Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Australian singer, songwriter, director, screenwriter, and pop icon Sia (@sia). Her current single, “Together,” is from her forthcoming album and motion picture, Music, due out later this year. In 2019, Sia partnered with Diplo and Labrinth to form the group LSD. Their debut album, Labrinth, Sia & Diplo Present… LSD has one billion+ streams to date. She released the Grammy-nominated This Is Acting (Monkey Puzzle/RCA Records) in 2016 to much critical acclaim and cemented her role as one of today’s biggest stars and sought-after live performers with her sold-out Nostalgic for the Present headline tour.
Sia has more videos in YouTube’s Billion Views Club than any other female on the planet. Her massive single “Cheap Thrills” was a multi-format global radio hit and one of the longest-running singles in the Top 40 in 2016. Along with her own successes, Sia has written global smashes for today’s biggest acts, including Beyoncé, Kanye West, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, and many more.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor erros. Enjoy!
DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:
Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.
WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO: You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.
WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED: No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on tim.blog or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.
This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: I’d like to start in a weird place because, like you —
Sia: [Laughter] Before you pressed record, you were telling me that, if I wanted, I could edit anything if I had felt embarrassed about what I said or something like that.
Tim Ferriss: Of course.
Sia: Very kindly, and I said, “So I could do this interview on ketamine?”
Tim Ferriss: That’s true. You absolutely could.
Sia: If only I had known.
Tim Ferriss: And if only you had known. And as I said when you mentioned that, speaking of someone who may or may not have experience with ketamine, that you often sound better to yourself than you do to other people.
Sia: Well, I actually do get ketamine infusions for my chronic pain.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, you do.
Sia: But in L.A., they do it where you’re totally out. So you’re not lucid at all, and you don’t have the trip at all, but here in this other place where I’m at right now, trying to maintain some modicum of privacy, they’re more East meets West. So it’s a doctor, and they do the infusion, but they also do like a sort of intention, and they hit the metal bowl and say, “What’s your intention?” like, “Do you want the pain to turn from red to blue or blah, blah, blah.” And I actually had lucid experiences and that, as a sober woman, has been really fascinating.
Tim Ferriss: I imagine so. I did a sequence of five intravenous ketamine infusions over the span of two weeks because I’d read about its application to suicidal ideation and chronic pain separately and wanted to have the firsthand experience. Not because I was suicidal, but because to recommend it to anyone who might come to me with suicidal ideation, I wanted to have the firsthand experience to see what the effects and side effects were like at different dosages.
And I found it to have a very surreal dissociative effect, just subjectively. What I didn’t expect, because I wasn’t thinking about it for the chronic pain, I had this acute pain in my mid-back, this neurological pain that had plagued me for years. And then I noticed a few weeks after ending the ketamine, no pain in my mid-back. It was near miraculous. What has been your experience?
Sia: Yeah, that’s my experience too; that was my experience even in L.A. when I was doing it not lucidly. And then, as a sober woman doing it lucidly, that was very confronting. And I thought I was going to have a bad trip. I’m like, “I’m a bad tripper, I’m a bad tripper,” or I’m like, “I’ve never had a good trip, any time I did acid it was bad, make sure you give me lots of Versed,” which is a sedative. And then he explained to me that the more Versed gave me, the more ketamine he would have to give me.
And that if he could give me less Versed, he could give me less ketamine, and that would be nicer for my body. And so he ended up giving me half the dose that I get in L.A., but he also gave me half the dose of Versed and I had just a wonderful time. He writes down everything you say. And so afterwards, he was like, “Okay, so here we go. Here’s the things that you said, here’s the things you said, ‘I am a microbe. Am I upside down? Am I upside down? Oh, okay. Am I dying? I’m not dying, because they’ll lift the earphones off, because they’ve got theta wave music and stuff going on in your ears. And they’ll say, ‘No, Sia, you’re not dying. You’re just focused on your intention.'”
