Sky Ferreira: “Pop music is supposed to be provocative”

Sky Ferreira isn’t your ordinary pop star. She tells LACHLAN KANONIUK about Japanese inspirations, Lynchian influences and impending Australian tour plans.

It’s a narrative that’s becoming more familiar in recent years – a star entangled within the rusted gears of the manufactured-pop machine, only to break through under the ostensible guise of alternative pop. After balancing modelling work with relatively fruitless musical pursuits for five years, Sky Ferreira found her breakthrough in 2012 with the EP Ghost, most notably the Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) co-written track ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’.

A rapid ascension into the spotlight followed, blurring the lines between the mainstream pop stardom that was chased prior to Ghost and coverage in “alternative” media. A tour supporting Miley Cyrus is on the immediate horizon, while the fully-realised debut album Night Time, My Time garnered positive blog attention and reviews from yours truly. The contradictory rise is echoed within the themes of the album, showcasing at times dark introspection while clutching onto a nostalgic power pop sheen (with the assistance of producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Justin Raisen).

Before hitting the road with Miley, Sky recounts the long lead-up to her debut album.

Hey Sky, what’s up.

I’m home right now. Just at home, boring.

It was a bit of a long process, how does it feel to have the album out there in the world?

It’s relieving. I feel like I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around it. The first week the album came out I was thinking “Why don’t I feel any different?” It has changed my life, but in a way more subtle way than I expected. I couldn’t put my head around it for that reason, because it took so long to come out.

You had around five years without gaining much traction with your music, does it feel like you’re in control now?

I feel like it was definitely a process, I don’t regret it. I don’t think I would have had the album I had, or been as proud of the album as I would have been before. Back then I didn’t really know what I wanted to, and I was like “I need to put out an album”, when I didn’t know if it was right, and people were telling me it was right. But for this one I knew. There were no second thoughts about it.

“David Lynch is involved in every really weird, personal moment in my life.”

There was a huge step-up between the Ghost EP and the album. How did the writing/recording processes differ?

Well you know the Ghost EP wasn’t supposed to be an EP. It was just a collection of songs I had at the time, and there were other songs I’d written for the album that I didn’t want to put out yet. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. At that time nobody was really paying attention to my music – I was known as like a model or something like that – so I wasn’t expecting anything. Then it got Best New Music on Pitchfork and all this stuff. Then it turned into “Oh, is she fake? She’s been around for four years.” It was a weird thing, it just wasn’t really thought out. Then suddenly I’m playing 10 shows in a week. I didn’t have a band because I’d never played live by myself.

Then the media was weird. It was a process, a lot of change in a year. There was a lot of personal stuff, obviously, so it was a personal album. It was just a mix of all those things. I always knew I wanted to do music, and I wanted to do it professionally. What motivated me when I was younger was that “OK, this is my way to get out of school”, that it was a way so people could understand me. But I was even more misunderstood when I came up with that EP.

Some of the themes come from a darker mindset, is it difficult to tap into that emotional realm?

To be honest, I think it’s way more difficult to not be in that headspace when writing. I think that’s why it felt so good to make the album. I got all of it out of me.

The cover art is this great, confronting image, but a number of blogs ran with a huge focus on the not-safe-for-work aspect, when it’s fairly safe-for-work in the context of 2013/14.

I feel like it got blown out of proportion because I was topless. People made it way more controversial than it actually was. What made the connection to me with the album was my face in the photo, the emotion of it. I knew it was the cover as soon as I saw it. That’s why I worked with Gaspar [Noé], a director who I really admired. I was really influenced by his work, and film in general. Amazing photographers could do the same thing, but there are already photos of me looking “pretty” from modelling. There were 20 other shots of me with clothes on, and it just looked weird. When I saw the photo I knew it was the cover straight away, and I’ve learned from experience that I shouldn’t dwell on it or try to change my mind. I don’t really feel like the nudity is a big deal – it’s not a sexy cover. And pop music is supposed to be provocative.

That whole darkness underneath the pop sheen reminds me of David Lynch’s manipulation of soap opera tropes, and you’ve taken the album title from a line in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

I’m really inspired by him, I know everything about him. He’s one of the people that inspired me to start making music professionally. When I was 15 I took a David Lynch film school. I always hated school, but I like learning. I just don’t like the system of school over here. But that’s not to say people shouldn’t go to school. It was just that I had a bad experience at school and said I would do anything to get out of it. I remember sitting in the David Lynch class, I’d seen some of his films before, and I learned all about his work. The films he made really resonated with me. I feel in some weird way that David Lynch is involved in every really weird, personal moment in my life. I remember watching that scene [from Fire Walk With Me on my birthday and it stuck with me. Then I had this dream where my boyfriend was saying something, but he was asleep, that auditory hallucination thing. Then that song [‘Night Time, My Time’] came out instantly. And just like I knew what the album cover was, I knew that was the album title.

‘Omanko’ is a simple noise-punk track about a Japanese Jesus and Christmas, yet the title adds another layer – it being the only word really censored from Japanese media.

Yeah which is weird, it’s slang for female genitalia, yet it’s the only word that’s banned. Justin [Raisen, producer] were doing the song for fun, after we found out we both liked Suicide. And he said “Okay Sky, we’ll do this real poppy song then fuck around and do this other one,” so I said alright. We recorded ‘Heavy Metal Heart’ or ‘I Blame Myself’, then we did that for fun. Then we thought it actually sounded really good, and it just fit in the album. I hate when people think it’s racist in some way, because it’s the complete opposite. I remember being in Japan and seeing a huge costume store in Tokyo, and they had a white Jesus and a white Santa, and I was like “Why are they still white here?”

Speaking of ‘Heavy Metal Heart’, it is this big pop song, but there’s a pretty ridiculous double kick drum effect midway through.

The kick was definitely on Justin’s end. It’s also about the mixing too. With different plug-ins it could have been a way cornier song. Some of them could have gone pop-punky, in a bad way. Even the down-tempo songs on the album a pretty aggressive, that’s how I wanted the album to be.

When can we expect you in Australia? We’re hearing July…

Well I thought it was July, but it’s actually March now. I’m not actually sure where I’m playing, what I’m playing, or who I’m playing with. But I’m coming over in March. I’m excited, I’ve never been. I went to Asia this summer, but this will be my first time in Australia.

Night Time, My Time is out now through EMI Music Australia.