Don’t Look Down is the culmination of a life’s work for Skylar Grey. It’s been a long time coming, and the album proves to be everything she’s promised and so much more. At times, it’s invigorating, tempering a hip-hop bravado with positive pop spark. Other times, it delves into truly emotional and ethereal territory, revealing raw and real art in its purest form. It’s also one of the year’s best records.
Recently, Skylar Grey teamed up with Steve Madden Music to launch the album at an unforgettable live event last week. She’s got an undeniably awesome fashion sense so it proved to be the perfect partnership.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect, Skylar Grey opens up about Don’t Look Down, movies, her dark influences, and memories that inspire songs.
Is Don’t Look Down what you had envisioned it would be?
It’s pretty much what I envisioned from the beginning. In the middle, I took a departure from what my original vision was, and then I came back to it by the end.
What ties the record together?
I wanted it to be something that represented me as a person and told the story of my life in all different ways. If I were just to make an album that was full of somber, dark things, that wouldn’t be reality. If I just did songs like “C’mon Let Me Ride”, that wouldn’t be reality either. I put an amount of variety on the album that would represent my personality. I feel like it’s really balanced as far as that goes. It shows all my different sides and tells a lot of meaningful and poignant stories of my life.
Is it important for you to tell stories with the songs?
Yeah, storytelling is a big thing for me. I used to not care so much about lyrics. I was a melody and harmony snob. As I got older, I realized how much lyrics mean to me in songs that I’m a fan of from other artists. After a while, re-listening to songs after years, I find new meaning in the lyrics and be able to relate to them differently. I realized lyrics were super important. I spent a lot of more time focusing on lyrics than I ever have in the past. I finally feel like my lyrics are up to par with the music.
What fosters that storytelling?
I do watch a lot of movies. I find them very inspiring. Basically, I want to do the same thing. When someone comes to a song, I want them to be inspired by it as if they were inspired by a movie. When I look at the past in my life, I see things a lot more clearly than when they actually happened. While I’m going through something, I’ll have a hard time writing about it. Afterwards, I’ll see things really clearly in hindsight, and it’s easy for me to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s basically how I approach songwriting.
What movies do you tend to come back to?
I like anything long, slow, and character-driven. American Beauty is one of my favorites of all-time. Then, there’s Into the Wild and The Deer Hunter. I recently saw a movie I really liked called The Place Beyond the Pines. That was really good.
What does “White Suburban” mean to you?
When I was making this album, there was a period of time where making music felt like a job. As a musician, you want to have fun and be creative, but there’s all sorts of pressure from different people and you end up torturing yourself. You forget why you’re doing it. There was a period where I didn’t enjoy making music anymore. It wasn’t fun so I took a step back. I moved from Los Angeles to Utah because I needed to get out of L.A. again and revert back to nature. The first song I wrote when I arrived in Utah was “White Suburban”. I wrote it because I needed to get something creative out of my system with no pressures attached to it. I wasn’t writing a hit pop song. I wasn’t trying to be super indulgent in my chord choices. Lyrically, I wrote it about the past. Growing up my best friend had an old white suburban. It was rusty, and we had a lot of stories associated with that car. While I didn’t fall in love with anybody in that car, it was the idea of looking back that far into the past and remembering. I had that first love as a kid. Your first love never really leaves you. The song talks about that.
Where did “Tower (Don’t Look Down)” come from?
I moved to L.A. when I was like seventeen to pursue my dreams. I knew by doing that I was going to be leaving a lot behind, but it was all for the best. It was a positive move for me. At the same time, I was leaving a lot of things behind like a certain person. It was written from the perspective of the person staying in the small town and watching me go off and chase my dreams and never having this future we dreamed of when we were kids.
What have you been listening to?
I’m really excited about Angel Haze. I bought her EP a couple of months ago, and I reached out and put her on my album because I love her work. I’m excited to get her new album. I’m really looking forward to it. She’s really unique and raw. She does her own thing, and she’s really talented.
What’s some of the darker music you come back to?
I grew up in the nineties. A lot of the music then had more of an edge. There were artists like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette. They made catchy music, but it was still dark. I like so many different kinds of music from Marilyn Manson to Radiohead to Eminem. It’s anyone who’s doing his or her own thing.