We’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Brisbane’s Sinead Burgess here at auspOp, right from her Stuart Crichton/Rai Thistlethwayte co-penned debut ‘Goodnight America’.
She’s spent time away from the pop sphere in the past couple of years, heading overseas on writing excursions to pen the material that’s ultimately found its way onto her just-released EP, ‘Wolf’.
We sat down for a Pop Chat with Sinead as part of her recent promotional duties to natter about the EP, her growth as an artist since the last release and working with two of the most respected names in the pop songwriting game.
Obviously the last time we chatted was around the debut single when Stuart Crichton was putting us in touch with each other. How have you evolved since the days of ‘Goodnight America’? Because that was a bit more mainstream pop, wasn’t it?
Yeah, definitely. I think the way I’ve probably evolved the most is that I’ve gone to my roots of organic music. It’s a big melting pot now of everything I love and everything I’ve done. It’s like any artist… you really do continually evolve and I’m super proud of this record. Lyrically I said everything that I wanted to say.
It’s a real time capsule of things that I love and things I was going through and the pain that I was in, the different relationships and all that kind of stuff. So it was really indicative of me as an artist and as a writer and as a musician at the time.
Going back to that debut single of yours… What was it like working with Stuart, given his incredible pop pedigree?
He is seriously… He’s such an awesome dude. That’s music aside… he’s just such an awesome guy. But he’s so challenging in the writing sense, because he pushes you to strive beyond what you think is good. You can be in the studio and you can be a little lazy sometimes and think, ‘oh that’s a great chorus’. But he was always the guy that was saying that we could do better, that we could beat it. And that kind of taught me to with the mentality of, ‘this is the first thing I’ve landed on… is this the strongest melody, is this holding the lyrics that I want to hold’. And if the answer was ‘no’, or if the answer was a ‘possible’, I could come back around to it… try a few different melodies to find the right one.
So he really pushed me to challenge myself as a writer. And he brought in a lot of different influences as well. Obviously, he’s very much electronic/dance world – and that was something that I’d never even experienced. I didn’t really listen to that kind of music, so he’d come in and play me some new Zedd track that hadn’t done anything yet, but eventually became a huge hit. And I’d play him something acoustic and heartfelt and we’d kind of meet somewhere in the middle.
Obviously you’d have been able to learn an incredible amount from him…
Did you reconnect with him whilst you were in the US?
We’ve tried so many times to catch up and the awesome part is that he’s so busy right now because he’s working with some great acts over there.
I know! It sucks!
So the move to LA kinda worked out for him…!
Yeah, I’m stoked for him. That kind of stuff that he’s doing at the moment with the artists he’s working with… He’s even said that he’s growing so much as a producer, which is hard to fathom, because he’s already amazing. But we’re actually going to catch up next time I’m in LA. We cross paths all the time. We always text when I’m there, but we’ve not had the chance.
So talking about this relocation to the US, which you did for the EP. What brought that about? What were the reasons for heading Stateside?
In this period where I was getting introspective and trying to figure out what I wanted to say in my music, I did a lot of travelling. I did a month in the States; LA, Nashville and New York, and then I did a month in London. So just writing with different producers, different writers. A big soul searching trip – it was awesome.
‘Wolf’ was the first song that I wrote and I thought it was probably the most indicative song of all the things I’d wanted to do. It had the lyrics that really meant something to me. It had the right amount of toughness and aggression in the track, but still had a vulnerable side. And I thought it was a really good space to pivot my EP around. And I got chatting with Mike Taylor, my A&R guy, and he said, ‘I really agree with you on this… why don’t we send you to New York to do an EP with Justin (King)’. And I said, ‘that sounds terrible!’ (laughs). It felt like such a great fit.
It was a very comfortable connection with he and I, but creatively, it challenged us as well. He took me a little bit more percussive, I guess, on a lot of the tracks. And I took the dark, deep, heavy piano stuff and we hit somewhere in the middle where it just became this great melting pot of even the electronic side of it. Most of it we put in manually or we’d effect an actual acoustic instrument. So yeah, it was a combination of writing the song with him that really felt like the one that I wanted to pursue and to guide the sound of the record. And we just got along.
Did your time in the States shift the EP into a musical direction that you didn’t anticipate it moving in?
Possibly. I was very open to finding my sound when I was over there. You can’t help but take in your surroundings. Obviously writing in Brooklyn… it’s a grungy, cool place to be. And it’s very inspiring. So there’s an element of that and there’s an element… when I was over there I remember being broke, running out of money…
Hang on a second… You’re signed to a major label! You’re rolling in cash! (said with much irony).
(laughs) That’s the cool thing too… People don’t understand that there are really hard times too. That definitely influenced the record and it kind of became a big melting pot of everything that’s around you. But sonically I had a very strong vision of what I wanted to get out of it and I think working with Justin brought that out and then took it to a different place that I wasn’t expecting, which was really cool.
How did you go about evolving your sound from what people have known of you before?
Again, I went inward a lot. For those years that I was wondering what I wanted to do and what I wanted to say… for me, music is always melody and heart in a lyric. And it always starts on the guitar for me – or on the piano. Ever since I was a kid, that’s what I was drawn to. So if you strip back any song really, for me it has to be a strong song and it has to say something. How you dress it up is… like different decorations in a house.
