Troye Sivan Interview at USC: music, inspiration, collaborating with Lauv & Ariana Grande, & more!

Article & Photos By Yising Kao 2.2.19.

This article will be featured in our upcoming February issue!:

Photos of Troye from his Bloom Tour-Anaheim, CA show:

On January 28th, I attended a communications class focusing on the entertainment industry, at my college, University of Southern California, where the professor, Mary, interviewed Capitol Records artist Troye Sivan. He's one of my favorite artists, so I was really excited to hear that he was coming to speak to us, along with his manager, Dani Russin. Here are some of the interview questions, including some questions from students. It was inspiring to hear about his journey and his perspective on working in the music industry!

How was your experience getting nominated for the Golden Globes for “Best Original Song” for “Revelation” featured in Boy Erased?

I got a part in the movie as an actor and was so over the moon about it. I was immediately like, “I have to weasel my way into this movie as a musician as well,” so I told anyone who would listen, “I’m also a musician I’d love to make some music for the film, and you can use any of my old music that I put out, or I can write something new, whatever you guys want, take me, I’m yours.” We shot the movie and I just kept writing based off of the script and finally, there was this one scene the director had with a piano backing by Jónsi of Sugar Ros; There were no lyrics or melody to it, and I went in and wrote the melody with my best friend. We went in for like an hour, which ended up being “Revelation.” It was a tender and sweet moment in the movie, and I wanted to capture the spirit of that. I’m so proud of everything the film stands for, and anything that I could’ve done to amplify the message and conversation that the film was trying to start, I was so proud to be able to do it. The really exciting thing about getting that call saying the film was nominated, was being able to scream it from the rooftops to even more people, and try to continue the conversation about the film, but more importantly, the conversation about conversion therapy, so it was a really exciting day for me.

We watched Troye’s first YouTube video of him singing “Tell Me Why” by Declan Galbraith on the big screen behind him. It may have been embarrassing for him, but everyone loved it and he was so talented at such a young age! He’s living proof that if you work hard for what you want, you can achieve it.

So, how did you do this and how’d you gain the courage to sing acapella?

I had a sty in my eye and my mom loved any excuse for us to not go to school so she could have company, so she was like “You’ve got a sty, so you should stay home.” I loved the internet growing up and I found YouTube, and I also loved video editing like I added reverb to my voice and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. At that point I was singing in my local community and I uploaded this video and checked it a few days letter, and it had like 2,000 views. I remember thinking that’s so many more people than I’ve ever sung for in real life. This was my way out of where I was at that time. I had so many big ambitions and so much I wanted to do and say. I just loved making music and singing, and I loved the computer. It all happened in this perfect time and I found this perfect profession of making YouTube videos. I really don’t know where I’d be without the internet. My parents gave me advice to go for any opportunity to practice. I used to take my CD player with bad backing tracks that I ripped from YouTube and went to sing in downtown Perth; I performed in school talent shows and my shul.

What did your friends think of all that?

I think for me what's ended up being a blessing later in life. It never scored me cool points at all and I wasn’t a cool kid. I never played a sport and I wasn’t the smartest kid in the room either. That made me feel like this was for myself. I didn’t think my friends would find my videos, so it gave me a space to be creative without thinking about what anyone thought. I didn’t care ‘cause I kind of already lost the battle, like I wasn’t going to become the most popular kid by singing on YouTube. It just wasn’t really a thought.

You’ve really touched a lot of lives. I’ve received emails from so many students about what you mean to them. You came out through a video to the whole world and you said it was the most nervous you’ve ever been in your life. Can you talk about the impact it had afterwards?

I don’t think I could’ve ever anticipated the reaction to that video. I knew how sacred that part of YouTube was. When I was deeply in the closet, I would turn on private browsing and go on YouTube and search up “boys kissing” and “coming out”. I used to watch these people who would share their coming out stories. Suddenly, ‘cause I didn’t know any LGBT people in real life, so seeing these people who seemed well adjusted, happy, and normal that had also come out, and seeing them share their experience online, it made me feel like I had a community, when in reality, I really didn’t, but I felt like I found one. Each one of those videos felt like a building block of confidence and I started to feel better about myself. I think that’s what's so cool about the internet. You have the opportunity to build your own self as a person based off of the content you consume. I started to formulate my own opinions and it got to the point where I felt safe enough that I was like, “Even if my family doesn’t accept me, there are all these people online around the world who will.” Without that, I don’t know where I would’ve found that sense of confidence and sense of self that I was ok and it was everyone else who had to adjust.

From all of that, what was the song that came through that helped your career take off?

I kept making YouTube videos and it became this thing. I uploaded an original song that a record label in Australia saw before I had any management, so they reached out, and I got signed and made an EP. Then, I got an email from Dani a few weeks later. How did you find me, Dani?

Dani: Troye’s music reached someone at Capitol Records about 5 years ago, so it was sort of a new time for people making a name for themselves on YouTube, with the exception of Justin Bieber. You had this YouTube career 7 years of vlogging and you had this whole other side of you that was really meaningful, almost serious, beautiful, and amazing music that I was a fan of. I heard it and asked if I could get your info, so the person put us in touch.

Can you talk about how you manage your stardom and stay grounded?

When I put out my first album, doing all this for the first time and being a signed artist, it’s the best job in the world but it’s a job. There’s a lot to it that you don’t realize. I’m thankful to have such an amazing team behind me. It’s about finding your confidence in yourself and the experience. I feel like it’s easy to feel like an imposter, and I think that it’s a good feeling sometimes because it means you’ll work hard to stay where you are or keep moving forward, but it also can really mess with you and eventually it feels really nice when you get to that place where you can feel proud of yourself and where you are. There a lot of weird little mind games that you have to play with yourself.

