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Sarah Blasko

Sarah Blasko

Monday 9th August, 2010 1:31PM

Sarah Blasko is due to venture into our neck of the woods in a couple of weeks time, spreading her sweetly-tuned music and nostalgic notions to our shores. She talks about the inspiration behind her delightful new album, As Day Follows Night, the ups and downs of being a musician Down Under, as well as the traumatic childhood discovery of The Elephant Man soundtrack...

Having come from such an interesting background, you must’ve been exposed to a pretty diverse range of music. What did you grow up listening to?

It was quite a weird mix of things. My dad was quite a collector of records back when I was growing up so he would often buy a whole lot of bizarre records from unknown bands. But we’d also listen to a lot of classical music and really daggy ’80s Paul McCartney and Olivia Newton-John...but then some good stuff like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan and The Beatles. I guess church music was quite an area of influence as well, just being around hymns all the time. I really do feel like I had a real mish-mash of music around me because like a lot of kids I was really into Top 40 music and all the stuff my Dad was playing and jazz and all kinds of random things. I remember he had this one record which really scared me at the time when I was a child: the soundtrack to the Elephant Man...I used to always look at this cover and just be like horrified and get thanks Dad, you’ve disturbed me as a child!

What artists/bands are you really excited about at the moment?

I’m terrible at this, I always seem to have a mental blank when everyone asks me this question! There’s a lot of Australian music that I really admire like New Buffalo, Holly Throsby, Dappled Cities...I listen to a really broad range of music but at the moment, just while I was making this record, I was listening to a lot of old music, a lot of jazz and stuff so I guess I go through phases where I’m listening more to new stuff and other stages where I just wanna go further back!

You were simultaneously writing the score for the Bell Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet as well as your album. To what point did the one project influence the other?

I think they did [influence each other] in a sense because I decided very early on that the music I was writing for Hamlet was gonna be piano music, so I felt that it was going to suit the sparseness of the set and also complement such dialogue; I felt that it had to be really simple piano and it was at that stage that I started writing all my songs on piano. In the past I’d always written on guitar. So that kind of influenced it in a way and I think I realised at that point how powerful simple music can yeah I think that was another thing that really influenced the album. I realised I wanted all the instruments to be acoustic, and I wanted the songs to be honest and simple. I didn’t want it to be like I was disguising what I was talking about...but then musically I also really wanted it to be larger than life with string arrangements. I didn’t want it to be this totally sad record; I wanted it to be a bit cinematic I guess, to be a bit broader and larger than life.

Does this new, minimalistic musical approach signify a new direction for you or just a momentary area you wanted to explore?

I certainly think that I’m still on that wavelength. Things in music seem to be more and more of a throwback to ’80s electro stuff, and I think the more it goes down that path the more I feel like I wanna rebel – in a really lame way – by playing acoustic music. Maybe it’s just the way that I grew up with all that kind of music...I feel like to me it’s the beauty of real sound that moves me more and has more depth to it, you know? So I don’t know if I’ll always feel that way but I certainly feel like that at the moment. I just think that there is so much you can do...I mean, the piano can sound vastly different and there’s so much you can do with that sound.

Besides this new direction, in what other ways do you feel that this album differs from your previous work?

Well I think that that is the main way, the instrumentation is really different and the songs are a lot more honest. I really wanted to write songs in the style of old pop songs or jazz standards: very classic and simple. The messages of the songs are very obvious, very straightforward...and I think with the other albums, particularly the last record, were a lot about confusion and trying to get a hold of where your life is headed somehow, and I think that lyrically the obscured tone of writing mirrored that. Whereas with this album it was very much about baring your heart and being generous and wanting to turn those difficulties into a really positive thing. So I felt that that’s why I needed to be honest. It was definitely scary at a certain point, because I don’t think I’ve done that much in the past but it was just something I felt compelled to do.

Do you think that this album is your most self-representative to date?

I think so because with the other two records I collaborated on the writing from an early stage in the album-making process. Even though I do actually really love collaborating with people and I find that it brings out really interesting things, I think that this time just writing it completely on my own you’re not making any compromises. I mean, compromise doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing, but I think that this time not having any discussion going on at an early stage about the songs meant that it was just me in my own head, developing the vision from inside and not really discussing it in an outward sense so I think that yeah, that makes it really different. And I do think it makes it closer to what I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I felt free to do that this time.

So having written all the songs in solitude, how was it when it came to entering the studio and collaborating with Swedish muso Bjorn Yttling (from Peter, Bjorn & John fame) ?

