Sia: The Idolator Interview
Sia Furler knows full well that she can come off like an exuberant teenager. “There’s certainly one part that’s never grown up,” the 34-year-old singer declares one chilly day in late February. “There’s like the five-year-old, there’s the adolescent and then there’s the adult—and I’m really embarrassed, because the adolescent is the one I have to watch out for.”
We’ve been watching out for Sia for a long time—though, these days, you can’t really miss her. If you’ve flipped on the television in recent months, you’ve no doubt heard the Australian singer’s ubiquitous 2004 track “Breathe Me” in the Winter Olympics-themed Coca Cola ad, or her cover of The Church’s “Under The Milky Way” in a Lincoln car MKT commercial.
And now Sia—who penned four new tracks for Christina Aguilera’s upcoming album Bionic—has found herself in the midst of a major label bidding war ahead of the release of her own fourth studio LP We Are Born. It’s a record that contains guitar work from a Strokes member and production from The Bird And The Bee mastermind Greg Kurstin. And after the jump, you’ll catch Sia revealing new details about her Christina Aguilera songs, her plans for Coachella weekend, plus her charitable dalliances in the underworld.
I see from your Twitter that you were recently enjoying the snowy hills of Ohio.
SIA: Yeah, it was amazing. You know what Snuggies are? We went to visit my girlfriend’s sister and her kid and her husband, and we went out into the snow. We couldn’t fit in Avery’s—who is two-and-a-half—sled, so we brought a couple of black garbage bags and we made ourselves a “snowgie.” And so we stuck our legs through the bottom of then and used the tie as a halter net. Then we threw ourselves down the hills and it was so awesome! And literally no joke—because my girlfriend’s sister and husband are both lawyers, they were like, “I think we should patent that!” I swear they’ve spoken to their legal department and they’ve patented it.
You seem to possess that special kid-like quality—the one that comes across most beautifully in your “Soon We’ll Be Found” video.
Well, I’m glad you like that one because I’m going to make a new video with the same director, Claire Carre. And she’s really good. I guess she hadn’t done too much before “Soon We’ll Be Found,” but I trusted her because I met with her and she seemed really smart and clever, and her treatment was the most interesting. I just said I wanted to do something with sign language and she really expanded on it.
Tell us about the video you’re doing with Claire Carre now.
With this new song—it’s called “Clap Your Hands”— I was like, “I want to cut some feathers out of self help books and then I want to attach them to a large set of pneumatic wings. And that the end I want to do some Bollywood dancing.” And she expanded on that. There were a bunch of people that pitched for it, but, again, hers was the most interesting expansion.
The track you released a few months back, “You’ve Changed,” was produced by Greg Kurstin. Did you do more songs with him for the new album?
Actually, the whole album is produced by him.
Oh, I didn’t realize! That’s great!
Well, [the label is] being very secretive about everything, which is hilarious. They keep saying, “Don’t tell anybody anything!” And I accidentally tell everybody everything. I’m like, how do you not talk about an album? This is what we’re supposed to be talking about, but we’re not supposed to be talking about it? I don’t get it. But, yeah—Greg produced the whole album. It was my usual band, and then Greg played the piano and Nick Valensi from The Strokes played the guitar. We had scheduled four weeks for it but it took two-and-a-half, so that was awesome. It just came barfing out. Then Greg took it away. Sometimes he would play the piano during the recording, and sometimes he would just pay attention and then he would add the keys later. It’s my favorite album I’ve ever made—obviously every album should feel like that! [Laughs]
That’s a common thing to say. But this time you really mean it.
Thank God. Wouldn’t it suck to be like, “I think my last album was better.”
Or: “Actually, this is the worst album I’ve ever made. But please feel free to talk it up in your post.”
Oh my God.
And how did you arrive upon the album’s title, We Are Born?
That’s just one of the lyrics in a song. There’s a song called “The Fight,” and I wrote it with Dan Carey. It’s my favorite song on the record. [Le Tigre and MEN member] JD [Samson], my girlfriend, and I were sitting at a Chinese restaurant and we were trying to think of a good name for the album. Specifically, my only caveat was that it be a name that I really wouldn’t have to explain, because with the last album I must have explained that album title like 750 times while doing promo! [Laughs] So we decided to just choose a lyric from one of the songs.
Will JD be able to join you on the road for your upcoming We Meaning You tour?
