SKY FERREIRA has spent the past five years of her life navigating the grossness of the major-label music industry: money-obsessed producers, being pushed around like a commodity, dealing with businessmen who value commercial viablity over artistic integrity. Not to mention all of the ageism and sexism that comes with being a teenage girl in the music world.
As a 14-year-old living in LA, Ferreira channeled her love for Fiona Apple and Laurie Anderson into quick demos she'd record with friends and post to MySpace. She was eventually plucked up by EMI, and would proceed to spend her latter teen years navigating the worlds of Parlophone and Capitol Records, who attempted to turn her into the slick pop star that she was not (see: her 2010 video for "One"), ultimately shelving record after record. After over five years signed with a major label, her first full-length I'm Not Alright is finally due in 2013.At 20 years old, Ferreira is finally releasing the sorts of songs
that she's apparently always wanted to make. "The truth is, now I’m not a 15 year
old, so people can’t bully me around anymore," she told The Phoenix. "I know what I’ve always wanted to
do, but no one would listen to me." See the moody downer synth-pop of her Ghost EP for proof, released this fall and produced by Jon Brion, who has also worked with Fiona Apple,
Aimee Mann, and Elliott Smith, to name a few. Her most recent single, "Everything Is Embarassing", might be one of the year's best pop songs."They told me the nastiest things," she said of her labels' constantly pushing back her record releases. "Like, 'Sorry, there’s already one girl coming out at the moment, we can’t do two'. And I was like, 'Fuck this, I don’t want
anything to do with this'. I want to sing music that I actually like singing,
and write music that I actually like writing ... Now I just write songs that
I like and that I would listen to. Songs that actually mean something to me."
In advance of her show tonight at T.T. The Bear's, and the acoustic session she's playing for WFNX at Fourth Wall Gallery this afternoon, we spoke with Ferreira about her experiences as a teenager in the major-label machine ("It's really disgusting... It's
really dirty out there"), the difficulties of growing as an artist when the entirety of your teenage years has been documented on the Internet ("I believe in taking time to find yourself") and more.
+++++How has it been working with Jon Brion?He’s definitely helped me start
to figure out where I want to go with my writing. He influences my writing a
lot. I was a Jon Brion fan to begin with… I was so intimidated by him at
first, even though he’s not an intimidating person at all. Fiona Apple has
always been my number one favorite female artist. I remember seeing the
Criminal video when I was 6. I’ve been listening to her for 14 years, which is the
majority of my life. And Elliott Smith is one of my favorite songwriters. Jon also worked with him. And Aimee Mann too. Everyone I love, he’s worked with.
In a lot of recent interviews you've conveyed this general vibe of having more
creative control over your music now than in the past; a clearer vision of what
you want versus what your label wants. Has that shift been a result of working
They put me through hell. But now
there’s a whole new crew of people I’m working with, and they aren’t. I think
it really just depends on the situation. If you’re a smaller band and you have
some moderate success, [major labels] can’t really bully you around. If you
started out on a smaller indie label and then go to a major label… you’ll have
a bigger budget, maybe some more pressure to make a big single. But they don’t
look at those bands as some commodity or product the way they look at me. They
look at me and they’re like, “Oh, ummm, teenage American girl who sings. Let’s
make her into Brittney Spears. Let’s make her into a pop star, let’s make her
into Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.” You know what I mean?
whole vibe of looking at artists, at people as commodities... it’s so gross.
It’s disgusting. But I’m sure
that’s how those people thought of me for a long time.In
this change that you’re taking with your music, starting to have some ownership
over it … I feel like that’s the sort of thing that often time female artists
are way more scrutinized for. When they start owning their image.It’s funny. I played all of these
CMJ shows and people are already ready to have their knives up.
They’re like “oh she’s totally fake.” As if automatically because I
did pop music before, I’m fake. It took me the certain amount of time to get
some attention or find the songs I wanted to be singing. Then I’m man-made and
its all the people working with me and I had no input. That’s complete
bullshit, but whatever. People are assholes. People are like, “she was pouting
in her videos”. If some guy was doing the same video, people would be like, “oh
wow … nice… it’s so simple…” Some of the reviews were so disgusting. I’m not
trying to pull a feminist card, but it’s really true. People are really fucking
I noticed it before with my record
label. Now I notice it with fans and people in general. People think that because I have some
kind of success, I just sort of batted my eyelashes to get my way. They think
these producers and writers are the ones who are really responsible, even
though they’re not.
really is this gendered thing.After my CMJ shows, every review
had something to do with what I was wearing. Someone talked about how my eyes were
saggy. How is that relevant? It’s just insane. Someone wrote, “She was pouting.
