Singer Sia (Furler) lies in her Soho bedroom squealing with delight as she rips open a gift box filled with “weirdly colored” clothes. The letter enclosed, from Think PR, suggests that she might wear them to her television appearance on Conan O’Brien the following week. Sia passes the parcel to her mum, instructing her to pull out the materials while Sia completes her telephone interview. “This is the first time people have given me free shit!” she exclaims. “This is my new life.”

Only a few years ago the Australian chanteuse’s experience resembled black hoodies and dark jeans rather than brightly-hued fashion frocks. At that time Sia was mainly known in the U.S. as a guest singer for the electronic duo Zero 7, but she was also vying for a solo career. Her 2004 release, Colour the Small One sold poorly in her home country and in Europe, causing Sia to separate from her then label Go! Beat Records. She fell into a deep depression, searching for answers in various religions and therapies. “Quite generally, reality sucks,” says Sia. However, all she really needed was a boost from her friends at KCRW-FM in Los Angeles.

Two program hosts at the station also served as music supervisors for the hit HBO series Six Feet Under. They inserted Sia’s single “Breathe Me” into the closing scene of the show’s final episode, turning what had been a flop a year earlier into the most downloaded song overnight. Colour the Small One received proper release in the States in 2006 on Astralwerks Records while Sia toured with Zero 7 in support of the duo’s CD The Garden. “That was really was really lucky for me because my career was well down the toilet at that point,” says Sia.

The title for her latest album, Some People Have Real Problems, alludes to her past struggles while reminding her to keep grounded during this new stage in her life. “When it came time to decide the name, the buzz was getting pretty big. People were telling me that it was going to be successful and I better get ready for being rich and famous,” says Sia. “I got scared and I figured people would ask me about the title a lot, so it would be a good reminder to myself to not lose touch with myself and become a wanker.”

The 13-track album, (14 if you count “Buttons,” the bonus track), has a generally positive overtone that combines subtle, soulful grooves with quirky, mid-tempo pop. In addition, Sia’s acquaintance Beck guest stars on the playful, yet intelligent song “Academia,” providing barely audible baritone support. (See accompanying CD review for a more thorough description.) Some People Have Real Problems drops this January with dual distribution on Monkey Puzzle and Hear Music, a subsidiary of Starbucks. Maybe the coffee chain will send her some free clothes in exchange for her in-store appearances.

–Julie Pinsonneault

http://www.siamusic.net