There’s no doubt you know all the words to her song “Love the Way You Lie”and have heard her sing on some of the biggest tracks like Diddy’s “Coming Home,” Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor” and Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said,” but Skylar Grey can’t wait for you to hear her debut album Don’t Look Down, which drops July 7th. With executive producer and collaborator Eminem as her guide, Grey has become a force to be reckoned with, which is why she’s this week’s Femme on Fire.
Playboy.com: You’ve done a lot for someone who’s only now releasing a major label debut! It must’ve been great to focus your energy onto your own full-length studio album.
Grey: Yeah, it’s been a long time coming. [laughs] Basically the process of the album started when I wrote “Love the Way You Lie.” The oldest song on the album, “Final Warning,” was written the same week I wrote “Love the Way You Lie” and then since then I’ve written quite a few songs, not a crazy amount, but enough to experiment while I was trying to figure out what exactly I wanted the rest of the album to sound like. It took me a few years to figure it out!
Playboy.com: This album really shows your versatility as an artist without sounding all over the place. Was the album about one specific situation?
Grey: I just like to tell stories with my songs. I told stories from my childhood; I told stories from my recent past, from when I was living in the woods in Oregon, broke and having bad relationships. I pretty much write about the past, mostly because you can see everything much more clearly in hindsight.
Playboy.com: As a major Blink-182 fan, I have to ask the obvious: how fucking rad is Travis Barker?
Grey: Travis is so rad, I love that guy. It was a last-minute thing that happened; I didn’t really know that that was going to happen. It’s weird because a lot of my relationships I’ve made have been over Twitter. So I can’t remember how it exactly happened, but he DMed me or something and asked me if I wanted to work with him. So I went into the studio with these two songs that needed a little help in the drum department and he brought it up to par with the other songs on the album, so it was cool. I’ll probably work with him with his projects in the future.
Playboy.com: You mentioned Twitter. As someone who enjoys being disconnected from a lot, do you like being so connected in that way?
Grey: You have to find a healthy balance with social media. You can get too exposed or too close to people on there; it can be a little bit of a scary world. People think that because they are anonymous they can say mean things or whatever they want without consequences. But it honestly does matter. I get so much hate through tweets. I get so many great tweets every day too, but I get ones full of hate as well and that always stings. As easy as it is to forget about it, it always stings a little bit too. So I just try to stay a little disconnected from that. I use it when I have to and I’ve used it to my advantage in cases too. I really like that Twitter can take out the middle man. I’ve actually made a lot of relationships on Twitter. Russell Crowe and I became friends on there, Angel Haze, who’s featured on my album…I could go down a list of names of people that I was able to reach out to directly without having to go through management or labels or anything and be like, “Do you want to work together?” And they’re always cool for it. That’s been probably the greatest thing with social media for me.
Playboy.com: Is there one specific song on your new album you can’t wait to share?
Grey: I really believe in albums still, call me old-school but I’m really excited for people to hear the whole thing because as you’ve probably heard just from listening to it, it’s pretty diverse and there’s a lot of dimensions to who I am as an artist, so one song will not really show that. So I’m mostly excited to have a body of work out there that people can get into. And I’m sure the first time they’ll listen to it they’ll have like one or two favorites and then the hundredth time they listen to it there will be a song that maybe they didn’t like at first but that’ll soon be their favorite. I wanted there to be different levels of catchiness and different kinds of songs on the album so people can spend some time with it. Some of the songs are more growers and some of the songs are more instant. I’m excited, actually, to see which songs are favorites.
Playboy.com: You’ve talked a lot about keeping perspective as an artist in the past. How difficult has this been for you since a majority of the songs you’ve written are absolutely ginormous?
Grey: It gets really hard because you’re surrounded by people in the music industry who have opinions on what you should be doing or what you should sound like. You want to listen to other people and you want to be open to their ideas, yet you can’t let it change your own instinct and who you are because then you’re just lost. I’ve done that, and I’m guilty of doing that in the past. The way that I keep perspective is that I don’t live in L.A.; that’s one of the major things. I can’t be surrounded daily by these people, who are great and work really hard and have great feedback, but at the same time I can’t be who I am when I listen to it all the time. So I have to be in nature and be surrounded by the wilderness and not connected to the world all the time. That really helps me to just remember who I am and why I decided to do music and what drives me. That’s the number one thing. And then the other thing that was really helpful was this period of time during the album that I got a little confused because of all the opinions. Eminem being the executive producer, I asked him what he thought and he said the simplest thing, but it really meant so much to me to come from him, which was, “Just be you.” I was like, “Yeah, I guess I’m not really being myself right now! I’m turning into all of these different people and I’m not being me.” So I kind of took a step back and disconnected a little bit more and just decided to be me and follow my own instincts over anything, and that’s how I was able to finish the album.
Playboy.com: You’ve worked with a lot of iconic musicians. What has been the best advice you’ve been given along the way?
Grey: This wasn’t directed at me, but I really loved this: I was at an award show once and David Foster was doing a speech and at one point he said, “Make every decision like you’ve got a hundred million dollars in the bank.” And that may not make sense to some people, but to me it meant that you shouldn’t make decisions based on trying to make money; you should make decisions based on your creative instinct. And that’s something I see Eminem do every day. I really admire that. His ability to make decisions not based on what he thinks other people want to hear or anything, it’s really purely about the art. I feel that a lot of times in Hollywood these days that people are driven by the wrong things: they’re driven by money and fame. It can compromise the art. And so David’s quote really has some weight. Be true to your creative instinct and don’t go after the wrong goals.
Playboy.com: What are some challenges you face as a female musician that some people may not realize?
Grey: I think that one of the biggest struggles as a female in any industry is that—I don’t know if it’s true nowadays because there’s a lot of powerful women out there—but just the fact that everybody thinks that they have an idea of what you should sound like as an artist. It’s easy to be a young female and get wrapped up in what people see for you and not stay true to who you are. I think females should stand up for themselves a lot more in this industry and any other industry they find themselves in.
Playboy.com: What’s your favorite…
Food: I like a good steak.
Drink: Red wine with lots of tannins.
Pickup line: Do people still use those?
Most embarrassing moment: I don’t have a specific example but I’m really out of the loop with who people are in terms of celebrities and stuff, so I often will be talking to someone and not realize that they’re famous or not even know what they have done, so I get embarrassed a lot when it comes to that. I get put around a lot of celebrities and then I’m just a fish out of water. I don’t know who anybody is! I grew up without TV and stuff so I don’t recognize anybody and I don’t know people’s names.
First memory of Playboy: My best friend had a couple of brothers and they had this room in the back of the house that had a stash of naughty magazines. We weren’t allowed to go in there, but we snuck in there a couple of times to see what it was all about.