Sarah Blasko - The star from down under who's here to start all over again

Sarah Blasko, a daughter of missionaries, has three top-selling albums in Australia, but has struggled to be heard in the UK. Her latest album has changed that. She talks to Fiona Sturges
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The Independent Culture

Sarah Blasko isn't used to being invisible. In her native Australia she is an award-winning, critically-adored singer-songwriter, a bona-fide star with three platinum-selling albums under her belt. In the UK, however, she is simply another artist plying her off-kilter songs to audiences who know nothing about her.

Chances are it won't last long. Having moved to London and signed to Dramatico, the same indie label as Katie Melua, songs from Blasko's latest album As Day Follows Night are now on heavy rotation on Radio 2. Musically, she sits somewhere between Regina Spektor and Seventh Tree-era Goldfrapp, a faintly eccentric singer whose breathy, child-like vocals float beatifically above twinkly pianos, swirling strings and ominous percussion.

We meet at the Dulwich Picture Gallery just up the road from her new south London home where Blasko, 33, cuts a striking figure in a vintage orange-and-brown ankle-length dress, her reddish-brown hair sliced into a bob. Asked how it feels to be anonymous again, she observes: "There's something quite thrilling about playing to an audience that doesn't know anything about you and witnessing their reaction. It can be a different kind of pressure when people know who you are and think they know what to expect of you. I'm enjoying there being no expectations and finding out how people view my music."

It has taken years for Blasko to get distribution for her music in Europe. "There's always been this sense that I live too far away, that there's so much great music already being made here, so what would be the point?" Of her rise to fame at home, she credits the Australian radio station Triple J, which specialises in independent music and gave generous airtime to her first EP, Prelusive, for putting her on the path and helping to earn her a fistful of Aria awards, the Australian equivalents of the Brits.

Blasko is a practised, though at times reluctant, interviewee. She notes that there have been times when, in terms of her career, people tried to push her into doing things she didn't want to do though she won't be drawn on who and what. She is similarly reticent when talking about the experiences that inspired her new album, a work that pulses with the devastating realisation that a relationship is over. Beginning with the declaration that she is "Down on Love" she goes on to berate a lover, asking "How can you know me when I don't even understand me?"

"The music is a method of finding a way through pain," she says. "It's a way of talking yourself through particular experiences and trying to be hopeful at the end." Does this mean it's autobiographical? "In some ways," she replies. "The spark of it was a failed relationship but through that so many other things spring out of it and you have to face all that and try to work out where you're going. There are some sad songs there but some of them are defiant. That's the great thing about music, you can create your own world in your head and through your words, and it's such a liberating experience, to put in to words what you hope for, and in a way that's what this album is."

She is more forthcoming about her upbringing in a suburb of Sydney. Before Blasko was born her parents lived on Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, where they worked as missionaries. When her mother became pregnant the family moved back to Sydney where they struggled to find a suitable outlet for their spiritual life. Thus much of Blasko's childhood was spent moving from one church to another looking for a faith that would fulfil their needs. Eventually they settled at a Pentecostal church which, says Blasko, "was the weirdest of them all. It really took over my family life. It was all about the world ending and casting out demons and speaking in tongues. I remember being very stressed out and serious. It wasn't until I reached my twenties that I realised just how messed up it was. There was so much emphasis on what was going to happen in the afterlife, there was no room for enjoying real life, for being young and carefree. As a child, I always felt really separate from the world."

Blasko says she will never go into a church again and regards herself as agnostic. "I think there's probably something that is greater than all of this on Earth, but I don't really know how that fits into our lives. But I spent so much time thinking about what's beyond this world that I think it's really important for me to focus on the physical world that I'm in. Hopefully through that some sort of enlightenment will come."

She started singing in her teens, and had her first singing lesson when she was 19. She studied English literature and film at university, at the same time learning guitar, writing songs and singing with assorted bands. Eventually she resolved to go solo and spent another five years playing small bars and clubs. In order to make ends meet she took a series of casual jobs, including selling tickets at a cinema and looking after the elderly at a nursing home.

"I did come to a point where I wanted to give up music," she recalls. "I had just played a gig to five people and I just thought, 'what am I doing?' Luckily a friend was there who was into my music, and was really into local bands, and he wrote me a long email listing all the reasons why I shouldn't give up."

This same friend helped to finance her debut EP, since when Blasko hasn't looked back. Now, with Australia conquered, she has her work cut out convincing British audiences that she is no run-of-the-mill girl with a guitar, but a serious talent worthy of their attention. Can she pull it off? "I reckon so," she smiles. "I like to think I can rise to the challenge."

' As Day Follows Night' is out now on Dramatico Records

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