Purple light beams lance through the fog of the Crescent Ballroom on a Wednesday night. They play over the faces of the crowd – thin, young, and cheerful. They seem to float over the tattoos on Skylar Grey’s right arm as she stands alone on stage, grips the microphone, and sings, “Everywhere a wilderness/ We’re all out of our minds.” Her haunting harmonies open up a beautiful and unique set list which includes songs from her new album, Natural Causes; from the soundtrack to Suicide Squad, which she worked on; and from her older work as a songwriter. The crowd sang along where possible, but nobody compares to Skylar Grey’s ethereal and powerful voice. Despite performing with a cold, she still put on an impressive performance that showcased her range and songwriting abilities. After the show, we sat down with her for a brief question and answer session.
WILL: First off, strong work on performing with a cold.
SKYLAR: Oh, thanks. I had to sit out of a few notes that I usually hit that were really high. Couldn’t do it. But, I mean, nobody notices so I just keep it going. It’s just harder for me to put out the same energy.
WILL: What’s it been like on tour so far? And how did you feel about the venue tonight?
SKYLAR: Well, this is the second time I’ve played this venue and I love it. They always treat us really well, the food’s really good, and the crowd is just a cool group of people. On tour so far, it’s been great, and every night I’m noticing more and more people knowing the lyrics to the new songs on the new album. So that’s exciting for me, ‘cause the first show was a couple people, and then tonight it was even more than any night so far. So that’s really cool.
WILL: Have you seen a lot of people knowing the songs from Suicide Squad as well?
SKYLAR: Yeah, I saw people singing along to those as well.
WILL: Was that a cool experience, getting to do the movie?
SKYLAR: Yeah, absolutely. I love working on movies. It’s like my favorite thing to do. ‘Cause I think to me, a movie is the ultimate form of art. It’s acting, screenwriting, cinematography, music, all these different elements coming together to make one piece. So it’s exciting to be a part of that. And I also love when I’m asked to write for a movie or something. The inspiration’s kind of laid out for you. It’s like, “We want it to be about this.” It’s kind of a fun challenge to write specifically about characters or something happening in a story.
WILL: About the characters, did you get to meet Jared Leto and Margot Robbie?
SKYLAR: Yeah, I’ve met Jared. I actually opened for 30 Seconds to Mars years ago. And then I met Margot at the premier. She was so sweet.
WILL: What went into the album? It’s super different, it’s super cool.
SKYLAR: Thank you! The album was a three-year process. A lot changes in three years, though. I went through multiple evolutions, stylistically, during those three years so by the end it was kind of hard to choose what songs I wanted to put out on the album. But I think I got a cool mix. It’s diverse for sure; there’s definitely a wide range of sound on the album, but not so much that it doesn’t work together. I guess all my songwriting comes from me fighting my demons every day in my lyrics. It’s about the ultimate quest for happiness. Even though the title is Natural Causes, which sounds very morbid, it’s actually a play on words ‘cause I’m a nature freak. I get a lot of my inspiration from nature, so the album’s actually about life more than it is death. Even though the tone of it is kinda moody and dark, and you first hear “Natural Causes” you think “morbid,” which works ‘cause the sound is dark but then when you dig deeper it’s actually about life.
WILL: What would you define as your aesthetic? It’s kind of hard to pin down, watching the show. What would you call it?
SKYLAR: I guess it goes- with my style and also with my songwriting, I don’t feel like I have to stay in a box or be specific to a genre. I like to push the boundaries and be experimental. So I think maybe experimental is the best way to describe it. Moody and experimental.
WILL: Is that where Woodrat comes from?
SKYLAR: Woodrat is a clothing line I’m starting, and it’s inspired by the fact that I work in music which puts me in cities and studios and stuff like that all the time, and I work with mostly rappers and stuff, and then I live in the woods. So from the hood to the wood! Woodrat instead of hoodrat. Another play on words, right there.
Skylar’s current tour is to promote her latest album, which was released on September 23rd. She has been touring with Morgxn, whose heartrending alternative pop deals with his personal losses. The lights are timed to the electronic music, which pulses behind his strong and emotional vocals. The band he performs with consists of two other musicians, each of whom is dressed similarly in all-black.
He sets the mood very well for Skylar, who brings to the audience a subdued persona due to her battling a cold. Still, she shifts in her show from rapping to singing with uncommon ease. Seeing her live is an entirely different experience from listening to the album – at one point, there is a simulated thunderstorm with lights and sound. Her electronic, trap-influenced backing percussion with rattlesnake snares and heavy bass keeps pace with her voice, which is the primary instrument she uses to move the audience. She borrows liberally from hip-hop, R&B, soul, and pop to create a sound totally her own. It mixes gangsters with a sensitive nature.
The best analogy can be made in Skylar’s latest music video for her song “Come Up for Air,” where she sits in a concrete cell and is slowly strangled by plants that grow over her (side note: Grey confirmed that the cockroaches that crawled over her in the video were real. “I’ll do anything for the sake of art,” she said, and included that she had dealt with the horror of the roaches by naming them Norman and Meryl and thinking of them as puppies). In terms of talent, Grey has already proven herself many times over. Her new album lets her experiment in her own strange and beautiful world. On songs like “Real World,” she sings about returning to nature and genuine human connection in a world of artificial interactions. It feels like a lashing out against the boxes that she has been forced into after her collaborations with rappers and pop artists. In Skylar’s words, “I get a lot of my inspiration from nature, so the album’s actually about life more than it is death.”
Most of the songs on the album talk about love and reaching out to others. They are catchy, the words memorable, and encourage fans to sing along. Skylar loves when the fans know the words, and to see that her own lyrics resonate with others who identify with her struggles is part of what she loves as a songwriter. In a world full of artist making music for a paycheck, Natural Causes is the culmination of three years of hard artistic work to craft a record that speaks to the soul. Grey has created an experience live that meshes her songs that she creates for others with the songs she creates for herself. The end result is a showcase of talent that will leave you breathless.
Thanks go to Kaylin Burke for arranging the interview. Photos courtesy of Kelly Fox. More examples of her work can be found at ww.vixenvisuals.com.