Cover Feature Sky Ferreira: ‘I’d Rather Look Stupid Than Calculated Or Boring’

Already a “walking wreck”, Sky Ferreira is tired out of her mind trying to get backstage at a London headline show. Jetlag sets in like the devil itself. Is it a sign? It is, actually. Fans have weaseled their way past security and for some reason they’ve brought with them giant white placards with words like ‘Emojanelle’ that carry absolutely no meaning. Except one. ‘Quiche’. This one means something, to Sky at least. She picks it out and has her photo taken.

‘Quiche’ is a term used in Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl television series, the follow up to Summer Heights High. According to Ja’mie King - the show’s lead character, an atrocious private school girl - its exact definition is “hot - a step above hot.” With Sky’s reputation rocketing, it seems appropriate to pick this one out. Forget “So hot right now”, Sky Ferreira is “So quiche right now.”

“I thought that they’d at least give me the signs to keep,” she says afterwards. “Chris Lilley liked it, that’s all that matters,” she continues, before picking out individuals who could safely be described as ‘Quiche’. She chooses mysterious producer Burial. A “cool selfie” shared early this year is the reason. In it, the stony-eyed enigma shows himself to the world for the first time. “I wouldn’t do this, this is fucked up, but I wonder if someone’s used it for a Grindr profile picture. I did not know Burial was going to look like that. I always thought he’d end up looking dweeby.”

If Burial enjoyed anonymity up to now, Sky’s career is the complete opposite. Signed at fifteen and given all kinds of looks and musical styles, eventually she gave up being told what to do. That’s how she ended up here, as a modern, no-bullshit star without parallel.

Three weeks in 2013 made it happen. Out came a record bottled up for far too long. The demand for a full-length was like a thousand knocks that get louder and louder until there’s just one great big decibel-breaking noise. That’s how Sky’s head felt before ‘Night Time, My Time’ came out. But then it happened.

“It showed I was more than a lot of people thought I was,” she says, six months on from its release in the States. Her label didn’t so much cave in as simply accept that yes, this had to come out at some point. The end result showed the real Sky. For an artist that’s been pulled this way and the other, the record was unbelievably straight-down-the-line. An exciting pop album, it channelled punk, krautrock and half a decade’s worth of frustration knocking everyone for six.

Sky proved that “I actually do make music.” That might sound morbidly funny in its ridiculousness - that someone who’s been doing this for years isn’t being treated entirely seriously - but it’s true. Some chose not to see her as a musician. She’d always been a sensation, but she’d never been judged in her own territory. “I’m not some internet fluke or a meme,” she states. “I mean - I wasn’t a meme, ever. I wasn’t like Kreayshawn or something. But I showed that I wasn’t someone who got lucky with one song.”

‘Night Time, My Time’ packs twelve of the sharpest, gut-twisting thrill seekers imaginable. Luck doesn’t come into the equation. Song titles appear like jolts to the head, knuckles out. Most of them are statements: ‘Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)’; ‘I Will’; ‘I Blame Myself’; ‘You’re Not the One’. It couldn’t be more assured if it was sung out through a giant megaphone on every city street.

It’s easy to link the songs to the past, present and future Sky Ferreira. “I blame myself for my reputation” is the standout lyric. “Every day people tell me something else that I know” is up there too. Maybe people are looking into it too much, though. “The press… they acted like each song was influenced by something that took place publicly, or something they think that happened but actually didn’t,” she claims. “They’re analysing it that way, which I thought was weird - people over think stuff sometimes.”

‘I don’t have a problem with standing up for myself. Some people don’t like that.’ A lot’s happened to Sky in the past twelve months. The album shut everyone up, for the most part, but there is one niggling incident that keeps rearing its head. She keeps playing with the half-bandaged, half-bruise mark on her leg. “I can make a smiley face because of the way the stitches are. Look, it’s a smile, a hook.” It’s the only physical reminder of her part in the Miley Cyrus ‘Bangerz’ tour. Split open during a show in Anaheim, California, it’s a gooey, gruesome source of fascination. It’s so often referred to, it’s pretty much become a fifth limb - and frequently a sudden distraction.

