Sacramento singer-songwriter Autumn Sky proves her talent is more than skin-deep
Whatever you do, don’t call Autumn Sky’s music cute.
First, it’s not cute. Sky’s songs deal with heady topics—depression, abortion, self-doubt—and for the past two years, she’s performed with a rocking band behind her. Yes, she likes sundresses and sometimes decorates her stages with flowers, but that has nothing to do with her songwriting. So the cute comments piss her off.
“It’s like people just look straight at your face and not at what you’re saying,” she says. “You share yourself so fully, and it feels like a betrayal to have people be like, ’Cute set.’”
She recounts unofficial advisers telling her to change her look, to get bangs, or that she won’t find success because her face is too long.
“At first, you try to take it with a grain of salt,” she says. “But the more I’m in music, the more I realize how fucking heavy it is to be a girl in music.”
Sky started out playing open-mics when she was 15, and last year, she entered the Sacramento Area Music Awards, a.k.a. the Sammies, Hall of Fame. Her sound has matured dramatically—understandably—over the past 10 years.
Now, at age 25, she’s finally putting on her second album-release show—her other homegrown effort took place when she was just 17—on Saturday, March 29, at Assembly Music Hall. The three-track EP, SCOUT, will also be her band’s very first collection of recorded music.
“I’m so excited,” Sky says. “Showing up to shows with no product is the most frustrating thing—it’s like chasing your tail in a circle for years and years.”
She had announced record releases—most recently Hallelujah Chorus in 2012—but was never fully satisfied with her results and, ultimately, never followed through.
“It was very well-intentioned, but at this point, I’m really glad I didn’t put it out,” she says. “I’d rather have less music out in the world and just release things that are stellar.”
Her new band includes as many as seven people at a time—drums, guitars, bass, piano, synth, backup vocals—and allows her to focus on being a frontwoman. Sky says she has no plans to return to a solo project; she had always striven for a fuller, more powerful sound than her single acoustic guitar could give her. She’s also been inspired by bands with excellent songwriting—the Mountain Goats, Death Cab for Cutie—but not singer-songwriters themselves.
“For a person that spent a big portion of her life being a singer-songwriter, I don’t actually like singer-songwriter music,” she says. “It’s too simple. When I’m writing in my head, it’s always way more passionate, way more emotional, and it’s hard to go back once you hear that your music can actually be that thing.”
Onstage, Sky throws herself into her singing and dancing. Offstage, she pores over her songs, her choice medium for storytelling.
So now, finally armed with a record she can send to labels and distributors, Sky says she wants to break out of town a bit. Her eyes are set on touring—a hop through California colleges is in the works—and hopefully hitting the festival circuit. The band is already slated to play BottleRock 2014 in Napa Valley and is trying to put on other Bay Area gigs once a month.
“When you’re in a place where everyone’s grown up with you, it’s not the same,” she says. “But going out of town, like to the Bay Area, is a reaffirmation that we’re good and can make people excited.”
Sacramento fans need not worry, though. When Sky grew up in the suburbs, Midtown was the fantasy—she even spent her time writing mystery novellas that took place on the grid.
“Midtown was literally a dream since childhood,” she says. “I can’t leave—it’s home.”