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Quiet Side

Quiet Side


Chatty and chirpy when she's talking about her career as an uber-indie musician, Sia downplays her sexuality.

Thirty-two-year-old Sia Furler is the blond pixie asphyxiating herself with a plastic bag, panty hose, and other devices in the viral video for her bubbly song "Buttons." The Australian-born singer is also the ethereal voice accompanying the wrenching final scene of HBO's Six Feet Under, the jazzy vocal grooving on Zero 7's "In the Waiting Line" on the Garden State soundtrack, and the genre-hopping artist behind three solo albums, including this year's Some People Have Real Problems. But if you haven't been able to tie her name to her face to her voice until now, there's probably a very good reason.

"I've never sold this many records before, and now I know why -- I'm finally doing the work," Sia (pronounced See-ah) says, swiftly followed by the first of dozens of bursts into hysterical laughter. "I had my head up my ass. I thought I was Radiohead on my last album, and I was like, 'I'm only doing music press,' " and, she notes, "four articles equals 13,000 record sales."

Sia, who goes by only her first name professionally, scored her biggest chart success the week her textured, soulful Real Problems debuted on Billboard's top 200 pop album chart in January at number 26. It was a milestone for the spunky singer-songwriter with alternately snarly and smooth pipes, who's been bouncing around the music biz since the mid 1990s, when she was primarily a jazz crooner who hung around with B-boys in her native Adelaide. She moved to p London for a change of scenery, but just before her arrival the boyfriend she was going to see there was killed by a cab, and "I went mental," she admits frankly. After several drunken months, during which she worked as a waitress and a nanny, a friend dragged her to a jam session in an attempt to reignite her love of music.

"I was like, 'I don't know any songs except for 'Happy Birthday' and some Christmas carols, so just play one of [your standards] and I'll sing over it,' " she recalls telling the band. When the musicians struck up the funky "All This Love That I'm Giving" by '70s soul singer Gwen McCrae, Sia -- coming from Australia's hip-hop scene -- freestyled her own melody and lyrics so easily that an enthusiastic coke dealer in the crowd introduced himself as her new manager, an arrangement she accepted for a short time. When it came time to record her first solo album, "I thought I'd try to be a girl version of Eminem," Sia says of 2000's urban-tinged Healing Is Difficult, which reached the United States a year later. "I was doing a lot of drugs and drinking a lot, so that album reflects my fragmented state of mind at the time."

In 2004, Sia took an atmospheric, down-tempo approach for Colour the Small One, and despite a Beck collaboration on one track, the album "flopped considerably because of all that rad press that I didn't do," she muses. She attributes the drastic change of the album's sound to one tiny detail in her life: "I was having a nervous breakdown." Unaddressed family dramas like divorce and feelings of abandonment led the singer to engage in destructive self-cutting behaviors until her managers finally intervened and sent her to the therapist she credits with saving her life.

"After about 50 grand worth of therapy, I got really happy and made this awesome, fun pop album called H Crusader," Sia explains. The only problem was that her label wouldn't release her upbeat record about a superhero. "They were like, 'You're a down-tempo artist, you're going to confuse the fans.' And I was like, 'What fans?' " she says, unleashing a cackle. Bolstered by the "schoolteacher's salary" she collects each year thanks to her contributions to Zero 7 albums and other TV and movie royalties, she refused to budge -- and was dropped by her label.

Sia was then in limbo, working on video projects and writing pop songs she pictured being turned into hits by Paris Hilton, Shakira, Britney Spears, and the like. (She still has the pop jones: She recently released online her own morose take on Spears's "Gimme More.") But soon after, a music supervisor at Six Feet Under took to Colour's aching piano ballad "Breathe Me," a move that "totally resuscitated my career."

As a result, Colour got its U.S. release in 2006. When Sia was offered a chance to make another solo album, she gathered up the music she'd been penning and sculpted the mess of tracks (including another song with Beck) into Some People Have Real Problems. It's her maiden LP for Starbucks' Hear Music label, where she's easily one of the youngest artists and arguably the most adventurous one on a roster that includes legends like Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor. "I've got Dad, Mum, Uncle James, and then my boyfriend Kenny G," she cracks. "Me and Kenny have been going steady now on three years."

Joking about her love life comes easily for Sia, who until recently was known as a straight singer with a fervent gay fan base. This February, however, she publicly became something else: a queer singer--who's already uncomfortable with the new tag. "I've always advocated, 'It's not what you are, it's who you are,' and I'm a grown-up and I can shag whoever I like," she says of a coming-out interview on the blog After Ellen that she seems to partially regret because it's led to more questions. "I don't care if anyone wants to call me bisexual or lesbian or heterosexual or pomosexual or heteromosexual or sexual -- I don't care, but I don't really identify with any of those things."

And she doesn't want to talk about it either. Has knowing she's not straight since having her first relationship with a girl at age 21 affected her songwriting? Nope. Will she reveal whom she's currently dating (Perez Hilton has linked her to Le Tigre's JD Samson)? Can't say, sorry. The usually loquacious singer instead relies on her endless stream of hilarious quips to construct an answer: "Because I think Michael Bolton would get really jealous. And Kenny G, because, you know, I've been seeing both of them now for a long time."

There's no question Sia is completely at ease discussing intimate details of her life ("I've been on the loo with what I affectionately like to call uh-uh bum," she enthusiastically announces at the start of the interview), but she is suddenly wary of revealing too much about her new relationship out of respect to her girlfriend. "I think I was in the flourishes of new love, and I was naive," she says of the online interview. "I'm really open and honest, but that doesn't necessarily mean the person I'm with wants me to talk about everything all the time."

Because of her candor about everything from her commercial screw-ups to the condition of her digestive system, Sia's insistence that her "flexible" sexuality is no biggie -- and that it wasn't what thrust her into therapy years ago -- reads as genuine. With no publicity team carefully guiding her statements or monitoring public reaction to her spontaneous coming-out, Sia may be the first of a new breed: a rock star unaware of her own image.

"I don't read the news, and I watch reality TV," Sia admits, proudly proclaiming her preference for America's Next Top Model over Katie Couric. "I used to read the gossip websites until I was on them. Now I can't read those anymore. And that's a real bummer."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Caryn Ganz