Measured and quietly spoken yet readily animated and quick to laugh at herself, Sarah Blasko is set to re-imagine the smaller things on unique new run of shows. Ahead of her first ever solo tour arriving at the Astor Theatre in Perth on July 6, STEPH PAYTON spoke to Blasko about the challenge of re-evaluating yourself, having the confidence to go it alone and the inner workings of her upcoming album.
What has been the most difficult song to strip back for The Soloist tour?
Well I guess the difficult ones were the ones I didn’t end up doing (laughs). But apart from that – I don’t want to give too much away – but I do do one cover song that’s probably been the hardest one to learn because I didn’t write it. It’s got a few more chords than I’m used to. Generally I went through lots of stuff and it made sense; the ones I ended up choosing really were the ones that worked the best. I felt like I really wanted to cover all the eras of my music as well, so that kind of limited things. It was fun putting it together and it’s been really, really enjoyable.
Without giving too much away, which tracks have you been getting the most creative with in reworking, older or newer material?
In a way it’s sort of funny, I’m not really keen on completely weirding [and] making a song unusual so I’ve just stripped them back and gone along the line of feeling confident to just go really simple. I tried to make it feel like a show; there’s a lot of staging things that give it an interesting flow and vary the instrumentation – but the instrumentation itself is actually very simple. I’ve kind of gone for that because I really enjoy seeing someone do that, I don’t know if I necessarily [would] try and completely rework a song in quite a fanciful sort of sense it’s not really my forte.
You’ve spoken about how this tour is a challenge, a fresh adventure, something to test yourself. Was it the challenge you were anticipating? Were you afraid at all before setting off and are you sad you’re already half way through?
Definitely I was really nervous, I don’t actually think I’ve been as nervous as I was before the first show for a really long time; if ever. I guess the challenge is being content and feeling like you are enough on your own and that’s the scary thing. I really enjoy the people that I play with, and I have been playing with most of them for a really long time, so I enjoy that sort of bouncing off one another and I do feel like we’re a band in a lot of ways. It’s really just facing yourself and that’s been very challenging at first, but now, as I had hoped it just feels really satisfying.
I was hoping that was going to be the payoff that I ended up feeling great you know, and I have felt really great and I have sort of thought “Why haven’t I really done this up until now?” I mean, I did do this but right at the beginning when I didn’t really have the means to play with many other people, but I’ve been lucky enough to have the means to play with quite a largish band and then on tour I played with an orchestra and stuff like that. Things just kind of got bigger so it has been about getting back in touch with myself and what I can achieve.
Does it feel strange coming full circle in that sense, beginning small as an artist and evolving into 6 piece bands and orchestras and now winding back to the solitary spotlight – have you noticed a change within yourself, and how do you feed off the crowd and your own on stage energy compared to when touring with a band?
I’ve just realised I doubted myself before I started it but then – I don’t wanna blow my own trumpet – but I suppose when I got up there you know, I realised this is reminding me of when I started. I do feel so much more confident as a performer and so I feel proud of myself. It’s interesting, I do feel like I’ve come a long way.
I think it’s important to do things that remind you of why you started doing what you do in the first place, no matter what you do, anyone can relate to that. I think ageing is such a weird sort of situation because in some ways as you get older you do feel far more confident in who you are and what you can do but at the same time in some ways you feel more vulnerable, maybe you’re just more in touch with your strengths and your weaknesses? When I was sixteen I was way more confident in who I am, but I think it’s a different kind of confidence, sort of like a blind confidence when you’re really young and then when you’re older, it’s a confidence that’s come with ups and downs and all kinds of different situations.
I can’t help but think about all those things, it’s just kind of in my nature to ponder these things, but I think that’s just a good thing in life. That’s generally the people I look up to are people who constantly keep coming back to “Who am I and am I living a life that’s honest?” People that keep re-evaluating because I think it’s healthy to keep doing that, and I think it’s healthy to do this tour now and not be complacent and keep doing things that feel exciting and challenging and new.