But I’ve been influenced by so much music in my life that I think with this record, I wanted to shift more towards the organic sound of what I was doing, but still take in the elements of things that… obviously Stuart gave me this incredible exposure to electronic music and everything like that that before, I hadn’t even experienced. So it’s kind of just becoming a combination of all the things that I love.
But for me, I really wanted to have a sound that was my own; unique. That’s a really important thing for me; to feel that I’m not following someone else’s lead. For me, it’s got to come from the heart and it’s got to feel like something I can hang my hat on, you know?
We guess there are a lot of artists these days who tend to chase trends in order to get the airplay…
Yeah. I was signed when I was 16, so if anyone remembers back to how they were at 16, you grow a lot. 16 to now (25), that growth period was immense for me. And I’m so grateful that I got to go through so many growth spurts and evolutions, because I got to get a lot more substance into what I was doing. Every step of the way, I felt that I was gaining substance and gaining control of who I wanted to be and who I knew I was. That is a process for anyone just as a person. But then if you’re putting it into music and putting it out there, there’s going to be growth and change.
I always liken Taylor Swift’s first record when she was 16. ‘Tim McGraw’ to putting out ‘New Romantics’ now… they’re completely different. Does the evolution feel odd? No, because she kind of grew with it. And she’s an artist who’s really wanting to stand alone and do her own thing and every step she takes seems to prove that.
So tell us about ‘Outlaw’ and how you came to decide on that as the lead single from the ‘Wolf’ EP?
I actually started writing that one on my bedroom floor. I was very inspired by Irish music at the time. I still do have an affinity for everything Irish…
Hence the inclusion of ‘Dublin’ on the…
‘Dublin’s on the record, absolutely! I found this bodhran loop on Logic on my computer – the program that I produce on – and I just kind of looped it around and it really evoked this cool Irish thing for me. And I thought, ‘oh this is fun’. I started just singing out melodies and it’s like I couldn’t record them fast enough. It really started to form on its own. And the whole thought process of ‘you’re the outlaw, but I’m on the runaway train’… we’ve all been in that relationship situation where you’re drawn to the wrong person and you don’t know why. And there are highs and there are real lows. Is that the right kind of love? Yes/no, depends on who you ask.
But that’s what I wanted in that song – those extremes and those feelings. And I took it to another writer in Sydney called Dave Haddad and we worked out a little bit more of the production side of it, sent it to my A&R guy and he thought it was something that we should be putting on the record. We went away, recorded it in New York and then sent it back and everyone was saying that they thought it was a strong single. Which I was stoked about, because it came from such humble beginnings and such a real place.
And we’ve spied you on your socials reacting to hearing it on the radio for the first time!
Oh yeah! It’s so cheesy and it’s so bad, but you can’t help it. The first time you hear your song on the radio… I was out on radio promo at the time with my guy in Queensland, Johnno. And I feel like he was just as excited, if not more, than me! It was a really cool moment to share that together and obviously being 2016, we filmed it. As you do. It’s a thrill.
Have you done physicals of the EP?
No, not yet.
We were going to say… have you ventured into stores to pick up a copy of it with your own hands yet?
The other thing is… we’re running the risk of missing that train for me. We are planning on doing some physical copies, but the days of having it in the store… I really pray that they’re not over, because i love physical CDs, I love stores. But I was in one of the JB HiFis the other day looking through all the CDs thinking, ‘how many more years is it going to be?’.
We’ve heard on the grapevine that they’re looking at reducing the amount of shelf space given to CDs in their stores.
And yet vinyl sales are going up!
It’s bizarre, isn’t it?
I’ve always… I would love to do a vinyl! I think that would be really cool.
So what are you most proud of with the EP?
I think what I ventured to do first and foremost was to be honest and to be raw on the record. I didn’t want to leave any lyrical content untouched if I really felt it. And I didn’t want to be steered to heavily production-wise into a place to try and fit within a box. Whatever the song evoked in us, we really went with our gut instinct.
I’m proud of well, all of the songs – I write my own songs – but I’m proud of the fact that one of my favourite songs on the record – ‘Fickle Heart’ – I wrote with a dear friend of mine, Tom Jordan.
It’s such a beautiful song!
Thankyou! Well, we wrote that on my childhood piano at my folks’ house up at my childhood home. You travel the world and you write with incredible writers and you’re inspired all over the place. And the place that you write the song that sentimentally means the most of course is at home and of course is with one of your dearest friends. And the fact that we got to record it was even better.
We really wrote that song for ourselves. It was the song that we’d always wanted to write. We decided that we weren’t going to worry about where it took us. We just wanted to write it, feel it out… and when we finished it, I didn’t want to stop playing it.
It’s really sweet. The vocal harmonies are divine. It’s the most perfect way to bring the EP to an end.
Thankyou. We got to record it together, obviously, in New York. We recorded it in the same room at the same time. He’s such a talented artist. He’s in a duo called Seaforth and they’re signed to Universal as well. He’s super-talented. So just the fact that we could have that experience together – small town kids in the Big Apple – was really cool.
