Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth
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Sia’s
Quiet Side

Sia’s
            Quiet Side

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.”

Tags: World, World

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