Though she’s only 20 years old, Sky Ferreira has been on the verges of breaking out for a minute now. First signed in 2009, the LA singer released a few singles, then an EP, but her debut album never arrived. Though she made the promotional rounds at a few mainstream outlets, wider fame seemed to be perpetually outside her grasp.
As she bounced around industry limbo, Ferreira retooled her sound, incorporating ’80s electro-pop influences and recording songs with Garbage’s Shirley Manson. The result was Ghost, a five-song EP that included the slow-burning indie sensation “Everything Is Embarrassing.” We were pretty big fans of the track, and so were a lot of other people. (If you are too, you can vote for it in our Greatest Song of 2012 tournament!) The move jumpstarted her career, leading to a weeklong homestand at CMJ and a rejuvenated album-release schedule. After years spent on the margins, Sky Ferreira was finally on the map.
We spoke with Ferreira about Kendrick Lamar, songwriting and the downsides of being Pitchfork-popular.
When did you first realize “Everything Is Embarrassing” was so special?
I never really thought—for me, all of my songs are special. I just seemed like the first thing I should put out on the EP. It was kind of last-minute: [Songwriter Dev Hynes] sent me the demo and [producer Ariel Rechtshaid] and I switched some stuff around, changed some lyrics. The demo ended up on Pitchfork and it just took off from there. [The label] were like “Uh, can you make a music video for this?” but they didn’t give us any money . We just did it the day of. We bought bus passes and filmed the music video between LA and downtown. And then we shot on the top of the Capitol Records building, which has a great view.
What was it like, blowing up like that?
I was never really expecting it. It just happened so naturally. It wasn’t like one million views in two days or anything like that. I’m glad it wasn’t like a Youtube phenomenon type of thing, because that’s always impossible to live up to.
It seems like its success helped you get out of musical purgatory, too.
It got everything moving. I got more support from people I was working with to listen to what I wanted to do. At first it was like, “I think it’s too soon to release this, blah blah blah blah.” And then most of the time I would just do it anyway…
Has your daily life changed because of it?
I haven’t been able to sleep in like two months.
I’ve been touring and doing press stuff, and then I’ve been filming and recording, trying to finish the album. The traveling has been the most exhausting. Just sitting on planes for like 14 hours to 5 hours at a time.
Can you get any writing done when you’re on the road like that?
I write just off the top of my head. I’ll be walking down the street and be like “Oh shit,” and write it down. Writing isn’t like working to me. It’s something I enjoy doing. I could write an album forever. I don’t know when it’s time to be done. It has to be snatched away from me at some point. I like being in the studio too much. If I could just consistently release an album every five months? I wish.
For not liking touring, you sure played a lot of CMJ shows.
It was kind of hard, when I went into it. That was the first time I’d ever really played. So it wasn’t practice, but… People were going to these things trying to find out if I was “real” or something, or see if I could sing well live, or trying to figure me out. That was annoying. Now it’s starting to turn into people wanting to see it to see it, more so than like trying to see what all the hype was about.
Is it weird now to hear “Everything Is Embarrassing” on the radio?
If my song was on the radio? My song has never come on the radio! It’s weird, because everyone else I know but me has heard my song on the radio. Like, is this a fucking joke? My mom has heard it. What is going on here? It’s so annoying. It’s to keep me humble, I dunno. You always think about those stereotypical “Hear your first song on the radio” moments—”Turn it up!” and they’re screaming. That has not happened to me yet. What if I went my whole career never hearing it? Like if it was on the radio, and I never heard it. That would happen to me.
Was there anything you did hear this year that you really liked?
I like the new Kendrick Lamar album a lot. It was really well recorded and produced. The way it was thought-out—not like that he planned some stuff, I dunno what the process was—but the way it came together. I also really like that Taylor Swift song, “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” It just gets stuck in your head. It reminds me of Avril Lavigne a little bit, because it’s Max Martin.
Any other culture you enjoyed?
I watch a lot of TV. It’s like the only thing—it’s not the only thing I find fun in life, but it’s one of my top five favorite things to do. I just started watching season three of Boardwalk Empire. I was just talking about this yesterday, how well-directed it is, and how well-written the characters are, because even though they’re brutally murdering each other, you kind of like all of them, in some way. My favorite movie would have to be The Master. I thought it was so beautiful.
What are you up to in the new year?
I’m appearing on a television show in January that I can’t name, so that’s a little frightening. I’m supposed to play in LA, and then finish the record, and then from February on I am on. I’m releasing the record in spring. I don’t want to say at Coachella, but that time of year.