Because with the one in L.A., I would never wake up or even be conscious enough to know or to say, “Am I dying?” And I found it quite — it definitely makes it, as someone who has had suicidal ideation, what worked for me actually was Prozac in the end. I hadn’t tried ketamine for that, but I had complex PTSD. I believe I may have gotten through it in the last three years. I’ve done so much painful work, but I barely left the house, and I would only go to Yeezy’s Sunday Service because I loved the singing so much, and I fell in love with the Kardashians. They’re so nice. And I felt safe around them. It was such an interesting experience. And so I would stay at home mostly. I have a projector that projects television or movies, whatever, onto the ceiling above my bed. And so I basically just lie prone. Is that the word? Prone?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, let me think about this. Prone. Supine. I believe prone. I believe you got it right. Is that right? I think prone might be stomach down, like if you’re in a prone position, in any case, you’re on your bed, on your back.
Sia: I’m on my bed on my back with my face up looking at this enormous projected screen, pretty much 16 hours a day for three years and only leave the house on Sundays to go to the Sunday Service and sing my heart out and clap and dance and dance around. And I was having a lot of suicidal ideation because of this chronic pain and because I guess I have an attachment injury, and I’m really into attachment theory. But I believe I may have earned-secure attachment, which is going to mean nothing to so many of your listeners. But we can talk about attachment theory if anybody’s interested, it’s based on science, and it’s the cutting edge of where psychology is going and should be going is attachment theory. And it’s pretty new.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s talk about it because I’ve had a book recommended to me a number of times, I’ve not read it, fortunately for me I have a girlfriend who synthesized it for me, but the book Attached and I believe —
Sia: Oh, yeah! There’s some wrong stuff in there; that’s the only reason I don’t recommend it.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So this is good to know.
Sia: It also just refers to you — it’s the baby version. So yes, as a baby, you’re either ambivalent, avoidant, or preoccupied, but as we grow, we develop these strategies that happen in the first 10 months of our life. Based on the care that we’re given, we develop one of five strategies and sometimes disorganized, all of them, maybe all five. So the strategies are dismissive, preoccupied, fearful-avoidant, which is now called disorganized, unresolved, and secure, which nobody in Hollywood is. Actually, that’s not true. I think John Legend might be secure. He’s so nice.
So I took an AAI, which is called an attachment assessment inventory, they send it off to Harvard, and there’s three people that work in that department, and they study the interview and the language and the tone because it’s recorded as well, and then they report back this attachment theory, which was started by John Bowlby in the ’40s or something, but really only came to light in 1984 or ’85. I can’t remember. I’ll say a lot of wrong things here.
Tim Ferriss: That’s okay, that’s what show notes are for. Don’t worry.
Sia: But I do know that in the first 10 months of your life, you are basically told who you are and what to experience in the world and how to behave and how to respond in any situation. It all happens in the first 10 months of your life based on the care that you’ve given. And so I was complexly disorganized when I met George Haas, who’s been helping me with my attachment repair, and I’m so excited because one of my sons has had an attachment assessment interview, and he was less complexly disorganized than me and I was so happy for him because I’ve actually managed to earn some secure categories.
So there’s different categories. There’s seven categories. I don’t know what they are. I’m not that smart. But I just know that I have two left on me that aren’t secure, that are both fear-related. The last time I took it, I had an attachment, but I started with only one secure feature out of seven, and now I have five.
Tim Ferriss: Seems like a big improvement.
Sia: Yeah, and also, I guess I should say that attachment injury is addiction. It causes addiction. It’s not a genetic disorder. It’s not a disease. It’s an attachment injury that occurred in the first 10 months of your life. And that doesn’t mean your parents were bad or mean or cool. They may have been benignly neglectful, or maybe their dog died the day that you were born or there’s so many reasons why your primary caregiver may have been preoccupied or unable to care for you, unable to give you the things that you needed for your brain to develop properly, securely. So it was about 50 percent of the population is secure. That’s if you take out poverty and then otherwise it’s about 30 percent.
Tim Ferriss: How have you found studying attachment theory, doing the assessment, doing the work has impacted your life? It seems like you’ve certainly made a study of it and taken it seriously. What are the outcomes that you’ve seen in your life or the changes?
