a long talk

Sky Ferreira Has a Lot More to Say

About her new single “Don’t Forget,” her delayed second album, and why she’s still feeling restricted.

Photo: Frank Mobilio
Photo: Frank Mobilio

Sky Ferreira treats music as a science. The 29-year-old singer writes the kind of detail-oriented alt-pop where every synth, guitar, and drum sounds like it was tweezered in just so, even amid the hazy cacophony of a song like 2013’s “Omanko.” Yet it never comes across as labored, thanks to the boldness Ferreira brings as a performer — a skill that made her 2013 debut album Night Time, My Time go down as one of the best of the decade, and has proven equally potent for side careers in modeling and acting. And yes, in case you were worried, this is all still the case on “Don’t Forget,” Ferreira’s first solo single in more than three years and the latest offering from her long-delayed second album, Masochism. Co-produced with Jorge Elbrecht and co-written with Tamaryn, “Don’t Forget” ranks among Ferreira’s most declarative pop tracks. The song is denser than most of Night Time, with a machine of churning and whirring synths backing Ferreira as she belts about setting fire to her enemies’ houses, all with her trademark bite (“Keep it in mind, nobody here’s a friend of mine,” she sings). After the brooding Twin Peaks–inspired pop of her 2019 single “Downhill Lullaby,” “Don’t Forget” sounds like Ferreira’s attempt at a song of the summer.

Speaking about the new single, Ferreira is less precise. It’s understandable, considering she hasn’t spoken to press much since her debut album. She’s been reflecting on her music career, famously stalled by label drama, which has led to a six-plus-year wait for Masochism. This comes out in minutes-long streams of consciousness. She remembers beginning her career in her teens and wonders if that teenage version of her “froze in time in some people’s brains,” causing them to not take her seriously as a musician, even as she approaches 30. She references the sexist shock around photos of Marilyn Monroe reading, noting that she’s felt the same about how people see her as a writer, producer, and instrumentalist. She empathizes with the artists bristling against label requests for viral TikToks, while reminding them that she was talking about labels holding back music years before. And she disputes the public conversation around her career — the idea that the delays were her fault, or that she’s become irrelevant. Doing interviews around “Don’t Forget,” she tells me, is a way “​​to take more control” around her career going forward — to answer to the fans who’ve supported her for over a decade, and to speak what’s next into existence. In fact, Ferreira wants to talk about her new music so badly that the day before “Don’t Forget” is released, she requests a follow-up interview to be sure she can say everything she needs to. She speaks for another hour, even longer than our first chat.

During both conversations, Ferreira sounds confident that Masochism will arrive sooner than later — even this year, perhaps. Compared to the “Downhill Lullaby” rollout, there’s more evidence to back her up this time, from a new publishing deal to an upcoming music video (which she’s been editing herself) and tour to increased public appearances in recent weeks, namely a Met Gala showing that set the gossip press off. Ferreira now thinks back to her first album, which she only released once she convinced her label, Capitol, to let her self-fund recording sessions so she could work without oversight. If the momentum of “Don’t Forget” carries Masochism to release, it’ll once again be thanks to her more than anyone else. “It was the same thing, where I really had to take control over it,” she says. “I realized that’s what works for me.”

How does it feel to be talking to people about new music and getting ready for it to come out again?
It’s a little surreal. I haven’t really talked about anything to anyone, really, when it comes to my music. At least publicly, I haven’t been putting myself out there, so to speak. I felt like I needed to do it. I feel like it’s gotten to the point now where there’s a lot of people creating narratives and projecting things that I don’t know where they’re coming up with the stuff. So I wanna dial it back a little, in that sense.

I think it’ll feel a lot more real once it’s out. I’m hoping that these streaming services don’t compress the fuck out of the song. I did a mix and a master, and according to people I’ve worked with in the past, they’re like, “They’re gonna compress it.” Then it just sounds completely different. But that’s also me being a control freak at a certain point, because I know once I put it out, it’s no longer mine. I feel some responsibility for it to be not only good or whatever, but so I stand by it. ’Cause if I stand by it, if it’s honest, then some people will get it no matter what.

