If you happen to be hanging out with Canadian punchy pop songstress Skye Sweetnam, and you notice her applying cover-up on her legs to hide a smattering of round purple bruises, don't call the authorities. Blame her bandmates, who sometimes get overzealous in their horseplay.
"Those guys are like my brothers," the 16-year-old singer said, then laughed. "They beat on me and kick me all the time, but sometimes I ask for it because I love to draw on them with a Sharpie. Anyone that falls asleep on the bus is going to get Sharpie on their face saying, 'Skye was here,' and then I'll take a picture of it."
Needless to say, Sweetnam's not just a sweet young thing. She can play tough girl or diva whenever it suits her. And over the past year she has developed a fairly thick skin that has allowed her to cope with the long delay of her debut album, Noise From the Basement, the cancellation of Britney Spears' tour (see "Britney Cancels Tour") — which had provided her with her first chance to play to arena audiences, as Britney's opening act — and an illness that struck without warning while she was in Germany.
"I had influenza, which wasn't too fun," she said. "It was my first time having to cancel shows. There's not much you can do to keep me off the stage except put me in a hospital and stick an IV in my arm. I had shivers and sweats and headaches and stomachaches. And I was really bummed out because I was cooped up in a hotel when I would rather have been out seeing different cities and having a good time."
Despite tours opening for Spears in Europe and North America, Sweetnam isn't likely to be confused for a fluffy teen-pop act. Album tracks like "Number One" and "Shot to Pieces" echo with fuzzed-up guitar chords, propulsive beats and energized vocals, and "Fallen Through" is as epic and majestic as an Evanescence song.
Onstage, Sweetnam is part pop princess, part harmless teen rebel, and she enjoys embracing both sides of her persona. She often plays a guitar decorated with the crossed-out word "Matrix," and her music collection on the bus includes discs by Pantera and Metallica alongside albums by Outkast and Weezer.
Also, unlike many of her peers, she writes her own lyrics. Noise From the Basement, which comes out September 21, is alive with the dreams of stardom, the daily activities of a small-town girl and the frustrations of puppy love. "You're not the type that I should be dating/ No matter where I go or what I do/ It sucks 'cause I want to be with you," she sings on "It Sucks."
While many of Sweetnam's lyrics read like diary entries, she also exhibits a sense of humor. Her album features a punk-pop version of Blondie's "Heart of Glass," and on the upbeat "Hypocrite" she labels herself "Avril lite," "bubblegum Britney" and "manufactured skate punk" before adding, "Hope my record doesn't tank."
"I know that critics are gonna put all these different labels on me," she said. "I just wanted to beat everyone to it and tell them, 'I'm gonna keep doing what I want to do no matter what you say about me.' "
Of course, the fact that she's from Canada, has attitude and sings energetic pop songs with huge hooks isn't going to stop anyone from comparing her to a certain platinum-selling singer from Napanee, Ontario. "I'm so much more of a girly-girl than Avril," she said in a voice of mock disgust. "I like dressing up, I love makeup. I may be a young girl, but that doesn't mean that we're the same thing. And when I listen to her album and my album back to back, I can't see any real similarities."
The first single from Noise From the Basement, "Tangled Up in Me," is an introduction to the deliciously bratty, effervescent world of Sweetnam (see "Skye Sweetnam Juggles Hot Britney Tour With Cold Pork Chops"). "You wanna know more, more, more about me/ I'm the one who's kicking the coke machine," she sings before a rock melody that's half Everclear, half Heart, and anything but half-hearted. "With me, what you see isn't really what you get," Sweetnam said. "I come from a musical theater background, yet onstage I'm throwing around the mic stand and acting like a wild woman."
Perhaps the song that sums up Sweetnam best is "Unpredictable," in which she sings, "I hate when things are simple and so plain, don't want to be the same."
"I love catching people off guard. That's why opening for Britney was so great," she concluded. "I was playing for people who had no idea who I was and had never heard my music. And by the end of the set, a lot of them found themselves really getting into it."