From Billie Holiday to Billy Corgan, singers are notorious for falling head over heels with melancholy and then scoring a record deal out of the affair. You would think infinite sadness would become infinitely boring after a few centuries of popular music. But as long as love is kicking us humans in the teeth, these brokenhearted ballads will continue to be our favorite songs. Holiday proved it with her sorrowful "Lover Man," and downtempo chicks in distress like Dido and Sia are making careers out of rejection and longing.
The Australian-born singer Sia Furler, whose sensuous, raspy voice is like yellow leaves crackling underfoot, has good reason to cry. Furler's first love was hit by a car and killed a week before she planned to reunite with him in England. His death inspired her critically acclaimed debut album, Healing is Difficult-a record that hit major delays and label troubles that nearly snuffed out her career before it started. Now, six years later, it seems the healing might finally be complete.
"I've had about 10,000 pounds of therapy," Furler says from her manager's office in London with an adorable Australian drawl. She punctuates each sentence with a giggle that erupts into a coughing fit from a bug she caught while working on her next album in Los Angeles. "I spend all my wages on therapy because I don't have children or a dog or a family in Ecuador to pay for. I'm a completely lucky middle-class asshole."
Though Sia provided vocals for Zero 7 and collaborated with Beck after Healing is Difficult, things were looking pretty stagnant until the HBO series Six Feet Under featured her song "Breathe Me" in the series finale. The single's instant popularity led to the American release of her second album, Colour the Small One, in 2006, two years after its release in Europe and Australia.
"I feel really good and excited," she says. "Every major label is trying to sign me and I'm in no hurry. I'm just happily trotting along making my next album, promoting Zero 7 and still promoting the fucking old Colour the Small One."
If she sounds tired of Colour the Small One, you can hardly blame her. She's been singing its songs for more than two years, and since that time has shed some of the emotional weight that made the record so potent.
Her next release, she says, will be about the brighter side of love. Furler has a new beau, and, hopefully, that means more songs like the quirky and uplifting "Butterfly" from Colour the Small One or her edgy vocals for Zero 7. Though her past two albums are lush and perfect as rainy-day soundtracks, it's when Furler gets excited that she creates the jagged and precipitous melodies that separate her from her moping peers.
"I prefer singing Zero 7 songs because I get to belt and Zero 7 stuff is all love and fun," Furler says. "The solo stuff I'm touring is from my last album when I was really doing some introspective shit. It's harder to communicate live because it's a studio album and also I'm not really in that place anymore. I'm much more chipper."
When Sia played The Casbah in April, her set was unusually short. A band member told CityBeat's music editor that it was because the crowd wasn't really paying attention-especially the peppy gal in the front row who was jabbering away on her cell phone less than two feet from the singer.
Furler says it ain't so, but don't be fooled into thinking she tunes out excessive chatter. She hears all your drunken banter from stage and distraction makes her want to do things to the offender's heart. Namely, stab it with a fork.
"I've got a low self-esteem," she explains, laughing again. "I like to give people what I think they can stand and leave in the hopes I haven't bored anyone. [I can't remember who, but] the best comment I've ever heard someone say... is, "I believe in audience participation. I sing and you shut the fuck up.'"
Sia plays with The Bird and the Bee at House of Blues on Nov. 7. Doors open at 8 p.m. $15-$20. 619-299-BLUE.