DETAILS: You started out playing folk music, lost your record deal, and then transformed yourself. What's the key to a good reinvention?
Skylar Grey: I had to go through a lot of personal changes and growth to even know exactly what I wanted to do. I think everything goes hand in hand. Your personal life, your professional life, and your creative life are all intertwined. I went through a few very difficult years where I felt like a failure. But it was actually really important for me to go through that. Struggle, for me, is the most inspirational thing in the world at the end of the day—as long as you treat it that way.
DETAILS: Do you think you would be where you are today if you hadn't failed?
Skylar Grey: Absolutely not. My failure was such an important piece of who I am now. Getting signed to a label and having certain expectations and then having it all fall apart taught me a lot about the music industry, people, and myself. I made a lot of mistakes, but how could I have known? I was a naive girl from Wisconsin who didn't know anything about the music industry. Now that I've gotten a second chance, I'm using everything I learned before to not make the same mistakes.
DETAILS: If you could give one piece of advice to other naive girls trying to make it in music, what would it be?
Skylar Grey: Honestly, I don't recommend anyone get into music. If you have something else that you're good at, do that instead. This is a really tough world to live in. I'm successful now, and I'm still worried every day that it's going to fall apart. I feel like I'm barely holding it all together.
DETAILS: How is it to be a woman navigating the hypermasculine hip-hop world?
Skylar Grey: I think one of the reasons I've had success in hip-hop is that I can bring out vulnerability in people who are generally seen as tough guys. To me, when a hip-hop musician always plays tough, I find it annoying because I know they're not really like that—there's something deeper and vulnerable. There has to be, because they're human beings. That's where I go when I write hip-hop hooks. I try to find a subject matter for that artist that might help them break down a bit and drop their guard. If you listen to "I Need a Doctor," the way that Eminem is talking to Dre, it's not like he's doing the typical rapper thing where he's bragging about bitches and bling. He's talking about really needing someone as a friend. He even says, "I'm crying in this booth." He was crying in the recording studio. That's vulnerable, and that's important.
DETAILS: You performed for the Dalai Lama this summer. Did he impart any wisdom?
Skylar Grey: Yeah, that was a big surprise and really incredible. He put a white scarf around my neck and made a comment about my hair color. He was really adorable.
DETAILS: You collaborated with Marilyn Manson for your new album. What excited you about working with him?
Skylar Grey: I've always been a fan of his music, but I'm even more of a fan of what he stands for and what he has the guts to do. I've always looked up to him. He doesn't live by the confines of anyone. He does whatever the fuck he wants to do. I feel like we're always trying to please people in our lives, and the fact that he's got the guts to say what he does, wear what he does, and make music the way he does—that's really inspiring. He's taking advantage of life. When I was making my album, I knew people were expecting me to have some kind of rap collaboration, but I didn't want to do the expected thing. I decided that if I was going to feature someone, it would be someone I really admire, someone who'd bring something different to my creative world.
DETAILS: Now that you've had huge hit songs, traveled the globe, and moved to the West Coast, what's the one thing that your home town of Mazomanie, Wisconsin, does better than anyplace else?
Skylar Grey: Mazomanie doesn't even have a stoplight, so it doesn't do a lot. But the cheese curds there are unbelievable. I've never had them anywhere else, even at places in California that claim to have the real thing. There's a cheese factory in Arena, Mazomanie's neighboring town, and they'll give you fresh curds that are so amazing. They're wet and they squeak on your teeth. Oh, God, so good.