After years in therapy following her boyfriend's death, it's great for singer Sia Furler to be the focus of attention for all the right reasons, she tells Chitra Ramaswamy
SIA FURLER has been described as an "all-round psychotherapist's dream". I'm interested in what the 33-year-old Australian singer makes of this, though considering her analysis of herself on her MySpace page as "a unicorn fart… born out of the butthole of a unicorn called Steve", I think there may be some truth in it. When I read it out to her in her New York apartment, where she is spending two days in bed watching television and eating takeaways before heading to the UK on tour, her laughter rolls out in a throaty, deafening cackle. "That's awesome," she bellows in her broad Adelaide twang. "I hope I am a psychotherapist's dream. I've spent enough hours in therapy."
Furler, despite recently releasing her fourth solo album, is still mostly known in the UK for her work with downtempo collective Zero 7. Hers is the liquid, deep-throated voice on songs including 'Somersault', written about an ex-boyfriend from Cumbernauld, and 'Speed Dial Number Two', an ode to her therapist she wrote with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. In the States, though, Furler is well on her way to becoming a major star.
Her latest album, Some People Have Real Problems, which continues in the vein of leftfield pop and quirky balladry that has drawn comparisons to Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, entered the Billboard charts at 26 after the final moments of long-running series Six Feet Under closed to the strains of her ballad, 'Breathe Me'. Then there's the fact that the video for her single 'Buttons' is the second most watched on YouTube, ever, thanks to Furler finding a fan in celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. That success has come after so many tough years only makes it sweeter: "I'm the most comfortable that I've ever been in my whole life. I don't think I would have been able to cope if this had come in my twenties, and that's why it didn't happen. I must be ready now."
Therapy talk indeed, yet Furler is remarkably forthright and funny when it comes to speaking about her life, even its darker moments, and she has a laugh deeper and dirtier than a drain. It was more than a decade ago when she left Australia for London to seek her fortune, and meet her boyfriend, who she describes as her first love. "We were going to go travelling around Europe but I met this Israeli stripper who told me about this awesome colonic irrigation you could do in Thailand," she explains. "So I rang my boyfriend and asked if he would mind if I came a week later, even though I'd miss his birthday. He said he didn't mind. But on his birthday he got shitfaced and hailed a taxi. He ended up going under the cab and died instantly."
Furler went to London anyway, having nowhere else to go, and found herself living with 13 of her boyfriend's grief-stricken friends in a three-bedroom flat, spending most of her time drinking and taking drugs. "That was how we dealt with our grief," she says. "Then a friend rang up and said, weren't you a singer in Australia? He took me to a jam down the road and I sang. A guy who saw me and played soccer with Zero 7 ended up being my manager."
The solo record she made, Healing Is Difficult, and its follow-up, Colour The Small Ones, were strongly autobiographical, referencing this black period in her life. Interestingly, her most r ecent album is her least personal. Is that because she no longer needs to exorcise her demons on record, or thanks to the small fortune she has spent on therapy? "Absolutely, it's both those things," she says. "It was my career taking off that brought me out of it. It was being told that I was good, through, erm, my sales." She starts laughing at the truth of it.
She has most recently been in the news following an interview with gay magazine Attitude in which Furler came out and said she was dating a girl. Actually, she says, she has never made a secret of her bisexuality. "I've always been open about it," she says. "People are making a fuss of it now because I'm getting successful. I had my first boyfriend at 17 and my first girlfriend at 21 so there's nothing new here." Is any of the attention bothering her? "I don't care," is her immediate response. "I'm an advocate of, it's not what you are, it's who you are. To be honest it's confusing because all my life I've been like, 'look at me!' I always talk to people on the street and now, suddenly, people are talking back."
• Sia plays ran Mr, Glasgow (0141-357 6200), April 4. The single 'The Girl You Lost' is released on April 21