In modern pop, Sarah Blasko is a rare beast. On the one hand, she is a fiercely-independent free spirit whose haunting music critics have run out of superlatives to describe. On the other, the 33 year old Australian is a multi-platinum selling star whose mantelpiece houses an ever increasing array of awards and who performed at the closing ceremony of Sydney’s Commonwealth Games.
In April, Europe will have a long overdue introduction to Blasko with the release on indie label Dramatico of her ARIA Award-winning, third album, ‘As Day Follows Night’. Produced by Björn Yttling (from Peter, Bjorn and John) and recorded in a Swedish studio once frequented by Abba, ‘As Day Follows Night’ is an elegant, intelligent collection of quirky, captivating pop songs of heartbreak and hope. There are elements of folk and jazz in the album’s bold but sparse instrumentation, though don’t be fooled that this is a regular singer/songwriter record. You’ll also hear references to Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone and Talking Heads that belie the aching sadness of the lyrics, peculiar percussion and adventurous arrangements. However, most striking of all are Blasko’s bewitching vocals, at once intimate and otherworldly.
Sydney-born Blasko first found her voice singing with her mother in Pentecostal church and had a brief spell fronting bands whilst studying for a degree in English literature. Her real career began when she struck out solo in 2002. An early EP release was followed by 2004’s platinum-selling, debut album, ‘The Overture & the Underscore’ and 2007’s nautically-themed, ARIA Award-winning successor, ‘What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have’.
Recently voted Album Of The Year by Triple J, Australia’s biggest national radio network, and nominated for a mighty five ARIAs (Blasko picked up Best Female), ‘As Day Follows Night’ is already Blasko’s biggest seller. Written over several months in 2007 while she was simultaneously composing the score for the Bell Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet – in which she also performed – it is her most lyrically direct, musically simple and emotionally affecting album to date.
“My aim was to make a classic pop album,” explains Blasko. “I wanted pure, elemental songs played on acoustic instruments. I didn’t want to hide the lyrics behind electronics or effects pedals. Being involved in Hamlet at the same time was a big influence – when I wasn’t performing, I would sit backstage at the piano and write my own songs.
“Even though I hadn’t played much piano in the past, it’s my favourite instrument and I found the loneliness of its sound inspiring. It suited Hamlet and it suited my state of mind at the time. I knew from the start that I wanted all the instruments to have air in them. I wanted lots of strings and piano, double bass, jazz drums and not much guitar.”
Having made her debut album in L.A. and its follow-up at Neil Finn’s studio in Auckland, Blasko’s initial plan was to record ‘As Day Follows Night’ in Australia. However, an invitation from Yttling to come to Stockholm changed her mind.
“I loved Björn’s production on Lykke Li’s album and obviously his work with his own band,” explains Blasko. “His music has some old-fashioned elements, but also a real freshness that feels modern and embraces all sorts of sounds. So I wrote him a long email and sent some music and got back such an enthusiastic response I had to go see what we could accomplish together.
“Going to Sweden on my own to work with musicians I had never met before was a bit daunting, but also really refreshing. I like the idea of an album being an adventure. Away from home, you’re more open to new ideas. In life in general, I like to feel uncomfortable, I like to put myself through difficulties unnecessarily. Nothing good comes out of being complacent.”
Over just ten days the pair transformed Blasko’s sad, solitary songs in to bold, beguiling, warm-hearted, sonically-spectral pop, featuring strings, brass, banjo, double bass and percussion. The result, said Rolling Stone, is “as warm as Blasko has ever sounded – immaculate, organic and airy”. Long-time fan and Go-Between Robert Forster described the album as “A triumph. Blasko has written a wonderfully diverse and melodic collection….a remarkable set of songs…a wonderful record. A classic, in fact.”
The album’s intriguing adventure takes in highlights as diverse as the spaghetti-western strains of future single All I Want, the joyous pop of Hold On My Heart and Over & Over’s prickly, leftfield folk. There’s also the spooky, bluesy shudder of Lost & Defeated’s tribute to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the double bass-driven Bird On A Wire’s sizzling, old-school jazz club vibes and the album’s dreamy, debut single, We Won’t Run, released on March 22nd.
As for her first attempt to break Europe, Blasko can’t wait.
“I’ve wanted to have my music out here for a long time,” she says. “I’ve always known it was possible, but I’m a big believer in things happening at the right time. With this album, everything seems to have slo tted in to place and the timing feels perfect.”