Sia: Well, I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve spent my whole entire life being extremely afraid, especially in personal relationships, interpersonal relationships, the attachment strategy that I have had was previously called fearful-avoidant. And now it’s called disorganized, and I was complexly fearfully avoidant. And what that means is that the care was inconsistent. So you just don’t know what you’re going to get. So you keep turning around and putting your arms out. If you imagine a toddler, you put your arms out, and you say, “Maybe this time they’ll pick me up. No? Okay. Maybe this time,” and you keep imagining a toddler turning around and putting their arms in the air, and maybe they’ll get kicked in the chest, or maybe they’ll get picked up. You never know. I’m not saying my parents kicked me in the chest; that’s a bit extreme, an extreme analogy or metaphor. What is it? An analogy or a metaphor? A parallel?
Tim Ferriss: It depends, I guess, if they literally kicked you in the chest or not; since they didn’t, I guess you don’t —
Sia: I don’t think they kicked me in the chest; I’m pretty sure they didn’t. Or if they didn’t come when you cried, if they didn’t come, there’s these seven stages. A baby, right? So the baby looks cute. First thing it does when it wants, it needs something, or it’s in pain, or it needs to eat, or it needs its nappy changed, or it’s uncomfortable, first thing it does is it looks cute. And the second thing it does is when that doesn’t work to get the attention of the caregiver, they look confused, and then they’ll whimper. And then they’ll intermittently cry. I think that’s what’s next. And then that’s when you should definitely pick them up. When they’re intermittently crying, then the next one will become crying.
And then the next one is tantrum. This full, screaming anger, rage, like why is nobody coming to get me? And then the baby’s brain goes into complete limbic shutdown because it thinks it’s going to die. So people who sleep train their babies, who think that it works, yeah, it works, because your baby thinks it’s going to die. And it gives up on life. Stops crying. So it only works if you go back in there at that intermittent crying point. And if you go in when they’re intermittent crying, and you say, “I love you, baby’s name,” let’s say, George, “I love you George, but it’s time to go to sleep now, but we’re just right out here.” And that creates object constancy, which makes for way less psychos in the world and way less people waiting by the phone, waiting for the text, waiting for the text, waiting for the text.
So what happens to people who didn’t get picked up during the intermittent crying phase or didn’t get just at least reassured during the intermittent crying phase, if they were left and they got into the limbic shutdown, now as adults, when someone has captured their projection, like a partner, like a love interest, or something. A person of great interest to you captures your projection, and you text them, and then if they don’t text you back, you start to feel sick and panicky. And what’s actually happening is just the same thing as when you were a baby, the seventh stage of limbic shutdown, so that all of the same neurochemicals that were dumped into your body when you’re a baby, and you thought, “I’m going to die because nobody’s coming.” That happens as an adult, the same exact same brain chemistry happens.
And so all these human adults are sitting at home waiting for a text, feeling like they’re going to die. There’s so many of them. And it’s not everybody. Secure people don’t feel that way, but people who are preoccupied or disorganized, fearfully avoidant, they do. And they suffer greatly because of it. And it’s merely because nobody came and reassured them at the intermittent crying point when they were a baby, that they’re okay. It’s time to go back to sleep now. And then leave the room. Then the baby, if it does a thing, it does a cry, the cute, confused, whimper, intermittent cry. Then they go in, reassure them again, then, “time to go to sleep George.” And if you do that, that’s actually healthy sleep training as long as you do that at the intermittent crying part. But if you leave a baby to cry, just cry it out, you’re damaging them forever and ever. And actually, you’re creating an addict without knowing.
Tim Ferriss: Let me ask if I could, just because you mentioned, you’re talking about upbringing, you’re talking about on some level, it seems like unpredictability as a factor, that’s one of the factors that might lead to this fearful-avoidant, now this disorganized complex of sorts. Could you speak to, in the course of doing homework for this conversation, I came across a discussion of, and this is not to pin everything on a single parent or either both parents, but your dad having two different personalities with two different names?