No. I think she’s going to be in Europe on tour, which is kind of a bummer. She’s got her own project, MEN, and she’ll be on tour in Europe for the whole of April. So we’ll just be doing our own thing.
I hope you’ll allow me to slip in a Le Tigre question—any chance of new music from them?
I don’t reckon. I think they’re doing a DVD right now, so you will get that. It’s like a live DVD with lots of unseen footage. It’s like a documentary, I think. And it’s looking really good. But that’s the closest you’re going to get right now.
So the Christina Aguilera songs you wrote—for the record, how many will there be?
There are four of them. I think they’re called “I Am”—I called it “Lullaby” but she’s given it another name. But I think it’s called, um—[she starts singing]—oh, “All I Need”! And it’s “All I Need,” “You Lost Me,” “I Am” and something like “Stronger.” But I don’t think she called it “Stronger” in the end. That’s just what we called it. We just call it something while it’s in the working process and then she gives it it’s name. There are some where it totally lends itself to its name and there are others where it’s just like, “No, we had a song called ‘Fighter’ so we don’t want a song called ‘Stronger.'” But they’re all on there. She’s pretty awesome. It was pretty crazy when she sang at me for the first time.
Were there any songs you two recorded that didn’t make it on the album?
No, just those four songs. Then we did another one for her movie with Cher. So it’s been a really good collaboration, actually. We really got along great. We didn’t bin anything, which was good.
So, your album was originally set to come out in April.
That’s the thing. I’m about to sign a big record deal, so there’s been a bidding war and now they’re just finalizing the paperwork. I really think we need to put the record out before the tour. It would bum me out if people couldn’t hear it before the tour. I need to call my manger! [Note: Sia tweeted after this interview that the album has now been pushed to a June 8 release date.]
Are you all ready to perform at Coachella this year?
Yeah. I’ve performed there once with Zero 7 and once with myself. I do like it. I mean, it’s a bit of a scene but it’s fine. I plan to live on the bus on this trip because I’m taking my dogs and I don’t really like hotels. I’m a creature of comfort and habit and I like to be in one place for the whole time. The things I really dislike about touring is leaving my dogs and just all the changing of your environment. I’m just trying different things to make me want to keep doing this job. Basically we’re going to park the tour bus at the hotel and they have people who will takes us to the shows. So, yeah, we’re going to be there for the whole three days, actually.
You’re involved with Crafts For A Cause, which is raising money for Haiti earthquake relief efforts. I understand it’s been tricky to obtain pain medication to send to the victims.
We tried all the legitimate ways. But there were a lot of people trying to do the same thing at the same time. And all of these charities that have their paperwork in line were obviously at the head of the queue. And so we bought drugs off the black market and we sent them over there on a chartered airplane, and [our friend who went to Haiti] had them in two days. All the money that we collected we spent on pain medication. And when they sent us a video of the children who received the pain medication—whose limbs had been dislocated from having cement fall on them—they sent a video of them saying thank you, and it was really amazing. It just made us want to do more from here. So we asked all our famous friends to start making stuff for this website Crafts For A Cause. And then we’ll hold an auction and all the money will go to Artists For Peace And Justice. And then they will forward the money to relief efforts in Haiti. It was a very stressful time knowing that was happening, and that people were experiencing a lot of pain—but the Red Cross couldn’t get to them fast enough. And, you know, going full renegade—I don’t do drugs so I don’t know any drug dealers. It was really awkward. I had to ask one of my friends who’s in recovery if she still had her connection’s phone number. I shook all day long. I’ve never done a drug deal. And then some random, sweet-looking girl comes over and brings you a tiny amount of drugs for like $5,000—and you think, what the fuck is going on here? And then you realize that the system is even more fucked, and that people without health insurance have to resort to this bullshit. What’s even more insane is that the drug dealers donated $800 worth of drugs.
That’s truly a crazy story. So let’s uh, segue to the song “Never So Big” you contributed vocals to on the upcoming David Byrne and Fatboy Slim album Here Lies Love.
I haven’t even heard it! David played me some of the other stuff when I went in to do my vocals and I was seriously blown away. The Santigold track is so amazing. And the Roisin Murphy track is so amazing. I guess maybe [Fatboy Slim] made the beats. I seriously didn’t realize he was involved at all. It was like David just emailed me and asked me if I wanted to sing on a track. I was like, um, hi—you’re David Byrne. Yes, yes, yes. The answer is always yes!