Skylar Grey On “Moving Mountains,” Songwriting & Her Next LP: Interview
After nearly a decade in Los Angeles, Skylar Grey packed her bags and moved to mountain-ringed Park City, Utah. The change of scenery influenced her songwriting (buzz track “Moving Mountains” is about taking the time to soak up the snowy view) and gave her the clarity to hone in on a cohesive sound after experimenting with a plethora of genres over the years. As a result, the singer/songwriter’s new album is shaping up to be her richest, most organic to date.
I recently spoke with the five-time Grammy nominee on phone and she opened up about the direction of her new album. Skylar revealed that “Moving Mountains” isn’t particularly reflective of the project’s sound, which is largely beat-driven. She listed the producers she has been working with and explained how intimately involved she is in every part of the recording process. Find out more in our Q&A below.
A decade has passed since the release of (debut LP) Like Blood Like Honey. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since then? Whoa. Biggest lesson. I don’t know. Um, I’ve learned so many. I think I’ve just learned to be patient. Not just with the industry, because things don’t ever move at the pace that I want them to, but also with myself and my music. You know, being patient enough to make sure I’m getting all the right music made before I release it and show it to the world.
Is “Moving Mountains” reflective of your new album? No. “Moving Mountains” is the one ear-break on the album that doesn’t have drums. My favorite artists are Bon Iver, Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar. That’s kind of a broad spectrum. I take little pieces of influence from every one of the artists I love and then I twist it around and make my own thing out of it. My hope was to try to figure out exactly what I want it to sound like because I have worked with so many genres over the past… ten years?
And it’s been hard for people to latch onto me as an artist because they don’t understand it. They’re like, “You’re hip-hop. No, you’re pop. No, you’re EDM. No, you’re folk.” And, so, it’s been hard to brand it, I guess? With this album, I wanted to make a really cohesive piece. The only one that doesn’t necessarily fit is “Moving Mountains,” but in situations like that, it’s about the fact that “Moving Mountains” is a really great song and it would be a shame if it wasn’t on the album. So, I put it on there, anyways.
But, everything else has a very cohesive thread going through it. It’s got these hip-hop beats. I’ve done a lot of vocal layering, which, some of that has been inspired by Bon Iver. And, I guess that’s it, pretty much.
What inspired “Moving Mountains”? “Moving Mountains” is about being present and not forgetting to stop and smell the roses because, if you’re like me, oftentimes, especially in an industry like this where there are so many ups and downs, it’s easy to get depressed and take the negative moments in your career really personally and it’s important to keep perspective and realize that it’s just your career and, every day, I have people around me that love me. I have a beautiful mountain view. I have my dog.
And so, I really have no reason to be sad because I know that my career is just my career. I try to separate that from my happiness. I used to think that success in music would bring me happiness and that was my answer to everything, but every time I’ve had a really high moment in my career, I’ve had really low ones, too. It’s just been such a roller coaster of emotions. I’ve got to figure out a way to just continue to be happy, through all the ups and downs. So, that’s what “Moving Mountains” is about.
Did moving to Utah impact the sound of your album? Nature’s always been a big part of my life because I grew up in it. I moved to L.A. and I missed it so bad for the eight to ten years I was there. And, at last, when I went back to the woods… I really feel like myself when I’m in nature because it is where I came from and also I just feel closer to, like, the beginning of life. Not so corrupted by people and society and opinions. So, it’s important for me to be in nature, just so that I can be myself.
Also I just appreciate nature a lot. It’s amazing what there is to do, you know, without filming anything. Flowers. Trees. That kind of stuff definitely influences my lyrics. I use nature in a lot of my metaphors.
Which producers have you worked with on the album? The majority of the album was produced by Mike Elizondo and Mark Batson. I’ve been working with them since I went to Detroit and worked with them and Eminem in studio. We really hit it off and I was like, “When you’re back in L.A. I want to get you dinner and have you do stuff on my album, too.” So, that’s how that happened and Alex Da Kid has a song or two and then Jayson DeZuzio. He did some stuff on my first album, too, my first Skylar Grey album. Oh, and I produced one of the songs.
Which one did you produce? It’s a song called “Closer.” I do a lot of production on my music, though. Like, I don’t necessarily ask for credit for it. I let the producers have that but I definitely get super-involved. I record a lot of my own vocals at home. Because I’m a little bit tech savvy, a little nerdy.
I also have really strong opinions about what I want my music to sound like so I get super involved, even with Mike and Mark, we start to talk about it and make beats together in the studio. I would go home with like twenty beats at the end of the day. I was just churning out and creating little loops and stuff. And then I would take those loops or those beats and I would write to those and then take it back to them and we’d finish it. It was a cool method. Instead of people sending me beats that were already made, I got to be there for the making.
I mean, I think Eminem is producing or co-producing with them. Actually there’s one song that’s his. So, he’s another producer on the album.
When’s the album going to arrive? You know, putting out an album depends on a lot of things. It’s not just about having a music. I mean it’s finding the right opportunities for it to shine and have a platform to jump off of. Because it doesn’t work to have an album without any momentum behind it. It’s a sad thing. It’ll be wasted music. So, we’re going to just try to figure it out right now. What we’re going to bounce off of. The music is pretty much there to be mixed.
So “Moving Mountains” is just a buzz track to set the mood? Yeah, “Moving Mountains” I wanted to put out before the snow melted and I started putting out all the beat stuff because it is such a transition. I put out “Cannonball” and that has a silkier feel to it. And, “Moving Mountains” kind of fit with that. But the next single’s going to be more of a good representation of the album. I like to do buzz singles to keep putting out constant content because it gives people a better taste of what to expect instead of relying on one single and putting tons of money behind it. Because that can also fail and then you don’t have any money left to promote other songs.
So, I’d rather do cheap videos… well, not cheap videos, but not spend a ton of money on videos and my feeling is just put out songs. And, so, I think my next song I put out is probably going to be another buzz single and then hopefully by the time I put out an official single there will be a lot more buzz about the album. Already there.
Have you been writing for other artists or concentrating on your own music? I’ve been really concentrating on my own music, mostly. Except for when a project comes to me that I’m really passionate about. Otherwise, I’ve been saying no. I don’t do this for money, so even big acts, if they ask me, if I’m not passionate about it, it’s really not something I want to do. So, mostly, when it comes to writing for other projects, it’s just for movies. Which I love, because it’s still my creative freedom and I get to be inspired by a story line, which is fun.
How do you feel about Don’t Look Down now? Would you change anything in retrospect? That’s a hard question. So, I put that album out after three years of working on it and it was kind of like, I just needed to get it out so that I could start working on something new. Because, you know, when you get so close to something, you can’t hear it anymore. You don’t have the perspective to know what it is. So, I had to get past that and start working on a new project. But, looking back, I’m really proud of a lot of the songwriting on there and I think it was a good first, Skylar Grey album.
It’s just that this one is a really strong evolution from that. It’s more mature. It’s more thought out. I put a lot more into this new one because it was starting fresh again and I had a better perspective from the start.
I can’t wait to hear it. Thanks for your time. Thank you.