Mothers & Daughters
From the album “Phoenix Propeller”.
Video by Polly Stanton
The user forums on Mess+Noise came alive recently with a debate centred on the vocal stylings of many popular female singers. The armchair critics were bemoaning the dominance of a class of artists they termed “kitten lickers”. Cutesy affectations, adopted accents, half-whispered singing, layering to create choirs of softly sung selves and vocal compression effects that inform listeners what one had for lunch all took heavy fire. Legends like Joni Mitchell & Bjork were named as well as numerous current artists, a fair portion of them Australian. One contributor described the phenomenon as “unsuziequatro”. Urbandictionary.com take note.
Regardless of your stance on the issue – or the term itself – it can firmly be attested that Sianna Lee is not a kitten licker. A crucial attribute that instantly stands her out from the crowd is the strength of her voice. It doesn’t mean that her singing is never beautiful or delicate, but it is never cloyingly sweet. There’s nothing cutesy about it.
“Sianna Lee is not timid.
Not evasive. Nor can she
be regarded as unsuziquatro.”
Sianna Lee was born on a bed in the suburb of Box Hill. Insisting on their child being born at home was only one of her parents’ quirks. Sianna was born to two parents with artistic leanings of their own. Her father was a jazz drummer and her mother wrote poetry. Ideal DNA for a songwriter, perhaps.
“My parents both argue about who was the first to teach me guitar chords. I can’t remember who it was, but I remember the song was ‘About A Girl’ by Nirvana”, says Sianna. In one sense, it seems like a dream childhood, but perhaps what was lacking was a clear path to rebellion.
As a teenager, she ran with the rock crowd. She once joined a garage band that she heard rehearsing in her neighbourhood. “At high school, I hung around with a lot of boys who were guitar prodigies, but I preferred to write songs rather than learn Jimi Hendrix licks”.
Despite this side-step, Sianna is a proficient electric guitar player. Blink-and-miss-him cameo producer on the record, Robert F Cranny describes Sianna as “not a singer-songwriter who accessorises with a guitar, but a guitarist”.
References to Greek mythology, an Ernest Hemmingway novel, and a song named after a Russian satellite show Sianna to be intelligent and well-read, but not condescendingly so. Her drive and dedication took her from the ruins of indie band, Love Outside Andromeda, to having self-funded and self-produced a dense, distinctive & accomplished debut solo album.
About the demise of her former band, Sianna says, “Things were going to get better once we recorded, once we mixed, once we released the first single, once we were on the road, but things never got better, just worsened and then worsened some more”. It may be too simplistic to suggest that the titular bird who rises from the ashes renewed is Sianna herself, but there is resonance in the comparison.
The record itself, however, is not one of release, arrival or resolution. The themes discussed are personal: of her family’s past and of a future family she imagines herself creating; of love’s destruction and of clamouring through its wreckage; about personal decisions one must make alone. It works because the arrangements are broodingly dynamic and the metaphors are drawn from far and wide, and wrapped mercifully around the most pointed truths.
In her own words: “’Phoenix Propeller’ is documents the emotional fall out of band gone wrong, love gone wrong and the decision to not become a single mother at the age of 26. It is not a playful or light-hearted attempt at a first solo record. They are an uncomfortably honest collection of songs that I never really thought would be released.”
Sianna Lee is not timid. Not evasive. Nor can she be regarded as unsuziquatro.