Sia hits East Coast, picks up tempo

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 30, 2010

It's often said to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. And the realization of the "rock star" fantasy serves an example of exactly that: Beyond the majesty of the spotlight, touring musicians face a difficult trade-off in the pursuit of their dream, giving up time with their family and friends to perform, night after night, for rooms filled with strangers who know every word to every song.

Sia Furler, the Australian singer-songwriter known simply as "Sia" is all too familiar with the trade-off. Getting her start with the British down-tempo electro act Zero 7, Sia came into prominence with her 2008 Billboard-charting release Some People Have Real Problems. And suddenly her songs began to appear in a never-ending stream of commercials and TV shows, including the heartbreakingly poignant ballad "Breathe Me" in the series finale of Six Feet Under. She also recently came to the aide of Christina Aguilera, writing several songs for Aguilera's forthcoming Bionic.

The practical omnipresence of Sia's music seems to have made a profound effect on the 34-year-old, openly bisexual performer. In the midst of a North American tour and on the brink of the release of her latest album, We Are Born, she spoke with EDGE on the pressures of touring life - pressures that appear to have the musician facing a difficult crossroad in her career.

In the van

EDGE: Sia, how are you? Where are you at right now?

Sia Furler: We’re driving through bumfuck Colorado, it’s what we call the backwaters or places far, far away from civilization in Australia.

EDGE: Amazing! I’m sure you’re seeing some pretty incredible things with the rural quality of it all.

SF: If only you could see me! I transformed the back of the tour bus into my bedroom, with the dogs’ crate, a little table with my computer and a TV. I have two windows in the back that I usually keep closed because I’m scared of people. I never have been before, but with this particular tour I guess the fans have become more fervent than ever and it’s made me feel very much like not looking out the window too often. I mainly hang out in my bedroom, watch TV, sometimes go into the front lounge, but when you add me and the two dogs to that space, it can get tight. We’re on an 18-hour drive right now, and I will say I can see these big, beautiful mountains and ranges.

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Watch Sia’s video of "Breathe Me":



A different sound?

EDGE: That sounds beautiful indeed. Tell me a bit more about the new record, We Are Born, which is coming out in June. The album has a different sound, it’s bigger and more up-tempo. How did you arrive at the new sound?

SF: Here’s the thing, I’ve been making this kind of music for about a million years but most people wouldn’t let me put it out until now. They pigeonholed me. About five years, I delivered four of the tracks on this record to Universal, they laughed and told me I couldn’t do this because "You’re a down-tempo artist." I asked when did that happen? "Since you made the record with Zero 7." They said it would be career suicide to release that music. So, I asked them, what about Beck? He makes a different kind of record every time, and they said I couldn’t because he has established an identity. You’re a nobody. I said, "True," but was stubborn enough to stick with it and say this is the record I’m delivering. And they responded to that by dropping me from the label.

I took that record, shelved it, and made Some People Have Real Problems as kind of a concession in order to try and be able eventually to make this record. So, weirdly, I kept writing and have been writing all these songs the whole time. "Cloud" is like six or seven years old, and songs like "The Co-Dependent", "The Fight" and "Stop Trying" are all from that original period five years ago, while the rest I’ve written over the last three years. It’s not a really a big step musically, but I’m allowed to be putting out this music I’ve been writing simultaneously while performing the down-tempo stuff. The label finally decided they could make money from it.

EDGE: In addition to the record coming out, you’ve just launched a North American tour. I noticed you were looking for an ASL interpreter for your Chicago show. Do you have interpreters at all the shows? Why was that important for you to include?

SF: I found one for Chicago! I don’t have one for each show because it’s actually quite expensive, usually about $500 per interpreter, and I’m not that rich yet. Usually, with discrimination laws, the venue is supposed to supply an interpreter if the person makes a request but most venues are operated by fucking assholes who just ignore the requests. So, this girl came to me and put in a request for Chicago and I went on Twitter and asked if anyone wants to interpret the show. I should probably try and do that for everyone show, to see who feels like donating their time for the cause. It turns out I have a bunch of deaf fans and I would like them to be able to experience the music, as well.

story continues on following page.

Watch Sia’s video of "You’ve Changed":



Fans more fervent?

EDGE: So the fans are getting more fervent? Tell me a bit more about that. It must be difficult when your music is, in so many ways, omnipresent. From commercials to TV shows to a tapdancer I saw perform a solo to "Breathe Me" at an HIV fundraiser last year. How has that been for you?

SF: It’s really scary and I haven’t really enjoyed that. It’s actually made me feel very, very nervous and I think it’s interesting because I’ve felt it too, at times. I went and took my dogs to get groomed with Artist Knox, from the Animal Planet show, and I was shaking and my heart was racing really quickly. It felt like an out-of-body experience. So I know that sort of thing is not intentional, but when it is aimed at you, when a fan comes up to me with that shaky, fragmented energy, I’ve not been coping very well with it. It’s making me rethink my career path. It’s made me a bit messy, shaky and anxious. I don’t really meet fans before or after shows anymore. I’m kind of a hermit.

EDGE: But at least you’re still out there and performing live for fans. You haven’t gone all Kate Bush-styled recluse on us yet!

SF: Maybe I’ll have a psychological breakthrough, but as it stands, this will be my last album that I ever tour or promote. I’ll probably make albums in the future, but I’ll just put them out there and whoever wants them will buy them and I’ll play like three shows a a year. I’d still work on songs for other people and become a dog masseuse or something.

EDGE: It must be incredibly difficult to maintain your personal relationships while you’re on tour, too. Is that part of your decision, as well?

SF: You become very protective on tour. When I’m doing jazz hands for these thousands of people I don’t know but for some reason have become important to me, I don’t have any energy left over for my friends or family. I used to be entertaining in my private life, the class clown and the heart of the party. I was silly and would bring everyone costumes to have fun and play board games. But I have no energy for that anymore. I’m exhausted. And that’s not really OK with me. I’ve decided that I really want to give the people I love and am close to more of my energy while working out what’s best for me in the long term.

EDGE: So, as you’re approaching what may be one of your last full-fledged tours, it sounds like, what do you hope fans will take from the experience of seeing your show?

SF: Well, I know I’ll definitely do another tour in October and maybe one after that, but this is my last round of promotions for the record. I hope they will be entertained. It’s my job and I want to do that well. I hope something resonates with them and they walk away with a positive experience.

Sia plays Boston (May 1 at the House of Blues), Philadelphia (May 2 at TLA), Washington, DC (May 4 at the 9:30 Club), and New York (May 6 at Terminal 5). Visit siamusic.net for more information.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.

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