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Sky Ferreira: enduring spirit

Pop’s hardest feeler is back – as she prepares to share her long-awaited new album, she reveals why she’ll always choose freedom over faking it

Taken from the spring 2016 issue of Dazed. Vote for Sky on the Dazed 100 here.

When you meet a pop star for an interview, you’re often manoeuvred somewhere fancy. A hotel, with five stars next to the door, where the drapes hang thick with golden fringes – and your threadbare jeans do battle with a gilded Louis XV chair. It might be one in a string of interviews, and they’ll be bored, trotting out the same soundbites over and over. Not Sky Ferreira, though. She doesn’t even have anything to sell today. We meet in a flat in Clapton, east London, and, upon entering the room, she’s on the floor, moving her stuff from a (fancy) handbag to an anonymous backpack. “Hi, I’m Sky,” she says, her hands full of the ephemera every 23-year-old girl carries on a daily basis.

A cat lies nearby, asleep on the couch. Perhaps he’s not one of her 660K Instagram followers. In the background, a film so awful neither of us pay attention to it is playing on Netflix. But it’s on because this is a bit weird otherwise, right? Sitting in an otherwise silent room, pouring your soul out to a stranger.

“I remember someone saying to me, ‘You’re a hard feeler,’” says Ferreira. “Like, fiiiiine. I am very loyal and I do get invested in things, no matter what. People think vulnerability or being sensitive is being weak. (But) maybe I do feel a little ‘extra’ than most people. Maybe I am a bit more intense.”

It might be this about Ferreira that intimidates people: honesty makes the basics freak out. The more Teflon you are, the more you can flash a pearly white smile on demand, the less you show, the further you get. Duplicity is a mass anaesthetic, and people can’t get enough. Certainly, it helps when you’re in bed with a major label (figuratively), and someone, somewhere along the line is armed with a PowerPoint ‘strategy’ for your future. What makes Ferreira fantastic – and different – is her unwillingness to settle, even to the detriment of her short-term prospects. Through various early-career incarnations and setbacks, her disdain for creative compromise means she’s way ahead of the cat with its paltry nine lives. And you know what? She keeps coming back. Define ‘enduring spirit’, and there’d be a photo of her next to it.

“It never goes well when I try to force something, ’cos I’m not good at lying,” she elaborates, with the racing, stumbling speech of a Cali teenager – a reminder that, for someone who’s been around so long, Ferreira is still barely into her 20s. “I have a bad poker face and that’s always been kind of my issue. It’s why I’ve made so many records that never came out. I’m too real!” Cue wicked laughter.

“People think vulnerability or being sensitive is being weak... Maybe I do feel a little ‘extra’ than most people. Maybe I am a bit more intense” – Sky Ferreira 

Ferreira’s second album is called Masochism, and it’s due for release in the summer. Such is her ‘see it, say it’ approach, the title has been floating around online for aeons, though it becomes clear during the course of our chat that she’s actually still recording it. Mike Dean is the record’s executive producer, and longtime collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid is also on board, as is Rahki, who’s worked with Kendrick Lamar.

“I started writing the lyrics two years ago when I was touring, and that’s when the name (Masochism) came to me,” she reveals. “The way I look at it, it’s about going from one thing to another. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my own self-value. Before, in order to feel good about anything there had to be some kind of struggle, a painful way to get to it, otherwise I felt I didn’t really deserve it. Which is a really fucked up way of thinking.”

“I became a bit of a masochist in every single way – for a while it was like, ‘If it doesn’t hurt then it’s not real.’ That is honestly how I felt. I’m still in the thick of everything changing, but change, like, sucks! It’s good in the long run, but it’s fucking weird and uncomfortable. When I feel like I’ve reached the point where I’m somewhat comfortable with it, that’s when the album ends.”

In December, she even took to Twitter to wisecrack about the delay – the album will be about a year later than expected if it arrives in the summer – asking fans whose record they think will come out first: hers or Frank Ocean’s. “(He) is an artist I truly relate to in terms of his mentality, he’s not going to put something out unless he wants to,” she enthuses. “It’s like, do people wanna hear an album that’s good (and on time) or do they want to hear an actual Frank Ocean album? I want to hear something that’s 100 per cent Frank Ocean for real. I don’t care when it comes out.” Naturally, it’s not just Ocean she’s talking about.

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Mixed embroideries dress Givenchy by Riccardo TisciPhotography Collier Schorr, Fashion Robbie Spencer

When the Dev Hynes co-write “Everything Is Embarrassing” became the alt-pop earworm of 2012, it was announced, with fanfare, to be Ferreira’s breakout moment. But by the time debut album Night Time, My Time arrived in October 2013, sounding more like Skinny Puppy than something bending over backwards for the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, her breakout kind of broke. Yes, the LP was impressive, just like the Ghost EP she worked on with, among others, Shirley Manson. What it resolutely wasn’t, however, was “Everything Is Embarrassing” 12 times in a row. Thankfully, a situation threatening to be a bit soz babe! New fone, who this? was diffused because Ferreira toured the hell out of it. Even gashing her leg on stage supporting Miley Cyrus didn’t stop her.

