(born Sarah Elizabeth Blaskow
, 23 September 1976) is an Australian singer-songwriter, musician and producer. From April 2002 Blasko developed her solo career after fronting Sydney-based band, Acquiesce, between the mid-1990s and 2001. She had performed under her then-married name, Sarah Semmens
, and, after leaving Acquiesce, as Sorija
in a briefly existing duo of that name. As a solo artist Blasko has released four studio albums, The Overture & the Underscore
(11 October 2004), What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have
(21 October 2006) – which peaked at No. 7 on the ARIA Albums Chart, As Day Follows Night
(10 July 2009) – which reached No. 5, and I Awake
(26 October 2012) – which made No. 9.At the ARIA Music Awards of 2007, Blasko won Best Pop Release for her second album. Her third album won the Best Female Artist in 2009 and her fourth album was nominated for the same category in 2013. In October 2010 As Day Follows Night
was listed at No. 19 in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums
; the authors noted that it "turned on emotional subtlety and instrumental clarity. It sounded like little else in 2009, or most any other year".
Sarah Blasko is the stage name of Sarah Elizabeth Blaskow who was born on 23 September 1976 and grew up in Sydney. Her family had just returned from French-speaking Réunion, where both of her parents were Christian missionaries. Blasko's mother, Ellie (died c. 2000 of bowel cancer), was a nurse and her father, Nikolai David Blaskow, was a teacher. Her father is from a Bulgarian-German background. Blasko has an older sister, Kate. Upon their return to Australia, her parents frequently changed denominations including Anglican, Baptist, Uniting, and Charismatic; and settled at a Pentecostal church in Sydney, which later became the Hillsong Church. Blasko started singing at church with her tone-deaf mother alongside. She later recalled "[m\]usic was something I kind of fell into. My sister was always the singer of the family, I wanted to be a vet. I grew up going to church which was often a very musical place".While Blasko was attending high school she formed a jazz-blues group with Kate. By the age of 15, Blasko was concerned that she "wouldn't make it" and this was partially influenced by the church's apocalyptic message of the "End of the World" and "Christ's Return". She eventually left the church in her final year of school, declaring that its emphasis on material success "just didn't fit" with her, or her interpretation of the scriptures. However, she has since stated that she still believes in "God", despite her perception that such an admission is unpopular in Australia. By the age of 18 she had written her first songs. She had no formal singing lessons until aged 19 and also started playing guitar. At university, Blasko completed a degree in English literature and film.
Acquiesce and Sorija
In the mid-1990s Blasko joined Sydney band, Acquiesce, on lead vocals, with founding members Paul Camilleri on guitar, Steve Foxe on violin, Dave Hemmings on drums, Ted Langtree on bass guitar and her sister, Kate Halcrow on harmony vocals. By 1998 tracks were co-written by Blasko and Camilleri, the group recorded an extended play, Aa for Acquiesce
, which was released in September 1999. Also that year the group won a New South Wales campus band competition and received greater local attention. Dave Cullen (of Brotherhood Lush) replaced Langtree on bass guitar and they released a single, "Breathing In", in November 2000. Both EP and single were produced by Hugh Wilson (Brotherhood Lush).Acquiesce disbanded by January 2001 and Blasko, as Sorija, teamed-up with acoustic guitarist, Nick Schneider in a short-lived project, also named Sorija. Blasko remembered that "[t\]hings started getting weird with the last band I was in when we ended up going to counselling together! This was about the time that I decided to leave and started working on some solo stuff". As an acoustic pop-electronic duo they played gigs in Sydney until April 2002. Songs performed by the duo, and written by Blasko, include "Be Tonight" and "New Religion", co-written with Schneider are "Will You Ever Know" and "Your Way", co-written with Wilson are "Sweet Surrender" and "Follow the Sun".
