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Sarah Blasko

Sarah Blasko (born September 23, 1976) is an ARIA Award winning Australian musician. She was born in Sydney soon after her family returned from French-speaking Réunion where her parents had been missionaries. An original and largely self-reliant musical artist, Blasko is known for her writing and production skills, as well as her unique voice and stage presence.

Early history

Blasko was first heard in the mid-1990s fronting Sydney band, Acquiesce, after an initial tour of France with founding members Dave Hemmings on drums, Paul Camilleri on guitar, and her sister Kate Halcrow. With material written by Blasko and Camilleri, they recorded a single and an EP with producer Hugh Wilson, receiving some local attention.

Solo career

In 2002, Sarah decided to go solo. Material for the Prelusive EP - a result of initial explorative collaborations with Wilson but fully realised with Nick Schneider and Steve Francis - was originally recorded as demos. However, after becoming disillusioned with the indecisiveness and lack of solid commitment from the labels she met with, Blasko decided to release and promote the material independently. With the financial assistance of then-manager Craig New, she also produced a music video for the leading track, "Your Way".

The track was picked up by local community stations such as 2SER, as well as the national youth broadcaster, Triple J – who also gave light rotation to two other EP tracks, "Will You Ever Know" & "Be Tonight". "Your Way" was also featured on the test loop of fledgling Sydney community radio station 2FBi, when the station began to broadcast full-time.

After this initial success, Sarah was approached by and eventually signed to Brisbane-based label, Dew Process, who repackaged and re-released the EP. There are minor variations to the packaging of the major label release, which make the independent release slightly more valuable to collectors.

Debut album

In late 2004, Blasko released her debut album, The Overture & the Underscore, recorded in Hollywood at the studio of engineer Wally Gagel. She co-produced the album with Gagel and fellow songwriter, Robert F Cranny.

Gagel engineered and mixed the album, with some assistance from Bruce MacFarlane. Drummer Joey Waronker - a world-class studio drummer and one-time live performer with Beck & REM – played all of the drums and percussion on the album, being the only genuine musical contributor to the album outside of the two writers.

The album was met with critical acclaim and received gold accreditation in Australia, despite limited commercial radio play. In 2005 Blasko was rewarded for her work with four ARIA nominations. Of particular note was her nomination for Album of the Year.

Three music videos were produced for album tracks "Don’t U Eva", "Always Worth It" & "Perfect Now." The video for "Always Worth It" shows Blasko laying, unharmed, on the bottom of an inverted car before exiting and joyfully skipping against the stream of people heading towards the site of the wrecked vehicle. The track, "Always Worth It" featured in the final episode of US television series, Six Feet Under.

Reception

With her debut EP & album focussed around acoustic guitar and utilising both live and programmed drums, Sarah’s early recordings possessed much appeal for fans of indietronica, and in particular the more 'singer-songwriter' type artists who aspire to this kind of production. However, in contrast, Blasko's compositions venture toward grand rather than diminutive melodies and to soaring pop arrangements rather than lo-fi underplaying.

This distinction was observed by Bernard Zuel in The Sydney Morning Herald:

Blasko works in the territory where Ed Harcourt and Fiona Apple shine, taking some of the new acoustic framework (think Turin Brakes) and some of the folk-meets-electronica stuff that came out in the post-Portishead years and applies them to straightforward pop songs.

Further to this, her live interpretations of the same material display a harder edge, and a greater dynamic range than the recordings. Drummer Jeff De Araujo often applies an additional layer of broken beats and percussion to the sampled drum loops; the presence of electric guitars is more pronounced; and Sarah is known to deliver her vocals with increased rawness and energy.

Bret Gladstone, for the Associated Press, wrote of the album:

'The Overture and the Underscore' finds the 28-year-old Aussie delivering a carefully crafted collection of compositions - torn between reverence of love and weariness of a reality that obliterates it - that will satisfy anyone who has felt that Norah Jones, Radiohead and Coldplay would serve well as composite musical DNA. Steering away from swanky vocal effects like double-tracking, and, for the most part, harmonies, producer Wally Gagel hones in on the breathy, weathered velvet of Blasko's voice, valuing the authenticity of its imperfections as well as its soul-weary grace, while framing it within wide-screen sonic atmospheres at once funereal and emboldened.

Cover versions

In the period following the release of her debut album, Blasko demonstrated her enthusiasm and flair for interpreting the songs of others.

With Robert F Cranny, she produced a cover version of signature Crowded House number, "Don’t Dream It’s Over", which featured on the tribute album, She Will Have Her Way: The Songs Of Neil & Tim Finn. The track was engineered by David Trump at Big Jesus Burger studios in Sydney, and mixed by David Hemmings. In 2006, Sarah performed this song live at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

The pair have also laid claim to a fragile, stripped-back version of Underground Lovers classic "Losin’ It". Performed with voice and acoustic guitar, the song has become a favourite in their live set, and has led to a collaboration between Blasko and the song’s co-writer, Glenn Bennie, for his second album with project, GB3.

Sarah also appears on a cover of the classic Cold Chisel song, "Flame Trees", which was on the soundtrack to the Rowan Woods film, Little Fish, and featured on the 2007 Cold Chisel tribute album Standing on the Outside. This track was produced by two highly respected Australian musicians, Wayne Connolly, who has worked with iconic Australian bands such as Underground Lovers, You Am I, The Vines and more recently Youth Group, and Jim Moginie, a key member of legendary band, Midnight Oil.

