Sia Furler‘s forthcoming album, This Is Acting (due January 29th), has a novel concept: It’s full of songs rejected by A-list artists. Furler has been successfully writing for music’s biggest names, from Adele to Beyoncé, since she crossed over to writing pop music around five years ago, after solidifying herself as a Top 40 artist with her hit single “Chandelier.” “I feel like they’re hits, but nobody wanted them,” she says of the tracks on the new LP, which have been written during the last few years. “So I thought, ‘Let’s see, as an experiment, if I’m right.'”
In anticipation of the album, Furler spoke in depth with Rolling Stone about pop music, her productivity and on becoming her clients’ “bitch” in the studio.
You’ve described songwriting for others as “play-acting,” hence the title This Is Acting. But can you take me through that mindset of writing a song with the intention of having it sung by someone else?
Sure. I probably get 20 or 30 tracks a week from my producer friends who are hoping that I’ll write lyrics and melody on top of them. I write over them in my house, and I record demos of them, in my house. I have an engineer come over. If I know Rihanna is looking for a single, I’ll actually choose tracks that sound like a Rihanna-like jam, and then I’ll start the writing process over it. That will come first with melody, and then I’ll chose lyrical content from a list of concepts I have in my phone, and whenever I think of one, I write it down.
So I’ll just scroll through all of my notes and look for concepts that feel like that particular artist. I might have something called “Bubble Gum,” and I’ll think, “Yeah, that’s not Rihanna, that’s more for a younger artist.” Or I might have something like “Liquor,” and with that as a concept, I can imagine that she would sing something about someone not being able to hold their liquor. Melody comes first, and you have to feel like she can sing it, and then I have to choose lyrical content that also feels aligned to that particular artist. That’s kind of how I do it. I’m often wrong, and then the song ends up in a different home, and sometimes it ends up in the trash.
It’s really just hit or miss, and I think the reason I’m pretty successful is actually because I’m really productive, not necessarily that I’m a great songwriter. I think I’m a good curator, so I know how to choose tracks that feel like they’re anthemic, or that seem to have an uplifting quality in the chorus. It really seems like the general public responds well to songs about salvation or overcoming something, or that everything’s going to be OK, or that things are fun. So yeah, I think that my skill is more upbeat curating, as in choosing the right tracks and then sort of trying to understand the will or nature of popular culture.