“When I was putting out Night Time, My Time, I had to fight against a lot of shit,” she contextualises. “The odds were against me. It was pretty much set up to fail: it wasn’t promoted and some people wanted a selling point for me – what box (to put me in) or something. I was set up for disappointment and I really fought that. What’s different this time is I don’t have to battle it out.”

A new track preempting Masochism will be doing the rounds as you’re reading this. Then there’s Ferreira’s duet with Bobby Gillespie, from Primal Scream’s March-slated new album Chaosmosis. It’s called “Where the Light Gets in”. The video clip looks sexy and glamorous, all flashing lights, great tailoring and that feeling you get when drugs kick in.

“I never made an effort to make myself look a little more, like, together,” says Ferreira. “More acceptable in certain situations.” It would explain why there’s love from idols of the rock world, and a creative exchange with them. If pop strives for perfection, rock has to look the word up. You choose freedom or whacking strong filter. There’s no question Ferreira is a free spirit.

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Checked shirt Givenchy by Riccardo TisciPhotography Collier Schorr, Fashion Robbie Spencer

Music is not Ferreira’s only creative outlet, though. She’s been acting since her early teenage years, debuting in Putty Hill and racking up several films since, including IRL, a Patrik Sandberg-scripted short featuring Genesis P-Orridge. Two more will be released this year – Elvis & Nixon, a period piece starring Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon, and The Trust, a crime caper with Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood. In the former, Ferreira takes the female lead as a 70s housewife married to Alex Pettyfer’s character. Yes, you read that correctly. The role is poles apart from everything Ferreira conjures.

“It was really hard for me to play in some ways,” she says of the part. “I mean, I really had to figure her out. I didn’t want her to be on the phone the entire time, nagging someone, you know? It was interesting to do that without changing what everyone needed.”

Putty Hill is something I hear about all the time but I can’t watch because it’s me, age 15,” she shudders. “Oh my God! I’m not nostalgic at all, there’s nothing that makes me want to go back. I crashed a party at Disneyland the other day, a Sadie Hawkins dance. I felt like I was too old, but everyone else was older than me.”

“I don’t even know what the fuck was going on with me (as a teenager). That’s why I made music and put it on Myspace. I thought, ‘I need to figure this shit out,’ and that was the solution – ‘If I put up a record and what movies I like, the whole world will get me!’ I ended up being even more wildly misunderstood.”

“In order to feel good about anything there had to be some kind of struggle, a painful way to get to it... for a while it was like, ‘If it doesn’t hurt then it’s not real’” – Sky Ferreira 

Pass your local record shop at the moment, and DIIV’s new album Is the Is Are, another disc Ferreira cameos on, will probably be playing. It’s a work of beauty with the power to catch your breath, even during a casual listen. Like when you’re travelling in a car, close your eyes and the sun creates mad colours and patterns on the insides of your eyelids. Much has been written about Ferreira and DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s relationship, most of it speculative. The truth is, no one knows but them.

Smith has written on Tumblr about the new record, drugs, and Ferreira, who he pays tribute to on first single “Dopamine”: “You’re the sun and I was your cloud.” (It’s fair to say that Cole Smith is a ‘hard feeler’ too). The album’s standout moment, however, belongs to Ferreira, whose vocal on “Blue Boredom (Sky’s Song)” may – or may not – nod to a certain, widely reported incident involving a pick-up truck. Breathy and imperious, Ferreira’s performance has the commanding wow of a Kim Gordon vocal.

That primary colour, wildest blue, seems to be following her around at the moment. Her cobalt hair is growing out, and she’s just had a Marc Jacobs make-up pencil, ‘Sky-Liner’, named after her. When you become a cosmetic, you really know you’ve anchored your place in pop culture.

“Someone sent me an article about girls with blue hair and what that means,” Ferreira teases. “It’s like a sort of energy. For me, it was funny, I think it has a lot to do with change. I think the inability to change messes people up the most.”

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Denim jacket Levi's from Rokit, crepe sable slip dress Givenchy by Riccardo TisciPhotography Collier Schorr, Fashion Robbie Spencer

Ferreira was one of the women screengrabbed as part of Richard Prince’s 2014 Instagram series, which also included shots of Pamela Anderson and Kate Moss. The curated images drew more outrage than praise from critics, thanks to that age old gripe of ‘lifting’ – as if Duchamp, Baldessari and hip hop had all never happened. How did she feel about the honour?

“I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’” says Ferreira animatedly. “Because I wasn’t going to make any money off Instagram. I’m such a fan of Richard Prince’s work anyway. I remember him commenting on my post and I was like, ‘Oh, I see. Cool.’ I actually met Pamela Anderson a few weeks ago in Australia. I took a picture. She was so funny, I love her. Even though I also love things that are not feminine at all, I do love a bodacious blonde.”

