In the fall of 2009, a singer/songwriter named Holly Brook holed up in a cabin in the Oregon woods. She was interested in branching out beyond the soft coffeehouse pop of her debut, “Like Blood Like Honey,” recorded a few years prior. When she emerged the next year, having penned Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” with producer Alex Da Kid while in the cabin, Skylar Grey was born.
Since then Grey, a soft-spoken artist who now resides in what she calls a “retirement community on a mountain,” has become well-known thanks to her appearances on tracks like Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home” and Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor.” After her performance of the latter with Dre and Eminem at the 2011 Grammy Awards, the demand for Grey’s solo music was sizable. Now, more than two years later, Grey is finally ready to unveil what she feels is her true debut solo effort, a cross-genre album titled “Don’t Look Down,” due July 9 on KIDinaKorner/Interscope.
“It’s been a long process,” Grey says. “I wrote ‘Love the Way You Lie’ and my whole life changed. The oldest song on the album was written the same time as ‘Love the Way You Lie.’ Over the years that followed I worked with so many different people and experimented with my sound. I got to write a lot and picked the best songs that happened over those three years. That’s what the album is.”
Fans got a first taste of “Don’t Look Down” in December with the disc’s first single, “C’mon Let Me Ride,” a cheeky song that features Eminem. To showcase the album’s contrasting variety in the months following, the label released “Final Warning” in mid-April and “Wear Me Out” in early June, and will put out an additional song prior to the album’s release date.
“Skylar is a musically diverse and prolific artist that is not defined by one song as much as a body of work,” Interscope senior director of marketing Dyana Kass says. “And to that point we developed a multi-song and visual countdown leading into the album release with each song being carefully picked to illustrate her various sides. Each track has been treated like a mini-release moment with accompanying visuals and a digital, sales and marketing push that’s tied thematically to that song in a ramp-up to the July 9 release.”
“I just wanted to make it clear who I was as an artist,” Grey adds. “I think people got confused because I tried a lot of different things. It was important to me to put out these songs before the album came out just to clarify who I was as an artist, and that it’s really singer/songwriter-driven but happens to have some hip-hop beats underneath it.”
Although Grey continues to selectively write for other artists (she recently penned Cee Lo Green’s single “Only You”), the focus now is on her as a solo artist who will headline a U.S. tour in July and is now fielding support offers for the fall. “C’mon Let Me Ride” was pushed to pop and crossover radio last winter, but the real radio campaign will kick off with a yet-to-be-announced single to coincide with the summer tour.
The album, produced by Alex Da Kid as well as J.R. Rotem and Grey, unites the musician’s melodic, singer/songwriter tendencies with her love for hip-hop beats. Big Sean and Angel Haze also feature on the album, and the label continues to target the hip-hop community in its marketing. But the hope is to expand Grey’s fan base outside that world to set the stage for a long-term career.
“We look at everything like a dot that connects a lot of stuff,” Grey’s manager Todd Mandel says. “It’s important not just to pick the songs based on what radio plays or what industry people will think, but more what the song will do for your career and your foundation. That’s the premise of everything we do-the 20-year plan as opposed to the one-album plan.”
In that, Grey hasn’t totally left Holly Brook behind. “I want to start small and not go for the home run on each single,” she says. “I came from the world of you build a foundation, you play shows and you grow it from the ground up.”