrote the song and guess who’s singing it? I’m not just the face behind it, I’m everything behind it. But that’s what I mean. I am in control, whether people want to believe it or not. They don’t have to like what I’m doing, but the fact is that I am in control of what I’m doing, whether they like it or not. No one’s telling me I should do this or I should do that. And the thing is, I will listen to someone else’s point of view and I’ll think about it. If someone gives me advice and it makes sense then yes, maybe I will do that. But sometimes — most of the time — it’s like, “No. I’m not doing that.” That’s always kind of the issue. Whenever I do something good, it’s because some guy did it for me supposedly. Or that’s what a lot of it usually says. It’s always someone else. It’s very clear that I couldn’t do it by myself. But everyone has producers, males too. It’s not just a girl who has that.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting. I’m not in anyway comparing the two of you, but I recently interviewed M.I.A. for something and we were talking about this very thing. It’s sort of like, if she does something great and people love it, the credit goes to whoever the producer was…
SKY FERREIRA: But when she does something wrong, then it’s all her. That’s totally how it is. That’s always how it is. And some of my record is actually kind of about that. Because I’ve been dealing with this whole Male versus … well, not Male versus Girl, but rather Girl versus World thing for a long time. And being treated like an object, being told I am one. I think it really says a lot more about the people who are saying it than it does about me at this point. What do they want me to say? That’s not the case. I might be a lot of things, but I’ve always been very honest and I have no reason to lie about anything.
STEREOGUM: Also, there are plenty of performers in pop music who don’t write their own songs, that doesn’t mean they’re not legitimate entertainers.
SKY FERREIRA: No it doesn’t. They have the X factor. That’s what it is really. A good song is a good song. A good artist is a good artist. Madonna didn’t write all her songs, you know what I mean? Everyone has that. It’s not just girls in pop music.
STEREOGUM: I saw you sing with DIIV at the Basilica festival recently. I was actually there. And I loved seeing you cover that Cat Power song. I thought it was cool on multiple levels, especially given what a crazy day you’d been having. You gave what I thought was a pretty honest answer to Billboard regarding the arrest and the aftermath of the arrest. Now that a little more time has passed, how are you feeling about all of that?
SKY FERREIRA: I really tried to kind of explain the situation as best as I could, but people are going to take it for what it is. Like when I lost my voice it was like, ‘post-drug arrest’ was always also mentioned in the story. I was like, “That was three weeks ago! It has nothing to do with it. I lost my voice at SXSW, I didn’t lose my vocal chords in jail. I didn’t get the hemorrhage in jail.” That was the thing. What else could I do but talk about it? I could hide away forever. I was just talking to someone who said, “Most people would’ve released a statement and went to rehab.” And I was like, I have no reason to go to rehab because I’m not a drug addict. And it’s not me being delusional. I know people say, “oh the first step is admitting it” but no. That’s not the case. No one knows what happened. I still can’t really say too much about what happened, but it’s really nobody’s business. It didn’t affect anyone’s lives outside of me and my family and my friends. I’m not trying to sensationalize drugs or make it seem like it’s cool or something. That wasn’t my intention at all. I didn’t have any intention. I never wanted to get arrested. I’m sorry if it seems like I’m promoting drug use or something, because I’m not. But also I shouldn’t have to … I don’t know, it was like a witch-hunt for a second. It was kind of hard to deal with. I think I was just really upset about the people that I knew who were selling someone out. They didn’t even have any details. They hardly know me, yet they want to make me sound like I’m this crazy train wreck and I’m not. At all. Because I can’t be. I wouldn’t be able to promote this record. And that’s why I was so upset about losing my voice … it made it worse. And the stress made it worse. Everything I do now is reflected against this arrest that happened. It’s somehow now a part of everything I do.
STEREOGUM: So for the next year of your life if you catch a cold or turn up late for something…
SKY FERREIRA: Yeah, it’s like she’s back on it … but I was never on it to begin with. Also I’m 21 years old and three days after this happened I went and played the Barclay’s center for 10,000 people. I still did my job. Even after I got arrested — the same day — I played a show that night. Actually it wasn’t even my show, it was Cole’s show, but still. I went and sung with him because…why not? I’m not going to let this thing take over my life. And I think that’s important. I mean, it sucks. I still go through really bad waves of being depressed and upset about it, but people are going to think whatever they want to think. And to be honest they were already kind of thinking these things about me before it happened. They just kind of had a reason to pounce on me now. I’ve been questioned about drugs and my image for a while now. It’s nothing new.