Her lips were bigger in real life.” It’s just so strange. It has nothing to do
with music. I don’t see them writing that about other bands … It’s fine to have
an opinion. But [some writers] are just pulling at these things that have
nothing to do with music.
Even more than sexism. Well, the
sexism is a big part of ageism. I started making music when I was 14, posting
demos I made by myself with my friends. I was 15 when I got a deal. At the
time, every single record label was trying to sign me. Literally I could have
signed to every label that existed in major label land. Universal, Sony, EMI.
Or any of the sub-labels in them. I literally met with … I don’t even know. I
was offered millions of dollars. Ironically I chose EMI at the time because I
thought I would have the most creative control. I can’t even imagine if I’d
gone anywhere else.
They thought they could say, “oh
this 15 year old is trying to be famous. Let me tell her if you sleep with me,
I’ll make you the biggest thing in the world.” It was fucking gross. And then
they'd try to give me drugs. Or get me wasted. It's really disgusting. It's
really dirty out there.
They want to do that, but then they
also want to market you like fucking Hanna Monatana or something. Or they wanna
make you like kiddie porn.
just seems really exploitative. It's fucked up to see young people exploited
And half of them go crazy. Because
they're treated like little robots the whole time and they're so focused on
wearing a purity ring and talking about Jesus and not believing in sex, and
they can't even say the word God or hell because they're supposed to be these
role models for kids. But then the moment they turn 18 or 19, suddenly they do
this whole "good girl gone bad" thing. Which is so over the top and
ridiculous. “I’m growing into myself, I’m now an adult.” That's not what being
an adult is. I think that has a big part to do with it.
seems like it would be really damaging and strange and difficult to grapple
with all of these experiences and your identity as an artist. How do you make
amends with the major label music industry and continue to go ahead with it,
given all of this?
You can take it for what it is, but
at the end of the day, it’s what you make it into... if you really want it that
badly you can do it but that doesn't mean its going to happen. At the end of
the day, you're taking a risk either way. It can seem like its based on luck
but it's definitely based on hard work. It can pay off. It just takes longer.
all of those experiences, what excites you most about what you're doing now?
I think I needed those experiences,
so I don’t take for granted what’s happening now. I’m playing rooms for 200
people, but I'm always surprised when there's 10 people there. Some things are
really unfair, like how I constantly need to defend myself, when I know I’m
putting out better music than so many people.. . I think I'm treated unfairly
because of my past being very public and on the internet. I’m not ashamed of
it. That was part of my life. But it’s annoying, I don't know why i still have
to prove myself to people constantly. The most satisfying thing to me is when I
play shows and its completely packed and people know the lyrics. After
constantly being told by the label that if I played these sorts of songs no one
would be into it. Now I’ll play these shows in LA or NY and there’s a line down
the block and it’s fans who actually want to see it.
fact that people at your label told you you would never be successful or have
that kind of connection with fans just proves how fucking delusional so many
people in the mainstream music industry are that they don't understand there
can be a middle ground.
were saying how you're not trying to run away from your past. A lot of people
around our age group have this weird situation of having to cope with this
sense that our whole teenage and young adult lives are documented on the
Half of my life is on the
Internet. All of these music writers who write about me, I want to be like ,
show me something you wrote when you were 14. Show me who you were when you
were 15. The shit people find on me is insane. I’m always wondering like, how did
you find that picture of me when I was in 8th grade? How the fuck did you find
that? And why am I having to explain myself about it on top of that?
kind of unfair to our generation. In the past, it was easier for people to grow
and put your past behind you.
Every huge artist you can think of,
these huge icons, they had pasts and a lot of them were in really unsuccessful
bands beforehand, making completely different music than what they’re known
for. But I don’t have the opportunity to do that and disconnect, without
someone feeling like they have to say something about it. Because it’s on the
this weird way we all have really grown up in “public”.
People will say, “she’s changed!
she looks different!” Yeah, I look different, I was 15. I finally got through
puberty. I'm sorry. Sorry i took my braces off. They’ll be like, “She had brown
hair … she’s so fake… she looks different, her face looks different.” No? I'm
just older. "Her mouth looks different. Her lips look different. She got a
nose job." Uhh, when? During my record deal, I was in hell for two years
... but I didn’t disappear. There were pictures of me being posted constantly.
When I was modeling, I was still around. I don't know when I got this nose job done
and my lips made big. That’s what my family looks like. My mom has these giant
lips. I look like my parents. The thing is, the worst part that drives me crazy
is -- the fact that people act like I have to prove myself and explain every
thing I do.