You’ve said that you think visually when you make music, and “Don’t Forget” is such a visual song, with fire as a big motif. Can you walk me through how you were seeing this song in your mind?
It wasn’t supposed to be apocalyptic, but in some ways it is. I did see fire, and I also saw a place between heaven and hell, that sort of vibe. But not in a biblical sense. I felt very stifled for a long time, and I still do. It’s not that I wanted to burn people’s houses on fire or something; it is a little more symbolic. It’s about being put in these situations for a long time. It’s a bit of freeing myself, but not in the most conventional way. Because I don’t feel free, necessarily. I’m not trying to throw everyone under the bus yet. Because that’s the thing: How do I say what I’ve been going through without having to become a victim to it or it becoming some narrative? Then my whole record becomes that. In my mind it’s like, You don’t get to do that to me.

What do you mean by feeling stifled?
I don’t think a lot of people feel all that free, because life doesn’t really allow most people to feel free. Because I’ve been doing this literally more than half of my life, there’s a certain point where it’s like, this is all you really know, professionally. You’re taken advantage of from a very early age. I signed contracts that I will probably be in for, honestly, who fucking knows, because I’ve only released one album. Of course I didn’t know how to read contracts when I was 14 years old, and neither did my parents, because they’re not entertainment lawyers. A lot of people feel ownership over you because you signed a piece of paper. And these contracts, the rules don’t apply to them, apparently. It’s like being an ant against, I don’t know, Godzilla. There’s a lot of little details that people don’t understand about what I’ve dealt with. And it’s not just my label. It’s this entertainment-industry thing as a whole. It’s a luxury that I get to do it, and I’m so lucky that I got to be able to do it. But I did feel, for a long time, like I’ve been stuck in a cage. And trying to get around it, and when I would, someone would grab me by my tail, so to speak, and plop me back into it. [Laughs.]

My approach to things has never been fully conventional. Maybe some of it from before seems more conventional now, but at the time it wasn’t. I do feel misunderstood to a lot of people. And a lot of people project things onto me. Life feels a bit corseted, a lot of the time. Someone’s tightening it more and more, and then eventually, you’re going to burst. That song is about that — it’s not really about revenge, it’s more like, “I see through this.” I don’t like people to manipulate me, but also, I have a lot of doubt. I don’t have doubt in what I make, but I’ll assume I’m doing something wrong first, to the point where I allow a lot of other things to happen. I guess that’s where, originally, the Masochism title came from. It’s not like, sexual; it’s more like emotional masochism. And I’ve been trying to learn how to be less like that. I feel like now I’m starting to be able to at least recognize these situations, but it’s still hard for me to navigate it, because that’s all I’ve known for a long time. When it’s all you’ve ever known, the degrees of it each time [are], Well, it’s not as bad as the last time. But that shouldn’t be the mark for something. I just want some control over my music and my career again. And I don’t want to be at the mercy of people ever again. That’s what I mean by being stifled.

It seems like you’ve found two people who get you in Jorge and Tamaryn, who you’ve been working with on the album. What has it been like to work with them? They worked on the whole record with you, right?
They’ve worked on a lot of it, for sure. There’s some other stuff that hopefully I’m doing with Ariel Rechtshaid that we started years ago, and then we’re going to do some new stuff. But Ariel is like the busiest person on earth now, so it’s just a matter of us getting enough time to properly do it. But there’s some songs with Ariel — and I know people think it’s songs they’ve heard, but there’s some that they haven’t.

Jorge is in my band right now, he’s going on my tour with me. We have a really good dynamic. He’s the most ideal producer to work with — not to be like, “Oh, you know, that works with women.” [Laughs] But it’s hard to get producers at a certain point, especially when you’re starting out, to take you seriously as a producer. That’s the thing about producing as a female, because they say, “It must be a vanity thing,” as if these male producers, some of them aren’t vanity things. But God forbid an artist puts their name on something. You collaborate with someone and people assume you don’t do any of it. I’ve had to hammer it into people that I also produce my stuff, and they still don’t believe it.

He’s not trying to coddle you while doing it or something. He really does listen. There’s no ego involved. And he has good taste. And Tamaryn, she’s one of my favorite songwriters and I’ve always wanted to work with her. I think she’s an important artist too. She writes such interesting, cool pop songs for herself. She gets to the point of things, but also I like her sense of humor. It’s not like “haha” funny, but I like the bite in her songs. Our music’s different, and it still sounds like me, but she got me. It’s cool because I’ve never really been able to work with many women before too.

