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Grammy-Nominated Singer-Songwriter Skylar Grey Visits Urban Knights Radio

The “Love the Way You Lie” songwriter shared her experience of getting back in touch with her authentic self in the Oregon wilderness

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Singer-songwriter Skylar Grey. Photo by Bob Toy.

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Skylar Grey recently stopped by Urban Knights Radio at Academy of Art University before setting out on her current U.S. tour in support of her new album, Natural Causes. Grey spoke to students about her experience in the music industry and described what it was like to not only be young, but to be a female singer-songwriter, who thought her career was over before it even started. She encouraged students to be creative and true to their inner-voice, to experiment with their sound and said that getting back in touch with her true self was what got her noticed by big names like Eminem, Rihanna, Dr. Dre and Nicki Minaj.

In conversation with Academy senior and Urban Knights Radio Program Director Terrell Butler, Grey revealed that she signed her first record deal under the name “Holly Brook” back when she was only 18 years old, not long after she had moved to Los Angeles. “I actually didn’t know what a record deal was before I got one,” shared Grey. She explained that she was under the impression that once she got signed, there would be less work to do, seeing as up until then landing a deal had been her ultimate career goal. She quickly realized that not only did she have to work harder and faster than before, but that the studio was counting on her and she faced a lot of pressure when it came to tapping into her creativity in a timely manner.

After the pressure of creating her debut album, Like Blood Like Honey, had become too much for her, Grey decided to quit and move out to a cabin in the middle of the Oregon wilderness. “I didn’t have anyone to please when I was by myself, isolated in the woods,” said Grey. “So, slowly I got back in touch with my authentic self, who I really wanted to be as an artist and as a person. Slowly, music came back to me.”

However, Grey realized that making music was all that she knew and all that she wanted to do, so she turned to a contact in L.A., her publisher, who put her in contact with Alex da Kid. Connecting over email, the music producer sent Grey a beat, which she turned into the hook for the 2010 hit song “Love the Way You Lie.” “It was a very quick write for me, about 15 minutes, and next thing I know, it was cut by Eminem and Rihanna. It was a number one song on iTunes a month later, and my life went from here to here,” said Grey, motioning, from low to high. “It opened so many doors having that song happen.”

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Urban Knights Radio Program Director Terrell Butler interviews Skylar Grey live in studio, which was live-streamed on Facebook. Photo by Bob Toy.

Academy students were very interested in hearing more about the making of “Love the Way You Lie,” and Grey shared a little about the behind the scenes process. “The funny thing with ‘Love the Way You Lie,’ I had never met Alex da Kid, Alex had never met Eminem, and I don’t think Eminem and Rihanna had ever met,” explained Grey. “We all made our parts of the song in these weird places; I was in a cabin in woods in Oregon, Alex was in New York, Marshall was in Detroit, Rihanna recorded her vocals in Dublin. And we had this number one song and that’s how it happened. Nobody was ever in the room together.” 

When asked about her songwriting process, Grey divulged that she likes to work alone, because she’s “not the fastest writer” and doesn’t want to “bore” a collaborator that’s waiting on her to produce lyrics. “I like to really take my time and put thought into it,” she explained. “I used to really get self-conscience writing in a room with somebody, throwing out an idea that really was stupid and having them shoot it down, it made me feel really embarrassed.”

The singer-songwriter explained that she got over the feeling of embarrassment when she realized that sometimes you have to explore some “not so good things” to take the next step in the creative process. “I uess I’ve gotten over that [as I’ve gotten older], I don’t care as much about what people think,” said Grey.

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Academy studio audience look on as they’re treated to a live interview and performance from singer-songwriter Skylar Grey. Photo by Bob Toy.

She explained that her new album, Natural Causes, is “kind of morbid, on the surface,” and is a representative of the darker sound. For the singer-songwriter, the album is more about nature, and, in a way, is reflective of her time spent in the middle of nowhere in Oregon. 

“[Nature] always reminds me how unimportant I am in the big scheme of the universe,” said Grey. “It really makes me feel so miniscule. I’m no more important than a deer or a butterfly to the ecosystem. Why do I stress myself out over stupid s***? It doesn’t matter. … So it calms me down to just know that … and whatever I’m doing should be just because I want to enjoy myself. My life is an adventure, and it’s a gift that I can breathe and see beautiful scenery. I just feel very blessed. Being in nature is a constant reminder to me that nature causes everything, so that’s a big inspiration [for] a lot of the lyrics on my album.”

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A surprise Skylar Grey performance. Photo by Bob Toy.

During the audience Q&A portion of the event, Grey shared that, music-wise, “Picture Perfect” is one of her favorite songs on Natural Causes. “I feel like I finally reached the sound that I have been trying to reach for years,” she said. “It’s kind of got that hip hop underbelly, and then on top, my vocal approach to it was kind of like a Bon Iver, [with] live vocal layering and harmonies, so it’s really smooth, but it has a little bit of an urban feel and I’m rapping a little bit in the bridge. It’s a combination of all the things that I’ve been trying to combine and not have it be weird, and it’s not weird on that song. It works and I’m really proud of that one.”

Following the Q&A, Grey treated Urban Knights Radio to a special acoustic performance. 

Skylar Grey’s Natural Causes is available now in stores and digital retailers. For tour dates, check out skylargreymusic.com/tour

To watch Urban Knights Radio’s interview with Skylar Grey, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UrbanKnightsRadioAAU/