A Q&A with Sia, Appearing Tuesday at the 9:30 Club
Even if you haven't heard the name Sia Furler before, you've definitely heard her music. Her 2005 single "Breathe Me" could be heard in commercials for the Beijing Olympics and the 2006 Victoria's Secret televised fashion show, and it most memorably appeared during the final six minutes of the Six Feet Under series finale.
With her bright blonde bob and bangs, Sia resembles a young girl, and she seems to have the joy of one. Appearances can be deceiving: the Australian singer's soulful, heartfelt voice seems like it doesn't fit her body or colorful personality. She effortlessly hits notes that sound so simultaneously haunting and wrought with emotion that even hard-asses like David Letterman melt in her presence.
Sia got her start as one of the lead singers for the band Zero 7 before finally releasing a record of her own. Now dabbling in everything from dramatic ballads to electro-infused pop, she's currently on the "We Meaning You" tour promoting her fifth album, We Are Born, set to hit stores June 8th.
WCP: I'm actually obsessed with your music videos, they're so creative – where do you get ideas for [concepts] like that, for "Buttons," or especially the new one, "Clap Your Hands"?
Sia: I think ["Clap Your Hands" is] my weirdest. Well, the weird ones are the ones I make with Chris [inaudible], and I think that those are definitely my weirdest work because we're weirdos and we enhance each other's weirdness, and he knows that I'll go there, and I will take it all the way. And then some of the more beautiful ones, like "Soon We'll Be Found," are with [director] Claire Carre. I had the treatment for that, which was sign language, and her realizing of the treatment was the most interesting. I'm so glad I chose her because I do love that video so much. I love signing that song, and I do it live as well. Signing is like a beautiful dance language to me.
WCP: I know you love crafts, like you're doing Crafts for A Cause for Haiti. Do you like to combine crafts with music or do you think they're separate hobbies?
Sia: Well, here's the thing. I don't really listen to music, so certainly for me, I'm not crafting while listening to music unless my girlfriend [JD Samson of Le Tigre] is home, and then she puts the records on. And that's nice because I actually do like music when it's on, but I never initiate it. I don't know why, I'm just not that kind of person. Like, I'll put the television on in the background instead and I'll make, like, a thousand pom poms. So yeah, I guess I would consider them separate. Although an old family friend came to see me the other day, and then I was telling him about how I'll [eventually] probably just make records, but I won't really promote or tour them. I want to just be a songwriter and work with the Humane Society or something. I've realized the fame aspect of this job is just not for me. And he was like, "Yeah, but you're an artist, so you'll keep making art whatever it is, whether it's music, or art, or painting, or writing or whatever, but you're an artist." And I was like, "Oh yeah, I guess so," because I do like things that are arty I guess, and now I've started painting on glass with nail polish.
WCP: Were you surprised by the success of "Breathe Me"?
Sia: Actually no, originally I was surprised that the song wasn't successful. That was the one song I thought was gonna sell the album. I knew that the rest of the album was very hard to [sell], but I really thought "Breathe Me" was a hit. I knew it was too slow for radio at the time, but I really thought that it would be good for a movie and used in like, an emotional scene, and it wasn't. For like, over a year, no one touched it until the Six Feet Under people asked for it. Originally, they asked for it to be used in the season four trailer so, at the time, because I was very unsuccessful, we didn't have really any power. So we signed [a contract], so what that meant was that they could use it in any episode as many times as they wanted and they didn't have to keep paying me or asking for permission. So we didn't actually know that it was gonna be in the final episode, and then it happened and I got these emails from my friends in America—because I was in England at the time, and we were still only on season four, I think—and they were like, 'Oh my God, motherfucking amazing. You're gonna make television history. Like, fuck, and they used your song!' And I was like really excited because Universal had dropped me two weeks beforehand because I never made them any money. [Laughs.] So I hotfooted it over to America and Astralwerks picked up the album. All of Universal's companies in the U.S. passed on Colour the Small One, so Astralwerks picked it up and, yeah, it was like the day after the Six Feet Under episode I think Astralwerks picked up the record. Yeah, I'm really grateful for that because that's really my income, that song.
WCP: Do you have a preference for ballads or fast songs or just kind of whatever you're feeling at the time?
Sia: I think what happens is that I always co-write, so really, actually, the music informs me of what the song's gonna be about and really depends on my mood. So if I'm with my friend, I'll be like, "Let's write an uptempo one, I feel like writing an uptempo one," or, "Let's write a really sad one, I'm feeling sad, let's write a sad one." So he will start like a chord progression and a tempo and he'll keep going around different things until I say, "That that that, keep going around that." So then he'll go around the three chords that inspired me or excited me, and then that will inform the melody, and suddenly the melody will just come. And then vowel sounds come and words form and usually in like 20 minutes we'll have a verse and a chorus, and that's kind of how it happens. I will usually initiate whether it's gonna be a more uptempo song or a ballad, but really it's the music that informs the theme and the feeling.
WCP: I know you've released six of the songs [off the new album We Are Born] so the audience knows some of them, but is playing the unheard, new songs scary or do you enjoy playing them for a new audience?
Sia: It is scary—yeah, I feel bad, it's weird. For the first week [of the tour], I felt bad, like, this isn't fun for them. And then Sam [Dixon], my bass player, said to me, 'No, they're excited to hear new stuff, the fans are excited to get a sneak peek at the new stuff.' And I was like, 'Really? Because they responded so much more positively to the old songs that they knew.' So yeah, it makes me uncomfortable because I feel bad about it, because originally we scheduled this tour for after the record had been released, but then Sony needed an extra few months. When someone is spending the amount of money on you that they are, you say, "Whatever you say, Sony." But I do feel uncomfortable that I'm touring before the record is out and that I'm performing songs that people haven't heard yet.
Sia will be performing at 7 p.m. at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $25.