Skylar Grey’s co-signers and collaborators include Eminem and Rihanna (2010’s “Love The Way You Lie”), Diddy (“Coming Home”) and Dr. Dre (she contributed 2011’s “I Need A Doctor” performance at the Grammys ), and the singer and songwriter is herself nominated for several Grammy Awards. Yet in the past six years – since her last album, “Natural History” – she has all but retreated from public view.
Meanwhile, Gray hit ‘rock bottom’, she says Variety, suffering from a divorce so bitter that she was forced to sell her catalog to pay her legal fees. She wasn’t happy with the sale, but Gray moved on – now engaged, she began the process of rebuilding her library with a new album, the intimate, self-titled “Skylar Grey” (released April 29 ).
Variety spoke with Gray about the tumult of the past few years, why she no longer wants to tour, and her plans for the future.
Your life has been turned upside down since our last conversation.
I wasn’t really allowed to talk about anything that was going on because I was in a legal dispute, so I didn’t want it biting my ass saying something. So yeah, I was just keeping it private. But since 2017 I was going through a divorce and a lawsuit, it was destroying me emotionally and financially. Last year, 2021, we finally settled it, settled it, I had to sell my catalog in order to pay the settlement, which was very sad in a way, because these songs like “Love The Way You Lie” and “Coming Home, “These are my babies. But at the same time, no one can tell me that I didn’t write those songs just because I don’t own the rights to them anymore. I didn’t want to sell them. , but it was my only way to put the past behind me…
So wasn’t it like what Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen did when they sold their recording and publishing rights for hundreds of millions of dollars?
No. I wanted to keep building it and developing it. But, I have such a weight on me now that the case is over, I’m not on the phone with lawyers every day, and I don’t have to pay all those legal bills anymore. Now I just focus on creating a new catalog, new funds and new opportunities.
Did your feelings towards the songs change after having to sell them?
They are always near and dear to my heart and yes, I will always treasure them, but it’s different now. Every time one of those songs is used in a movie or whatever, I don’t see that money anymore. But unfortunately the majority of what I paid for my catalog went to taxes and my ex-husband. [Laughs] It’s like your life’s work, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Okay, I gotta give the majority of this.” But it was my only option. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do something like that, otherwise I might not have got out of the business.
After going through all that, how much of a catharsis was this album for you?
The whole album is a cathartic release for me, it expresses a lot of emotions I’ve felt over the years. And it was tough, it was a lot of turmoil, depression, I was going through a lot of shit. So this album, I feel like it reflects those emotions and the things that I was going through.
Was there a song at the beginning of this album?
The first song I wrote on the album was “Partly Cloudy With a Chance of Tears”. And I wrote it about this feeling that I put on this facade, like this fake smile, because I can’t tell the world what I’m going through, so I’m pretending it’s okay, but I’m sure on the verge of tears all the time. This was written in late 2020 or early 2021, and that started the process. I feel like [with] this song, I found a vibe that I really wanted to nail, and then I built from there.
When you’re forced to sell your catalog, it almost feels like the music is being taken away from you; did it change your relationship with music at some point?
Yeah, a good chunk of that time over the past six years, I was, “What’s the point?” I didn’t feel inspired; I felt really discouraged about my career, and at the same time as that was happening, I got fired from Interscope, and I had a manager fire me as well, so I hit rock bottom the last year.
But once you hit rock bottom, there’s only one place to go – up.
Exactly. And that’s why I made this album. It’s kind of like the transformation I made after hitting rock bottom, going through all these emotions and coming out the other side feeling stronger than ever, that’s where I’m at now. I guess it’s always darkest before dawn.
It’s interesting that with your success you were let go by both Interscope and a manager. Did they give you a reason?