A few days before our meeting, Ferreira took to Instagram to call out trolls who target young women in the public eye, tagging Alice Glass, Grimes, Selena Gomez, Lana Del Rey and Azealia Banks in a call-to-arms against the chauvinistic shit that is a depressing reality for so many female musicians on social media.

“It’s like a ‘she’s asking for it’ mentality,” says Ferreira of the abuse she’s encountered. “Fuck you! It doesn’t give guys the right to sexually harass or abuse me. It’s not OK for you to say anything and there’s no consequence.”

“The whole reason I made an Instagram account was to stay connected without a filter. I do like reading my comments, but when the majority are flooded by bullshit it kind of defeats things. It makes the other stuff feel rare. That’s the sad thing – that people won’t get me the way I get me. I am putting myself out there. All the way. But there’s a line – I’m not an object that you own.”

“I am putting myself out there. All the way. But there’s a line – I’m not an object that you own” – Sky Ferreira

Ferreira has her share of long-term supporters, of course. She’s got a better photo album than anyone, thanks to being photographed consistently by Hedi Slimane, who has documented her youth as the calendar turns. She was the face of Saint Laurent’s prefall collection of 2013. And in the photographs here, Ferreira wears clothing by another friend, Riccardo Tisci, who brought his catwalk to New York for his tenth anniversary at Givenchy last September.

“I remember Riccardo had me play on this rooftop,” says Ferreira, remembering her Givenchy SS12 after-party set. “I coulda died – I shouldn’t have been standing there but here I was with all these pyrotechnics coming out! (Riccardo) is really sweet and I think that’s also the thing: he’s a hard feeler. Very passionate. I like passionate people.”

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Photography Collier Schorr, Fashion Robbie Spencer

The imagery you see here is something of a declaration. “This is Sky as an adult,” she says. “On the shoot, I felt like myself for one of the first times ever going into a magazine.” A longtime admirer of Collier Schorr, she has traded in-jokes with the photographer online since posing in New York (she posted a picture of an enamel pin badge saying ‘hot damn’), while Ferreira first met Dazed’s creative director Robbie Spencer at the beginning of her career, aged 16.

One thing you might not know about Ferreira is that she subscribes to transcendental meditation. “I do it every day, it’s something I’ll have for my whole life that nobody can take away from me,” she says. “Bob Roth, who runs David (Lynch)’s foundation, taught me. At the time, there were so many things going on and it just got me through. I’m not the type of person to be chanting and doing all that shit but they told me it wasn’t like that. It’s helped with everything, clearing the fog from my brain.”

“People like to see people crack, and watch them burn,” she says. “I have a few songs about that. When I was touring over the past three years, I started reading biographies – but I would read five different biographies about the same person. You don’t know which one’s ‘real’, obviously. I knew that Marilyn Monroe was a feminist icon. I watched her in a film she did right before she died, The Misfits. And her performance was like, ‘I’m real.’ I thought, ‘OK, now I understand why Marilyn Monroe is Marilyn Monroe.’ It’s weird and it’s so sad what happened to her. A lot of stuff hasn’t changed, even with feminism – it being a marketing thing. It’s cool that people are aware, but it’s weird when it’s not actually feminism, it’s the reverse, all the same old misogynist fucks cashing in. Maybe I’ll become really radical, like Vincent Gallo. I love Vincent Gallo. He’s totally fucking with you, but at least when he says stuff you’re paying attention. He forces people to think about things the right way.” 

Well, she is working on her own movie script, and has been for a while now.

“I’ve been writing shorts, but I haven’t (filmed) them,” she says. “I’m trying to find the right way to explain things... I have a script that’s not necessarily based on me, though it’s about a young-girl mentality, a girl and the people around her. Hopefully that will get made this year. I’m really excited about it.”

Perhaps the biggest change in Ferreira’s life since the release of Night Time, My Time is the fact she has moved back to the west coast, where she grew up. “Coming back, it’s like I’m in The Wizard of Oz or something,” she says, a seemingly improvised analogy that Ferreira revisits three weeks later, over the phone from Los Angeles.

“Aged 15 to 17 I was all over the place,” she says. “I moved to New York when I was 16 and travelled the world. I did all kinds of crazy stuff and I didn’t have a clue what was happening. Being here, it’s like Dorothy going back to Kansas. You know how the answer was her the whole time? I’m like, ‘Yeah, now I get that.’” 

Masochism is out in summer 2016

Hair Holli Smith at LGA Management, make-up Mark Carrasquillo at Art Partnet, nails Madeline Poole at BRIDGE using Sally Hansen, set design Matt Jackson at Brydges Mackinnery, lighting design PJ Spaniol, photography assistants Jon Ervin, Jeff Rose, fashion assistants Katy Fox, Patricia Machado, hair assitant Yuhi Kim, make-up assistant Ai Yokomizo, set design assistants Matt Byrd, Manuel Smith

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