You mentioned touring. I know you have a few shows booked for this summer in Europe; do you mean just that, or is there —
There’s going to be more shows. They’re just not announced. I think there’s a date thing that they’re figuring out. Because also, I’m going to be finishing the record at the same time, and I don’t want to — that’s the whole thing, too. I mean, a lot of it’s written. I don’t want people thinking I haven’t started the album or something. A lot of it’s done. It’s just more mixing, rerecording certain parts, changing certain lyrics. It’s little details. Hopefully it doesn’t feel like I’m on the clock, like on a Japanese game show. Like, Okay, you have one session and you have to write three songs or else you’re not going to be able to have things covered for two years. [Laughs.] I would like to be able to do that without that weighing me down. But maybe it will just be these songs.

Ferreira performs at Pitchfork Festival 2019. Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage

I was really excited when I heard “Don’t Forget” because it was so different from “Downhill Lullaby,” but it also felt like an update on some of the bigger, more anthemic songs on Night Time, My Time.
It’s a little more assertive. The song’s actually a weird song; the chorus is weird. People who heard it were like, “Why isn’t this chorus bigger?” In a way, it’s minimal. But the song isn’t minimal whatsoever. I realized that about my music, I’m just not a minimal person. When I think of pop music, I lean towards the ’80s and ’90s without meaning to. It’s not that I’m trying to sound like that. I listen to new stuff too, but when I’m writing and I’m making music, I listen to things differently. I just need to figure out, What do I actually want to say? and What do I want to make? and shut that out. When I’m listening to music, it’s like, Why do I even like this part? Do I like the tone of it? There are all these elements, and then I try to make it into one thing. The song doesn’t sound as complicated as what it is, but that’s the point. It shouldn’t sound complicated to your ear. That’s the goal: putting all these things together that technically don’t make sense, and then trying to figure out. The thing in the song that was important to me is the dynamic of it. I don’t think it’s a very quiet song. I don’t know what version everyone has been hearing.

It’s not a quiet song.
It’s also very poppy. You don’t want people to roll up their windows and listen to your song because they like your song, but they don’t want anyone else knowing that they’re listening to it.

What you were talking about, making stuff that you want to hear — I think we get that from “Don’t Forget” and “Downhill Lullaby” being two totally different songs in terms of style and sound. What does this mean for the overall sound of the upcoming album?
“Downhill,” I’m gonna put it on my album, but I’m gonna put out a different mix and stuff. I had other versions too, and originally the other versions were supposed to come out. I’m not gonna dance around words. Let’s just say I wasn’t planning on everything being like, ten years or whatever. I was supposed to follow it up with this song originally. In some ways it worked out, because I had more time to figure out the song, and I wanted to make a video and then COVID happened. Stuff like that.

“Downhill” is almost like the song “Night Time, My Time,” but not. I don’t think, Oh, I’m making the same album again. I feel like all of my songs do sound like me, even if the production sounds different or if there’s a different tone. Even my last album, it’s not like there’s one sound. I think it’s the overall sentiment behind my stuff. I feel like my perspective and where I am as an artist gives me more freedom to do that. That’s what ties it all in together. ’Cause it does sound like a full album. And I think people want that, instead of just one-off singles. It’s funny, this seems like that, but it’s not, ’cause there’s other [songs] coming out after. It’s not like what happened with “Downhill”; it’s not this hurry-up-and-wait thing anymore. Or, I’m not going to let it be anymore. For a long time I was really upset about how long — I mean, I still am sometimes, I’m not gonna pretend I’m not. It’s put me in this position where now it’s taken so long that I have to prove something for the amount of time. Not only for other people, but for myself, or else it was like, Why did I put myself through that? The thing I learned is that you can only control so much. So I might as well make sure that I do things the way I want to do it, from what I can control in this situation.

I love how I’m trying to word things without getting in trouble, right from the first interview. They’re like, “She’s never doing an interview again!” [Laughs.] For it to even come out almost feels like a miracle, but I’m also not gonna let people off the hook either this time. I didn’t before, but now I feel like there’s some momentum behind it. Things are starting to line up more and starting to make more sense. At the end of the day, I spent a lot of time, and I hope, I just want the quality of it to be good. It’s not that I wanna put out an album every eight years; I don’t wanna ever do that again. But I’d rather each album be good and have some lasting power. I care more about quality than quantity, so to speak. It’s crazy that people are still interested, considering I’m not constantly putting myself out there and reminding people I exist.

