Sia is not a musician I really pay attention to, I didn’t even know anything about her a few months ago, and she is still very enigmatic to me, always masking her face behind her blonde wigs and big bows… however this interview published in the Guardian is very insightful. So what did I learn?
– First, Sia is a hell of a hit writer, a hit machine who has written songs for the world’s most powerful pop stars (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Adele) and has been a guest on tracks for Kanye West and Eminem.
– But the same woman who writes ‘Diamonds’ for Rihanna, somehow, also manages to have a solo career selling millions of albums of her own.
– She has had her own battles with drugs, alcohol and depression, which worsened when she was just 17, after her boyfriend was killed by a London cab in the late 90s. She even came close to suicide twice, scratched out a suicide note in 2010 when living in New York.
– She has a thyroid condition, called Graves’ disease, and a bipolar hypomania which was undiagnosed.
– She is a very reclusive person, and doesn’t want to be a full-time pop star. She hasn’t adapted to paparazzi attention: ‘It mimics being hunted,” she says. “You are prey, and the predator is coming for you. Shakes, diarrhoea… it gives me such major, shaky anxiety and they understand. So now I tend to just hang out at people’s houses instead.’
– She works hard but this is nothing compared to the women she works for as she recalls a stay at Beyoncé’s residential songwriting sessions in the Hamptons: ‘I’m pretty sure she [Beyonce] recorded somewhere in the vicinity of 105 songs, and I know she recorded at least five or 10 of mine – and only one of them [Pretty Hurts] made her album.’ But she is not always that lucky and a songwriting session with Katy Perry was aborted after just one hour, and none of her songs made the final cut for Adele’s latest album.
– She has a lot of respect for the women she works with, because she just wants to maintain a 4-hour work week…’ A schedule like Beyoncé’s ‘would make me suicidal, thinking that for two years I just have to get on this mouse-wheel and go round the world talking about myself, and singing the same songs. I respect the women I write pop songs for, because they work hard in a way I could never do. My whole modus operandi is a four-hour work week.’
– She records herself the songs rejected by the big stars (Alive and Bird Set Free were rejected by both Adele and Rihanna)
– She works very fast and is very prolific, sometimes as fast as 14 minutes per track! But she doesn’t think she is doing it better than everyone else: ‘I love the idea of how fast can we make the song, but I don’t think that I’m necessarily like a super-talented songwriter. I think I’m just really productive. One out of 10 songs is a hit. So where a lot of people will spend three weeks on one song, I will write 10 in three weeks. Maybe the song that they sculpt is going to be as successful as just one of the 10 that I wrote.’
– She thinks writing pop songs for others is very easy: ‘When I started to write for pop people I was like, wow, this stuff is incredibly simple. I mean, extremely rudimentary and almost naive.’
– She used to be very selective regarding what she listened to: ‘Extraordinarily, well into her songwriting career she only had seven albums on her computer – by Elvis, Jeff Buckley, Dolly Parton, Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix, kd lang and the Jackson Five. She has said that music is not really a pleasure for her, but a need, ‘like shouting’’.
– She is very open about the people around her: ‘Everybody in the entertainment industry is insecure. We have been tap-dancing our entire lives for your approval and you won’t meet anybody who is in the entertainment industry who isn’t a bit fucked in the head. That’s how we got here, so if you can imagine a room full of us, it’s pretty hilarious. It’s exhausting.’
– She is very open, but at the same time she tried to keep a lot of confidences from the stars for herself, even if it’s hard: ‘I felt burdened by it, but that passed, and the more I have taken on these secrets the more I realized it was actually good for my self-esteem, to know that I am trustworthy, that I can keep all the right secrets.”
– However, there are a few exceptions, like this story about an evening at Beyoncé’s house, when the guests were playing ‘would you rathers’ around the dinner table: ‘Would you touch a pile of vomit that’s on top of a pile of shit that’s on top of $3m, with your tongue, for $3m?’… ‘I was like, I don’t know if I could do that. Beyoncé’s already got $300m, and she was all about it! She was like, ‘Yes! Yep!’
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