Following Sarah Blasko
Sarah Blasko is a songstress who has been compared to the likes of Missy Higgins, Emiliana Torrini, Coldplay and Radiohead. But as she smiles agreeably and speaks in a soft, thoughtful voice, such comparisons fall short of portraying the soulful strength and lyrical honesty of her unique brand of music. Tess Bertram-Jones writes.
Blasko is set to release her latest album, As Day Follows Night, in July, which comes after her applauded success with What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have, in 2006. Since her last album she has been touring non-stop, finishing up in March of last year and, after working on the Bell Shakespeare's production of Hamlet in 2008, she was simultaneously writing music for her newest album.
Blasko attributes the album title to a quote from Hamlet; "And it must follow as the night the day," which held a lasting impression and "seeped into my mind," she says. "It's like a certainty in life. To me it had a double meaning, that there will always be a positivity after hardship. Just as you're sure when the day comes you know the night will follow, the album was assured in its sound."
As Blasko explains, As Day Follows Night marks a diverse change in direction. The 12-track album is firm and deliberate, with an emphasis on lyrical and melodic simplicity. "When I started writing, I realised something different was going on. I decided I wanted to write neat songs. I didn't want to muck around. I wanted to focus on songs being beautiful and simple. The lyrics are straight forward; I wanted to write about things everyone can relate to." She laughs, "What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have was a bit fiddly, I wanted this to be clean lines - to put it architecturally! It was about getting back to the nuts and bolts."
Blasko likes to call this album the "hopeful heart-break album," explaining that, "It's about heart-break and struggle but I made a conscious effort to still twist it ever so slightly, so that there was a hopeful ending." The album takes the listener on a world odyssey, with the first single 'All I Want,' filtered with a soft western resonance, whilst others are shaded with melodies of fantasy ('Night and Day') and blues ('Bird on a Wire'.)
Blasko singles out the blues, evident throughout the album, saying, "I think the tone naturally suited that style. When I think of hardship you think of the blues." Whilst the piano is a characteristic of Blasko's music, this album marks a turn away from that usual sound, something she considers to be odd: "It's funny because I wrote it all on the piano." Instead, a stronger use of drums and heavier repetitive beats are used to create a sound that, in Blasko's words, "makes it more purposeful and stronger."
Blasko's voice is ethereal as it bows and bends over the music, in haunting echoes and sweet, unearthly reflections. Although, As Day Follows Night is something new for Sarah, it's still about the reinvention and ingenuity of sound, something fundamentally Sarah Blasko. "It's a confident album," she concludes.
Blasko speaks earnestly about the song writing process as being a little intimidating. "It always reminds me of that Seinfeld episode when George and Jerry sit down to write their sitcom. Any minute now! I end up procrastinating a little, but its sometimes one of those things that come to you, when it just feels like the moment."
As with both her previous albums, As Day Follows Night was recorded and produced overseas, this time in Stockholm. "I thought if I'm going to travel I may as well write," she says explaining the decision. Blasko was shocked when Bjorn Yttling, better known as one third of pop-assembly Peter, Bjorn and John, wanted to work with her. "He specifically tried not to listen to any of my previous work. The album could then stand for it's own."
The partnership between Blasko and Yttling was one that she learnt a great deal from. Describing him as a "fast worker, and very professional," she suggests she had never worked with someone like him. "He was very open-minded and he could change the song at any time because he didn't become attached." This attachment is something she says she has trouble with on occasion, "I can over-think things a little. He taught me you should go with your instincts. You can over-think, [but you need] to keep it fresh."
Completed in only five days, Blasko describes the experience with affection, "I am hopeful that this record will get some good releases. I think this record might be more accessible to people in different places because the themes and simplicity is accessible."
Blasko's creativity extends from her music into her illustrious video clips. Essentially quirky and eccentric, she recently shot her video clip for the first single to be released, 'All I Want,' in country Victoria. Her newest co-star is a horse.
It's not unusual for Blasko to feature oddball characters, something she says she visualizes naturally. "Like with 'Planet New Year' (from What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have), I had the image of the dancing piano in my mind when I was writing it, and then it turned into a love story." She comes to the making of her video clips with a level head: "I'll always let whoever I'm working with know what I want. I'm learning as I go along. Sometimes there is collaboration or sometimes it's all my ideas, but collaboration can sometimes make it a little confusing."
Explaining her favourite part of creating the album, Blasko suggests that it was "recording the strings. [It] is so beautiful to me and I often hear the string parts in my head when I'm writing. It gives it that warmth." Likewise, she recalls her most memorable moment from her career as "a string tour I did. We played in theatres, it was so quiet and intimate, and that's the perfect place to sing." Like her string tour, it's the more intimate spaces Blasko enjoys performing in. With a notable performance history she has become iconic for her magnetic and absorbing performances, something she is modest to welcome.
Already, Blasko has sung with the best, including Nick Cave, Neil Finn, Paul McKercher, Tom McRae, Ray LaMontagne, (who she describes as being "always so low") and Martha Wainwright; with many more people in mind for the future. "It would be great to do something with David Byrne, or Michel Gondry, he does films as well as video clips. Movies like Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind. He just seems incredible."
For the next couple of months Blasko has a firm plan, kicking off with Splendour in the Grass, followed by other gigs, until she goes overseas later in the year, with a string tour planned for September/October. Beyond that, she is unsure, saying, "I'd like to see what creeps up, I'm really happy and I'm interested to see what comes up. I would love to be able to play more overseas, to broaden [my music] like that."
When asked if she felt like a 'celeb' yet, Blasko looked aghast, "That's an odd term, celebrity." It's no doubt she is yet to consider herself one, but was quick to add, "It can be odd, It's like when I'm walking down the street and sometimes someone will give me a weird look and I'm wondering what are they staring at! Oh... Right," she says, flashing a flavoursome grin.
Photography: Cybele Malinowski