Composure Magazine – Skylar Grey

The current cover story of Composure Magazine‘s 15th Issue: Skylar Grey

Five-time Grammy Award-nominated artist Skylar Grey talks about her latest album “Natural Causes,” the music industry, and being true to one’s self.  

Photography by Benjo Arwas
Photographer Assistant Brandon Wholihan
Styling by Monty JacksonThe Wall Group
Makeup by Jenna TuckerTomlinson Management Group
Hair by Bobby EliotTomlinson Management Group
Story by Min A. Lee
Video by Jonathan Navales

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An Excerpt: 

Scroll through the comments on Skylar Grey’s YouTube channel and you’ll find a common sentiment: “She sings from somewhere deep inside.” If you’ve ever heard her music — hauntingly beautiful, sinful yet sweet — you’re likely to agree. Her alluring vocals pull you in, and you understand immediately why Grey has been nominated for five Grammy Awards and holds a number of multi-platinum records. Yet despite her accolades, Grey doesn’t let the attention and fame drive her creativity. Her popular collaborations, such as “Love The Way You Lie” with Eminem and Rihanna and “I Need A Doctor” with Dr. Dre, offer only a peek into her genius as a singer and songwriter.

Her latest album, “Natural Causes,” unfolds a new chapter in the Skylar Grey saga, weaving you in and out of new stories and sounds. The chords and bass never overpower her vocals, creating a beautiful balance among all the underlying acoustics. She blends several themes throughout, pulling inspiration from three particular contemporaries. “I’ve been studying recently Kendrick Lamar, Bon Iver, and Radiohead,” says Grey. “As much as they are very different artists, there are things that tie them together. I feel that there is a blending of genres happening in some of these artists. Kendrick, for example, uses a lot of interesting chord changes that remind me of Radiohead. And Bon Iver, who’s collaborated with Kanye West, does this crossing-of-genre thing, and I think I do that, too.”

The way we see it, Grey is a genre all her own. There is no one way to describe her music other than it pulls at your emotions, even the deep, hidden ones. On closer inspection, “Natural Causes” incites love, hate, and every feeling in between. Take, for example, “Kill For You,” which reunites Grey with prolific rapper, writer, and producer Eminem. It carries forceful lyrics that spin the story of Bonnie and Clyde and speak of a dangerous love that can push you to the brink. It tells “both sides of the story” while exploring “different vocal approaches,” says Grey, and the process by which it came to be is the very epitome of Grey’s unconventional artistry. The collaboration started as a simple series of beats that Eminem shared with Grey with no definitive intention.

“I didn’t ask [Eminem] to put a verse on it initially,” she says. “Two weeks before my album was due, as he was tweaking the mix, I thought, ‘Hey, what do you think about adding a verse to this because I always felt it could be really cool to be a duet?’ Over the weekend he [gave it a shot], and when he turned the song back in to be put on the album, he had a verse on it. That was the first time I heard it — when he was turning it in! I was pretty stoked.”

When it comes to writing, Grey doesn’t abide by any rules. “What works one time doesn’t necessarily work the second time,” she says. “I don’t limit myself to recreating the same thing over and over again. Usually it doesn’t work out like that for me. I try to keep an open mind.” This kind of open-mindedness seems to be the foundation for her raw, candid, and “from somewhere deep inside” quality of music. It’s also what leads to the type of creative mentorships and relationships Grey has built around her, like her ongoing collaborations with Eminem, forged by intuition, confidence, trust, and good old-fashioned hard work. And building upon said foundation, she remains involved and engaged, always holding true to the heart of her vision, whatever it may be in the moment. “When it comes to my own stuff, I like to be a part of the production just because I’m such a music nerd that being confined to just doing a melody or lyric — it gets old,” says Grey. “I like to be involved with chord changes, the sounds, but I also don’t trust myself 100 percent to do it all myself, so I like working with people who can bring their expertise in and bring fresh ideas to the table.”

Another hit track off the album, “Lemonade,” showcases the same organic, avant-garde artistic stylings of Skylar Grey. She explains: “Lemonade was originally a different beat by Symbolyc One aka S1, a producer. He had given me some beats to write to, and it inspired that chorus melody which was very experimental for me. That triplet feel, it’s something I wouldn’t typically do. I did it almost playfully; I wasn’t trying to be serious and write a song. I was just throwing sh—t out there, and I recorded it. Then I listened back, and it was actually really cool. It grew from that. Originally I wrote rap verses to it, but the chorus was just so strong. Everybody on my team saw that the chorus was so strong, but the verses weren’t quite there at the same level. So we reproduced the track a bit with Alex da Kid, and the verse chords changed, the music changed, and I rewrote verses to it. It was a rewrite process, but it was because the chorus was so special to us, we wanted everything surrounding it to be just as powerful.”

