Sarah Blasko has changed things up yet again, with the writing and recording of her newly-released sixth album, Depth Of Field.
For a two-week period in mid-2017, Blasko was artist-in-residence at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and during this time composed and laid many of the down the tracks for Depth Of Field. While Blasko and at various points her band – Donny Benet (bass), Laurence Pike (drums) and Sarah Belkner (keys) – were ‘away from prying eyes’, much of the creative endeavour was captured on film for a documentary, Blasko, which subsequently screened on ABC-TV in November last year.
Clearly, Blasko is not one to repeat from album to album how things are done simply because they’ve been comfortable or have worked before.
“Yes and no,” she qualifies. “I have certain ideas that I kind of always adhere to, but then, I think it’s about changing the texture of things. That’s why with the last record (Eternal Return, 2015), I’d previously made two albums that had a lot of strings on them and were very natural sounding. I s’pose making Eternal Return with keyboards rather than strings was kind of a reaction to making those records. And making As Day Follows Night (2009) and I Awake (2012), very natural, acoustic records were reactions to What The Sea Wants, The Sea Shall Have (2006), which was a very densely made record – lots of layers of keyboards. And I was pretty sick of keyboards and guitars after that record (laughs).
“With this record, it’s funny, I’ve come back to quite a lot of electric guitar and keyboards. However, there’s elements of all my records on this album – lots of keyboards, lots of guitars. It’s important to keep an element of what you always want to do as well as a couple of new things to keep you learning.”
With writing and much of the recording to be accomplished within the granted fortnight, the space influenced the music as the band had not time, really, to explore the space. Some ideas opened up proceedings for the rest…
“Making It Up was probably the first song that became a thing out of the artist-in-residency, but I’d already wrote Read My Mind, the only one written before that period,” Blasko notes.
“I guess the idea there was to keep things rolling along and keep coming up with fresh ideas. And the best way to do that was to keep the instrumentation fairly simple. I had a Rhythm Ace drum machine – an old drum machine from ‘70s – that I brought up there and it’s only got so many settings. So you just lay down a beat, set a tempo and go from there. So it was pretty minimal in its instrumentation from there but although the album got a lot fuller from there – adding strings and stuff – I think that element of keeping things fairly simple was very satisfying.”
Indeed, the album as a whole sounds quite different for Blasko in terms of rhythm. There’s a sharpness, perhaps even an urgency.
“I really wanted to go for a really tight, dry drum sound,” she says. “It’s not open sounding – the kit was recorded in a very sort of tight room. It makes the drums sound really punchy. There were pretty tight drums sounds in ‘70s disco or soul music; it was quite vague in terms of specific references, but it felt important to have a pretty dry drum sound. But when the guy mixed it he actually added heaps of reverb to everything (laughs).
“It’s also the combination of drum machines and live drums. Everything started on the drum machine and it felt really weird to remove it. It felt like the roots of where the songs came from and how they worked, so we tried hard to make the drum machines and the lives drums sit really well together.”
In terms of writing, Depth Of Field finds Blasko exploring other people’s perspectives especially regarding personal relationships. It’s a jungle in there.
“I think generally, regardless of monogamous or romantic relationships, I do find it interesting the roles that people play in life and how different people can be depending on their circumstance,” she notes. “I find that really fascinating. I find it fascinating in myself and I find it fascinating in other people.
“Some people are extremely consistent. Some people, you just put them in any circumstance and they’ll be very balanced, but some people can be extremely changeable, depending on what life will throw at them. I guess I was interested in how that shapes a person; how they’re willing to see different experiences. Because, I guess, for me it sort of stems from a lot of really big life changes.”
One change in particular resonates strongly and understandably. Blasko and her partner Dave Miller (PVT) having a son in July of 2015.
“Becoming a parent is extremely challenging,” she says, “you really question your identity. I don’t know if it’s something everyone goes through, but I have definitely gone through that. It’s a real kind of question: ‘Who am I? Am I who I thought I was?’ It’s this major kind of life change and the pressures that comes from that life change can really alter a person. I see a lot of darkness in playgrounds (laughs) and you also see a lot of beautiful things. It was interesting because for the first time I’ve been in one place and in a very stable life situation. So I really felt like I was looking at a sub-culture that I hadn’t been a part of before and that I didn’t recognise.
“I guess when you’re new to something like that it becomes kind of fascinating (laughs). There’s various themes on the record, but definitely a lot of it comes from thinking, ‘What is this new lifestyle that I’ve never really seen from the inside before?’”
Sarah Blasko performs at the Rosemount Hotel on Friday, June 15. Tickets via https://rosemounthotel.oztix.com.au/Default.aspx?eventId=83314
FB event page – www.facebook.com/events/192677204800982/