Sky Katz on songwriting as therapy: “I found small pieces of what was lost within music”
When she was around 10 years old, Sky Katz began sending in tapes to singing competition shows such as American Idol and X Factor. “Some kids play with their Legos and Barbie dolls. I submitted tapes to TV shows,” Katz says with a laugh. She auditioned for America’s Got Talent in 2016 with a rap song, when she was just 11, and made it onto the show. Being on America’s Got Talent “definitely, 100% convinced me that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she says.
After that, she started acting and had a role on the Disney Channel series Raven’s Home, but she kept rapping as well. For Katz, she’s determined to stick with both music and acting. “People often ask me, ‘If you could pick one, which would you pick?’ And I always say, ‘I can do both! I don’t want to pick one,’” she says.
But the two are linked: Going to Australia to film upcoming Netflix show Surviving Summer ended up propelling Katz, now 17, down a new path musically, starting with the hip-hop-influenced, pop-punk track “Breakup Song,” which came out in February. “Nothing has felt more right ever than this does,” she says of her new music. “I’m so confident in this.” She’s got a lot of other rock songs that she’s planning on dropping, leading up to a bigger project in the summer. “I’m a perfectionist,” Katz says. “I want to make sure we do it right. I don’t want to rush this.”
How did you get into making music? You were quite young when you started.
I’ve always been into music. I genuinely believe I came out of the womb just singing or rapping a song. [Laughs.] I used to only explicitly love rap music because my parents are from Queens, New York, and the rap scene there, especially when they were younger, is prominent. So a lot of the artists that they listened to growing up [were] passed down to my ears, and I began to love them.
My whole family, we’ve always just loved hip-hop. We would go on car rides and rap a bunch of songs and music. As soon as there were certain songs I heard that I didn’t know, I would go home and study the lyrics so that the next time we all sang it together, I could know it by heart. I’ve always loved it and challenged myself. I was always like, “Ooh, can I do this verse quicker? What’s a faster song? What’s a longer song that’s more difficult? What’s the rhyme scheme that’s trickier so that I can memorize [it] myself?”
As you said, you came from a hip-hop background, and your new single, “Breakup Song,” is very much a rock song. How did you get into making rock music?
I was on Disney Channel and continued to make rap music, and obviously, being that I was so young, and on a network like Disney Channel and growing up how I grew up, the topics I could make music about [were] a little limited and restricted. So I felt a little like I had to fit into a certain box.
I went to Australia and just expanded my palette. My chaperone there played Sticky Fingers. I think [they were], within that genre, the first artist that I heard a song by, and I was like, “Oh, my God, I love this. I love the way they express their emotions, hearing the feelings through their voice and even through the lyrics.” I fell in love with something about it. As I started listening to more music with that vibe, I was like, “This is awesome.” I’ve always been the type of person who’s wanted to make the music that I listen to.
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I actually got into a relationship while I was in Australia, and I noticed a lot of the songs within that genre were love, heartbreak and things along those lines, which is actually something that hit close to home at the time, unlike a lot of the rap music that I was listening to, [which] wasn’t anything relatable to me. I felt like this reflected myself and my feelings more than anything ever has.
At some point, me and this person got into a breakup, and I don’t know what I would have done without having that outlet of music. I loved pop punk and rock and alt music when I was out there, and I brought that home with me. That was my outlet, and that’s how I expressed myself right after I got into that breakup. I felt like I lost a piece of myself with this person, and I found small pieces of what was lost within music. It’s a really beautiful feeling, being able to express yourself in the way I did through music. Listening to it, it just feels so real and therapeutic almost. It brings me such a high level of happiness like nothing else does. I’m really thankful for this new vibe and style of music.
You directed the music video for your song “Fall Back.” Is directing something you’re going to do more in the future?
I definitely want to be able to act in every role of creating a music video or a song. Even when it comes to producing and engineering, I want to learn all of that. Artists like Tyler, The Creator and J. Cole, they produce, write, record all their music, and I respect that so much. I also have a little bit of control issues, so I think that may be it. If it has my name on [it], then I want it to really be something that I did. I’m looking forward to that rewarding feeling of being the director and producer and engineer and artist behind certain videos or songs.
SONG RECOMMENDATION: “Breakup Song”
This interview appeared in issue 404 (The Modern Icons Issue), available here.