STEREOGUM: Well in the wake of that happening, it’s always very telling to see how people you know react to it and assumptions that are made of you because of it. Was there anything good that came of it? Were you surprised by any of the support that came your way?
SKY FERREIRA: Well that’s the one thing I have to share. I was upset about the way some people behaved, obviously, and some of the things that happened. And yeah, I didn’t want my mom to see my fucking mug shot on TV and hear about it on the radio. If only people ever paid that much attention to my music, you know? Like, I wish that when I did something good it would suddenly be broadcast everywhere. But that’s how my mom found out. I wasn’t trying to somehow get away with it, but I hadn’t told her yet. I was obviously scared to because…well, it’s my mom! I’m still scared of my mom. I might not live with her but I’m still scared of her. So obviously you can imagine, my mom found out that way and it was not good. Seeing my mug shot. Also, getting arrested is traumatizing, it really is. I still have nightmares about it. But I learned from it and I also learned not to be so stupid. Be careful. Look at who’s around you. That’s the thing, I just wasn’t thinking. I got myself into a dumb situation and it’s my fault. I can’t blame anyone for that. I learned from my mistake. Well I learn from all my mistakes but this one I really learned from. I’m sorry. So it’s not like I’m living the high life right now and being like “oh whatever!” But I also can’t hide away and be sad and hate myself over it. Even though I have moments where I’m like, Ughh I want to die. But I have to get myself out of it and realize that this is just something I have to go through. And some people have been really supportive and I really appreciate that. I was surprised by some people being so supportive that I wouldn’t expect to be. I guess I just became stronger from it, as corny as that sounds. But it’s true. I definitely grew a thicker skin because I had no choice but to. I’m not going to let this get in the way of this album coming out. I’ve worked way too long on this record to let it get ruined by one incident.
STEREOGUM: I mean, what will the rest of this year be like for you? The record’s coming out, you’ll be playing shows and you’re also in a film, right? You’re in Eli Roth’s new movie, The Green Inferno.
SKY FERREIRA: Yeah! It’s a supporting role. A little more than a cameo, so I’m not in it a ton, you know? I kinda wanted it that way. It’s cool. It’s a horror movie.
STEREOGUM: How was the experience?
SKY FERREIRA: It was fun, and I love working with Eli and I got to do a horror movie with a guy who’s basically the king of horror movies, which is awesome. I love horror movies. I love blood and stuff so… [laughter]
STEREOGUM: I know you just finished this record and everything, but what about new music?
SKY FERREIRA: I’m really excited to make more music. I’m writing more songs already. I’m collaborating with people. I think the next thing I put out, I don’t know what it is gonna be exactly but I’ve been talking to different people about collaborations and kinda just testing the waters. Next time I won’t have the pressure of it being my first album and my first big STATEMENT. I felt like this first album was almost a statement in some way because it really had to be. It was held back for so long and just needed to be an important step forward on my part. Now that I’ve done that I feel like I can just have fun.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. Give yourself a little bit of a break … creatively, at least.
SKY FERREIRA: I don’t know if it’s going to be an EP or something, but I want to just have fun and make more songs. I feel like I’m more of a recording artist than a touring artist if that makes sense. I love playing live, but I’m not a tour dog. I don’t love being on the road forever. Not that I’m above touring it’s just that … I feel like my music comes across stronger through music videos and stuff than me awkwardly standing on stage and belting it out … even though that’s cool sometimes.
STEREOGUM: The record sounds great. It was cool to finally hear some of these songs in their final versions, plus the new songs are really fantastic. It’s hard to imagine a more direct response to your current situation than a song like “Nobody Asked Me” or “I Blame Myself.”
SKY FERREIRA: Can I say one thing about that? Basically I was not happy with the record they wanted me to put out like a few months ago. I was like “No.” That’s where the whole EP idea started because I was like, “No way, I don’t like it.” I literally wrote this album once everyone left me the fuck alone and stopped trying to to tell me what to do. I went in the studio, wrote and recorded all of the songs with Justin [Raisen] and Ariel [Rechtshaid], and literally cut like seven or eight songs in two weeks. We mixed it and mastered it and never looked back. That was all I needed to do, I just needed everyone to leave me alone and let me do it. [laughter] And then it was done within a month.
STEREOGUM: Damn! That’s the way it goes sometimes though. You can fuss over something for years and years, but in the end sometimes the best way is to just bang it out as quickly as possible.
SKY FERREIRA: If they had just listened to me for the past 3 years, it would have came out a while ago. But anyway, that’s how that happened.
Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time is out 10/29 via Capitol.