The problem with Interscope, we actually had a very amicable split, which you don’t hear about all the time. At the time, I was doing this Angel With Tattoos EP, inspired by my newfound love. And I was doing this album with Aaron Bay-Schuck as A&R, and then part of the process he left and went to Warner [Records]. So [after] what happened, I took my album into Interscope, met the team, and basically – long story short – they were like, “Well, hip-hop is really the only thing on which we’re focusing on right now, so if you’re not going to do hip-hop, it’s probably best that we split up. So they let me take that music with me and I’m still friends with a lot of people the low.
And what happened with the manager?
The manager’s situation was interesting. I don’t necessarily want to talk about it, just because I don’t like throwing people under the bus. Have you seen the Kanye West series [“Jeen-Yuhs”]? There’s something he’s going through that really relates to me. It was early in his career as an artist when he was known to be just a producer, and he would walk into these record companies and they would just ignore his project as an artist because they only saw him as a producer. I feel like that’s how I’m seen in the music industry, but as a songwriter. So I think with a lot of managers, they also see me that way. So they focus on wanting me to write songs for other people, that’s where I made the most money, so that makes sense. But, at the same time, I want a manager who believes in me as an artist, because being an artist is my real dream.
So it didn’t work because of that. I just felt like we disagreed on that. [So] When I saw that thing with Kanye, I was like, “Man, that’s how I feel right now. I feel like everyone thinks of me as the songwriter and I want to be an artist. And he was able to do that, he was able to prove himself and be successful as an artist, so I saw that at a time when I needed reassurance that what I was doing was right, taking it all in, managing myself and producing my own album. I make my own merch, sell my own merch, and ship, pack, and ship out of my house right now. I’m back to square one, but I really believe in what I’m doing.
Do you feel like starting over?
Yeah. I feel like I’m doing this basic style now. And I don’t know if I’ve ever really done that before. When I first entered the music industry, when I was 18 or 19, I went from making demos to signing in a year to having a hit song on the radio with Mike Shinoda, and there wasn’t a whole lot of base buildup for anything that I did. Then I jumped all over the place, writing hits and appearing on stuff for other people. But then again, there weren’t a ton of local foundations being built there. I feel like I do this now. I’m going back in time and building this totally fan-centric foundation where I’m super connected with my fans now – in a way that I’ve never been before.
It really opened my eyes and gave me a lot of confidence, which I needed as an artist. I have confidence in myself as a songwriter, but it’s not my passion. I don’t like doing songwriting sessions with other people, and I don’t like writing songs for other people.
What are your touring plans as an independent artist?
Everyone in the industry will fight me on this, but I don’t want to be on tour. I don’t like being on the road. I like the shows themselves, but all the other aspects – the travelling, being away from home – that kind of stuff I hate. And life is too short to wake up and do something you hate everyday. So I really like being in the studio. I really like making music videos. And I’m designing my own career style. He doesn’t have to fit the mold of previous artists. So as far as shows go, I have two ideas, other than if the demand is there and someone contacts me saying, “We need you to come here”, and they like to give me a offer, so I’d be open to doing one-off dates or minimal touring, but my most interesting ideas are to do some sort of residency somewhere. Locally I hope, like in a bar where I live. And if people want to come see me, they can come see me. So it’s an idea.
And the other idea is to do virtual tours where you wear the costume and like someone designs that version of you and you can enjoy being in the room with people, but virtually. I don’t know if anyone still does it. I feel like there have been versions of it – like Travis Scott appearing in ‘Fortnite’ – but hosting my own gigs with people who may like to join virtually, and I’d love to do that, where I sing always live, it’s all live, I can interact with people, but I do it from the comfort of my own living room.
Without touring, will you write more?
Gray: I focused on finding cool film opportunities for music, collaboration. I have a few collaborations going on, I’m working on video game stuff. I like to make songs that I sing, it’s my song, but it’s like attached to a platform like a movie or something. So that’s the kind of stuff that I focused on, in addition to being creative, making songs, putting them in a file for a possible next album. I definitely don’t want to wait another six years to release another album. My plan is to stay on a trajectory of maybe one album a year. I have a little vengeful side to me. They say the best revenge is success, and so it’s definitely kicking in right now.