Read the full article and pick up the latest issue print issue here

Composure Magazine – VÉRITÉ

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VÉRITÉ feature written for the current issue of Composure Magazine.

An excerpt:

Vérité pulls you in with her resonating vocals and an intense independence that we all can envy. 

Photography By John Hong
Styling By Franzy Staedter
Makeup By Amber Dreadon
Hair By Tiffany Lee
Story By Min A. Lee
Video By Jonathan Navales

If you haven’t heard of Brooklyn-based artist Kelsey Byrne, who goes by the stage name Vérité, we recommend you look her up immediately. This indie pop artist continues to rise fast, and her YouTube views alone push over 3 million. While high numbers speak volumes, what makes Vérité stand out is her stance against joining a major record label. She is, after all, someone who has worked endless hours at Applebee’s in Times Square for years, so it makes sense that Vérité would create music on her own terms and remain fiercely independent.

Being able to focus on her career without any limitations has led to a sound that we can’t truly categorize as just pop. For us, Vérité should be her own genre. Watching her live performances as she floats from mic to mic, singing her own background vocals, we see how each note is crucial, showcasing her ability to navigate tricky pitches. And now that Vérité has just wrapped up a successful tour and multiple EPs (“Echo EP,” “Sentient EP” and “Living EP”), we have her newly released 2017 single “Phase Me Out” on repeat, with its bold chorus weaving in and out, asking the question, “Don’t you want to stay here or do you want to phase me out?” All we can say is, Vérité is an artist you would never want to phase out.

Composure Magazine: At what age did you first realize your love for music?

Vérité: I’ve loved music since I started performing when I was younger. I haven’t always felt the love, but I’ve always pursued it with laser focus, and I believe love is shown through action.

CM: Growing up playing music, and with your father as well, how does he view your success so far as a singer and songwriter?

Vérité: Both of my parents are obviously stoked for me. They’re driven, ambitious people and have really instilled the hustle in me. My family knows how to get sh—t done.

CM: I also read you played with an all-girl punk band. Can you tell me more about this? Was it a memorable experience for you?

Vérité: We weren’t great, but I f—king loved it and was militant in getting all the rehearsals and shows together. I played electric guitar, my friend played bass, and I recruited random girls from middle school to play drums (expecting they’d know how). We played covers of Nirvana, Green Day, Led Zeppelin, The Donnas, The Cranberries, The Breeders, etc.

CM: Can you share a few artists or bands that influence you and your songs?

Vérité: Everything influences me. The list always changes. Currently: Lewis Del Mar, SZA, Kehlani, Chance the Rapper, Phantogram.

CM: Do you have any method you follow when it comes to songwriting?

Vérité: I don’t question myself, make decisions quickly and edit or change my mind when needed.

CM: Do you have a favorite place or spot you like to escape to and write?

Vérité: I do most initial melodic and lyrical writing when walking or doing random things. I finish ideas in my bedroom and then take them to the studio.

CM: The way you approach the music industry has a very organic and very confident feel to it. Has staying independent from the big labels played a part in this?

Vérité: Absolutely. I have no choice but to be confident. There aren’t many people who are currently taking the route I am. I’m committed to showing people that this route is legitimate and possible.

CM: Do you think you’ll attempt to release an album? Or do you favor EPs?

Vérité: Currently putting the finishing touches on the debut LP.

 

Read the full article at Composuremagazine.com or pick up the latest print issue

Composure Magazine – Laura Marano

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Issue #14 of Composure Magazine has released, and I was fortunate enough to interview Laura Marano for the cover story. To find and shop the issue click here.

An excerpt:

The “Austin & Ally” actress and “La La” singer opens up about her upcoming debut album, as well as landing her new role in “The War With Grandpa,” alongside Robert De Niro and Marisa Tomei. 

Photography by Benjo Arwas
Photographer Assistant Brandon Wholihan
Styling by Jordan Grossman
Styling Assistant Ava Jones
Makeup and Hair by Melissa Bedi
Story by Min A. Lee
Video by Jonathan Navales

When Laura Marano’s mother finally gave in to her daughters and brought Marano and her sister Vanessa to a talent agent — one who was notorious for rejecting most young hopefuls — Marano wasn’t going to let anything stop her. She remembers being “crazy and outgoing, singing to everyone and making up songs” in the meeting. After all, she had grown up performing in the children’s theater run by her mother, and though her mother didn’t want her daughters to go into acting, Marano, even then, knew what she wanted.

