Normally when featuring an artist the starting point is somewhere in childhood. That’s when they first find inspiration to look for a career in music. For this week I thought we would do something a little different. We will start with the release of the current album, and work around that point. This week I chose to feature singer/songwriter Skylar Grey, and we will begin from the date September 23, 2016. That’s the date Skylar Grey released her current album titled Natural Causes. Of interest is the reason she decided on the title. At this time I hope you all stay along as we discuss Skylar Grey and her current music.
In early 2015, Grey announced that she was working on a third studio album, which was due to come out in 2015. Grey later attempted to promote the album by joining American band X Ambassadors on their VHS Tour. Grey released the song “Cannonball”, featuring American rock band X Ambassadors as the first buzz single from the album on March 31, 2016. The single was later revealed to have been removed from the track list after “Moving Mountains” was declared the first and lead single of the album. Grey claimed that she refused to have any guest features on the album, but eventually gave in when her former collaborator Eminem offered to be on the album. He additionally produced “Come Up For Air”. The album finds Grey collaborating with various prominent producers, including Alex Da Kid, Mike Elizondo, Mark Batson, and Symbolyc One.
Neil Z. Yeung of Allmusic.com gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, writing, “From the misty intro, “Wilderness,” which turns the dial to an Auto-Tuned Bon Iver frequency, to the warm acoustic strum of the KT Tunstall-meets-Radiohead ‘Moving Mountains’, Natural Causes capitalizes on atmosphere and mood, opting to skip the scattered production of Don’t Look Down and focus on earnestness and vulnerability.” Lucas Giello of Universe in Rear View gave the album A in a F to A+ scale, writing “Her vocals fit perfectly with the instruments and production, and proves that Grey is one of the biggest songwriters of this century. I recently listened to the album and found it a pleasant listening experience. I knew of Skylar Grey from past releases, but really paid attention as the time for this feature approached. I join the critics in declaring Natural Causes an outstanding collection of songs.
Of particular interest to me is Skylar Grey’s reason for choosing the name Natural Causes. “The title Natural Causes is a play on words,” she explains. “I’m not referring to death per se, I’m referring to the fact that nature causes everything, including how we are born, how we breathe, how we feel, and how we die. We are nature. We are animals. When you have that perspective, you start taking everything less seriously and enjoy the moment. Even death, the most serious thing of all, becomes less scary and you realize life is just a fun adventure. I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to experience the magic in this world…the blossoming of a flower, the feeling of love, and even the feeling of heartbreak. That’s what it means to be alive, and I love it all. A lot of my lyrics on this album reflect these ideas.”
Skylar Grey does have an interesting viewpoint on life in general. Her musical career has certainly helped to shape her overall viewpoint. As a child, Grey performed professionally in a folk duo with her mother, called Generations. Together, with producer and engineer Randy Green, they independently produced three albums, Dream Maker, Lift Me, and Millennial Child / Waiting for You. Growing up with an artist mother and performing with her as a youth in Wisconsin gave her a start just a little different from most of us. That’s great for an aspiring songwriter. In 2004, under the pseudonym Holly Brook, at the age of 17, she signed a publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group and a recording contract with Linkin Park’s Machine Shop Recordings imprint. She would later release her début album, Like Blood Like Honey, under the aforementioned labels in 2006.
Skylar Grey’s songwriting career took off to unprecedented success. She now is one of today’s more accomplished song smiths. It’s a musical career by natural causes for Grey. Co-writing smashes for the likes of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj and featuring on anthems alongside everybody from Eminem and Dr. Dre to Kaskade and Kid Cudi, she spent the past decade quietly assembling one of modern music’s most ubiquitous and undeniable discographies with cumulative sales surpassing 25 million worldwide. In 2015, she contributed “I Know You” to the chart-dominating Fifty Shades of Grey Official Soundtrack Album and “I Will Return” to the Furious 7 Official Soundtrack Album. Along the way, she fully realized a personal style in the space between booming 808 bombast and dreamy, harmonically complex vocal layering.
I love the fact that in describing her album Natural Causes, Skylar cites a quote from Robert Redford, “This place in the mountains amid nature’s casualness toward death and birth is the perfect host for the inspiration of ideas.” Writing and recording much of the album at her Park City, UT home, which she calls Grizzly Manor Studios, the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist breathed inspiration from her surroundings and exhaled songs that speak to the magic and majesty of nature.
Like any other artist, Skylar Grey creates music to move fans and listeners. However, she leaves it to us to find our own meaning as we hear her songs. “I want everybody to take their own meaning from Natural Causes,” she leaves off. “Music is open to interpretation. I hope people are inspired to dig down into themselves and figure out who it is they want to be.”
Skylar Grey gave us a very good album that she hopes will inspire others to live their own lives. Perhaps we too can live life by natural causes.