She’s put her foot down. Forget everything you thought you knew about Sia Furler’s sound – she’s a ‘downtempo artist’ no longer.
A week before her new album We Are Born is released, we chatted to the out Aussie-born singer and Same Same 25er about her new tracks, winsome videos, ‘disgusting things’ in the music industry and the importance of bantering with concert hecklers…
Hi Sia! How are you?
Really good, but guess what? I’m in New York, so it’s eight o’clock at night for me. In fact, I should probably have a glass of wine or something…
I think you should, you deserve one.
Haha thanks sweetie!
Your most recent videos are extraordinary, it looks like a lot of painstaking work goes into them.
Yes, it’s really exhausting, but the days of me making everything myself are over. Now that I have so much more to do, I’m realising that promo equals sales, that I wanna spend more time with my dogs, that I gotta go travel all the time and do press in different countries, or go do TV shows, or record or write with different people… I actually don’t have enough mental space to do it all myself now.
So usually with a video I just give some references, or I might say that I want to make a video that is based around sing language, or say that I want to make a video based around 3,000 Polariods like a flipbook, or I let them bring the ideas to me and then we usually try to choose an art director together. I’m kind of finicky about art direction.
So you’re still a big part of the creative process that goes on.
Yeah, I’m very controlling. (laughs) I’m a control freak. Sad but true!
Oh my God that’s my favourite video.
Is it? But it looked painful to do, was it very uncomfortable?
Well it was! It was incredibly painful, and the only reason is was, was because of those pegs. That was the most painful part. That was actually so painful, that I only lasted like 10 or 15 seconds with them on before I was like ‘Oh my God’, and I literally had to go to the bathroom and had tears in my eyes and had to deep breathe until my natural opiates took over. That was the most excruciating and ridiculous thing I’ve ever done for a video.
I mean, every single one of them is always exhausting. Probably the Soon We’ll Be Found video was the last exhausting of the lot… but you’re so over-adrenalised by the end of a shoot, because you’re ‘on’ for just like a couple of minutes at a time, you’re like ‘ON!’ and you’re all jazz-hands and you’re pushing out every ounce of charisma you’ve got from every pore of your body. And it’s fucking exhausting and over-adrenalising.
So it is hard work, they’re some of the hardest days, the shoot days.
Yeah but they are so good and the latest ones are so cute.
Aaw thanks sweetie, well that makes it worth it.
Your new album We Are Born shows a changed mood to your most previous ones. But was there pressure on you to keep in the same downbeat mood as your last albums?
This seems to be the popular question for this album! Actually yes, I delivered a very similar album to Universal, right after Colour the Small One, in fact, The Co-Dependent, Bring Night, Stop Trying and Cloud were on that record. I wrote the entire record with Grey Kirsten and one song with Sam Dickson. I was signed to them, and when I delivered it, they said to me ‘this is career suicide, we don’t know what to do with this. You’re a down-tempo artist, your fans will be confused.’ And I was like, ‘first of all, what fans? I’ve sold 6,000 records!’
I asked, ‘really? Are you sure I’m a down-tempo artist? Have you ever listened to my first record Healing is Difficult?’ And they said ‘yeah, after you made Colour the Small One and played in Zero 7 for a long time, that’s what you are now.’
I was really stubborn, and also headstrong. And I was kind of lead to believe by my management that bluffing is a really good tool in the music industry… so I, unwisely, said ‘this is what I’m delivering’. And they dropped me, straightaway.
Ironically, they were one of the three labels in a bidding war for this record, which is essentially the same record, five years later.
It’s a win for you.
It’s a bit of a win, it’s validating. But I understand, I mean I did then go and talk to everyone I knew in the industry, and they were in agreement, they said that as hard as it is to believe, you do kind of need to create some sort of identity before you can stray from it. And even if that identity is as a down-tempo artist, you have to create it. You have to become known for something. Otherwise people won’t buy into you as a product… and I was like ‘that is fucking disgusting’. And they were like ‘I know, and that’s the way it is.’