“The agent says, ‘We want to take Vanessa,’” Marano recalls. “And I say in the cutest voice possible, ‘Well, I don’t have an agent.’”

The reply she received in return? “Oh, honey, I’ll take you, too!” She’s been with the agent ever since.

Clearly, Laura Marano is hard to resist. She’s one of those people — you can’t help but smile when you’re around her. Her stories are accompanied by an infectious laughter, and her persistently positive outlook reveals the grounded quality that makes her a star. It’s a rare thing, given that the 21-year-old has been acting since she was 5, most recently as one of the leads in the Disney Channel television show “Austin & Ally,” which just completed a very successful four-season run.

Growing up in Hollywood is no doubt challenging, but with a refreshing candor Marano looks at her career as “a journey.” “It’s definitely a business that is full of rejection, full of no’s, full of people telling you, ‘you’re not this, you’re not that,’” she says. “But when I was 5, I was so confident and very like, ‘World, here I am! Take me or leave me!’ I’m so thankful I started early. I really gained so much experience, and by the time I hit middle school or high school — the years you start to feel more insecure — I already had so much experience with my acting that I didn’t feel as insecure with that.”

Indeed, Marano’s skills in front of the camera were evident in “Austin & Ally,” where she played Ally Dawson, a girl with an extreme amount of musical talent who suffers from stage fright and eventually finds her confidence through the help of Austin and their friends, Trish and Dez. Marano remembers how she felt when she found out she landed the show: “Oh my gosh, it was one of the best days ever! I never wanted a role so much. It was a dream role for me, and it became an even greater experience than I could have imagined.”

While the end of the show signaled the end of any more music by Ally Dawson, it did not for Marano. Driven by her passion for singing and songwriting, she released two singles this year, “Boombox” and “La La.” In the latter, she sings:

You can stand on my stage
You can preach every word
That you want to about me,
But I won’t believe

You can think what you think, 
But that don’t mean a thing 
The same things as you do 
‘Cause I am not you

Let me know when you are done
‘Cause whenever your mouth runs
All I hear is la la

With its upbeat tempo and melody, there’s a strong message in the lyrics. “I was coming from a place where I had been getting so much criticism from so many different avenues: professional, personal, just so many different places that I couldn’t take it anymore,” says Marano. “But instead of being angry about it, I was almost in a place of acceptance. I went into the room and said, ‘I want to write a celebratory, happy, ‘screw you’ song. Not angry, but very ‘I’m not going to let you bring me down,’ and I couldn’t be happier about that.”

For the accompanying music videos, Marano wanted to bring a certain energy to them — one that was fun and funny. “I wanted a comedy element,” she says. “I wanted something funny, and who is funnier than Ken Jeong [star of the ABC sitcom “Dr. Ken”]? I asked him to be in the [“Boombox”] video, and he was sweet enough, with his busy schedule, to do it. After that we completely bonded.” For her next video for “La La,” Marano called on Jeong again. At first, Marano wasn’t sure what the video was going to be about, “but when we started shooting it, Ken was so funny, it became this fun skit video, which was hilarious! It was actually shot in my mom’s theater, and in three hours we were done.”

With two popular songs paving the way, Marano is currently preparing for the release of her debut album. “There’s kind of a balance of relationship songs and self-empowerment songs,” she says of what fans can expect. Her voice grows deep with emotion as she continues. “It’s also about growing up in general. You’re finding yourself, you’re finding your voice, and I think everyone can relate to times you’re feeling insecure, feeling not sure about yourself, and needing some sort of outlet to find that confidence. That’s why I think art is so important in general, whether via a TV show, movie, or song. Something [to help you] find strength within.”

Marano proves that with determination life can hold amazing opportunities. She just recently landed a role in the upcoming major motion picture “The War With Grandpa” alongside Robert De Niro and Marisa Tomei, something she gushes about with an endearing exuberance. “Oh my god, I’m freaking out! I’m so excited! I haven’t met them yet, but I feel like I’m going to be — I don’t know, I think it’s going to be such an amazing experience, not just because they are awesome people, but they’re such amazing actors. I feel like I’m going to learn so much.”

Click to read the full article and see all the images from Laura’s stunning cover shoot. 

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