The UK release of Sky Ferreira's highly anticipated and long awaited debut album is finally here. Night Time, My Time positions our favourite bleached blonde as a serious pop artist, we catch up with Sky to find out more...
It’s 4pm and Sky Ferreira is lighting up the camera, delicately posing on a street corner in London’s Stoke Newington. Each passing car slows down, leeringly toots a horn and nearly rear ends the car in front. Sky, unimpressed, simply curls her lip into a gentle snarl and ambivalently smiles to herself. She could not care less. The singer, actress and model is surprisingly shy and serene, this is no over-excited pop starlet hopping around, seeking the centre of attention; the spotlight naturally drifts towards Sky. Slightly burnt out from a swift trip to London from New York with barely a chance to calibrate herself following back-to-back magazine shoots, rehearsals and interviews, she becomes lively when she politely asks if she can put a playlist on. Her tracks clip from Wild Nothing and Ariel Pink to Charlotte and Serge Gainsbourg’s Lemon Incest. Hazy, cerebral pop drifts from the iPod dock. It provides a sharp insight into her muses, which it becomes clear steer way outside the standard pop music palette.
Later Sky is nimbly cruising down Dalston’s Kingsland Road, casually cutting an iconic silhouette. Scruffy bleached hair, a sheer black blouse, Prada sunglasses and a leather mini, this is trashy louche NYC glamour, the look naturally threaded into the pop heroine lineage through Debbie Harry and Madonna. Sky’s breakthrough song Everything is Embarrassing continues the rapture of Jellybean/Nile Rodgers-era Madonna, together with Giorgio Moroder’s absorbing pop moments from Blondie’s Call Me to Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, all washed through with a 2013 refresh. Throughout her music there is a coalition of euphoria and melancholy, its reflective, confessional break-up lyrics pinned down by brooding, ecstatic pop. Which is very Sky; when she opens up she can be feisty, honest and provocative, but her default appears decidedly introvert and contemplative.
"I used to spend my birthday at Michael Jackson's house. It was a regular nice house; it wasn't like he was riding roller coasters, eating cotton candy by himself, you know."
As Sky finishes her headline set that evening at Scala in King’s Cross, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and screams. She has been “iced”. This has been an ongoing prank during her stay in London. Living in a house with her band, she’s found herself inadvertently becoming one of the lads, staying up all night working through South Park box-sets, and getting “iced.” “Icing” is a drinking game that involves hiding a bottle of Smirnoff Ice and tricking someone into finding it. Once you’ve found it, you get on your knees and down it. On stage, as the band leap around her and holler, she drops to the floor and necks the bottle in seconds. It looks as though Sky has no problem keeping up with the boys.
Sky has been immersed in the music industry since she was 14. You might expect her to have a showbiz heritage, but this is not entirely so. She grew up in Santa Monica where her father ran a T-shirt shop on the boardwalk by Venice Beach. Surrounded by Bob Marley and David Bowie T-shirts, incense and reggae, she spent every night after school waiting for her dad to lock up. She rolls her eyes: “I just used to hang out, learn to skateboard. I used to know all the freaks, like the naked roller skating guy. At the time you don’t think anything of it. Like, ‘Oh that guy’s having fun’ or whatever. After a while I hated it, so I’d just go swimming or go to the beach.”
By the time she was a teen she was completely over it: “I remember when I was in middle school everyone would go to Venice Beach to try and smoke pot cos you can get it easy there or you can get tattoos there but I was like, ‘Fuck that, I’m not going back there, I had to spend every day there for five years.’”
Aged 11, Sky moved in with her grandmother who worked as a hairdresser specialising in hair extensions (“I’ve never had extensions. It’s funny how I can spot a bad weave from a mile away.”) She dropped out of high school in tenth grade when she was 15 once she signed a record deal, moving into her own place when she was 17. “I hated the system of it all. I hated being forced to be trapped in a room with 30 kids I didn’t click with.” She says she was never really a rebel, simply an outcast: “I used to get made fun of, like, ‘She’s weird and looks like a zombie’, and they always used to say I looked like I was on drugs, so I’d get called ‘crackhead’, it’s all I ever got. I also went to a public school and they weren’t really interested in, like, teaching because they don’t get paid very well and the kids were terrible.”
The showbiz heritage pops up through the remarkably close relationship Sky had with the late pop legend Michael Jackson. Her grandmother had befriended Michael after helping him when he was injured on set during an accident recording a Pepsi television commercial in 1984 (his hair caught fire). They forged a tight friendship, with her working as his hair stylist. From an early age, Sky became accustomed to Michael regularly being part of their lives. “Yeah, I was around him quite often and my grandma would travel with him too, so she’d go out of the country with him. She lived in Switzerland for a minute or she went to the Middle East for the last three years of his life."
“For the past three years I’ve been hearing stories I was on heroin, but I was just so fucking tired. So I was labelled crazy, self-destructive and supposedly a drug addict.”
Quite staggeringly, Sky’s birthday parties would be at Michael’s Neverland Ranch. “I was so painfully shy I didn’t really invite anyone, so it would end up being more like my brother’s birthday. It would be my birthday party with all of his friends. They’d pick on me. Michael’s house was a regular nice house. It wasn’t like he was riding roller coasters eating cotton candy by himself, you know. I was actually here in London when he died. I’d just signed my record deal, and I was like, this is some kind of omen.”
