Concert preview: Sky Ferreira overcomes label indifference, her own shyness

  • Grant Singer photo
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From the November 21, 2013 edition

Sky Ferreira describes her relationship with Capitol Records the way a twentysomething might describe his or her dating status on social media: “It’s complicated,” she said.

Over the course of a late October phone interview, the rising pop star, who visits A&R Music Bar for a concert on Thursday, Nov. 21, compared being signed to a major with drowning (“People are trying to shove my head under the water but my arms are still up”), expressed envy for musicians who opt to take the independent route (“I used to think artists started their own labels for vanity reasons … but at this point I feel like I would know how to run a label better than some of the people who work at [Capitol]”) and addressed label honchos the way a child might confront a monster lurking beneath the bed (“The thing is I’m not afraid of them”).

“There’s always been a lot of, I wouldn’t call it resentment against me, but they could never bully me into anything,” she said, noting she does have a few champions among the label rank-and-file. “That’s what it comes down to.”

Ferreira, now 21, signed to Capitol at the age of 17, and spent years pushing back as the label attempted to market her as something of a teen pop Lolita, a guise the singer said she never felt comfortable embracing. It’s a conflict she addresses in the midst of her full-length debut, Night Time, My Time, singing, “The way I was before / I’m not her anymore.”

“I feel like there’s always so much bullshit around music,” she said. “And the number one thing I should be in my own music is honest.”

The decision has served Ferreira’s career well. Earlier this year she toured alongside Vampire Weekend — including a September stop at the LC Pavilion — and next year she’s scheduled to serve as the opening act on human trending topic Miley Cyrus’ arena tour. Offstage, however, the singer has courted her share of controversy, some expected (the decision to pose topless on her album cover) and some significantly less so (Ferreira was arrested in September on charges of possession of ecstasy).

While “I Blame Myself,” easily the most self-lacerating cut on Night Time, might have been written prior to these events, Ferreira said the song’s refrain (“I blame myself for my reputation”) has taken on a deeper meaning in light of current events, and it’s clear she’s still adjusting to the increased media attention she’s received in recent months.

“When I was younger I was so painfully shy I wouldn’t speak at all,” said Ferreira, who grew up in California with a father who tended bar and ran a T-shirt stand in Venice Beach and a mother who recently enrolled in culinary school. “And everyone [at school] picks on you more when you’re quiet and don’t want the attention, which doesn’t really make sense.”

To compensate, the budding musician envisioned herself as two different people when she started recording her first songs at the age of 15. There was Sky the performer, who could pour the most intimate details of her life into song and pose comfortably in front of a camera (she’s done a fair amount of modeling, including high-profile campaigns for Calvin Klein and Forever 21). And then there was Sky the loner, who was under no pressure whatsoever to be social and could comfortably retreat into herself when necessary.

“I realize now though it doesn’t really work that way,” Ferreira said. “I always have to be on.”

Ferreira’s music career has, in many ways, been a constant process of self-discovery. While her earliest songs rarely scratched beneath the surface — “When I first started writing … I didn’t really have anything to say because I was only 15 years old,” she said — her more recent songs have been nearly as revealing as the image that graces the cover of her album.

“As I got older I’ve experienced more and grown more,” she said. “I think it’s made my music a lot more aggressive, to be honest, like almost this repressed anger. It’s definitely forced me outside of my shell more.”