Well it was difficult at first because you have to sort of let go a little bit, and when you’ve been holding on quite tightly to some things for a while it’s a bit difficult to do at first. But at the same time I was really ready at that stage to see what someone else thought, because I’d been sitting with my own thoughts for a while. I deliberately had made the demos very, very simple – it was really just piano and voice – and I wanted to keep the arrangements for the studio, for when I got to Sweden. I had ideas obviously in my head, but I was trying very hard not to be bound to anything in particular. I wanted to be a bit flexible with where it was gonna head, and I think that that ended up being a great thing, but it was kind of what made it difficult at the same time, because it’s hard to keep an open mind when you’ve been hearing these songs in a certain way...but I think I’m really glad that I did because it brought out some things that I don’t think I would’ve ever done on my own and that is essentially why you ask someone to produce your record; to help you to see parts of yourself that you couldn’t see.

Was the fact that Bjorn had worked with such a diverse range of artists (from Lykke Li to The Hives) what made you want him on board?

Yeah I think that was partly it. I could hear from everything he’d worked on that he must have a really broad taste in music and I could tell he appreciated pop music but liked to record it in an unusual way and that really suited me because I knew that it was a pop album I wanted but I really wanted it to be an interesting pop album. So yeah I think it was those things, he’d produced the other albums in ways that I thought were interesting and brought them out of the usual [ways of] pop instrumentation.

Your video for All I Want shows you wandering around a deserted ghost town with a horse in tow. What’s the story behind it all?

Well I guess we felt the song had a melancholy sound to it so it would suit having a Western theme. I suppose that for the character that I portrayed in the video I was very interested in the idea of a really strong women. I kind of became a bit obsessed with Frida Kahlo just recently. She does a lot of self-portraits and to me she projects the image of a very strong, artistic woman so I guess the dress that I wore was very much inspired by her. But I think that the song in general has to do with feeling very lost and alone and trying to find your own personal identity, so the idea of a kind of wandering traveller definitely made sense.

How involved were you with the album art?

From the beginning I wanted the record to sound old-fashioned but I didn’t want it to be based on any particular era. I didn’t want people to listen to it and be like, “Oh that sounds totally like it was recorded in the ’60s”. I wanted it to sound old-fashioned but for it to be difficult to place what year or time it was recorded in. But I wanted it to sound fresh and modern at the same time – so I guess with the art work I wanted it to be similar to that. When I see it I think that it looks a little bit like those photos from the ’50s that are all hand-coloured. I was pretty specific with Sharon (Chai, the cover artist) about the kind of thing I was looking for. I said I wanted it to be very, very simple because I felt that the album was simple and there couldn’t be too much going on. My idea was that it would just be like a photo, but touched up like an old-fashioned photo, and I wanted there to be a burst of colour because with the record I wanted it to be hopeful and be about change and renewal and pulling yourself out of in my mind it was like rainbows, and things were pretty evident. So that was what I told her and that was what she came up with. It is a really important thing to be a part of, because I just believe that all those little things make a difference.

A lot of the songs possess a childlike, nostalgic feel to them, most notably “Over and Over” and “No Turning Back”; was this a common theme for you on the album?

Yeah well I guess that’s what I’ve been saying, I wanted the album to have a nostalgic feel to it. I’ve got a real soft spot for the Technicolor film musicals, you know, and I wanted it to have that otherworldliness, that magical quality to it – something like the Wizard of Oz, you know? That naïveté and childlike stance was definitely what I was going for because I think it’s an interesting thing to do - particularly when a lot of the songs are very sad – just to have this bittersweet quality to the music. The instrumentation kind of elevates you and that’s what I wanted, because I didn’t want it to be just be this really sad record. I wanted the music to be playful.

What’s on the cards for Sarah Blasko’s future?

Well just try to get my music out there I guess. I’m coming there in a couple of weeks and next year I’m planning to spend quite a bit of time overseas. I feel like it’s just really important for at this stage, because things have gone pretty well for me here in Australia – and I guess a lot of musicians would relate in New Zealand – that you feel kind of removed from a lot of other music in the world. So I think it’s really time for me to get my music to other people around the world, cos I think I’ll always regret it if I don’t try.


How has growing up Down Under shaped you as an artist?

I think in some respects it does hinder you because you’re probably not pushed perhaps as much as you might be somewhere else...but on the other hand that’s kind of a nice thing because you can just slowly develop your own style and just work it out, and not feel like you’re in such a pressured environment. We’re pretty lucky down here to have space and good weather and all those things! It’s a very comfortable place which I think is on the one hand the really great thing about it, but also can be a hindering thing for people growing up.

How do you feel about your upcoming NZ tour kicking off in Christchurch, November 5th ?

I’m really excited. I just can’t believe I haven’t played shows there before! It seems a bit ridiculous since it’s so close. I guess it’s just one of those mindset things, it’s hard to know how to take the first step sometimes, but I’m glad I’m finally doing it. I think from now on I’ll make it a regular occurrence.

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