Feature: Jack Foley
SIA Kate Isobelle Furler, to use the name her musician parents
gave her, already has a staggering track record.
If her name itself - pronounced See-ah - isn't familiar to millions,
her voice undoubtedly is.
In 2000, the Adelaide-born singer scored a bolt from the blue
Top 10 hit with her debut single, Taken For Granted.
Pairing her unique Australian drawl with the strident strings
from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet, the track was championed
by Trevor Nelson and had Sia performing live on Jo Whiley's Radio
Her debut album, Healing
Is Difficult, arrived to similar cries of 'the next big R&B
Then, to cap it all, she added her jazzy slurs to two tracks
on Zero 7's Simple
Things album and became the unmistakable voice of the year's
coolest down-tempo soundtrack. All the pieces for a phenomenal
career seemed to be in place.
And then nothing.
"I went a bit mental after that," she explains, before
letting out a laugh that would stop traffic.
"No seriously, I needed therapy and everything."
She recovers her composure only long enough to explain that going
from hero to zero left her confused and frustrated and that it
was a really enjoyable time, those moments of feeling like a 'Coolio'!
But sadly they've passed now.
Brandishing both wicked humour and brutal honesty, it's sometimes
hard to know exactly when Sia's joking.
What is certain is that, with fragile beauty, a collaboration
with Beck and swathes of sensual soul-searching, Colour The
Small One, Healing Is Difficult's long overdue follow-up,
rekindles thoughts of an all conquering phenomenon and will surely
make her a 'coolio' once again.
Guilt, and how to deal with it, is the recurring theme, with
Sia's vulnerable voice as a beacon guiding through the pain and
"I call it easy listening," snorts Sia, trying to
keep a straight face. "That's what I've been telling everyone."
A mix of horror and hilarity dawns on her face...
"Do you think it's depressing? It's not too depressing
is it? It's meant to be nice easy, music. Songy and lush."
Whatever it is, it certainly isn't the album anyone was expecting.
Indeed, the new record would never be mistaken for R&B.
"I hated that," she cringes at the thought of the jazzy
beats and soulful grooves of her first album being tagged 'urban'.
"I just wanted to make an album that was more song driven.
And I've changed as a person. After the first album I lost it,
and this album reflects how I was feeling.
"The vocals are small and needy, because that's how I felt."
She looks momentarily troubled before adding: "Plus, I'd
tried to have a pop career and it didn't work, so I thought I'd
try something else."
More strangulated giggling. "If this doesn't work I'll fuck
off back to Australia."
Sia's vocal talents extend all the way back to her earliest memory.
But unlike most singers, she isn't exactly the product of her
Born in Adelaide, she was raised on the hippiest street in Australia.
"Everyone was a musician or worked for Circus Oz."
Her parents played in a rockabilly band called The Soda Jerks,
and her dad, 'a real nut nut' briefly played guitar in uncle Colin's
band Men At Work - yes, they of I Come From A Land Down Under
fame - but 'they kicked him out for being too in yer face'.
Early appearances singing Shangri-Las songs aside, Sia's musical
leanings didn't get serious until she joined jazz-funk bar band
Crisp at 17.
"We thought we were really cutting edge," she sniggers
with a roll of her eyes. "But we were trying way too hard."
In fact, Sia credits the biggest influence on both her and the
new album was touring with Zero 7.
"That's when I actually started listening to music,"
she says with a grimace of embarrassment.
"All the other music I'd listened to in my life had been
incidental; in clubs, cars, lifts. I only owned two CDs: a Jackson
5 anthology and Jeff Buckley's 'Grace'.
"While we were on tour, the Zero 7 guys were always talking
about artists I'd never heard of, so I bought a Discman and started
listening to their James Taylor, Nick Drake, Harry Nilsson, Randy
Newman and Django Bates CDs. And it all just really blew me away."
Colour The Small One's lyrical roots, however, run much
deeper. After three years fronting Crisp, Sia packed her bags
and headed off with an open ended ticket on a round the World
After enjoying colourful times in some unusual places, she agreed
to meet up in London with the man she describes as her 'first
true love'. A week before she arrived, he was run down and killed
by a black cab on Kensington High Street.
"Nearly everything on the first album was about that,"
she says, her chirpy facade slipping."I was pretty fucked
up after Dan died. I couldn't really feel anything. I could intellectualise
a lot of stuff; that I had a purpose, that I was loved, but I
couldn't actually feel anything.
"The last album was very deflective. This one's very exposing.
I think that's the difference between the two albums, the first
was intellectualising, this one is feeling."
Bully, the track she wrote with Beck has similarly serious
"There was this kid at school who I used to be really cruel
to, and I've felt bad about it ever since. It got to the point
where I was having nightmares about," she explained.
"The last date of the Zero 7 tour was a festival at the
Universal Amphitheatre in LA, and Beck was on the same bill.
"Next thing he's ringing Zero 7's management asking if I'd
like to duet with him."
Understandably she said yes, and found herself on stage singing
You're The One That I Want from Grease. "I suggested
it as a joke; but we changed the major to a minor, made it really
slow and turned it into a bit of a country stalker anthem."
The Beck and Zero 7 connections - Sia's already recorded two
more tracks to their next album - give the biggest clues to the
new record and the giggling Australian's current intentions.
"I don't want to be a superstar, doing all that wibbly-wobbly
stuff. It's too emotionally stressful; photo shoots always make
me want to have plastic surgery. I just wanted to write an album
that was me: a small, weird, needy freak. It's a slow burner,
but it's honest."