When Sky Ferreira turned up recently at an Echo Park watering hole to talk about her debut album, the singer’s seen-it-all manner — joyless expression, slumped shoulders, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses — hardly communicated the giddy excitement of an artist on her way up. But it wasn’t entirely unexpected of someone who’s been through what Ferreira has.
In 2007, when she was 15, the Los Angeles native signed a major-label record deal after developing a following with songs she’d posted on Myspace. Yet stardom failed to materialize for Ferreira, who says she spent the next half-decade enduring the label’s grinding indecision about what kind of singer it wanted her to be.
Assigned to work with a succession of top-level songwriters and producers, she completed scattered singles and EPs — including last year’s five-song “Ghost” — but couldn’t come to terms with her bosses about the shape of her first full-length.
To support herself she moved to New York and began modeling, eventually scoring gigs for Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs. But even that success, she says, made it harder for her to do music; the pouty pictures only muddied others’ notions of who Ferreira was. Ditto her arrest in mid-September for drug possession.
“I had all these people telling me that I needed a hit, that I needed to change,” said Ferreira, now 21. Her bleach-blond hair was tucked beneath a black-leather baseball cap, and as she recounted those years of frustration, her gloomy demeanor lifted, replaced by a goofy cheerfulness. “But I’m stubborn, and I wasn’t willing to change.” She laughed. “I can be a little self-destructive that way.”
That surprising exuberance — and that honesty regarding her own character — course through “Night Time, My Time,” Ferreira’s long-awaited album. Finally released last week on iTunes (and due in other stores Tuesday), it’s a bracing electro-pop jolt that spikes pretty girl-group melodies with blasts of jagged noise.
There are bright spots — “Boys” and “24 Hours” both shimmer with the optimism of young love — and dark, such as “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay),” in which Ferreira describes the misery of being ignored. In one of the album’s most affecting songs, “I Blame Myself,” she turns her disappointment inward, assuring skeptics that she holds herself responsible for “my reputation.”
Whatever the mood (or whomever her target), though, “Night Time, My Time” bleeds feeling, an emotional intensity Ferreira also channeled during a concert last month at the El Rey. Fronting a black-clad band that teased out the album’s goth-garage flavors, she careened around the stage as she belted out her songs, then quieted the room for a weepy rendition of “Sunday Morning” by Lou Reed, who’d died that day.
“I felt like this record was my one chance for the world to understand me,” she said at the bar.
But it almost wasn’t to be. According to Ferreira, Capitol Records — which gained some tastemaker traction in late 2012 with “Everything Is Embarrassing,” a lush disco-soul cut from the “Ghost” EP — intended to release a different album this fall comprising songs she’d worked on with various collaborators. “It was OK,” the singer said, “but I wasn’t really proud of it.” (Lance Turner, who handles marketing at Capitol, said, “We’ve always supported Sky’s creative vision.”)
At the last minute, Ferreira persuaded the label to allow her to make her own record — provided she could work fast enough to meet a predetermined release date. So she recruited a pair of L.A.-based producers, Justin Raisen and Ariel Rechtshaid, and together they banged out “Night Time, My Time” in a feverish 21/2-week burst of writing and recording.
“I felt like I was on a cocaine binge the whole time,” said Raisen. “We just got into this state of mind and went for it. There was no second-guessing.”
The result is a remarkably coherent artistic statement from an artist who might’ve resigned herself to never making one. And in an ironic twist, it arrives at a moment when pop is better suited to Ferreira’s rough edges — think of Icona Pop’s serrated stadium-rave hit “I Love It” or the rebel yell of Miley Cyrus’ “Bangerz” — than it has been over the last few years.
“We think Sky absolutely has commercial appeal,” said Capitol’s Turner, who pointed out that Ferreira’s music video for the album’s lead single, “You’re Not the One,” racked up more than 100,000 views in its first 24 hours online. With a scene in which she stabs a guy in the neck with an ice pick, the clip is no clean-up job; nor is the cover of “Night Time, My Time,” on which Ferreira appears topless in a photo shot by the filmmaker Gaspar Noé.
Still, Turner insists the label is committed to the project. Later this month, he said, Capitol will release a set of B-sides from the album.
Ferreira isn’t predicting a blockbuster. “I don’t think it’ll be, like, No. 2 on the Billboard chart,” she said, revealing the full extent of her modesty. (No. 1, evidently, wasn’t even worth dreaming about.) But perhaps that’s because victory is already behind her.
“The way I look at this record is that it’s more of a starting line than the finishing point,” she said. “Now that it’s done, I’m like, ‘OK, on to the next.’”