You’ve always been a namesake in my household, and I was remembering the first song of yours that I obsessed over which was [Explain] with its sombre haunting melody, how often do you return to your older tracks, if you do, and do you still feel inspired by that original spark or does it feel as though someone else could have written it?
With some songs it does feel like someone else could have written it, I mean a song like [Explain] I’ve pretty much played every time I’ve done a tour so I do still play a lot of old songs, but I think that some songs you don’t feel like you can keep playing them; they kind of fall away over the years. The ones that still keep ringing true to you, and [Explain]’s a good example, a song that I’ve often played because I still relate to it or I bring something new to it so I think they’re the things I kind of keep gravitating towards. It would feel weird to play songs that you don’t feel as much connection to as others. But then I do try because you get an idea of the ones people wanna hear over the years and you don’t wanna be – you know – snobby with that stuff as well; a bit for me a bit for the audience.
You were recording vocals for your new album right before the tour started, does that mean there’s a finished product waiting at home or do you plan on putting in a few more loving touches when you’re off the road?
It’s starting to be mixed this week by a guy who’s in America for the next two weeks or so, so it will basically be finished by the time I finish this tour. Now I just have to work out whether I’m gonna put it out this year or wait till next year. I’ve just sort of been chipping away on it for the last six months which is exciting.
You’ve described your album as having elements from a few of your previous releases, how much influence do you find old albums have each time you head back into the song writing phase?
Well there are things that you naturally gravitate towards and for me I’m interested in strings in pop music and I have worked with someone I really enjoy working on them with so this time it naturally has elements that I was playing around with on the last record. Everything you do sort of feels like a combination of continuing a theme and yet there’s a new thread that you add to that.
My last record was maybe a little bit of a disconnection from I Awake but then I’ve always thought that the beauty of being a solo artist is that you can change the sounds around because your voice is really what holds a lot of things together. It’s hard to describe a new record, I mean it’s got strings on it, it does have keyboards but I don’t really know what it is; it’s hard to say what that style is.
You’ve said that each project is about fulfilling a lifelong dream when it comes to creating your albums, has the same applied for your latest work?
Yeah I think in the way that we wrote it did because I’ve always wanted to write songs in a live environment. Often when you’re sound checking and on tour the lights and the sounds and everything in the room – it’s really inspiring. I got offered this artist in residency thing in this theatre in Campbelltown out from Sydney and I thought this is my opportunity to do that. The idea was to recreate that feeling like we were going to do a live show so a lighting designer friend of mine set up some lighting that we could easily change and then another friend of mine was recording everything we did, then we had a massive screen up behind the stage and we could project anything we wanted – films, photos or whatever – and just sort of create this mock up feeling of doing a show but use that environment to write in.
I’ve always thought that you would come up with a lot of ideas in that space because it’s a very inspiring sort of feeling and yeah, it ended up being right. I did some of the writing out there on my own and then I brought in some other friends and we worked together and we had about thirty ideas, fairly fleshed out songs, after just ten days. I think that’s the part of this album that has been a check off the list of things you’ve always wanted to do, and it was a pretty indulgent experience because for me I love playing live and to feel like you’re in that space for two weeks is pretty satisfying.
So many of your songs seem to play at a theme of sincere yearning and longing, and you’ve said previously that most great pop songs are about what you long for, do you draw from personal inspiration or is it more the addictive feeling of being pulled into an emotion?
It’s usually based somewhere in reality and circumstances or people I know, or it can be a feeling you literally feel one day and don’t the next. This last record there’s more songs that probably aren’t from my perspective. It’s interesting in the past how people often assume things are from your perspective and they’re not. A song like All I Want, I feel like I like the fact that people think it’s from my perspective because it sounds a bit tough and cool, like this feminist sort of thing, but it was actually the words of somebody who wasn’t in love with me, so I kind of love that you write something and it might be from your perspective or it might be from someone else’s but when it comes down to it at the end of the day the listener is the one who decides what it’s about and that’s cool, and if it’s different from what I intended then that’s cooler.