- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2008

A lot can change between albums — just ask Sia Furler, known to her listeners simply as Sia. Her last full-length studio record was 2004’s “Colour the Small One,” a haunting collection of melancholy, trip-hop-infused ballads that evoke both Tori Amos and Dido.

“I just wanted to make an album that was me: a small, weird, needy freak,” Sia said around the time of its release, echoing the sentiments in the breakout track “Breathe Me.” Later featured in the final episode of “Six Feet Under,” the song has her delicately crying, “Be my friend/ Hold me, wrap me up/ Unfold me/ I am small/ I’m needy/ Warm me up/ And breathe me.”

That was then. Now, the 32-year-old songstress is touring in support of “Some People Have Real Problems,” a record that is expansive and emotive, lush and lingering. Where her prior album was an emotion-filled nighttime ride on a near-empty subway car, this one is a jaunt through the countryside in a peppy vintage convertible that zooms over pop-heavy highlands and meanders through down-tempo orchestral turf.

Clearly, the album represents a new Sia. So, who is she? Someone who is “a lot happier and a lot more confident,” the artist says. “I spent $50,000 on therapy,” she adds with a boisterous laugh. She’s so up, in fact, that even a case of “bad Taco Bell” coupled with a long afternoon of phone interviews can’t dampen her spirits.

Sia has a lot to be happy about. “Some People” debuted at No. 26 (her first time on the Billboard 200); it’s available at myriad Starbucks outposts (she’s signed to the company’s Hear Music label); and its success is helping her sell out many of the dates on her current tour. Finally, she’s getting the audience she’s forever been seeking.

Born in Australia, Sia grew up listening to soul and pop music and her dad’s various bands (he played in the Soda Jerx and even Men at Work). She gigged with the acid-jazz band Crisp and tried to spark a solo career with 1997’s “OnlySee” before hopping on a plane to London, where she found work with Jamiroquai, Massive Attack and Zero 7.

The artist says that singing with the latter group was her “bread and butter” while she attempted to stake her claim as a solo artist. “I made a teacher’s salary every year” collaborating with Zero 7, she says. “I knew that I could do whatever I wanted with my solo career and never not be able to pay the mortgage. I think it gave me a lot of freedom.” Eventually, Los Angeles called, and so did some of the hottest TV shows in America. Sia placed songs on “Six Feet Under,” “The O.C.” and “Grey’s Anatomy” and found a fan in trend-setting celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. The singer’s star was soon rising.

She now lives in New York City, which she adores. “When I come off tour, I don’t go anywhere,” she says. “I live in SoHo and walk a six-mile radius — not even. More like six blocks. I’ve got everything I need around me. I walk out my door and life hits me in the face. I can be outside for five minutes and write a story about it.”

The delightful chaos she finds in Manhattan stands in stark contrast to the laid-back vibe she felt in Los Angeles. In the West Coast city, “you’re in your car, driving past people; it’s difficult to make a connection. Storytelling is difficult without human contact.”

Sia does, indeed, tell some compelling stories through her music, but that’s not what first grabs listeners; that would be her powerful, smoky voice — throaty, oh-so-soulful and not dissimilar to Nikka Costa’s.

The artist isn’t bashful. “I know I can sing,” she says. “People either like my voice, or they don’t.” Her banter and jokes at performances? Those can sometimes bomb, she admits.

So far on this tour, so good. Sia’s fans have been showering her with gifts that are as quirky and colorful as her tunes: handmade scarves, toiletries, a whoopee cushion, a tiara and other trinkets. She’s hoping her District audience is as enthusiastic.

Sia plays tonight at the 9:30 Club (www.930.com) with Har Mar Superstar. Doors open at 9 p.m.


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