And I’ve since found out more disgusting things about the business, and I’ve been like it’s not actually about good music or good songs really, it’s about marketing, and it’s about marketing someone as a product. And it’s not really humane. (laughs) I don’t think it’s really humane unless you really love what you do, and you really love the attention.
You’re still enjoying it? If you’re still there, it’s proof that there are still nice people in the industry?
Yeah, there definitely are. But I think after this record I’m just going to write songs. I’m not really made for this. I’m not really made for the repetition of promo, I’m not made for being recognised while I’m having lunch, or at the airport… I’m just not made for it. It’s not me. Some people just aren’t made for it… those are the people that ‘disappear’ and I’m going to be one of them.
Are you still liking the live experience of being on stage though?
I actually like that more than any other part of the job. I like writing the most, and then I like the act of performance. Because that’s the only thing that’s different every day. I don’t like the travelling, I don’t really like the promo, I don’t really like the crappy food that you get in the dressing rooms, but I do like the performance, because it’s the only thing that changes. The writing never changes, the people around you never changes, the questions rarely change. But the fanbase every night is different.
And I sort of encourage heckling – I’m a heckle lover! Because it forces me to be present. And so the better the heckling, the better the show. For me, the importance of a show is how good the banter was in between, and how good the relationship was that I formed with the audience, the interaction that went on. Because the singing part for me is really… I’m not even present for it, like I don’t really need to concentrate on that part, but the banter stuff is what really makes me happy. If I hear lots of laughing, then I sleep better.
And if you’re good at it that’s great, some artists aren’t very good at the banter.
Oh I know and that’s painful. And it can go either way, and it’s especially hard in foreign countries, if banter’s your thing. If they’re not understanding it, it’s like stage death. (laughs) It’s like dying as a comedian, like it’s official – ‘I’m dead’.
So I learn a couple of things in their language and then I just throw them out there at random times and that usually gets a laugh. But yeah, it’s tricky.
Your choice of Madonna track to cover – Oh Father – did that song have a particular resonance for you?
‘Is it really about my father?’ No. No, it’s a very uninteresting reason, it’s very unromantic…
I walked into a restaurant and it was playing. It was right around the time that me and my manager were talking on the phone about adding another ballad to the record, because we thought it was a bit ‘ballad-light’ and I didn’t want to alienate my older audience. And I walked into a café and it was playing, and I remembered how much I liked it and I thought ‘well I could sing this song’. So I called my manager back and said ‘how about ‘Oh Father’, and he said he’d get Greg to mock up a track straight away. And that’s how it happened. It’s really good to sing live though, I really like singing it live.
We love JD [Sia’s partner] – I saw her live in New Zealand once when she DJ’ed in Auckland.
I love her too! I know and I’m sorry I haven’t come there yet, that’s weird, and I don’t know why. I’d never been too successful in Australia or New Zealand anyway – I’ve only just hit the airwaves there really last year. I will definitely come to New Zealand, if we can get 500 people into a room I’ll come!
Do you miss Australia?
Yeah, I really miss Australia, but I come back every Christmas. So that’s nice for me.
But I do really like America. I’m a consumer, so I really like all the crap that you can get here that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. Like soft fruit peelers, and steps for your dog up to the bed!
You’re a dog person! I think cats are smarter.
Hmm! I love cats too, I love all animals. Like crazy! I don’t really in marginalising anything, it’s fucked. Like when taxi drivers are like ‘Australia or New Zealand?’ And I’m like ‘Australia’ and they’re like ‘sorry!’ If they’d said ‘are you from New Zealand?’ What does that mean? I didn’t know we were in a war.
It’s the same with dog people and cat people. You can’t love two species of animal? Who pitted them against each other in the first place? It’s wrong!
I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like!
Sia’s new album We Are Born comes out next Friday 18 June.
Watch Sia’s Clap Your Hands video here.