By April 2002 Blasko was performing as a solo artist and, in late September, she released her debut six-track EP Prelusive
, all the tracks were previously performed by Sorija. For the EP Blasko provided vocals, guitar and keyboards, and co-produced it with Schneider (also on guitar, keyboards, and flute) and Wilson (also on guitar and keyboards). Other session musicians were Jeff de Arujo on drums and Willem New on bass guitar. Two tracks were solely written by Blasko, two co-written with Schneider and two with Wilson. She launched the EP at The Hopetoun Hotel, and by October the lead track, "Your Way", had been added to national radio station Triple J's play list. She produced the music video for "Your Way", which appeared on Channel V and rage
in November.Blasko had released and promoted her material independently, with financial assistance from her then-manager, Craig New. She explained "[I was\] starting to get my head around computer home recording ... I decided to put out my own EP independently. Most of it was recorded at home. I was fortunate enough to have JJJ pick up on one of the tracks almost immediately". Blasko signed to Brisbane-based label, Dew Process, which repackaged and re-released Prelusive
in March 2003. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2003 she received her first nomination: as Best Female Artist for her work on Prelusive
and "Your Way".
On 11 October 2004, Blasko released her debut studio album, The Overture & the Underscore
, which had been recorded in Hollywood at the studio of engineer Wally Gagel during the first half of the year. She co-produced the album with Gagel and fellow songwriter Robert F. Cranny. Gagel engineered and mixed the album, with assistance from Bruce MacFarlane. Joey Waronker (Beck, Atoms for Peace) played drums and percussion on all songs, while Cranny played various instruments on the album. Blasko recalled: "I stayed in a backpackers hostel right near Hollywood Boulevard and worked on the album six days a week for two months ... I really wanted there to be something pretty classic about it. I was honestly surprised by what a 'complete' record it sounded to me when I stepped away from it".The album peaked in the Top 40 on the ARIA Albums Chart. It was reviewed by Bernard Zuel of The Sydney Morning Herald
, who felt "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". Allmusic's Tammy La Gorce finds Blasko is "an entrancing artist who sings exceptionally well but is bent on making you guess what brews within her heart rather than pouring it out to you". Triple J declared it the Feature Album of the Week because it is "a beautiful encapsulation of her life and influences and a showcase for her truly amazing voice".Three music videos were produced for album tracks: "Don't U Eva", "Always Worth It" and "Perfect Now". Her debut EP and album were focused around acoustic guitar and utilised both live and programmed drums. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2005, Blasko received four nominations: Album of the Year, Best Female Artist, Breakthrough Artist – Album, and Best Pop Release. By 2008 The Overture & the Underscore
received platinum accreditation by ARIA for shipment of over 70,000 copies.
What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have
Blasko spent April 2006 recording her second album, What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have
, in Auckland, New Zealand at Roundhead Studio, which is owned by Crowded House front man, Neil Finn. She co-produced the album with Cranny and Jim Moginie (ex-Midnight Oil); which featured musical contributions from Dave Symes, de Araujo, Moginie and Cranny, and was mixed by Victor Van Vugt. All the tracks were co-written by Blasko with Cranny. The album was released in Australia on 21 October, which debuted at No. 7 on the ARIA Albums Charts, and in 2008 it received platinum accreditation.Zuel felt the album "doesn't sound like a 15-year-old's choice. It is darker and more subdued than her debut, which sold to teens and adults and marked Blasko as an intriguing rising star; the second album is liberally spotted with regrets, plans for reconciliations and a quest to make sense of life". Susan Frances at AbsolutePunk.net rates the musicianship and production higher than Blasko's vocals, where "[she\] is made up to sound more impressive than she actually is on the album ... [she has\] a limited range so the tunes have a mundane drone. Her vocal melodies transform the girl next door to a femme fatale figure which may explain why so many of those radiant reviews for her album come from male writers". Frances summarises the album as "pleasant and relates to people who are going through a loss or a low point in their lives ... tailored for those going through woeful moods".The first radio-only single released from the album was "[explain\]" on 11 September, with a music video previously viewable at her official website. Other videos were provided for her next single, "Always on this Line", and for "Planet New Year". "Always on this Line" was listed at No. 58 and "[explain\]" at No. 79 on Triple J's Hottest 100 for 2006. In October 2006 Blasko showcased tracks from her second album with an appearance at the Legs 11 concert, a breast cancer benefit, which included Tex Perkins and Tim Rogers playing with the Sydney Youth Orchestra. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2007 Blasko won her first trophy: Best Pop Release; she was also nominated for Best Female Artist, Best Cover Art (with Sharon Chai); and Paul McKercher was nominated for Engineer of the Year for the album.
