By Janine Schaults
Sia loves HBO, and with good reason. Without the premium cable channel, the Australian-born singer’s breakthrough album, “Colour the Small One,” might never have been released in the States. Along with the support of an influential L.A. radio personality, KCRW’s Nic Harcourt, it was the inclusion of the haunting piano ballad “Breathe Me” during the final, heart-stopping moments of long-running drama “Six Feet Under” that signaled Sia as a formidable solo artist.
Now with a new record out, “Some People Have Real Problems,” on Starbucks’ imprint Hear Music and Monkey Puzzle Records, Sia isn’t merely content to tackle one project at a time. Ideas constantly flow forth like Buckingham Fountain in the summer, but despite appearances of productivity, Sia claims she’s just a big fat couch potato.
“I spend most of my life in bed with the television on,” Sia says over the phone from New York from the confines of a steamy bathtub. “I have little bursts of action, like going to someone’s house, but the majority of my life is spent in bed watching TV and just thinking the ideas. And I’m lucky my managers help me make them happen—put me on a schedule.”
So in between viewings of “American’s Next Top Model,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and HBO’s raunchy series “Tell Me You Love Me,” Sia (a giggling sort prone to endlessly switching topics, who breathlessly bursts upon mentioning the relationship expose, “Do you think that’s real or are they using prosthetics? I wonder. My friend texted me that he sat next to one of the actors from that show and I asked him to ask him if it was a prosthetic or his real penis that I watched on the TV show the night before and he was too shy to ask him. I wanted the dirt!”) put together the beginnings of a movie script entitled “Sister,” which she calls a cross between “Forrest Gump” and “Rain Man” from a female perspective, completed an animated pop project called “H-Crusader” with The Bird & The Bee’s Greg Kurstin and is writing an album of nursery rhymes with Larry Goldings, James Taylor’s pianist.
Hoping to direct the screenplay when it’s completed, Sia finds the process a natural extension of creating music. “Thinking up stories and imagining relationships between people and dialogue—that comes really easy to me,” she explains. It’s the technical stuff that throws her off, even in the studio. “I can’t really write a song by myself. Someone has to be in the room and someone has to be doing the programming.” Enter in good friend Beck who lends his witty repartee to “Academia” and provides Sia with a regular ego boost.
“He says he likes my stuff, which is awesome and whenever I’m having an insecure moment I often just pull out a conversation we had where he told me he liked the records,” Sia says. “I replay that in my mind when I’m feeling like a cheesy loser.”
Before any of the aforementioned projects see the light of day, Sia must turn her full attention to promoting “Some People…,” an album that seamlessly meshes the world of electronic music and traditional singer-songwriter soul-baring fare. Alternating between childlike chirping, channeling Aretha Franklin and giving Chrissie Hynde a run for her money on the Ray Davies-penned “I Go To Sleep,” Sia’s comfort in her own skin is audible, after many years riddled with self-doubt.
“I was having a nervous breakdown and I was really vulnerable and I just felt like I was walking around like some sort of open wound. A bunch of things happened. I had a boyfriend who died and then I just got real drunk for about five years and I guess I did a bunch of drugs too, which probably didn’t help,” Sia admits. “I had always been super co-dependent and really wanted everyone around me to be OK and pleased and happy and I was always tap dancing. And I was exhausted ’cause it had been like twenty-six years of tap dancing and then I exploded. I was in a really difficult place so I quit drinking for a while [and] spent like fifty grand on therapy.”
Turning 30 also calmed Sia down. “You realize you’re inconsequential and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter if you fuck up,” she says. “And also, like, who cares, you’re not changing the world—you’re a fucking singer. There’s this reverence given to celebrities or artists, which I think is really weird.”
Songwriting is just a trade to ply like any other, according to Sia. The act shouldn’t warrant any special treatment.
“It’s like being able to paint a fucking bathroom without dripping paint on the floor. Like, that’s a fucking skill. I just think it’s really weird when nobody celebrates that as a mad skill,” Sia laments. “Like, I was trying to paint a bathroom the other day and I was like, ‘Why the fuck isn’t that painter or decorator…on the front page of Rolling Stone?'”
Sia plays February 29 at Park West, 322 West Armitage, (773)929-5959, at 7:30pm.