Skylar Grey talks her new album, disappointment and the road to self-discovery

By Dana Getz

Seven years ago Skylar Grey didn’t exist. She was a distant figment of Holly Brook’s imagination, stifled by a handful of untrustworthy Hollywood big shots and a mediocre set of melancholy acoustic tracks. But after years of patience and several months in a desolate Oregon cabin, a poignant pop princess emerged, pronouncing herself Skylar Grey and leaving Holly Brook far behind in the woods.

Grey has since released her debut album “Don’t Look Down” with the help of executive producer Eminem—a far cry from her 2006 record “Like Blood Like Honey,” released under her birth name Holly Brook.

“The response to my album has exceeded my expectations. I didn’t know it would even chart, let alone be number two on iTunes, so it’s been crazy to see,” Grey said.

The album shares some difficult personal stories, including financial woes, unexpected pregnancy and domestic violence.

“I don’t understand any other way of making music, it’s all personal to me,” Grey said. “It’s therapeutic.”

Though “Don’t Look Down” is her first major label studio album, Grey is no stranger to the music industry. She co-wrote Eminem’s Grammy-nominated “Love the Way You Lie” with English producer Alex da Kid, and her vocals have been featured on hit singles such as Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go,” Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor” and Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said.”

Despite her success in songwriting, the music industry hasn’t always been kind to the 27-year-old Wisconsin native, who first moved to Los Angeles in 2003 when she heard of a music convention she believed could kick-start her career.

“I grew up in a town where everyone was true to their word, and if anyone did anything shady the whole town heard about it and they were blacklisted,” Grey said.  “So when I moved to L.A. I guess the biggest culture shock was that there was a lot of shady people, and I was naïve about it because I thought everyone was trustworthy. So I got into some shit.”

Though the convention turned out to be a flop, Grey’s move landed her a whirlwind record deal with Linkin Park’s imprint label Machine Soup Recordings, resulting in the aforementioned “Like Blood Like Honey.” The album tanked, and by 2009 Grey was broke.

“There’s a lot of discouraging things in music, in the industry. When your music doesn’t do as well as you expected it to, or when the label doesn’t like it as much as you,” she said. “There’s so many times I could’ve been discouraged and gave up, but I never gave up.”

After struggling to afford rent and food, Grey took an offer from her mother’s friend to live in a cabin up in Oregon. She spent several months soul searching before reaching out to her former music publisher, who put her in touch with Alex da Kid. Grey had found her way back into the industry.

The album title, a lyric taken from the track “Tower (Don’t Look Down),” reflects Grey’s long journey to self-discovery, and her lessons learned along the way.

“It means keep your eye on the goal and don’t be afraid to keep moving towards it. If you look down from a tall building you get vertigo or something and get scared, and you can do that in life, too,” Grey said. “Holly Brook kept looking down. Skylar Grey doesn’t look down.”

You can next catch Grey on her summer tour at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN July 22.