Sarah Blasko

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Sarah Blasko

Things aren’t off to a flying start with Sarah Blasko. The fault is entirely mine, given Blasko herself is as friendly and open as they come.

But after listening to her splendid fifth album, Eternal Return, and finding myself enamoured with a sweep of songs, I note the opening line of first track, ‘I Am Ready’: “I never know what to say,” sings the Sydney-sider. It seems like a portentous lyric, after years of critical and commercial acclaim, and could potentially shed some light across her musical ethos. Turns out I’ve missed the mark entirely.

“That’s not the line!’ she laughs. “It’s ‘I’ll never know what you said’.”

So much for my theory of hidden clues and secret insights. Also, my hearing. But then, obfuscation has never really been Blasko’s speciality. She has always been one to wear her heart on her sleeve, and with Eternal Return, this frankness has been invigorated.

“It’s a fairly straight-speaking album,” she says. “I don’t think there are that many hidden meanings. The first song is probably the most obscure, but even then it isn’t really obscure in any real way. I think I’ve always been trying to write a really good pop album through all of my records, and this one I tried to be a bit stricter. I really wanted it to be quite relatable. Not in the sense that I was trying to work out what people wanted to hear, but I wanted it to be a tight pop album.

“I’m not sure how that relates to the other things I’ve done in terms of dance or film or whatever. I suppose it seemed like a really fun pursuit after doing something like the Sydney Dance Company project or the film work of the last year.”

The SDC project Blasko refers to was her commission to work on Rafael Bonachela’s production, Emergence. It was not the first time she had been asked to collaborate (also recently, she composed the music for Brendan Cowell’s film Ruben Guthrie), and although it is a process that conjures unique rewards, it is not without difficulties. Collaborations, especially with other musicians, can be quite a delicate give-and-take.

“I think it’s really difficult, and I feel like a lot of times I just run away from it,” Blasko says. “It’s very revealing. You’ve got to put a lot of effort into communicating, and I would much rather just do everything myself in a room with the door closed. That’s how I started doing all this, just writing in my room. But I do think some of the best things I’ve done have been with other people.

“Some of the songs on this album were co-written, and I think they’re stronger melodically for having done that. Working with someone who comes from another musical background is going to bring so much difference, even just the chords they most often use. It was really refreshing, since I’d started writing on the piano with the door closed, and it was getting kind of boring and depressing, to be honest. I thought, ‘This isn’t what I need right now. I need to be around other people, get out of myself.’ I needed to be musically social, and it had some good results.”

In terms of balancing solace and sociability, it seems then that Blasko has found her fulcrum. Eternal Return is a strong release that catches her character well; that is, the public persona, at any rate. With a four-month-old baby demanding her attention, she has nonetheless continued to perform, and though she does indeed seem to celebrate times of creative solitude, she is also quick to joke about throwing tantrums and hurling pianos at people. The album captures this duality, and while some have heralded it as an ode to the ’80s, Blasko herself is more circumspect about such nostalgia.

“A few people have commented that the album sounds really ’80s, but I didn’t really want it to sound like a retro album. Maybe when people have heard the whole record it will change how they feel about it. I hear it as having some nostalgic qualities, but I kind of think it’s hard to place in a certain era.

“I think with each record there’s an instrument or something that informs the process. For this it was fiddling with a Prophet keyboard. I wrote quite a lot of the early stuff on that, so that is really what started the tone overall. After the last couple of records, I kind of rediscovered my interest in them – there’s so much you can do to the sound. I think you just have it in the back of your mind what you’d like to do, and wait for the right time to do it. It’s like a door suddenly opens to something new.”

Written by Adam Norris

When & Where: Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo – April 22 & The Forum, Melbourne – April 23