“Sorry,” she starts. “I just noticed something really weird about my leg. It’s weird because… it dips.” She stares intently at the scar. “I got an x-ray but not one on the whole thing. She pinpoints the mark. “It’s this dip. I’ve noticed that I can put my elbow there, in the dip.” It’s not a pretty sight.

Despite having acted in one of his horror films (2013’s The Green Inferno) she still managed to gross out director Eli Roth after the incident. “When I showed him the actual gash - a photo of it - even he couldn’t deal. And that’s someone who makes ‘Hostel’.

“He sent me back a text just saying ‘When life imitates art.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, no shit!’”

She cites falling on stage as the worst moment in recent memory. “Getting arrested really sucked,” she promptly adds, making note of being put in custody by police alongside boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith, from DIIV. “The thing about those incidents though, is I managed to come out of them fine. In some weird way maybe they were supposed to happen to prove that I’m capable of doing these things.”

There’s nothing left to prove. Sky’s just had her first real experience of playing shows to ten, fifteen thousand screaming fans, and she’s hooked. Gammy leg aside, the ‘Bangerz’ tour affirmed everything’s going in the right direction now.

“The fans - they’re losing their shit because they’re just excited to be there, which makes a difference to normal tours where everyone’s jaded,” she claims. “Or folding their arms. Or tweeting about it.” A ‘Bangerz’ crowd “takes selfies the whole time - but they’re enjoying themselves.” All squealing voices and flailing arms, it’s the exact opposite of what Sky’s previously been confronted with; an “‘I’m checking my Instagram and this is the background music’” attitude. When it comes to music of this kind - passionate, in your face - it’s not something to be casual over.

Still midway through her tour, which won’t stop expanding at this rate, Sky’s realising that venues of this mammoth stature “aren’t completely off limits.” Before, those same ringing voices and stubborn suits were saying “‘Don’t expect much out of this. Don’t get your hopes up.’” That’s what she used to be told. Anyone giving that kind of ‘wisdom’ today would probably get the sack on the spot. The months preceding the debut couldn’t feel further away. Talk turns to the Staples Center where Sky grew up seeing the Spice Girls play. She even took her little sister to a Hannah Montana show, all those years back. Talk about life going full circle.

It’s been twelve months already defined by breakthroughs, but Sky’s also feeling the aftershock of a recent Facebook post. In it, she aims fire at internet trolls and casual misogynists with nothing better to do but spread online hate.

Written at 2am while flying through continents, it talks of being “exhausted” at “people telling me how I should look or be if I want to be a ‘pop star’”, and “how they think it’s okay to say vile & (sexually) abusive shit to me on a daily basis.” It ends in typical Sky Ferreira style - “Sorry for the typos.”

Published on a whim, it received nothing but glowing responses. Comments below call her the “voice of her generation.” Maybe she is. “I wasn’t planning on it getting so much attention,” she says. “At least it’s something that deserved attention. It benefits others instead of humiliating me.”

Another realisation: Sky has a louder voice than ever. Heads are turning. Even inside jokes are getting noticed. When it gets to the serious stuff, people listen. “That was the first time that anyone’s ever listened to me before, outside of music,” she claims. “If you’re coming from an honest place and you have influence on people you should take advantage of it. If you’re doing it for something more than yourself, you should do it.”

Without a single hint of doubt, when asked if this is the best she’s ever felt about music, she replies: “Yes. This is by far the best it’s been.” You wouldn’t guess it, given the two hours’ worth of sleep she had the night before watching Judge Judy episodes. She admits to feeling like “I’m drunk right now because I’m so tired,” hotel lobby spinning out of view. Bandaged up and in severe need of a rest, the “best” has definitely felt better.