Later, realising she could easily navigate LA using public transport, she would ditch school and began taking three buses to Hollywood or Echo Park where she started submerging herself in music. She’d hang out with friends who were surprisingly absorbed by Krautrock and Sky drops La Düsseldorf, Harmonia and Brian Eno into the conversation, quickly slipping in a lighter reference to the pop-punk of The Runaways.
Writing and recording music since she was 14, she posted her demos on MySpace and worked social media to quickly attract fans and producers with the quirky photos she posted. “Social media is like second nature to me. I don’t remember the internet not being around. We had classes on the internet when I was in first grade.” It wasn’t long before Sky felt as though she had met with every important character in the music industry in LA, and courted Swedish producers Bloodshy & Avant - authors of Britney’s Toxic who also record as Miike Snow - to pen her first two singles 17 and One.
Inflated deals were dropped on the table, which the young Sky couldn’t quite get her head around. “It was insane. I couldn’t really process it at the time ‘cause, well to begin with, I had braces to close a really big gap between my front teeth. I’ve had loads of weird dentistry. I had to have a gum lift with stitches all around my mouth. I also had fangs so they had to shave them down - it fucking hurt.”
The intervening years have been a push and pull struggle with the music industry machine. She’s been chewed up and spat out by various record labels and management while they tried to formulate a pop package around her. This never really agreed with a headstrong Sky, who knew where she wanted to be, which was far beyond being a generic pop star. Consequently she’s found herself shelved several times and is still yet to release her debut album, which began to take its toll over time. “I would record music or I’d go and get really depressed. Like there was a time when I was not leaving my house for months. Like I would leave my house and I would hang around by myself or I would go to the movies or I would go running and stuff but I wouldn’t go out at night. I would just like stare at the wall and listen to music the whole time but literally couldn’t take it and just isolated myself. I literally felt like I was going crazy because everyone wanted a hit record. They all want a hit but no one really knows what a hit is. You just can’t really predict that.”
"I’ve had loads of weird dentistry. I had to have a gum lift with stitches all around my mouth. I also had fangs so they had to shave them down - it fucking hurt.”
If Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule from his book Outliers is true - that success can only be achieved if you practise your chosen profession for 10,000 hours - then Sky has definitely put the work in. As the record label situations continued to sour, Sky, at just 19, was being told she was over. She was advised to go away for three years and come back under a different name. But Sky had always angled to take control of her career and this led to constant friction. She was openly critical of her second single, the spring-break stomp of Obsession. “It sucked and I hated it.” Rumours she was addicted to heroin started to fly when she began falling asleep while jetlagged during a day of press in LA after returning from a round-trip, thirteen-hour stay in London. “For the past three years I’ve been hearing stories I was on heroin, but I was just so fucking tired. So I was labelled crazy, self-destructive and supposedly a drug addict.”
Despite the chaos surrounding her music career, she didn’t quit. She unexpectedly found salvation with modelling and fashion. First she was scouted for a CK One shoot with Steven Meisel, but when she arrived for the casting she was asked to express her personality by dancing, which she refused to do. “I don’t dance. I’m not that person.” She decided to sing Happy Birthday to Meisel instead, and got the job. Then, while randomly dropping off a package to a friend who worked with Hedi Slimane, Hedi noticed Sky and asked if he could shoot her. The pair stayed in touch and he produced the artwork for her Ghost EP and cast her in his pre-fall 2013 Saint Laurent campaign.
Without really planning to, she relocated to New York five years ago. After outgrowing LA she bought a ticket, packed a couple of bags, slept on couches and found an apartment on Craigslist. Not long after, she met photographer Terry Richardson through friends and now she’s a regular feature on Terry’s Diary website and he directed a video for her grunge-pop epic Red Lips. Sky soon found herself adopted as a fashion muse - she recently became the face of Forever 21 - and is wisely using all of this to her advantage. She’s been provided with exposure and cash to independently write and record music. Pulling her hair back from her face and putting her head in her hands, she laughs about working as a model: “I never thought I could do it. I mean, I’m not very tall and everyone always said I was funny-looking.”
With the pieces of the puzzle slowly coming together, Sky is in a much better place, having recently fallen in love with Zachary Cole Smith, frontman of celebrated NY indie band DIIV. He’s only her second boyfriend, the first faded away after three years together. “I think we both kind of gave up,” Sky says. “We were both still kind of in it, but were also kind of done.” She met Cole last year through mutual friends at CMJ, they started hanging out and instantly began dating. “We didn’t really know each other, and it’s funny because we’d get in fights, and it was weird because I’d be like, ‘I don’t even know you that well yet.’ But then after fighting you like that person so much more. If that’s not happening, then there’s something weird going on. It’s fun though.”
Her new album resolutely entitled Night Time, My Time was released earlier this month, to critical acclaim. “I didn’t wait five years to release an album and not be happy with it. I’m getting the opportunity to work with people I’ve never had the chance to because the timing wasn’t right before. It ended up sounding too slick.” The record is poppy with big hooks, which she startlingly reveals is inspired by the electronic punk of New York’s notorious synth-punk doyens Suicide. “I make pop songs, but I want to make it like something I listen to and not like anything else already out there.”