Q&A: Coming of Age with Sky Ferreira

Nate von Zumwalt

At one point during our recent conversation, Sky Ferreira empathized with Lorelei Linklater, daughter of director Richard Linklater and an actress in his Oscar-winning drama Boyhood. The parallels proved uncanny to the 23-year-old singer, who heard the story of Lorelei bawling her way through her first viewing of the film. It was a reaction to reliving her coming-of-age—including, in its entirety the “awkward phase.” Ferreira knows the feeling.

Sky Ferreira’s young, albeit already drawn-out, career could make for its own coming-of-age drama. The singer/actress/model has spent the better part of the last decade picking and choosing outlets for her wide-ranging artistry, having a go at whatever she could get her hands on. Following the EPs As If! and Ghost, as well as a handful of acting roles—including a lead gig in Sundance alum Matthew Porterfields’ Putty Hill—Ferreira seemingly found her stride with the assured album debut Night Time, My Time. That 2013 release signaled a departure from the pop-heavy 17-year-old who felt slightly underutilized and perhaps not fully realized.

The current iteration of Sky Ferreira is undoubtedly the best one. On Night Time, My Time, she fuses a range of taut electro-pop melodies with stripped-down indie rock, creating a sound that seems to paint a more sincere portrait of the singer. With her follow-up album, Masochism, forthcoming and a performance at NEXT FEST slated for this Friday, the refreshingly candid singer took some time to share her thoughts on the challenges of being a young creative in a time with no dearth of critics.

You’ve had the benefit—or perhaps the burden—of being involved in music and film since you were a young teenager. Almost a decade later, is there a misreading about who you are as an artist?

There are always necessary evils, I’ve learned that over the last 10 years—which is weird for me to say because I’m only 23. I always thought, you know, if you work hard and you do a good job and you’re good at what you do and you have good taste and good ideas, it’ll all fall into place. But I wasn’t into the things that people wanted me to be into—or what they wanted me to be. When I was 16 I had blonde hair and I acted, and they’re automatically like, “Ok! Let’s go out for this Disney show.” And I’m like, “Hell no.” And when you reject all of those ideas, it’s not easy. It’s not instant. I have been doing this for 10 years and it just started getting some momentum.

As a society we tend to feel entitled to artists’ decision-making. I think it’s why we see so many major label musicians face skepticism about maintaining creative independence. You signed to Capitol Records at 15—how does a teenager even deal with that?

The way I treat film is the same way I treat my music. I’ve tried things that I wasn’t sure about, but that people told me I should [try] and I always thought they knew better. But they lie to you: “If you do this, then you can make whatever you want and all the doors will be open and it’ll all work out.” But I don’t regret any of it because I learned from it. At the end of the day I wouldn’t have made Night Time, My Time if I didn’t have all the bumps on the way.

I have a manager for acting; I don’t have a manager for music. I’ve never really had someone to protect me that had my best interest in mind and understood me. And if they did understand me, they didn’t know what to do with me. It’s always been really difficult in that sense. I had to stand my ground.

And then there’s the challenge of coming of age under a spotlight…

Every mistake I’ve made is somehow on the internet [laughs]. Every bad picture. It’s like going through someone’s yearbook and judging them by it.

You can’t just file it away and never look at it again, can you?

It doesn’t gather dust. I’m still getting shit for stuff I said when I was 14 years old and had no idea… You think you know way more than you actually do.

In addition to singing, you’re an actress and a film fan. What’s the best film you’ve seen thus far this year?

I saw The Stanford Prison Experiment. That was good. I saw Amy, which was really sad. But the one thing I wish they did in that film—which I think they did a really good job of in Montage of Heck—is that with her they kind of just focused on the downfall. I don’t feel like I left it knowing that much more about her.

Oh, and The Wolfpack. I love that movie, but also I’m biased.

Why are you biased?

When I moved to New York, the director Crystal Moselle was one of the first friends I had, and I remember her telling me about the boys (the subjects of the film). Those boys are just so effortlessly cool and have the fucking best style.

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