Before the fall, Sky hadn’t broken a bone in her body. The worst injury she’s ever had also occurred through music (what else?) when a strained voice took its toll. It led to her cancelling shows during a tour with Vampire Weekend, and it still crops up now and again (“it’s embarrassing and it sucks when it goes in the middle of a set”). Those cancellations were again a reminder that setbacks were going to occur and that people were going to lap them up. The subsequent chatter - arriving a few weeks after the drugs arrest - seemed disproportionate. This wasn’t a Morrissey-style breaking of agreement.

It’s put to her bluntly. People still want Sky Ferreira to fail. “It’s true,” she replies. “It’s a lot more interesting to read about. A lot more entertaining. They think people like me don’t do anything. We just look cool and party and live these glamorous lifestyles.”

Harking back to the Facebook post, she continues: “They don’t like the fact that I’m honest about who I am and what I am. I don’t have a problem with standing up for myself. Some people don’t like that.”

‘I had to deal with it.’ Everything fell into place when Sky began to do just that. Old men with contracts and opinions were always telling her what to do. In retort, she didn’t so much kick up a fuss as quietly move to one side, press record and make an astute, world-beating statement.

The situation ended up being such a face-off that the label gave up, in a sense. They left Sky to her own resources and in essence, she made the record without any intervention, behind the backs of everybody she’d previously dealt with. “I had to handle it. If I wanted it to be done the way I wanted it to be, I had to deal with it. That’s what happened.

“Music’s always been a choice, but then actually, it wasn’t. It was more an instinct for me,” she says. Despite setbacks, she kept on going, not out of a grand five-year-plan or a resolute sense of self, but because “there was no other option.” ‘Night Time, My Time’ was something of a last resort. It now looks like the beginning of a whole new chapter of a much bigger book.

Songs on the debut were formed in her head at least a year before she eventually went into the studio with Ariel Rechtshaid and Justin Raisen. “I knew where I was going - I wanted to make a pop record that was more thought out music and direction wise than what I hear lately. Not only would the lyrics be honest, but it was also honest in being something that I would actually wanna listen to. Whether it’s me or not.

“I kind of just realised that when I don’t think about it too much, I get the best stuff done.”

The immediate response was “Oh!”. Everyone around Sky suddenly “got it”. Out stepped a star who’d been right under their noses the entire time. But there’s still confusion. How can someone be this famous and this direct with fans? How is it that she’s taking punk and giving it a glossy, unpretentious sheen? There’s guitars, leather jackets, but there’s also shiny synths and a bucketload of honesty. “A lot of people still don’t know what to do with me,” is the answer. “They don’t understand if it’s indie or pop or whatever. They don’t know what radio stations will be into it. I’m on the Miley Cyrus tour but I was on the Vampire Weekend tour. It’s confusing to them.”

‘Placing’ Sky Ferreira in a box seems pointless. This is a debut that emerged with fizzing energy, not a second wasted. It should be treated that way, too. The same goes for its maker. She’s undergone every kind of transformation possible in the past five, six years. From Mickey Mouse to Elliott Smith-channeller to blog-pop champion with the Dev Hynes-produced ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’, she hasn’t stood still for a minute. Book a studio now and chances are Sky would write the complete opposite of last year’s debut. Constantly “scatterbrained”, she gets sick and tired of what came before. Try and track her steps and Sky would just run amok in the opposite direction.

Even today, one message hasn’t quite translated the way she would’ve hoped. A tweet posted upon her arrival in the UK reads “just married”, hastily deleted a couple of hours later. “Oh god!” she jumps, suddenly realising that an awful lot of people might have taken those two words as sacred. “That was a joke that went too far. Some of the things I say are bad, stupid or funny, but I don’t have a problem with that,” she concludes. “I’d rather look stupid than calculated or boring.”

Sky Ferreira’s debut album ‘Night Time, My Time’ is out now via Polydor.

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