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Asking Sarah Blasko

After being assigned the enviable task of interviewing Sarah Blasko, I asked a mate at Sydney radio station FBi how his interview with her went. ‘You’ll develop a crush,’ he said. ‘After she left the station, my producer, assistant and I all had one.’

And it’s hard to argue with him. She’s totally likeable, intelligent and funny. Oh yeah, and she’s also released a really good album entitled The Overture & The Underscore. Think David Gray’s White Ladder fronted by Bjork without an accent and Massive Attack doing the programming. Or something similarly awesome. You can read FasterLouder’s review here, where it recently gained album of the week.

FasterLouder sat down with her at Universal Records’ well-designed headquarters in Sydney, overlooking the harbour, and discussed literature, religion and daggy Paul McCartney records.

Your lyrics are pretty literary. Do you have literary idols or books that you really like?

I studied English literature at uni, and I did heaps of old-style classics. I don’t know if any of them were really an influence, but I did a whole session on Shakespeare and a whole session on Jane Austen.

You lyrics have got that kind of Emily Bronte thing going.

She wrote Wuthering Heights, didn’t she?

I think so.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure she did. Yeah, that’s certainly an amazing work of fiction. I think there is a bit of a melancholic, dark tone to some of the stuff that I write. I’ve got a lot of religious guilt under – or over – tones… I guess it’s just an outpouring of the things that I think about, and the problems that I have.

Do you suffer from the infamous Catholic guilt?

Well, no. I didn’t have a Catholic upbringing. [I have] Protestant guilt.

So there’s a branch of Protestant guilt?

(Laughs) Perhaps. I think that, like a lot of people who grew up with a Christian upbringing, I have quite an unbalanced view on life. Deep down, I guess, there’s always this pervading sense that things are either really, really good or really, really bad. There’s not much in-between. I think that tends to come through in my music.

Do you think where we are, at the beginning of 2005, that things are good?

No, I think they’re really shit (laughs). I think there’s a lot of really bad stuff going on. I don’t know – I don’t really like to get into too many debates or deep philosophical arguments, because I find that I just dig myself into a hole.

I actually feel sort of optimistic about my life at the moment. I don’t really know…

Do you feel better about where you are now than where you’ve been the rest of your life?

I think I probably feel clearer on certain things than I ever have. But I think, sometimes… when you think you know the least you actually know the most. Is that a complete contradiction?

No. Now I’ve got my grab quote – ‘when you think you know the least, you actually know the most.’

I’m probably going to sound like an airy fairy loser with that quote. (Laughs).

But yeah, when I was younger I was quite a serious teenager. When I was about 16, I thought that I pretty much knew what life was about. You have this [attitude of] ‘right! That’s what it means! That’s what my life means, and this is where it is.’ Then you go through this fairly judgemental phase where you think that you’ve worked it all out… I think that was part of the religious upbringing thing.

I think that then, when you start to make your own mistakes, you can sort of empathise with people who also make mistakes.

You’re not a religious person?

No. Not at all. I’m not really a fan of religion. But I think that I still have some sort of faith or something. But I can’t really pinpoint what that means at this point in time.

If you weren’t playing music, what do you think you’d be doing?

I’d probably be doing something with food. I think that if this music thing doesn’t work out that I’d like to have a café or something, and cook, and become a chef or something.

Are you an accomplished chef or an aspiring accomplished chef?

Aspiring. But I can do sort of things well. I do really like produce. (Laughs).

There’s another grab quote. Where’s the strangest or best place you’ve heard your music played?

I think it was pretty strange when I woke up to the clock radio, and one of my songs was playing. It was in my dream, and then I realised it was on the radio. That was kind of funny.

When do you think you should listen to your album?

That’s an interesting one… I think it’s probably end-of-the day music, at home. Or first thing in the morning. Or last thing at night. I don’t know. (Laughs).

When do you listen to your album? Do you?

I don’t really listen to it that often. I listened to it a little while ago on my Walkman. When I was actually working on the record, I tried to listen to it as I was going to sleep. When you turn the light out, you tend to hear things that you wouldn’t otherwise listen to. Obviously that’s when you’re at your most relaxed, when you’re going to sleep. So I think that you can pick up on things that aren’t that genuine. You pick up on things that have a pretension about them.

When you do listen to it, does it sound like you or does it sound like someone else?

I think it sounds like me. That was a really important thing for me, that we didn’t use any effects on my voice. I tried to keep it pretty natural in terms of keeping imperfections. Things that some people would be like ‘ooh, you gotta’ get rid of that! That note’s a bit shaky!’ I decided to keep, just to make sure it had an intimacy.

Are you wary of using the studio as an instrument unto itself?

