Australian-born Sia gained international recognition for her soulful singing and eclectic personality. Her bubbly, childlike persona is often in sharp contrast to her sultry voice and intelligent lyrics. After over a decade in the business, Sia was poised for popular success when her fourth album, Some People Have Real Problems, debuted at number 26 on Billboard's 200.
Sia was born Sia Kate Isabelle Furler on December 18, 1975 in Adelaide, Australia. She grew up in the shadow of Australian rock royality—her uncle and godfather is Colin Hay, front man for eighties band Men at Work. Both her parents were musicians, and her father played with Men at Work and the Soda Jerx. She credits Chrissie Hynde, Sting, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin as early influences. In an interview on NPR Music in February 2008, she noted that she learned to sing by mimicking other singers. "[W]hen you sing along to something until you feel like you can sort of go unnoticed," she remarked, "after a while, I guess it's an amalgamation of all those voices."
During the 1990s Sia began gigging with bands in the Adelaide acid jazz scene, recording two albums with the band Crisp. In 1997 she released her solo debut with "Only See" and moved to London. While in London she met her boyfriend, who was struck and killed by a taxi on his birthday. The devastating loss plunged Sia into a period of depression during which she drank and took drugs. Sia's musical interests revived when a friend took her to an open mic in London. Reluctant to perform at first, Sia freestyled lyrics and melody to the '70s funk tune "All This Love That I'm Giving." One audience member, so impressed with her performance, offered to be her manager. As it turned out, the manager was more drug dealer than artist rep, so she dropped him but not after having been introduced to Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker of the down-tempo electronica group Zero 7. Sia's vocals on such singles as "Destiny" and "Distractions" from Zero 7's Simple Things garnered recognition in the United Kingdom, but she still struggled with personal problems.
Originally released in the United Kingdom in 2001 on the Long Lost Brother Records label, Healing Is Difficult, an autobiographical album, represents Sia's solo debut and is noted for the often biting, humorous lyrics, and her wide vocal range. Although the album received positive reviews and the singles "Taken for Granted," "Drink to Get Drunk," and "Little Man" reached UK chart status, its release did little to further her career.
After a three-year absence during which Sia continued to struggle with her personal demons, she released Colour the Small One in 2004 in the United Kingdom. Like her debut album, the follow-up includes autobiographical songs that explore guilt and loss. Among the tracks on the CD is "The Bully," a song cowritten with friend Beck, as well as "Breathe Me," the single that would later be heard in the final moments of the series finale of Six Feet Under. At the time of the album's release, Sia would only promote it through the music presses, and, as she acknowledged to The Advocate's Caryn Ganz, Colour the Small One "flopped considerably because of all that rad press that I didn't do." Sia's continued mental breakdown manifested itself in self-destructive cutting, and her managers sent her to a therapist. Sia emerged from therapy well-grounded and happy to produce a pop album titled H Crusader about a superhero. Ironically, Island Records, then her label, found the album too pop and too upbeat for an artist known as down-tempo, and they dropped her.
Following the meteoric popularity of "Breathe Me" after it aired on the series finale of Six Feet Under—the single shot to number one on iTunes the very next day—Colour Me was released in the United States with two bonus cuts and two remixes of "Breathe Me" in 2006. Sia and her five-piece band toured successfully that year, surprising audiences with quirky gimmicks like passing out 3D glasses that transformed stage lights into hearts. Writing for the Los Angeles Times Steve Hochman noted, "Sia earned a boisterous ovation as much as for her goofy personality as for her smoky, beautiful songs and singing."
During the interim, as Sia's star slowly rose, she continued to craft new songs. She was picked up by Starbucks' Hear Music label and released her next album, Some People Have Real Problems, in 2008 to popular and critical success. In fact, the album debuted at number 26 on Billboard's 200. The album displayed a notably more up-tempo mix of songs that continued to showcase her sardonic wit and accomplished vocal abilities.
Speaking of the genesis of the album's title, Sia told NPR Music, "We [the band] would have all these bourgeois problems. People would come in and they'd be like, ‘Oh, my coffee is bitter,’ but suddenly we started saying to each other, ‘Yeah yeah, but some people have real problems.’" This tongue-in-cheek outlook is what seems to keep Sia grounded in reality. Despite her difficult past, the singer bounces along with a contagious energy. With each new album she enhances her musical stature. Sun Times reviewer Jim DeRogatis maintained, "[Sia's] a witty, erudite, insightful and very smart lyricist with a voice that can range from a husky, jazzy purr to the sort of breathy, girlish coo that Feist tries to pull off but can't. While many artists aspire to rejecting any easy pigeonholing, Sia actually pulls it off."
For the Record …
Born Sia Kate Isabelle Furler on December 12, 1975, in Adelaide, Australia.
Sang the Australian acid jazz scene and recorded two albums with band Crisp, 1990s; recorded solo debut "Only See," 1997; moved to London, England, and sang with Jamiroquai, Massive Attack, and Zero 7; released solo debut CD Healing Is Difficult, 2001; released Colour the Small One, 2004; single "Breathe Me" (originally recorded for Colour the Small One) featured on finale series episode of Six Feet Under and reached number one on iTunes the next day, 2006; recorded live album Lady Croissant, 2007; released fourth album, Some People Have Real Problems, on Starbucks' Hear Music label, charted at number 26 on Billboard's 200, 2008.
Addresses: Record company—Starbucks Hear Music, c/o Starbucks Corporation, 2401 Utah Ave. South, Seattle, WA 98134, Web site: http://www.hearmusic.com. Web site—Sia Official Web site: http://www.siamusic.net/.
Healing Is Difficult, Long Lost Brother Records, 2001; Sony International, 2002.
Colour the Small One, Systematic, 2004.
Lady Croissant, Astralwerks/EMI, 2007.
Some People Have Real Problems, Hear Music, 2008.
Advocate, April 22, 2008.
Boston Globe, April 22, 2006; March 3, 2008.
Boston Herald, November 9, 2007.
CMJ, November 20, 2007.
Guardian, June 29, 2001.
Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2006; April 5, 2006.
New York Times, January 7, 2008.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 8, 2006; January 6, 2008; February 20, 2008.
Scotland on Sunday, March 23, 2008.
Spin, January 4, 2006.
Sun-Times News Group, February 27, 2008.
Washington Times, March 7, 2008.
"Sia," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 16, 2008).
"Sia: Colour the Small One (Go! Beat)," musicOMH.com, http://www.musicomh.com (June 16, 2008).
"Sia: Healing Is Difficult," BBC Urban Review,http://www.bbc.co.uk (June 16, 2008).
"Sia," NPR Music,http://www.npr.org (June 16, 2008).
"Sia Revels in Eccentricities," Telegram.com, http://www.telegram.com (June 16, 2008).