Sky Stahlmann, known professionally as SKY, is a musician of many talents. Having grown up as a professional opera singer, SKY eventually went on to use her opera background when beginning to write and record her own songs, creating a genre of her very own called popera. Popera isn't the only unique thing about SKY and her music, though. After being diagnosed with autism and ADHD, SKY began taking inspiration from her experiences as a neurodivergent woman and putting it into her music, advocating for both herself and others in the community. Today, the Global Spotlight talks with SKY about her music, growing up, and neurodivergence.
You define the type of music you make as popera. Could you elaborate further on what popera is?
Popera is quite literally pop-opera.
I was a child actor with the Sarasota Opera House from 2009 to 2017; I grew up in those halls listening to the Verdi, Puccini, Bartok, Mozart, and other great classical masters. I even got to perform in cutting-edge works written just for our company. My father, who raised me on classic rock and progressive metal, also heavily influenced me. Queen, in particular, was my favorite.
I began writing my music in early high school. I naturally tried to bridge my two interests. When I got to college, I finally had a name for this weird style I had been concocting all these years, popera.
When did you first realize you wanted a career as a musician?
Early, I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to make music. In my family, the conversation of "What do you want to be?" is essential. My mother works very hard to make sure we all have the chance to chase after our passions.
Up until then, I was convinced I was passionate about animals and wanted to be a veterinarian, despite my glaring passion and love for the arts. One day, my mom asked me, "Sky, if you became a vet do you think that you would regret never pursuing music?" I told her I needed to think about it and came back knowing that I needed to pursue music from that day on.
On your TikTok, you make a lot of videos about your identity as an autistic and ADHD
woman. Do you plan on putting this sort of advocacy into your music?
Yes, in fact, I've already begun working on an album surrounding it.
I started my diagnosis journey in 2021 after being hospitalized for suicidal behaviors. It's still changing my life, and I still have many questions that need answers.
My art has always been how I communicated with the world and made sense of it. My earlier writings were huge clues to finding the solutions I do have. I've always advocated for myself through my music; I just thought everyone was singing the same song.
There’s lots of talk about autistic and neurodivergent representation when it comes to the film and television industry and how there needs to be more of it there. What about in the music industry?
When it comes to Autism and ADHD, and representation in music, the discussion is nuanced. Most of us are just realizing in the past year or two that we have these neurodivergencies. We are just now finding the words to communicate these lifelong experiences we're still actively unpacking. Right now, CupcakKe has done a lot to represent the autistic community in their work, and I'm excited to see more ADHD/ASD artists begin to find their voice in mainstream music.
As far as general neurodivergent representation, an effective umbrella term for several different diagnoses, the theme has already started to tell the stories of neurodivergent folks, and I'm excited to see how that continues to evolve. I think the people who will bring those stories to the mainstream just haven't been discovered yet.
I also see you enjoy making videos with your family on TikTok. Can you tell me more about your relationship with them and how they’ve supported you throughout the years?
My family is my rock, and I genuinely mean it when I say that. I'm the second oldest of 7 siblings, and we are all very close to each other.
When I was in kindergarten, my mom made a pretty radical decision to homeschool me. She didn't know exactly what I was struggling with, but she knew that the school system wasn't built to deal with it. She homeschooled all of us, fostering a very unique and incredible family dynamic. My mom is quite brilliant, and even with little to no financial resources, she created excellent opportunities for us to thrive.
Right now, I'm the only sibling who has left home. It's tough to be so far, but they know that my goals require me to be elsewhere. They are as present in my life as possible, and I always know I have those eight people who will always stand behind me.
What’s your songwriting and recording process like?
Chaos, just like my mind. My creativity is a fickle creature that comes and goes whenever it likes. Sometimes I can manage to wrangle it into my headspace; usually, I have to sit and just hope something sparks its interest.
I typically need to start with a concept that I put down into words; after that, I try to figure out what internal frequency those images and words create. Then I try to find what melody, harmonic progression, or instrumentation matches that frequency, and I go from there.
It's, unfortunately, a very abstract experience that I struggle to manufacture at will.
Who are some of your musical influences and why?
Nina Simone is who inspired me to be a songwriter. A family friend suggested I check out her music in middle school, and I instantly fell in love with her work.
I listened to a live recording of "Mississippi Goddamn," a grim story wrapped up in a show tune. You could hear the narrative settle in with the audience once they realized what she was actually singing on top of this lively piano arrangement. All I wanted was to know how she did that, how did she have that kind of influence over an entire room in 4 minutes.
From there, I followed the breadcrumbs of other boundary-breaking artists like Queen, Jack White, ELO, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga (especially in her Tony Bennett era), Lorde, Joji, and more.
Are you currently working on any future projects at the moment?
The past year, I've been in recovery and just now beginning to plan out the next steps.
Next month my team and I will be working on single releases and, hopefully, release the album I'm working on by the end of the year.
What a lot of people don't know about me is I'm also a business owner; I run a small marketing consulting business that I hope to build into a record label one day. Outside of music, I'm also working to develop that into a substantial operation that can fund creative endeavors, allowing me to have more creative control over my work in the future.
SKY's Music Video for "Stones"
IF YOU'D LIKE TO SEE MORE FROM SKY, YOU CAN FIND HER SOCIALS AND MUSIC HERE
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