Yeah, definitely… when I first started recording at home, I was writing songs as a production exercise. You get a bit carried away. You want to use all the effects and the fancy stuff. I think that I’ve definitely steered away from that. I went back to just writing things on guitar, without really touching anything until I felt like I had a song.

I think different songs can be made in different ways. Some things really suit going for that [studio wizardry] thing. I think that until you really have gotten better at using equipment, you just use [the studio] as a joyride.

If someone was sorting their CD collection by genre, what other artists would be around your record?

I dunno’. I don’t really like to look at things like that, to be honest. I’m very much the kind of person who takes bits and pieces of inspiration from all kinds of things that I listen to. Different things appeal to you at different times.

It’s like trying to put your personality in a clear category. I mean, you kind of can. People can say about themselves ‘oh, I’m really sociable and really outgoing’ but then they can have tendencies to being a complete hermit, you know what I mean?

Obviously there are going to be people that I fit in the same thing as. But I don’t think I’m the person to state exactly where that may be. And I don’t really want to go there. I think other people can do that, but I don’t think I should try to do that.

Really I was just trying to get you to do my job for me. What albums did you listen to as a kiddie?

Well, like lots of kiddies, I listened to lots of Top 40. There were certainly lots of Christian albums [around me]. There was one called The Music Machine.

That sounds a little creepy.

(Laughs) Yeah, it was a little bit. That was the first record I ever had. I think I left it in the sun and it warped. It wasn’t ever the same after that. The songs sounded very creepy after that. My dad was probably the main person who played me a lot of records. He played a lot of classical music, like Ravel and – how come I’m having a mental blank right now? – he played me a lot of really daggy Paul McCartney.


No, not Wings. Just 1980s solo McCartney, which is daggier than Wings. You might remember a duet he did with Michael Jackson called Say, Say, Say – that was on one of the albums that my dad had. [He had] Olivia Newton-John.

My dad listened to a lot of soundtracks, as well. He had The Elephant Man soundtrack which really creeped me out as a kid. What else? Um, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash.

When I think about the ‘80s, I think there were a lot of really interesting pop artists, like the Eurythmics and The Cure. I think there was an arty side to some of the ‘80s pop… it was very performance orientated. [Artists then] had a really strong image… they weren’t really completely human. But at the same time the songs had some sort of haunting quality. I think the Eurythmics had a lot of really great songs in the 80s.

Have you read any reviews of your album?

Yeah, I have. I think I found it weird when I read the first one, because I was really nervous about it getting out there. I’ve been really surprised about how many people have used the words ‘Missy Higgins’ in relation to my record, because I think we’re…

Well, you’re both women, so there you go.

(Laughs) Yeah! There you go! Duh! Why didn’t I get that? I must be stupid!

Yeah, that was a real shock. I’m really fucking glad we didn’t get the same guy to produce my record that she got to produce hers. We talked to him. I actually talked to [Higgins producer] John Porter, because he did all The Smiths records. I talked to him about producing the record, but there was no way in this world I could afford for him to produce my record.

So did Missy get The Smiths producer to produce her album?

Yeah! He cost a fortune. But apparently her American record label paid for it or whatever… he was going to cost 150 000 American dollars. I was like, ‘well… maybe I’ll talk to you in a few years.’

But I’m glad. [The comparisons to Higgins] would’ve been even worse if we [had worked with the same producers]. But I’m a bit confused about [the comparisons] because I think our music is actually really, really different.

Well, today you’ll probably get questions about some sort of new wave of women finding their voices in Australia.

Yeah, yeah, perhaps.

Sarah is on tour. Check out her dates below. Her album The Overture & The Underscore is out now through Universal.

The Overture and the Underscore Tour

February 11, The Heritage Hotel, Wollongong
February 12, Cambridge, Newcastle
February 17, @Newtown, Sydney
February 18, Clarendon Guest House,  Katoomba 
February 19, Bizzo’s, Caringbah
February 24, Karova Lounge, Ballarat
February 25, Fowler’s Live,  Adelaide
February 26, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
March 4, 3 Bears Bar, Dunsborough
March 5, Rosemount Hotel, Perth
March 6, Newport Hotel, Fremantle


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Comment Added

FRANK said on the 31st Jan, 2005

Yeah that whole Missy Higgins comparison thing is lazy. Can't those reviewers actually hear the difference? Sarah has so much punch & swagger to what she does. Don't mind MH, but i get the yawns after a while... plus Sarah doesn't do the aussie folk voice


toxikon said on the 31st Jan, 2005

that was an interesting read! thanks :)


statler said on the 3rd Feb, 2005

Great interview. For sydneysiders who want to check her out, she's also playing a gig at the Roundhouse at UNSW for only $7.50 (!!).