As Day Follows Night
In 2008, Blasko co-composed the score, with Stefan Gregory (sound designer), for Bell Shakespeare's production of Hamlet
, which ran from June to August. Diana Simmonds of Stage Noise was disappointed by an aspect of the opening night "[l\]ess successful on opening night at least were the songs which open and then punctuate the action, composed and performed by [Blasko\]. Her face mike and/or the sound balance muddied the lyrics and the one thing you need in Shakespeare is to hear the words". Whereas Helen Barry of Australian Stage felt Blasko was "truly sublime ... [h\]er musical accompaniments add a layer of melancholy rapture to the performance which goes to the heart of Hamlet's grief, anger and loss. Ingeniously, Blasko is incorporated into the production itself as one of the players, which creates a seamless quality to her musical interludes".While working on the Hamlet
score, Blasko also began composing for her third studio album, As Day Follows Night
. She had written all the tracks on her own – except "Over & Over", which was co-written with David Byrne – without input from long term co-writer and co-producer, Cranny. From late January 2009 Blasko recorded it in Stockholm, Sweden, and blogged on her official site about her experiences. She decided to record in a simpler and more straight forward manner – without electric guitars and keyboards. The album was produced by Bjorn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn and John) and was released in Australia on 10 July, peaking at No. 5 on the ARIA Albums Chart. It appeared in the Top 100 on European albums charts: Belgium, France, Sweden, and Switzerland.Jason Treuen described the album for Rolling Stone
(Australia) as "a bold step in [her\] journey as an artist and one that strips off the layers of her previous work to expose both her startling talent and her most naked emotions and fears". Adam Greenberg for Allmusic felt it followed "a more piano-driven path. The result is a surprising one. [Her\] voice is at once fragile and careful, holding a lot of breathy similarities to contemporary female singer/songwriters (including Feist and Sara Bareilles), while the music incorporates many contemporary touches from the meeting points between electronica and folk. Though there are pieces of tinkling, lilting modernity throughout, there are also massive throwbacks to sounds that, in today's world, are seemingly lost and gone".The lead single, "All I Want", appeared ahead of the album in May but did not reach the Australian top 50. Its third single, "We Won't Run", peaked at No. 44 on the ARIA Singles Chart, and No. 21 on the Belgian Ultratip Chart. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2009 Blasko won her second trophy: Best Female Artist; her album was also nominated for Album of the Year, Best Pop Release, and Best Cover Art (with Sharon Chai); while "All I Want" was nominated for Best Video – directed by Head Pictures, Damon Escott, Stephen Lance. By the end of the year the album had received platinum accreditation. In October 2010 it was listed at No. 19 in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums
; the authors noted that it "turned on emotional subtlety and instrumental clarity. It sounded like little else in 2009, or most any other year".In July 2009 Blasko had also released a live album, Live at the Forum
, which had been recorded during a performance at the Melbourne venue, Forum Theatre. During mid-2010 she repackaged As Day Follows Night
with Live at the Forum
for a 2× CD album. Nick Mason of The Dwarf website felt that although "[the live disc\] showcases without doubt a faithful recreation of her latest work", it was "a fairly flimsy bonus to an album that can easily stand alone in its brilliance".
Seeker Lover Keeper
During August 2010, Blasko recorded an album, Seeker Lover Keeper
, in New York for the group of the same name with fellow founding members and Australian singer-songwriters, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby. The group's debut album peaked at No. 3 on the ARIA Albums Charts in June 2011, Blasko's highest chart entry. The trio embarked on a national tour to promote the album in June and July that year. Of the album's 12 tracks each of the artists had an equal share of four tracks, however Blasko takes lead vocal on five tracks including "Rely on Me" written by Throsby, Blasko described "I was reluctant to do it but the girls kept asking me. I couldn't hear myself singing that one until Holly made me do it. I enjoyed it because the song has real generosity to it". Greenberg felt Blasko's lead vocals were on the "most memorable tracks, using her signature form of lilting power". By year's end all three artists had returned to their respective solo careers.
