Interview: Sarah Blasko

Sarah Blasko
Image Courtesy of Sarah Blasko

Sarah Blasko’s brand new album, I Awake, will be released tomorrow so we thought the timing was perfect to have a chat with the Aussie singer-songwriter. Gareth Hugh Evans chatted to Blasko about recording with an orchestra, her album art installation in Sydney and her upcoming tour.

Gareth Hugh Evans: I Awake, the new album, is coming out this Friday 26th October. I’ve had a sneak peek of it and I’m really really enjoying what I’m hearing. What was the recording process like for you?

Sarah Blasko: It was quite an intense period. Early on I had thought I was going to work with Bjorn [Yttling] again, who I worked with last time, but when that didn’t work out I just had to admit to myself that deep down I wanted to produce it myself. It was really relishing the opportunity to just kind of go with that and finally do that. At times I probably put too much pressure on myself. Deciding to work with the orchestra was a really big learning experience. A lot of it was pretty collaborative – I though if I’m going to produce this myself and not work with someone like Bjorn I want to feel like I work with people that I really trust and I know well. I had a really good team of people around to see everything come to life.

GHE: If you are producing something yourself do you have to set up some kind of internal filter because you don’t have that second voice?

SB: The good thing is I think Lasse [Mårtén], who was the engineer and mixer, was someone who was nicely there and reminding me what I had told him that I wanted from the album. It was nice to have that because it was just a gentle reminder to say “ok this is what I set out to do”. I wanted to keep the band arrangements very simple so that when we included these orchestral arrangements over the top that would be the more complicated factor. I think that psychologically when you’re working as a producer you have to keep yourself motivated and in line with what your vision was. Along the way every now and then people suggest things and you have to keep holding true to what you wanted it to be.

GHE: You recorded the album in Sweden and then you went to Bulgaria to record with the orchestra, is that right?

SB: Yeah, that’s right.

GHE: How involved were you in arranging the orchestral parts? Where did they come from?

SB: I worked on them with a really good friend of mine Nicholas Wales. I recorded the bare bones of the tracks with piano, bass and drums – we did all of those live together in the studio, picked the basic tracks and then from those rough mixes Nic came over and we worked on the arrangements by looking at them as the final versions of the songs. Basically we spend about three or four weeks just going back and forth between us. I would sing him some melodies and record some bits and pieces, give that to him and he would listen to it and go away and write an arrangement. Then he’d call me when he felt like he was pretty much there and I’d go and have a listen and we’d change a few things and then he’d work on it again. It was pretty much every day for quite a solid period of time. We also did some overdubs while he was around with harp and with percussion and things like that. I was pretty specific about the way that I wanted it to interact with the music because I really was interested in it having maximum impact when the orchestra hit, for it to not just be this gentle thread through all of the songs – to hit you when it comes in. When I’ve heard orchestras used in pop music that’s how I’ve really enjoyed it.

GHE: Were you actually there when the orchestra was recorded or was that done separately?

SB: Yeah, both Nic and I went to Bulgaria and basically met up with the conductor, talked through all the charts and what we were hoping to achieve. We had just two days with the orchestra. Most things were just recorded over the band’s recordings that were already there. I did one where I actually sung with the orchestra there in Bulgaria. A song called “Here” I did there – that was just orchestra and voice.

GHE: That must have been so amazing.

SB: Yeah, it was. It was kind of the highlight of my musical life.

GHE: You’ve got a tour planned where you’ll be playing with different orchestras around Australia. Will you get a chance to rehearse with them first or will it be just them reading from the charts?

SB: Basically you rehearse during the day of the show, soundcheck and then you play the show. It’s amazing watching those people work – they’re reading and playing. We’ll have a conductor on tour and that’s what will hold it all together I think because they’re conveying the subtleties to the players.

GHE: Obviously I Awake will be the focus of the tour but will you be reworking any of your back catalogue to be played with an orchestra?

SB: Yeah I definitely will. There’s a lot of songs where I’ve had string arrangements in the past so it will just be a fuller arrangement with that many players. I’ll definitely be playing older stuff with the orchestra.

GHE: I also wanted to touch on the album installation you’ve got happening in Sydney as a way to promote the album. Did you instigate that or is did your PR company come to you with the idea?

SB: It was an idea of mine. I had it a while ago when I was working on the record and I was in Stockholm. I find it a little frustrating sometimes that the first time people hear music is often just on the Internet these days. It’s a bit of an anticlimax when I can stream the entire album before it comes out. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, I don’t know. I thought it would be nice to have a space where people can physically feel like they’re walking into the album, experiencing all of the elements of the record in maybe a bit more of a tangible way. I decided to choose this artwork from a Stockholm artist as the cover and I’ve got some photographs by a friend of mine. And also I got a video artist to do the clip. I felt that all of those things were worthy of having a little more attention brought to them. Aesthetically the whole look of the album is very clean and I felt it could really suit an art space. It was definitely something that was an idea of mine that I had a while ago and then when I got back to Sydney I realised that the council was doing a lot of pop up galleries which hasn’t been prominent in Sydney before – it’s something that’s probably a bit more common in Melbourne. I thought that was great and a good time to do it.

GHE: Well thank you so much for chatting to me today Sarah.

SB: No worries – thanks.

I Awake is released tomorrow, Friday 26th October. The album installation is open today and tomorrow between 4pm and 7pm on the Corner of Palmer St and Oxford St in Darlinghurst, Sydney. Sarah Blasko will be supporting Mumford and Sons’ Far North Queensland shows before touring with orchestras next February – the full list of dates is below:

Mumford and Sons Support:
Sunday 28th October – Kuranda Amphitheatre, Cairns, QLD
Monday 29th October – Convention Centre, Townsville, QLD
Wednesday 31st October – Convention Centre, Gold Coast, QLD

Sarah Blasko:
Friday 1st February – Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide, SA
Monday 4th February – Wrest Point Casino, Hobart, TAS
Saturday 9th February – Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 14th February – Hamer Hall, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday 17th February – Sydney Opera House, Sydney, NSW
Saturday 23rd February – Kings Park & Botanic Garden, Perth, WA

1 Comment

  1. October 26, 2012 at 13:16

    […] “I find it a little frustrating sometimes that the first time people hear music is often just on the Internet these days. It’s a bit of an anticlimax when I can stream the entire album before it comes out. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, I don’t know” – Sarah Blasko chats to Gareth Hugh Evans. Interview here […]

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