Sia: Yeah, his real name is Phil, but he had a bad temper sometimes. And when he would have his bad temper, he would seemingly turn into a different person, and then he would come back from being angry, and he’d be like, “Sorry about that. Sorry about Stan’s behavior. Sorry about that, darling. Sorry about that.” And, and so when I grew up I thought, I was watching all the movies, I thought, oh, he has multiple personality disorder. And finally, when I was 25, I thought everyone’s dad had two personalities until I was 25. And then I realized that, no, I don’t know whether it was, and it’s now called dissociative identity disorder. It’s not called multiple personality disorder. It’s also misrepresented hugely in the media because nobody who has multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder, which is what it’s called now, DID, is dangerous or mean or angry.
Well, actually they could be angry. But they’re all basically parts of a constellation of an abused child that have split off to protect the original soul from the abuser. So they’re all there just simply as protectors. So when we watch movies like Split, we really sort of demonize people with DID. And I also now think, I don’t know if my dad had DID, I think maybe he was just smoking too much weed, or I don’t know. I really don’t know now, but we’ve talked about it. I asked him recently — we had a really good repair — I asked him recently, because he mentioned Stan in a text message.
And I said, “Hey Dad, when you talk about Stan, what happens to me is that I get a whole bunch of fearful neurochemicals that dump into my body and it makes me super anxious. And then I get shaky, and it takes me about at least 20 minutes for my liver to be able to process it all. And could you do me a favor, and could we never talk about Stan ever again?” And he said yes. And then he wrote a really beautiful message that was something like, “I’m sorry; that must’ve been really painful for your fragile young psyche, and I’m ashamed and embarrassed.”
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Sia: “And I’m sorry.” And that was such a powerful moment. And then he sent me a picture of him standing by my crib when I was born. And I burst into tears. It was that he was showing me the father that he wanted to be.
So I believe he was my primary caregiver; I don’t really know. I know my mom got really depressed after I was born because she had previously lost a baby, and she got postnatal depression. So I think that some of that, the depression — so if you have a blank face when you’re staring at your baby, it’s really scary to them, just so you know, people. And I didn’t know that, but apparently, if you’ve got a blank face when you’re staring at your baby, it’s really scary to them. To be animated is really helpful to them, and showing delight is really helpful, and they need eye contact. Your baby needs eye contact for the first 10 months, from six to 12 inches from their face. They need eye contact, love, delight, hugs, and just love and attention. And then you end up with a secure baby. But you can also smother them and then you’ll get preoccupied.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve got to find the Goldilocks approach. I want to mention before I lose the observation that the delivery you just recounted to your dad, that phrasing seemed to be a really good use of textbook nonviolent communication. The way you phrased it was sort of textbook, not in a bad way. I mean, it really —
Sia: I did watch it. It was six hours. I watched a —
Tim Ferriss: Marshall — I’m blanking on his last name.
Sia: Exactly, yeah. The nonviolent communication guy.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. In a way, it’s very subtle and very powerful when it’s used well, which, it sounds like you did when you spoke to your dad, in a way avoiding the type of — or mitigating the likelihood of — somebody having a really strong defensive response.
Sia: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I guess I learned, if you say, “I feel,” and then at the end you say, “What do you think?” Or, “This is what makes me feel; this is how it makes me feel.” And if I use science, in which I’m getting smarter at now in terms of neurochemistry and the brain and pain and psychology, and also parenting and attachment parenting and that sort of stuff, I just am so in love with it, because it’s going to create a — I want to help people create secure babies so that we have so many less people in pain.
Tim Ferriss: And it seems like one way, or a very important way of doing that is working on yourself, right? And I just want to provide a little bit of context here for people who are listening. And that is, I’ve loved your music, both the music where you are a performer and then the music, unknown to me oftentimes, has been written by you. It’s really astonishing how many songs I have on playlists that when I finally had my Kobayashi, Keyser Söze moment, and I was like, “Oh, my God, it’s everywhere! Sia’s work is everywhere in my life.” That —
Sia: I’m like cobwebs, babe.
Tim Ferriss: So that’s part one. And then, a reader of mine named Brian Elliott recommended after I wrote a blog post on a lot of the downsides of being public-facing and having an audience, recommended a profile of you called How Sia Saved Herself, which was in Rolling Stone, and it compl —
Sia: Yeah, Hillel wrote that.