On 26 October 2012 Blasko issued her fourth studio album, I Awake
, which reached No. 9 on the ARIA Albums Chart. To start recording tracks she had travelled first to Sweden earlier in the year and then in May went on to Sofia where she was backed by the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra with strings arranged by Nicholas Wales. Blasko produced the album on her own as her preferred choice, Yttling, was unavailable. Beat Magazine's Chris Girdler noted "[it\] has a completely different feel to [Seeker Lover Keeper
\] ... [and\] is an insular, soul-searching piece that gets its balance from Blasko’s gorgeous vocal guiding us through the trials and tribulations, as well as a sympathetic symphonic instrumentation". Craig Mathieson at The Age
noted her last two albums were "starkly personal song cycles, staffed by jazz-inflected rhythms, sparsely exotic textures and a relentless sense of an artist getting to grips with her life. But if the previous record embraced solitude as a means of self-control, then the new one tackles coming to grips with the outside world". To promote the album, in February the next year, she toured every Australian state: where she invited the local capital city orchestra to accompany her on stage. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2013 Blasko was nominated for Best Female Artist and Best Contemporary Adult Album.
Sarah Blasko has toured extensively in Australia, as well as the US, Canada, UK and Ireland. Although the exact configuration varies, she 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.She also performed in a duo with Cranny accompanying on guitar and keyboards. In both formats, Blasko plays acoustic guitar and occasional keyboards. She has toured with folk/roots artists such as Ray LaMontagne and played outdoor rock festivals. In March 2005 she appeared at the South by Southwest festival where she wanted to "give some people who don't have a clue who you are, or those who have maybe heard a little about you, the chance to see what you do with their own eyes & ears. More than anything, you've just got to be yourself".Blasko has toured the UK and Ireland with Tom McRae, and US and Canada with Ray LaMontagne, James Blunt and Martha Wainwright. She has played at Woodford Folk Festival, The Falls Festival, Homebake, Splendour in the Grass, Festival of the Sun, WOMADelaide festival and in 2006 joined the national Big Day Out tour.In March 2007 Blasko performed a special concert in Perth, Western Australia in the Octagon Theatre of the University of Western Australia. Blasko supported by a string quartet and a local guitarist. In January 2009, Blasko played to thousands at the Southbound festival in Busselton, Western Australia. In May 2010, Sarah Blasko toured the UK supporting The Temper Trap. Later that year she also toured through the rest of Europe. In 2012, Blasko performed with Snow Patrol at their acoustic shows in Melbourne (September 30) and Sydney (October 1). She joined lead singer Gary Lightbody for the duet "Set Fire to the Third Bar".During 2013 Blasko toured Australia, in February she was supported by a different state symphony orchestra at each capital city, as well as her regular backing band: Ben Fletcher (ex-Bluebottle Kiss, The Devoted Few) on guitar and other instruments; David Hunt on piano and ukulele; Fredrik Rundqvist on drums; and David Symes on bass guitar. By July she was touring with her backing band and Fletcher was also her support act.
Sarah Blasko was married by 1998 to Cameron Semmens, a performance poet, and in the latter years of being a member of Acquiesce she performed under her married name, Sarah Semmens. Blasko and Cameron each had a complementary Shinto tattoo on their respective shoulders. The marriage lasted three years; Blasko told Zuel in 2006 that she had "an early unsuccessful marriage". Album notes for Blasko's debut solo EP, Prelusive
, acknowledge Cameron as her muse.From early 2004 Blasko worked with fellow musician, co-composer and co-producer Robert F Cranny, including on her first two albums. Prior to her third album being recorded in January 2009 their creative and personal relationship "had ended some time back".She appeared at a breast cancer benefit concert in October 2006 as "[o\]ther forms of cancer have affected my family, and I have friends whose families have been impacted by breast cancer. It made sense to me to play at such an event".Blasko has vintage taste in clothes, music and art; in 2009 she revealed in a Rolling Stone
(Australia) interview: "I like things that are old and have been lived in. It probably started as a kid when my family shopped at Vinnie's because we hardly had any money. I like things that stand the test of time". 'Vinnies' is a colloquialism for Society of Saint Vincent de Paul which runs second hand stores for needy individuals.