Five Things: Sarah Blasko

From legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone to her stint beside the seaside in Brighton, Sarah Blasko talks us through the inspiration behind her new album I Awake.

Ennio Morricone at Royal Albert Hall, London 2010

When I first got to England I went to see [Italian composer] Ennio Morricone at Royal Albert Hall. It was quite ridiculous: 100-piece choir, 100-piece orchestra, a couple other singers and he was just conducting. And I just thought, “I’m so going to do an album with an orchestra.” [Laughs] I didn’t how it was going to happen, but it was going to happen. And then I started thinking about the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra. That was a big moment.

Did your label take a long time to get back to you on that one?

[Laughs] Not as long as I would’ve imagined. That’s why I went into such shock. It took a moment, but then I was left to my own devices for months which was pretty amazing.

Brighton, England

Even now when I hear the recordings back, I can’t help but think about Brighton. That was such a big visual part of the landscape of the album.

Is it important for you to be close to the water?

Not really. I’m living somewhere close to the water now which is nice. I’d been living in Newtown [in Sydney] for 10 to 15 years before that.

The ukulele

It really helped to inspire the album. It’s something I’ve never played before. I always thought of it as a joke instrument. [Laughs] But this particular ukulele had a warm tone. It almost sounded like a harp. The first few songs I wrote was with ukulele. That’s when I thought, “I’m seeing a different album here.” You’re always waiting for that point where it’s like, “Aha! I’ve got it. Phew!” [Laughs]

Is there a story attached to it? Where did you get it?

I just borrowed it from a friend. They left it at my house and I started playing it. I couldn’t stop playing it. I had it in the wrong tuning. I never know about tunings anyway. I’m really bad at that stuff. But it spoke to me. There was something about it. It’s that tone.

Will you play it live?

Yeah, if I’m not too scared. [Laughs]

‘Avalanche’ by Leonard Cohen

It was something I heard so many years ago. I was also listening to a lot of Serge Gainsbourg. When that orchestra comes in, it’s the full impact. They [the strings] are in or they’re out, and when they’re in they hit you in the face. That’s definitely what I wanted to do with the record. I don’t want to make a gentle orchestral album. I wanted it to be striking, scary, overwhelming – these were all words we used a lot.

Have you met Leonard Cohen?

No, I’ve never met him. I’m not sure I’d want to. [Laughs]

Paul Auster

I was having a bit of an Auster-fest at the time. I read some of his memoirs. There’s one called Hand To Mouth about his writing process and struggles. And another one that’s about his father, The Invention of Solitude. I got really caught up in his writing.

Did it inspire your own lyrics?

Yeah, it did. He’s very philosophical. I like his tone, it’s hard to put into words … I find him inspiring. I really enjoyed just reading his autobiographical stuff. He’s a very honest writer.

I Awake is out today Dew Process/UMA today (October 26).

Sarah Blasko ‘I Awake’ national tour dates

Friday, February 1 – Festival Centre, Adelaide

Monday, February 4 – Wrest Point Casino, Hobart

Saturday, February 9- Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

Thursday, February 14 – Hamer Hall, Melbourne

Sunday, February 17 – Opera House, Sydney

Saturday, February 23 – Kings Park & Botanic Garden, Perth