Sarah has also performed a cover of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John, which appears on the ABC Records release, Triple J: Like A Version - Vol 2. She also performed the New Buffalo track, "Come Back", when that artist was forced to cancel a number of support slots in February 2005.

What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have

Sarah spent most of April 2006 recording her second album in Auckland, New Zealand at Roundhead Studio, the studio of Crowded House frontman Neil Finn.

Sarah produced the album with Robert F Cranny, and "Flame Trees" collaborator and Midnight Oil guitarist and keyboard player, Jim Moginie. The recording session was engineered by Paul McKercher, who has worked with numerous Australian bands including Glide, The Cruel Sea, You Am I and more recently Augie March.

The final addition to this all-Australian team was New York-based producer/engineer, Victor Van Vugt, who mixed the record. Van Vugt has worked on a number of Beth Orton records and has a long association with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, mixing a number of their albums as well as some Mick Harvey solo work and production efforts such as PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea.

The album features Dave Symes on bass guitar and Jeff De Araujo on drums & percussion. Jim Moginie makes cameos on a number of tracks, playing wurlitzer, piano, guitar, omnichord and other gadgets. Sarah appears throughout the record on guitar, organ, vibraphone, wurlitzer and drum programming. Robert F Cranny plays acoustic & electric guitars, piano, organ, harmonium, synthesiser, bass guitar, and wurlitzer. The choir and strings were arranged by Cranny & Blasko and conducted by Cranny.

The first radio-only single released from the album is entitled "{Explain}". It was released to Australian radio on September 11, 2006. An accompanying video clip appears on Sarah's official web site The next single is "Always On This Line". A video was made, and received play on VH1 and Max. A video was also made for "Planet New Year", in which Sarah was in love with a piano.

{Explain} and Always On This Line both made Triple J's Hottest 100 for 2006, with "{Explain}" reaching number 79 and "Always On This Line" reaching number 58. The album was also nominated for the 2006 J Award.

The album was released in Australia on October 21, 2006, and debuted at number 7 on the ARIA Albums Chart.

Touring

Sarah Blasko has toured extensively in Australia, as well as the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland. Although the exact configuration varies, Sarah performs with a five or six piece band usually consisting of drums, electric and synth bass, acoustic and electric guitar plus keyboards and various samplers/ effects units. Due to the breadth of arrangement most of the touring musicians are multi-instrumentalists.

Sarah also performs in a duo with only Cranny accompanying on guitar and keyboards. In both formats, Sarah plays acoustic guitar and occasional keyboards.

This versatility allowed her to tour with folk/roots artists such as Ray LaMontagne, as well as play outdoor rock festivals such as Australia’s famous Big Day Out.

Sarah has toured the UK and Ireland with Tom McRae, and the US and Canada with Ray LaMontagne, James Blunt and Martha Wainwright. Sarah has played at Woodford Folk Festival, The Falls Festival, Homebake, Splendour in the Grass, the Festival of the Sun, the WOMADelaide festival and in 2006 joined the national Big Day Out tour.

In March 2007 Sarah Blasko performed a special concert in Perth, Western Australia in the Octagon Theatre of the University of Western Australia. It lasted 2 hours with Blasko supported by a string quartet and a local guitarist. During the show she performed a duet with Joe McKee, frontman of local rock band Snowman.

Discography

Albums

EPs & Singles

Radio Singles

Charting on the National Airplay Charts:

  • Counting Sheep- #37
  • Perfect Now- #43
  • Always Worth It- #12
  • {Explain}- #8
  • Always On This Line- #14

Other Contributions

  • Little Fish soundtrack - "Flame Trees".
  • She Will Have Her Way: Songs of Neil and Tim Finn - "Don't Dream It's Over".
  • Like a Version 2 - "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
  • Write Your Adventures Down: A Tribute to The Go Betweens - "Bye, Bye Pride" and "Hold Your Horses" with Darren Hanlon
  • The Devoted Few Schematic Tracks Remix EP - "Nothing Ever Changes".
  • Peabody The New Violence LP - "Got You On My Radar", "The Weight Just Right", "Song For Val", & "Got Your Hooks In".
  • Nations By the River Holes in the Valley LP - "Heart Attack Romance", "Cracking Up", "Would It Be Nice" and "The Prettiest Girl".
  • Bluebottle Kiss Doubt Seeds 2LP - "Speak Up Memory" & "Dream Audit".
  • GB3 Emptiness Is Our Business LP - "Nothing In The Way".

Awards

Year Award-giving Body Award Result
2003 ARIA Award Best Female Artist (Prelusive) Nominated
2005 ARIA Award Breakthrough Artist - Album (The Overture & the Underscore) Nominated
2005 ARIA Award Best Pop Release (The Overture & the Underscore) Nominated
2005 ARIA Award Best Female Artist (The Overture & the Underscore) Nominated
2005 ARIA Award Album Of The Year (The Overture & the Underscore) Nominated
2006 Jimmies Hottest Female Artist Nominated
2006 Australian Music Prize The Amp (What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have) Nominated
2006 J Award Australian Album of the Year (What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have) Nominated
2007 ARIA Award Best Pop Release (What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have) Won
2007 ARIA Award Best Female Artist (What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have) Nominated

External links

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