Picture by Kylie Coutts
Yesterday, Sarah Blasko explained how her life was turned upside down as the things she thought she knew about herself were shown to be far less steady. “I had to rid myself of a lot of unnecessary stuff and start again.” Read part 1 here.
In the second part of this interview, she bares more scars and explains why it hasn’t always made sense to be open.
At the same time as becoming a mother upturned her sense of self in many ways – most of them positive, but not always easy – Sarah Blasko broke off a long relationship with her managers Edrei and Bill Cullen.
It was as traumatic in its way as when she broke away from her Pentecostal church 20 years ago, affecting her sense of self, and as a professional musician. The shards of that broken partnership are scattered through her sixth album Depth Of Field.
“I think it happens when you work with someone for a really long time,” says Blasko, her hands doing half the work in many of her answers, expressive and vibrant.
“With the people that I worked with in a management level I realise that when we stopped working together that they are part of the establishment of the music world and when you cut ties with something like that you wonder …”
Her voice trails off, but soon her hands are pulling her back to the topic of confidence and trust.
“And it’s a very important distinction to make between what you do and who you are. I felt that I was cutting ties with the music industry, to be honest, and I was just floating. I thought, why is this disturbing me so much; I’ve always felt that I that I don’t like to associate that much with the music industry, psychologically. I think it’s healthy not to.
“And I thought it was interesting that I felt that way and I had to process stuff like how did you get to feeling this way when it’s not why you got into it, it’s not why you are interested in music, you actually were against that kind of thinking.
“But you think what am I without a hand to hold? Then I think once you separate those things really clearly – and I read about a lot of other artists like David Bowie who had countless managers - it’s not to lessen the importance of those people and what they do, but it was a good reminder that separation between [she laughs] church and state.
“And realising that it’s not the art itself that I’ve become disillusioned with - I actually love that process, more than I ever have - and disassociating that from the trappings of this life.”
It is not an insignificant thing even though, yes, artists generally go through several managers and Bowie’s career did reasonably well overall even with multiple managers. This is probably the closest relationship in the nearly 15 years since her first EP.
That is, what she was “letting go” of was not just a business relationship but a personal one that had been one of the foundations of her career and her confidence. Walking away unencumbered by doubts would be nigh on impossible, she concedes. Instead there came questions: Do I depend on that? Can I do it without them? Did I get here because of them?
“Then you get it in perspective and realise that it’s all a bit silly,” she says airly.
Well, yes, except it happened as some other big things in her life, not least her son, and the confluence is huge. That’s a lot of self-reflection happening right there. And when you hear something such as A Shot, which is almost brutal, or at least as brutal as what is painted as a personal betrayal, you wonder how hard that break up was.
If there is one change that seems pretty obvious on the surface of Sarah Blasko it is the fact that she is even singing and talking about this, as well as almost casually mentioning leaving the church and her mid-20s divorce as she did in part one of this interview.
But not just in this interview but in the documentary recently aired on the ABC about the early struggles she had writing this album and her recreation at the Campbelltown Arts Centre (where she was artist in residence) of a live performance atmosphere to reignite her songwriting.
Even 10 years ago both of those topics were uncomfortable, if not outright no-go areas for her. She might answer a question about it, but she wouldn’t bring it up. She certainly wouldn’t have said something like “I was broken”.
“Maybe I’m just saying it differently, I don’t really care,” says Blasko who isn’t convinced that this has come about as part of this process of upheaval. “This documentary probably revealed more than I was comfortable with revealing but I just put things out these days. I think it’s really important to assess what you are doing but it seems more important to me to keep making stuff and not to be too precious about certain elements.”
She adds: “I’ve always known what I was writing about and I didn’t necessarily know that it was obscured by things.”
This may be called somewhat disingenuous by Blasko who has, perfectly understandably, preferred people’s attention was on the music and the elliptical lyrics than on any possible inspiration for them. But then being elliptical has its reasons.
“No one likes to be typecast. I think particularly as a woman there is like an objectification that goes on, people wanting to create what they think your story is,” she says. “That’s never sat really well with me, I’ve never enjoyed that, that person’s interpretation of who you are. I’ve always tried to run away from that.”
The problem is of course that if you don’t fill that space, it leaves a vacuum that others will fill with their interpretation.
“I was more fearful of that when I was younger. As a younger woman you are belittled a little bit, or you feel that someone doesn’t quite see your potential. I’ve always been very wary of that. There’s always been an element where it feels like a little bit demeaning. But now, I’ve got stuff to lose, but it’s just …..”. And her voice trails off again.
The idea that Blasko was defined by the church experience or the marriage then, is about as useful as now thinking that she is defined by the split with management or the birth of her child. As with any life, artist or otherwise, all are important but none operate independently.
What is more interesting is how having decided to shed the things that no longer seems important as they once did – depending on others for that industry “hand holding”; obscuring the mechanics of songwriting; keeping fears internal – what does losing that weight on your psyche do for your confidence and life?
Maybe one of the things that goes is the defensiveness as you think, as she says, it doesn’t matter.
“I think defensiveness is good to a degree,” she says with a typically Blasko nervous/slightly discomforted laugh. “I am still defensive about a few things.”
This is true. If you have a public life, one where people probe into or assume facts from your private life, having defences, if not defensiveness, makes sense. But having lowered barriers somewhat, what has she learnt about herself? Or maybe what has she understood about herself?
“My strength,” she says immediately. “I don’t mean that in an airy fairy way. I started doing music from a place of blind confidence: you just step into this thing. I started when I was about 17 and I remember going to a job interview and telling the person that I was just doing this job for now until my music career took off.
“It’s arrogant to a degree but it’s not a negative kind of arrogance, it’s just a real belief in what you are capable of doing.”
The “identity shattering” time of the past few years haven’t taken away her positivity about her work’s worth but “the importance of the Campbelltown Arts Centre time was coming full circle and actually remembering, desperately remembering, who I was when I started this and why I started doing this. And who are the people who remained during this time?”
“It was all about reconnecting with me when I started writing songs in a room,” Blasko says.
And that person was and remains at her core the same. As she says at the end of that documentary, “I am a singer”.
“You get complicated over time and that complication and that depth of character is really important. But as you see with a child, the simplicity, and when I think of myself as a teenager starting music, that simplicity of vision, you are not caught up with all these other things yet.
“I think anybody going through any difficulty it’s really important to get back to those very simple concepts.”
Which is true of life or art. Or Sarah Blasko. So just as choosing to start the album with the positive preparation for self-examination that is Phantom, was deliberate, Depth Of Field ends with Leads Me Back To You, a kind of answer to the questions raised throughout the record.
“I wanted the album to feel like it’s come full circle, that it has come back to the reality of life day today,” says Blasko. “I think you have to imagine a way forward and that’s what music has the power to do: you can speak these words that hopefully propel you into the future.”
Depth Of Field is out now through EMI.
Sarah Blasko plays
Friday May 11 Great Northern, Byron Bay
Saturday May 12 The Triffid, Brisbane
Wednesday May 23 Canberra Theatre Centre, Canberra
Saturday May 26 Hobart @ Odeon Theatre, Hobart
Friday June 1 Metro Theatre, Sydney
Friday June 8 The Gov, Adelaide
Friday June 15 The Rosemount, Perth
Thursday June 21 The Capitol Theatre, Bendigo
Friday June 22 170 Russell, Melbourne