Sometimes an artist is defined less by what she does than what she chooses not to do.
If there’s a career philosophy in this period of multi-platform media and all-publicity-is-good-publicity cross-promotion, it’s that an artist – especially a new one – needs to be everywhere all the time. The big break could come from anywhere. After all, what if the thing you turn down turns out to be the thing that would have transformed you into a star?
So what does one make of 21 year old Sinead Burgess, who had an entire album ready for release when she decided that it wasn’t representative enough? What sort of young artist gets selected for a high-profile television show, and then turns it down in favour of sweaty gigs and road hours, supplementing her living expenses by packing boxes at a warehouse? An artist with an unusually sophisticated sense of who she is, that’s what.
Maybe that resilience comes from a childhood spent on the Queensland coast, far from the big city lights.
“I grew up in Beachmere, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-town town on the outskirts of Caboolture,” she explains. “It’s a really sleepy little town, not a lot of people there – I went to a 300 population primary school, then to a 1500 population high school – and that was a huge change for me. I thought that was so big, and now I’m in Sydney!”
Her parents recognised her musical talents early. “I had a little musical telephone that I liked to play on. I started making songs and my parents went ‘Oh, OK, that’s interesting; we should buy her a little keyboard’. So eventually that little keyboard moved up to a big one, and that eventually moved up to the old upright piano. I was just glued to it from a very young age, always singing, always writing songs.”
She’s not kidding about the song writing either. “My first documented song was when I was five. It went ‘Mum loves dad, ooh-ooh-ooh / Dad loves mum too-ooh-ooh / you like my song, don’t you?’” she laughs. “I wrote it in a little book in crayon and I have it framed beside my piano. It’s a good thing for me to look at, just to go ‘OK, the five-year-old you loved writing songs, don’t ever forget that.’”
However, the next phase of her musical life was to have enormous consequences for the precocious thirteen year old. “There was a music festival in Caboolture and my mum said ‘hey, you love to sing, and here’s a chance to play with a band – I’ll put you in for the talent quest, if you like; if not, all good’. It was a chance to perform so I decided to go into it.”
The effect was electric. “I remember all of a sudden feeling that band; the sound just hits you in the back. Up until that point I’d been playing by myself, and I actually missed the entry to the song because I was so overwhelmed by the wall of sound behind me. And from there on I was addicted.”
It didn’t take long for her to expand her musical horizons further. “I was fifteen and I saw my brothers guitar sitting in a corner – it was one of those birthday presents where he played it three times and then got bored – and I remember thinking ‘I would LOVE to be able to play that’. And when I picked it up, I literally couldn’t put it down. It just felt so right.”
Soon came writing songs and recording an album, but it turned out to be too soon and too far away musically from who she wanted to be as an artist. “I remember playing those songs to my mum on the piano and saying ‘this isn’t me, this is really scaring me: I’m going to make this record, my first introduction to the world, and it’s not me.’ So we decided I was going to go to the label and say ‘I want to make a completely new record, something more representative of me as an artist, how do you feel about that?’ And luckily they were receptive and they said ‘alright, let’s start again.’”
That’s pretty ballsy for an unknown 18 year old artist, but her convictions paid off when she was paired up with UK pop wunderkind Stuart Crichton – who has worked with the likes of Kylie, Pet Shop Boys, Bond and The Sugababes, and Brian Lee – who worked with Lady Gaga and wrote the hit “Good Times” by Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen. If Burgess was daunted, she made the pressure work for her.
Her sessions with Crichton and Lee lead to a joint venture with Island Records and Universal, and brought forth her new single, ‘Rearview Mirror’, along with the conviction that she’d found her own voice.
And now we have Sinead Burgess, poised to be an overnight success after almost a decade of blood, sweat and hard work.