Calling from New York while lounging in bed with her two dogs, Lick Lick Science and Pantera Marvelous, Sia Furler speaks like the same soulful, slightly damaged figure heard on Some People Have Real Problems (Hear Music, 2008). Roughing it like Amy Winehouse one moment, rocking it like Chrissie Hynde the next, the former Massive Attack/Zero 7/Jamiroquai vocalist has recorded an album of classic sensual soul, complete with live band, brass and strings. Where Colour the Small One (Systematic, 2004) was an introverted affair, Some People Have Real Problems is a full-bore energy carnival. Joined by Beck (on one track) and assisted in no small way by his drummer Joey Waronker, Sia was determined to express her musical liberation.
Photo: RJ Shaughnessey
“I was really depressed when we did Colour the Small One, so I wasn't thinking about touring,” Sia says. “I was thinking about survival. I sang real quiet. But after recording and touring The Garden with Zero 7, which had a lot more fun and belt-it-out songs, I wanted to make a more fun album to sing, and I didn't want it to be put in any particular time. I wanted it to sound like it could belong to any era.”
Writing basic demos into an Apple MacBook Pro with bassist Sam Dixon and others, Sia recorded at Joey Waronker's The Bank and the Dust Brothers' Boat studios with producer Jimmy Hogarth (James Blunt, Amy Winehouse, KT Tunstall) at the helm. Tracking and mixing was achieved using an Apple Power Mac G5 running Digidesign Pro Tools|HD (and an SSL 4000 G+ board) with editing performed on a G5 running Apple Logic 7. To get that classic vibe, Hogarth used a variety of old-school mics, including Neumann U 47, M 49 and U 67s, as well as Coles 4038s, Shure SM57 and AKG C 24 into Neve 1073, Urei 1176 and Telefunken V79 mic pres. A Roland Space Echo, EMT plate reverb, Chamberlin keyboard and Moog Music Minimoog synth (all from Waronker's flush gear room) added to the album's timeless sound.
While “Little Black Sandals,” “Lentil” and “The Girl You Lost to Cocaine” were largely recorded live using edited sections that didn't always include a click track, “Playground” began as a programmed dance track, which was then fleshed out with live instruments. Experimenting further, Hogarth recorded Sia's vocals so she could react in the moment.
“Sia sang in the live room with the M 49, and I set up a stereo pair of Coles 4038s as ambient mics,” Hogarth explains. “The room was diamond shaped; she was at one corner of the diamond with the M 49 two feet away and the Coles out in the middle of the room pointing left and right. She would pull away from the M 49 and sing to one side and then the ambient mics kicked in, particularly when she got louder. She changed the parameters herself rather than us dialing it in. She could hear the mix changing in her phones as she moved around. She was getting off on it, and it made her sing a little differently than how she might otherwise.”
Well-known for her potty mouth (the 30-year-old jokingly told one publication that she enjoys rough sex; another interviewer was invited to listen to her “wee”), Sia was more thoughtful when titling Some People Have Real Problems. With possible fame and riches around the corner, Sia kept it all in perspective.
“While recording, we had rich-people problems like a bitter latte or bad traffic,” Sia remarks. “At the same time, there are people who don't have rice or are waiting for a new heart. There was a good vibe around this album; it made me think I am going to get successful and famous and rich. I knew people would ask me about the title, so it helps me to remember while it's all happening that I mustn't become a wanker.”