Sarah Blasko thought that recording her new album, I Awake, was going to kill her. Luckily, it didn’t. She finished the job, it’s fantastic and that’s all there is to it. However, she warns that if you want to record with an orchestra, you’d better think long and hard before embarking on such a treacherous, overwhelming journey.
“When you say to yourself: ‘I’m going to record with an orchestra,’ it’s a really great fantasy. But, the reality of it is a pretty full on job. We had to be really organised before we went to Bulgaria,” she says of the country whose Symphony Orchestra she borrowed. “You can’t just turn up and ask for 60 players and not know what you want.”
But Blasko, whose first album, 2004’s The Overture And The Underscore, received platinum sales and was nominated for ARIA’s for Album Of The Year and Best Female Artist, knows what she wants.
“I’ve matured and gotten older and I think I know a lot more about what I like and what I don’t like now,” she says. “I’ve developed my voice and now it’s more my own. I think you’re always going to have moments where you’re confident and not confident but I feel like I’m in a good place now with writing, recording and playing live. I feel more confident to take chances that I wasn’t before.”
While working with an orchestra was something that Blasko had planned for with I Awake, producing it herself wasn’t. She was hoping to again work with Bjorn Yttling, of Peter, Bjorn and John fame, with whom she worked with on her previous, ARIA award winning album, As Day Follows Night. However, no matter how they tried to schedule it, neither could find a mutually agreeable time to record. Eventually, Blasko recognised the signs and decided to put her very own producer hat on.
“It never seemed to work out with Bjorn so I felt an internal push to produce the album myself,” she says. “From there, I felt that I wanted it to be an album of contrast and working with an orchestra was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. A lot of music I love uses an orchestra for maximum impact and I wanted this album to have that kind of drama to it.”
I Awake is both dramatic and honestly reflective, something that Blasko has managed to achieve with all of her records to date. However, there is something of a soulful, bluesy note that underlies the music – a lonely, heartfelt note that gives the album layers of emotion communicated through rich orchestration.
Blasko says that her main inspiration for I Awake was living alone in a big house in Brighton, England. “I was living in a house right near the water and it was a pretty creative period – six months or so of writing,” she says. “Living abroad gives you a very different perspective on your life. It’s a very reflective period and you’re not in your comfort zone so you’re forced to look at yourself in a very different light. I think the album came out of the struggles of that.
“It’s wonderful to be in different places experiencing different things. I had two years of doing heaps of travelling and seeing places that I hadn’t before and I think all of those things influenced the new record.”
However, after her previous album, As Day Follows Night, won her an ARIA for Best Female Artist, Blasko says that there’s an increase of pressure on her to release a strong record with I Awake. “I think you always want to do what you perceive in your own mind as a better piece of work each time. It’s an internal pressure though,” she says. “It can be a bit daunting after you’ve done a few records and you want to do something that’s different, both for people and yourself.”
Of course, music comes naturally for the talented Blasko. While she has seen huge successes in the last ten years, she considers herself a ‘late bloomer’ with a slowly progressing career. But, she says, that’s not important. “I realised more than ever with this record that music is something that I feel really compelled to do,” she says. “Sometimes I can doubt that music is what I’m supposed to be doing but this record was all about not holding back and confidently believing in that.”
She had the same approach when she was a child. “I just used to sing in my bedroom every afternoon when I got home from school – it was just something I needed to do to relax or be happy. It’s something very nourishing,” she says.
However, she admits that while she always hoped to do music as a career, a high school music teacher once told her she “didn’t have a musical bone in her body”, although she didn’t let that deter her.
“I started writing songs before I could play anything. I didn’t pick up an instrument until I was 18 – I was quite a late bloomer,” she says. “I’ve never really learnt anything properly – I just taught myself and made it up and winged it. I’m a singer and a writer, but I’m not some kind of virtuoso. I always felt a bit out of place in the music world.”
While she may feel out of place in the music world, her fans, and the Australian public in general, feels that she’s an integral member of the Australian music elite. Her first three albums all achieved platinum sales in Australia and I Awake is tipped to be even more successful as Blasko reaches out to an even greater audience with her relatable, poignant songs.
As most of us waited with baited breath to hear Blasko’s new masterpiece, Blasko herself was, well, a little scared. “It’s kind of terrifying,” she says. “I’ve been sitting on the album for so long and that wait until it goes out there for people to hear is a bit of an anxiety ridden point in time. But, I’m also just incredibly excited because it’s something I’ve worked incredibly hard on and I’m finally releasing it into the world. Something happens when you do put it out. It clears the path a little bit and you can move forward whereas in that in-between period you’re a little stuck. I’m really excited.”
For Blasko, the album release is the first of exciting dates on the horizon. “I’m gearing up to do a big tour next year," she says. “I want to do something that’s really going to present the album in its finest, and a few little shows here and there. I’m going to be in Australia for the next six months and then I’ll release the record in Europe. It’s really nice being home, I’m loving it!”
BY KELLY THEOBALD