How many songs did you write for the EP?
On the trip that I did especially writing for the EP – the US and London – we probably wrote maybe 40 songs in that time. And they were just on that trip. Then you’ve got the songs that I wrote on my own at home or wrote in Sydney… There were quite a few songs, but there are always the ones that stand out and you lean towards. And once we had ‘Wolf’, that felt sonically like a really cool place to head.
So that helped to dictate which songs to go for and which ones not to. But there are still a couple of songs that I love and that aren’t on the record. Which is a good thing, because obviously it’s an EP, so there’s always the album.
Was it a conscious decision to go with a seven track EP rather than bite the bullet and put out a full album?
A little hors d’oeuvres.
A bite of Burgess!
Oh there you go! Yeah, it’s a conscious decision. I really wanted to get new music to fans, definitely. That’s been a big thing.
Well, what’s it been, four years?
It’s been three years, yeah. So I wanted to do that, obviously, but I think these days people have so much music all the time and I wanted to put out an EP so then I can move onto the next thing and people don’t get too bored. You know what I mean? I really wanted to get something out and the fact I could do the EP with songs still kicking around for the record… I think it was a good thing.
So there are plans to do an album, we’re presuming, not in the immediate future…?
Could be in the immediate future. I really want to tour this record. That’s a big thing that I want to do. We haven’t got anything officially locked in at this stage, but we are working on some shows at the moment. I’m dying to get on the road. That’s my heartbeat; playing live, playing my guitar, playing the piano, just singing to a crowd… that’s what I love the most. It’s been a while between drinks. I haven’t heard these songs live with the band yet.
So how’s that going to feel, hearing your babies come alive in that context for the first time?
That’s the cool thing about playing live; once I get the songs with my boys in the band, we work out some stuff, we get some really cool little segues, we pull little parts from the songs and make them into other things. That’s the whole thrill of it. So that’s what I’m really dying to do now… to give it new life again by taking it on the road and playing loud.
We did want to touch on ‘Top Of The World’ on the EP, because you’ve co-penned that with the incredible Karen Poole, who’s written for some of the best pop stars on the planet! It sound a little lighter musically than some of the other material on the EP…?
Yeah, definitely. I wrote with her in London. She has such beautiful melodies too. She has this really soft sweetness to her. She can write a bad-ass heavy melody too. But the cool part about ‘Top Of The World’ is that you kind of get this light-hearted, mildly upbeat song, but if you strip it away and listen to the lyrics, it’s actually probably one of the most lyrically heavy-hitting songs on the record.
It’s very honest and it’s about those times when people are saying, ‘this is great – you’re so happy and you’re travelling the world’ and you’re thinking there is so much more to it than that. It can be really tough. You can get a little lonely. Not that anyone’s feeling for you, because you’re on the road and you’re doing great stuff. But it’s definitely one of the harder-hitting songs lyrically. Funnily enough it’s the softer one musically.
So all these relationship trials and tribulations that you’ve seemingly been through during the writing process for this EP… we’re hoping they’re all over now…?
Oh yeah, absolutely! That’s the cool part about growing up – everything is such highs and lows.
Everything’s magnified when you’re younger!
Oh absolutely! And couple that with being a songwriter and you’re screwed!! (she laughs heartily).
Hey, it worked for Adele!
It did! It did. Exactly. It’s like anything… Situations can always be hard to deal with. Sometimes you can deal with them perfectly and sometimes you can deal with it badly. All you can do is reflect. Obviously, songwriters have the chance to write songs about things and kind of figure out our own feelings with that. But you’ve got to go through it to grow and to actually appreciate things and to stand for your morals and your beliefs and have the good people around you and figure out who they are… that’s kind of the whole process.
It’s probably quite a cathartic process too; to be able to get all your feelings out.
Very. It’s amazing. All the ‘you bastard’ kind of songs that you write…
How many ‘you bastard’ songs do you have…?
I’ve got a lot. (laughs). But the thing is… it’s very rare that you’re going to hear one of those songs from me. A lot of what will happen is that you’ll write those songs and then you’ll go, ‘well… that’s just the super-emotional feeling that you felt, but… do I feel that way towards anybody? No’. You do have to feel that.
Are there people who have songs inspired by them on this particular EP? Will they know?
I don’t know. I think the cool thing about songwriting too is that you can take your direct experience, which is always a great thing to do, but it can also absorb your co-writers’ feelings about something or a friend’s feelings. So you kind of get away with it. You have the scapegoat.
A lot of the songs on the record are definitely about situations or people, but they’re always subtle. I don’t think I’m ever going to get to the point of blatantly saying someone’s name. Well, I have done it, but usually it’s like a skewed version of their name. I’m never going to embarrass anyone.
So now you’re going to have people looking up your lyrics…
They’ll be thinking… okay… That’s my cousin’s middle name!!
It’ll be a bit like a psychic situation… I’m seeing a ‘B’ name… she’s got a car…
Eyebrows. I’m seeing eyebrows. She has eyebrows!
Sinead Burgess’ new EP ‘Wolf’ is available digitally now.