I feel like this album — I mean, who knows what it’s gonna be by the time it comes out? So I don’t wanna say this and then it be stuck with me forever, and come back to haunt me later. But I do think there is a distinctive thing where it’s like, Oh, that’s a Sky Ferreira song. I’ve never tried to be someone else. I do feel like it still sounds like me. I don’t like just one type of song or one type of genre. It’s really finding a balance and trying to tie it together. Basically, I just like to make what I like, and my point gets across somehow in between. I hope I said stuff. I know it’s going a little in circles.

You have a lot to get out. I appreciate that.
I’m not trying to overshare, because I want people to listen to the music first and not think of all the stuff behind it or have it be defined by that. It’s been a very long process. I think in some ways, that’s what this album represents. The lyrics change too as I’ve been doing it, because it might have made sense for me to sing it if it was going to come out at that time. Not that it would seem dated, but in the sense of where I am mentally. There is such a thing of having too much time with something, for sure. As someone that pays attention to every detail, I’ll start hearing things that literally are on some frequency that other people don’t have. I’ve been editing this video, and I had to do the artwork myself. There were some photos that could have been used that just didn’t seem right. When you’re editing yourself for days and hours on end, you start seeing things. It’s a horrible experience — I think I might throw up if I ever have to look at myself ever again after this, honestly. I’m not a graphic designer, but I was like, Someone has to do it. I might as well learn how to do it.

I was going to say, what are you doing editing your own video?
The first editor, they were good, it just wasn’t the right person, tone-wise. I don’t know if you noticed by now, but I’m very picky. I don’t like things to be clean and perfect, but for it to look not clean and perfect and come across well, it requires work. I feel like I’m pretty hands-on with everything I do. When I collaborate with people, I give them their space to do it, obviously. But when it’s your own stuff — and the thing is too, with this song, I just couldn’t let there be any room to feel like it’s still not fully representing what I want. Once I turned the song in, I felt so relieved. I thought I was done with trying to figure out the puzzle of it. Now, it’s turned into doing that but with the video. I’m even annoyed by it! I would love to just be like, I shoot this thing and I don’t have to worry about it. I feel the pressure, like it’s the only time I’m ever going to be able to make a music video, but that’s just not the reality of the situation. But in my mind I’m always a little worried that everything is the last thing, because of how the last six years have been for me. I guess it’s a little bit like PTSD or something. I would really panic about it.

You said earlier that you had some stuff that you were still working on with Ariel. And you also said that this rollout was going to be different than what happened with “Downhill Lullaby,” where you were talking about the album and then it stalled. So, to put it directly, how confident are you right now about Masochism coming out this year, on the heels of this?
On the heels of this, like, 100 percent confident. It’s not like I’m not releasing music till 2023. The album is written. I think there’s some things that need to be finished, and I would like to write some [more] songs. I have so many songs written, but I do think it would be nice to write under the circumstance where it’s not in the middle of having my hands tied, like being bound and gagged. I’ve yet to be able to do that. That’s why I’ve been so particular with this song. I even feel like the second song is going to be more of a statement for me. “Don’t Forget” was a bit of a crash course, where I tried to be like, “Oh, back off.” I’m going to put my foot down about certain things. If you’re going to be considered difficult, even when I’m not being difficult and I’m compromised by it, then I might as well do what I want and make sure that it’s right and make sure things happen.

I wasn’t touring and I didn’t make a video for the last song. I thought I was going to be doing that stuff, but that didn’t happen. Honestly, I think other people know that it has to come out and they can’t really block it from happening. I’m probably expected to do all the work, but I don’t really care anymore. It took me a long time to get back here, but I’m back. I’m not gonna back down that easily. I’ve done all the groundwork, and it’s ready, and I’m ready.

This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations for length and clarity.

Ferreira first reached out to the Swedish production duo Bloodshy & Avant at 14. Producer on Night Time, My Time who also works with Charli XCX, Haim, and Vampire Weekend. Which, unfortunately, does not feature fire. “I couldn’t afford that,” Ferreira jokes.
Sky Ferreira Has a Lot More to Say