You still get stage fright?

It depends. I will the first show and in really big cities. As soon as anything is slightly different, like if I have a friend in the crowd or if the show is outdoors, or if something doesn’t work, it feels like your first show all over again. When you get into the routine of it, the stage fright goes away, but the buzz doesn’t, thankfully.

Writing is essential and it seems to me that deep inside of you are all these words you write. Tell me about how you write and what the process is like. You just had this video with Ariana Grande where you’re dancing in the cafeteria with older people. How did you write that and how do you collaborate?

For me personally a lot of it comes from being a student of pop music. I’m a huge pop nerd. So, almost everything I do is like regurgitated information that I’ve retained from personal experience and songs that I’ve heard, sounds that I’ve heard, if anything inspires me ill write it down on my phone. If a song inspires me ill add it to a playlist.

How long did it take for you to write "Dance To This" with Ariana Grande?

I like to cowrite and I write with my best friend, Leland, a lot. Writing’s a really vulnerable experience and its one that’s also a crazy emotional roller-coaster. You have days where you get home and you feel like you’re just so terrible at what you do. When you write a good song, that high for me is unlike anything else in the world. You need to trust the people around and you need to trust yourself. It takes a long time to figure out the language, like in the studio, how to take an idea from inside your head, or worse, if it’s not even in your head; It’s like an emotion that you know that you want to communicate, and you have to know how to communicate it to other people in the room. I don’t produce so there’s at least one other person in the room that I need to be communicating this to. But then when you get it right, it’s the best feeling in the world when you feel like you’ve created something that’s uniquely you, that you’re really proud of. So, this song started with a Janet Jackson song called “All Night” that I played in the room. It has this really sexy beat; That sounded so lame, but it does! It has always made me want to dance and I've just always loved that song, so we used it as a very rough reference point for the way of how I wanted the song to make me feel. At the time, I just moved in with my boyfriend and we were living together, and really just enjoying playing house and being domesticated. All that stuff was really fun. So, we started writing a song about the joys of staying at home and how these nights out that seem really tempting when you first move here, start to become one in the same and start to blur. It was a song about staying home with the person you love. We got to the end of the session and I was like, “This song needs Ariana Grande on it.” Thankfully, I have her number, so I texted the song to her. Within like a minute and a half, she started typing and I was like, “This either means she really likes it or really hates it.” Thankfully, she really liked it and she was working in the studio I worked at all the time, and told me to come by. We chatted through what I wanted to do, and I explained to her that “There’s a moment in the bridge where I want you to do this really bratty voice.” She tracked the vocal and sent it back to me. It was so much fun. Being able to share experiences with people, especially friends, makes everything a lot more fun and a lot less stressful, and that was what I wanted to capture with the music video. It’s just these two kids who have dreams that are much bigger than where they are, and living the fantasy of being a popstar in that moment.

What was it like working with Lauv on your new collaboration, “i’m so tired?”

I have a goal to write for other artists as well. I just want to be a pop writer and enjoy writing so much. I heard that he was writing so I asked if I could go in and write with him on his thing. I have this habit of hijacking sessions a little. I told myself, “Troye, don’t hijack this song, even though its really good and you really want to sing on it. Don’t do it.” So, he played me the chorus and I was like “This is so amazing, and I don’t want to put any pressure, but I’d love to help you write it if you want me to. If you don’t, that’s totally cool.” We wrote the song together and he tracked the whole thing, and it was his vocal on it. Then, he asked me if I wanted to be on it, and I was like, “YES!” I tracked the verse and stuff like that, so that’s how it came together. I love it so much.

We watched Troye’s performance of “My My My!” on Saturday Night Live on the screen, and it was his first time seeing it! He did incredible and it’s awesome how he finally achieved his goal of performing on SNL; he deserves all of his success.

Can you tell us how you felt about getting to perform on SNL?

It was a surreal experience. I don’t know what it was about that show, I guess it was the iconic status of it that really spooked me. I couldn’t think about it in the weeks prior because my heat would sink and my knees would get weak. I was playing mental games with myself. During rehearsals, like if this was the room, id be looking at the clock in the back and thinking, “Wow that 7 looks weird” or something. while performing, I tried to just get out of my own head and let myself relax and let myself take in this moment that I’ve wanted for so long. It’s a crazy experience.

How did you transition from making YouTube videos for fun to uploading videos of you singing?

I was making so many silly videos, but sometimes they would lack substance. At the same time, I’d want to write these songs and making music was like, so serious. I just kind of went for it and hoped the audience would like it, and be willing to go on that journey with me. The thing that has kept that relationship strong, between me and the people watching, has been the fact that I’ve always wanted to treat them with respect. I think that they know the second I do something disingenuous or doesn’t feel genuine to me, that they can feel that and I never want to do that. So, I’m always going to push myself to do what's exciting to me and hopefully, they’ll enjoy that too.

Do you have any advice for artists who are trying to get noticed through media platforms?

I wouldn’t recommend Tik Tok, haha. The internet is the craziest tool in the world so just start making stuff. Reach out to people and really put yourself out there and find beats on SoundCloud and do whatever you need to do to keep pushing yourself to keep creating. It definitely doesn’t happen overnight unless you become a meme or something. Between me uploading my first YouTube video to getting singed was about 10 years. Do it because you love it and hopefully one day, somebody will react.