Skye Sweetnam says she was a "writing machine" for her new album, tentatively due this August on Capitol Records. Collaborating with everyone from Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong to production teams The Matrix and Soulshock & Karlin, the pop/rock singer-songwriter from Bolton, ON amassed some 70 new songs from which to choose.
"I wrote with everybody you could possibly imagine," says the garrulous teenager, who turns 18 on May 5. "I started off doing the whole Canadian thing. I wrote with my band. I wrote with James Robertson who I did the last record ("Noise From The Basement") with, and then I got summoned by the Gods of L.A. to come down to the Capitol Records building and they put me with, I'm serious, any person, any hit songwriter that you could name, I've probably written with them.
"So I'm thinking, 'Oh God, they're trying to turn me into another one of those hitmaker dolls and I'm not getting what I want.'
"It's been a crazy last few years," she continues, "going from writing songs in my basement to touring with Britney Spears, which was totally unexpected, going around the world this little kid who had no idea what she was doing. But I've learned a lot over the last few years, being 14 when I wrote the first record and I'm 18 soon. It happens fast, like everything you do when you're my age -- last week I did something and it's not cool anymore and this week, what's cool now?"
Sweetnam is about as talented a young lady as they come. The package that helped land her a U.S. deal with Capitol at age 14 not only featured songs she co-wrote, but an amazing stop-frame animation music video with Playmobile characters that she created, self-directed, synced, and edited for her song "Imaginary Superstar."
That alone would have set her apart from those "hitmaker dolls" and had the world abuzz, if it had been released as the first single/video, but Sweetnam is absolutely gorgeous. Of course, the label would want to release a video with her actually in it. That's not a bad thing. It just doesn't play up her other talents besides playing guitar and piano and singing -- such as writing poetry, breakdancing, designing her own outfits, doing her own make-up (well), photography (she shot her own indie promo pics), and, yes, making a video.
When her debut album, 2004's "Noise From The Basement," was released, preceded by the 2003 single "Billy S." in the Mandy Moore film, "How To Deal," and followed by "Tangled Up In Me" and "Number One," it helped lay a decent ground base. In Canada, it sold 13,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan Canada, but overall the album didn't become the worldwide mega-hit everyone expected.
"Especially in North America," Sweetnam agrees. "The one place it did do well was in Japan, which now I'm drawing a lot of inspiration from because they're the ones who truly got what I was trying to do."
So in preparation for the follow-up album, Sweetnam made a major change, business-wise. She switched from Zack Werner and Beau Randall of Toronto's Venus Management to Stu Sobol of U.S. heavyweight The Firm (Queens of the Stone Age, Three Days Grace, Yellowcard).
"They've been treating me so great," Sweetnam says. "I love multimedia -- the video, the acting part; they even have a book publishing part in their company; I'm even into comics and all that kind of stuff, so they really work well for the multimedia. I was kind of like, 'new record, new beginning.' I just wanted to start fresh.
"The L.A. world can be so scary and can be so intimidating at first, for young artists especially, going in there and knowing that everybody is breathing down your neck 'hits hits hits.' Luckily, I am equipped with great management, and great A&R guy, who was secretly behind everyone's back going, 'Do more punk rock, Skye.'"
The A&R guy is Julian Raymond, an executive at Capitol, who has also produced albums for Fastball, John Wesley Harding, the Cash Brothers, the Suicide Machines, and did some production on Sweetnam's major label debut. Sweetnam calls him "probably the coolest A&R guy ever."
It was Raymond who hooked Sweetnam up with Armstrong, who outside of Rancid and the Transplants, has co-written with the likes of Pink, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Osbourne, and Fefe Dobson.
"Julian is a huge Rancid fan and he said, 'I'm going to make this phone call to see if this can work, 'and I'm like,' Please God, Tim, invite me over to your house. We will have so much fun,'" Sweetnam gushes.
"So I met Tim Armstrong from Rancid, punk band about as credible as you can get, and I'm going, "Tim, I am so overwhelmed right now with these crazy label people trying to get at me and steal my soul,' so we wrote a song that is one of the most awesome songs, I think, on the record called 'Ghosts.' It's about going to the big city and being afraid of it, but still thinking you can prevail over it all.
"So I wrote this song and then I go and sell out," Sweetnam says abruptly.
She's talking, of course, jokingly, about working with The Matrix, a.k.a. Scott Spock, Lauren Christy and Graham Edwards, who produced a series of hits for Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, and Avril Lavigne, among others.
"I go to The Matrix and everybody's going, 'Skye, what are you doing?' I'm thinking, 'I have an anti-Matrix sign on my guitar and I'm going to The Matrix,' who obviously wrote tons of hits, wrote Avril's record, who I've heard about, her name, everyday for the last three years of my life. So I'm like, 'What am I doing? I'm committing artistic suicide right now.'
"But they were actually thinking the exact same thing as I was thinking," Sweetnam continues with refreshing honesty.
"They were thinking, 'We don't have a credible name in this business because all we do is take young girls and write hit songs for them,' and they just worked with Korn on their record so they were like, 'We're trying to do something different.' So I'm like, 'Oh my God, finally somebody who understands.'
"So I brought my art books and I'm like, 'Can you turn this picture of a wolf eating a girl into a guitar riff?' and they're like, 'Okay, let's try it.'
"So a lot of it is high concept; a lot of it rocks, like Nine Inch Nails meets Britney Spears. I can dance to it. I'm very very proud of this record."
Sweetnam doesn't have a title for the album yet, but true to her chatty nature says the whole theme she's come up with and will probably shorten is "Sound Soldier, "Music Is My Boyfriend, I'm In My Pink Bulldozer, Gonna Knock You Over."