Sia Furler might not be an instantly recognisable household name, but having sold out a recent UK tour, and ahead of her fourth solo album, she’s working on it. Your typical antipodean, she’s loud, random, full of energy and bags of fun and Gigwise just couldn’t resist the invitation to meet the Australian songstress in person to chat about her life and career to date.
Sia’s been involved with music for over a decade and has arguably had more lows than highs, so it’s only fair to start at the beginning. Her first foray into the industry came more by chance than planning, discovering her voice in a karaoke bar whilst taking a university gap year, as she readily explains: “I got up and sang at this karaoke bar in Italy. I didn’t like any of the songs they had so I just got them to clap their hands and sang ‘Lean On Me’ by Bill Withers.” Admittedly unless you’re an X Factor contestant, it’s not your average casting session, but it was enough to be offered the chance to record a song by a local DJ who happened to be in the bar. Fourteen years on and it all seems rather distant and amusing, as Sia recounts holding back the laughter: “I was seventeen and writing about racism and homophobia, I had a message and wanted to change the world. Then I went back to university in Adelaide to finish studying Italian and Politics and I hated it after having spent a year out of school, so I quit straight away.”
School out and another chance encounter soon after, this time with an ex-boyfriend, led to the formation of “A really unsuccessfully band called Crisp”. Success not forthcoming, the urge to travel once again became too much and Sia left Adelaide for Japan, but she wasn’t letting go of her desire to become a singer as she explains: “I went to Tokyo and worked as a hostess for a while. In the interim I’d made a solo record called ‘Only See’ which is like the worst trip-hop shit you’ll ever hear. I had a box of thirty in the hostess bar where I was working and somehow I managed to engineer that I would get up in the centre of the bar in some sort of Courtney Love lace negligee and 1940’s heels, hold onto the strippers pole and sing my songs while they were being played over the CD. I only had thirty and I sold out!”
Having had her fun in the East, Sia decided to make her way to London, to meet her first true love, Dan, via a trip to Thailand; “We’d split up but we were going to get back together and travel. I was five days into my stay in Thailand and I got this call from my mum and I knew that someone had died.” Tragically her instincts were right. “Dan had been hit by a taxi on Kensington High Street. I went back to his funeral in Adelaide and his friends in London were so nice, they rang me and said we know you’ve got a ticket here, come anyway and stay with us. So I came and there was like thirteen of us in a three-bedroom apartment and we were all grieving and we all got drunk for a fucking long time.”
Although not ideal circumstances by any stretch of the imagination, Sia had made it to London; a few low key gigs later and a record deal followed, although now several years the wiser, it wasn’t necessarily the best deal, as she fondly recounts: “It turns out that their main gig was coke dealing and I suddenly thought fuck I’m managing them. I’d got a hit with ‘Taken For Granted’ off the first album, but by this time I’d flopped because they didn’t release the album till six months after I’d had the hit. The one thing that came from that guy managing me was that he played football with Sam and Henry from Zero 7. They gave me two tracks to write over and they were ‘Destiny’ and ‘Distractions’. Then I left and a year later I’d forgotten all about it and my career was over… then the Zero 7 album came out and it got a bit successful…resuscitation number one!”
Another solo album, ‘Colour The Small One’ followed, as did widespread acclaim for her ongoing work with Zero 7, but despite the whispered success, it wasn’t all going her way: “Colour The Small One was a painful period cos I’d finally got emotionally full up. I stopped drinking, I got therapy, was really depressed and just had to address lots of shit” she says rather matter of factly. Despite the emotional strain that ‘Colour The Small One’ was written under, Sia thought she was onto a good thing, but Island thought otherwise and promptly dropped her: “They said I was a down tempo artist and that I’d be confusing the fans…I was like what fans?” Say’s Sia, still rather bemused. But resuscitation number two was just around the corner and with her track ‘Breathe Me’, being featured on the final episode of Six Feet Under, her vocal talents were once again brought to public attention, and provided a new platform to work from: “I moved to LA, fell in love with LA and just accumulated all these songs, gave them to Jimmy (Hogarth, known for his work with Corinne Bailey Rae, James Morrison and Amy Winehouse) to produce, he picked eighteen he thought were the best, we ended up recording sixteen of them, picked thirteen and that’s how it all happened!”
In fragmented conversation, putting together 2008’s ‘Some People Have Real Problems’ sounds a lot easier than the reality was. Many see her new release as a complete change of musical direction, but strip back the songs and it’s the same Sia underneath as she explains: “It’s not that different…probably rounder and a bit furrier…I guess it’s just another chapter. Colour The Small One, in hindsight, was for me, a letter to me to tell me that it would be OK and that I would survive and there would be hope. It was like a note to self. This one has got a lot of goodbyes to the past, more hello futures and it’s actually much more empowered.”
Not only that but it encapsulates Sia’s creative process perfectly, which put simply is a richly textured, fun and honest vision and one that directly involves friends, family and acquaintances all the way. Being her fourth solo album, you’d expect the music making process to be a breeze by now, but you’d be wrong as Sia openly explains: “I can’t do it really by myself. I can do film stuff, I make little movies and I can edit and shoot and all that, but I can’t do music by myself. I don’t really know how to…it’s weird.”
Luckily, she’s got a solid network of friends and family behind her who are all too willing to lend a hand. Some have previous and even pedigree, like guest vocalist on ‘Academia’, Beck: “I could just hear him singing it.” muses Sia “I emailed it to him and I didn’t get a response so I thought, OK he doesn’t like it, I won’t pester him. Then I sent out a big email to all of our friends and asked them to come down to do backing vocals for some of the songs. And him (Beck) and his family and friends and some friends of mine, came down and sang backing vocals on ‘Death By Chocolate’ and ‘Little Black Sandals’.” Sia continues: “Beck’s wife’s brother sang and his mum was taking pictures and it really was a family affair. I asked him again (to sing) but he was shy and said he hadn’t really sung for three months. His wife was saying go on Beck do it, then I guess everyone just wanted him to do it and he wanted to do it so he got in there and did it! It’s nice, you can just hear him, his timbre and that depth of tone he gets and I love that.”
Recounting the moment sends Sia into bursts of laughter and sunshine smiles and her live show follows a similar pattern. Put simply, it’s a big party, where everyone is invited and everyone has to join in on some level as Sia tries to explain: “It’s like a magical playground, I want to create a nice environment and I want to be a good host. I like to say Hi and be heckled and just feel the vibe of the show.” Sia continues: “For a lot of people, £10 is a lot of money and they’re trusting me that I’m going to give them some return so I take that responsibility seriously…in a fun way. I don’t like going to shows where people take themselves seriously and have this sort of reverence where they think that they are special and unique. I don’t think it’s fair to invite people to pay money to see you when you’re an entertainer and then deny them what they want. I just wanna have fun.”
And with a bumper 2008 on the cards, including the release of ‘Some People Have Real Problems’, a bigger tour, song-writing duties for the film Crossing Over (Harrison Ford and Sean Penn) and recording an album with Larry Goldings, fun isn’t going to be too hard to find, especially for a girl like Sia.