Sia talks covering Madonna, working with Christina and gay marriage

Listening to Australian musician Sia with her full, dramatic voice can sound at times so dark, it can give you the wrong idea about her bubbly personality. When you see pictures of her or hear her talk, you want to put on a smock and finger-paint with her while doing the hokey-pokey, drinking Mr. Pibb and watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Through the years, Sia’s music has constantly changed directions and it wasn’t until recently, with the release of the first single, “You’ve Changed,” from her upcoming album We Are Born that it seems she’s finally hit her stride. talked with Sia about her new album, working with Christina Aguilera and her hopes to eventually marry her partner, JD Samson. From “Breathe Me” to “You’ve Changed” — which, I’m obsessed with that single, it makes me smile every time I hear it it’s like being on two opposite ends of a great pop universe. How do you think you’ve changed, for better or worse, between recording those two songs?
Sia: I guess I’ve become more jaded and cynical in regards to the music industry. I understand how the machinery works and it’s not actually about putting out a good song, it’s really about good marketing. But I think for me musically, I’m impressionable and when I made my first record, it was in the urban and R&B section. That’s because I was hanging out with Australian hip-hoppers. And then before I knew it I was in America and Zero 7 had said,”Do you want to play in our band and guest with us,” and I said yes. And so at the time I was listening to James Taylor and Kings of Convenience. So I made a record that was kind of what I was listening to.

Then I made a pop record because I had just started listening to pop music, and then nobody wanted it. I delivered it to Universal Records and they said, “You’re a downtempo artist. You can’t do this, you’ll confuse the fans,” and I was like, “What fans?” And they were like, “Well you know, even though there’s eight of them, you’ll confuse them,” and I was like, “Eff that! That’s what I’m delivering” and then they dropped me. [Laughs] And everybody else, all the suits and corporate type people were like, well you need to make another downtempo record. So I made Some People Have Real Problems for my desire to make a pop record and thankfully “Buttons” from that record kind of helped lead the way towards this record.

This is the album I really wanted to make. A lot of the songs on it I actually wrote five years ago. I wrote them with Greg Kirston who produced the whole record. This is an amalgamation of all of the stuff I’ve loved over the years since I was a 10-year-old. It’s a bit of Motown, the Pretenders, the Police, the Strokes, Lauryn Hill — just my favorite pop over the years. This, I think, is the first record that hasn’t been born from my surroundings; this is really everything I’ve ever loved.

I’m really happy about it and I even managed to get [Nick] Valenci to play guitar on the whole record so I really was able to get a bit of something that I loved, so that’s pretty awesome. I even did a Madonna cover — I did “Oh Father” just for fun. I hadn’t really done a lot of ballads on my album and then I went to work with Christina Aguilera and we wrote a bunch of ballads with her. Then we realized I might need another ballad. So I was like, “How about I just do a cover?” We did that and then I changed the words, but she wasn’t having that so I changed them back. You don’t want to piss off Madge.

AE: No I imagine not, off with your head! So I’ve seen from your Twitter page that you and I share a love for trashy television like The Real Housewives series and Rock of Love.
S: Yes! It’s like Madea, it’s like mythological television.

AE: Well did you hear there’s going to be a Real L Word?
S: Oh my God, no, that’s going to be so, so good.

AE: I think you and JD should be on it, flip stuff up!
S: That is rad. Well we’ve talked to Logo — we were thinking maybe of doing a show where we look for a baby daddy or something. But then we thought maybe there would be ethical issues with that and then just getting a sperm donor is way cheaper and all the legal finagling would be much easier. Also, why would we invite that kind of scrutiny into our lives, you know? [Laughs] But we did joke about it! I don’t think reality TV is for me, but watching it is groovy.

AE: What’s going on with the Crafts for a Cause thing you’re spearheading?
S: It’s good! We’ve got a lot of people to contribute things they’ve crafted and then we’re going to put it up for auction. Gratefully, the Artists for Justice and Peace are going to be the recipients and then they’re going to distribute the money in the way they see fit for Haiti. We did some renegade do-gooding.

(Note: So as to protect the people involved in her story, I’m just going to omit the actual nitty gritty. It involved getting medicine to the people of Haiti who were using nothing more than Tylenol as a pain relief as they were having their legs amputated. Suffice it to say, Sia and her friends are superheroes.)

AE: What’s going on with the H Crusaders?
S: I’ve kind of absorbed the H Crusaders. That was born from the album when I got dropped so I thought I had to create this character to put out the record. We did a lot of animation for it, we did a short film and everything. Then for this record, my management said it would be ok to absorb some of those songs I was finally able to make my pop record. So I kind of absorbed that I don’t even know if that will ever happen.

AE: Do you think you and JD might take the plunge and get married?
S: Yeah when it’s legal. It’s a bit of a bummer really. It seems weird to me that three years ago when I was going out with a dude it was fine if I got married and now that I’m going out with JD it’s not allowed. It’s kind of enraging.

AE: Have you attended any of the rallies?
S: Yeah I have, I think I’ve been to nearly all of them. I guess I was born lucky; I was born blonde hair, blue eyes and went out with men; so for the most part I was your middle Australian. Falling in love with JD has made me realize what it’s like to be a minority. Except we’re not really a minority, there are millions of us out there. It’s a bummer but it’s been a real blessing for me too because I’ve had my head in the sand.

Sia’s latest album, We Are Born comes out on June 7, and she’s leaked six tracks that are now available via her Facebook page. (Thanks to AE reader hypothesis for the tip!)