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. And it completely captured my imagination and talked about many of the decisions you’ve made, which, to borrow some phrasing that I’ve heard you use, has allowed you to use your gifts without hurting yourself, right, without destroying your serenity. And we’re going to talk about that.
I just wanted to give that story because How Sia Saved Herself, I think, in order to save your kids, even if they haven’t been born yet, it’s important to work on yourself, and you’re clearly doing and have done a lot of that. I want to ask you — this was where the “I want to start somewhere weird” came up a while back. Well, it makes me think of a novel that really caught my imagination when I was a young kid, and that was Around the World in 80 Days, and I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll start with around the world of Sia in 80 tattoos.” You have quite a few tattoos, but I wanted to ask about a few of them. And I haven’t seen all of these. I’ve just read about a few of them, so tell me if they’re not accurate. But do you have a tattoo that says, “Don’t think?”
Sia: Yeah. That was before I actually got into meditation and realized the irony of that tattoo, because telling yourself not to think is thinking.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Right, right. “Don’t think of the pink elephant. Don’t think of the pink elephant.”
Sia: Yeah. So, for all your listeners who don’t meditate, meditation is just a practice. It’s nothing fancy. It’s just breathing. It’s like, if you can just breathe and feel the air going in your nose and out your nose and count to 10, and just be present with that feeling of the air touching your nostrils, and do that, that’s a practice. And then, if you have a thought, that’s okay. And it takes you away, like in a car. Like say, you get in the car with the thought, and it takes you for a drive, that’s okay. Just when you realize, just go, “Oh, whoops!” and go back to one, and start counting from one again. And that’s practice. It’s just concentration practice.
And then, there are all sorts of other practices that you can delve into after that. But, even just concentration practice is so good for your brain and so good for your heart and your spirit. The thing is, when I hear people say, “Oh, I can’t meditate. I’m not good at it,” there’s no being good at it, because it’s a practice. You can’t be bad at it, actually. The only way of being bad at it is not doing it! [Laughter] George Haas is my meditation teacher. There’s periods where I’ve gotten extremely low over the last three or four years, and there were periods where I totally dipped out on meditating, and he’d come over, I’d be crying, I’d be whatever, like super suicidal, whatever, and he’d come over, and he’d go, “Have you thought about meditation? It’s free. There’s data that says it will help you.” And I’ll be like, “Fuck off, George.” And oh, how we laughed.
Tim Ferriss: What does your practice look like? The mutual friend who introduced us when we finally started communicating directly has a TM practice. So I’m sure does many other things, but has a Transcendental Meditation practice: 20 minutes, twice a day.
Tim Ferriss: The first to be done —
Sia: But I don’t think you should have to pay for meditation. And also I know the secret. I know what they do, and I’m sure you do too.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Sia: Your mantra is just related to your age, and it’s — I guess I think if anything helps you, do it. And if that’s what you found, great, and it helps you then do it. But I don’t believe that meditation should be paid for. I don’t believe that it’s anything you can be given. I think that it should be a donor process, and it should be by donation only. That’s just my personal opinion because —
Tim Ferriss: What does your practice look like?
Sia: Oh, so my mine is about probably 20 minutes a day. I will either listen to George’s podcast. At least once a week I listen to George’s podcast, which is, I think Mettagroup, George Haas, I don’t know, attachment via something.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll find it.
Sia: Find it, put in the links. But it’s very heady. I’ve said to him recently, “George, you need to do an Attachment Repair for Dummies, because anyone I send to your podcast, it’s really hard for them to understand. It’s really heavy.” And it did take me two or three years to understand it myself, and that’s with him repeating himself for three years over and over again.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s Meditation times Attachment, Meditation x Attachment with George Haas, H-A-A-S.
Sia: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Okay, my practice looks like this. Well, I’ll do concentration practice where I count, or I’ll do — Sanshin Zen is George’s teacher. So I guess I’m using Sanshin Zen’s model, and that model is also — it’s feel in, feel out, so what you’re feeling in your body or feeling out of your — or what you could feel on the outside of your body, or hear in, hear out is what you can hear inside your head or what you can hear outside of your head in the exterior noise, like external noise. And then, there’s see in and see out. So that’s like visual imagery, or you could look at a leaf and watch it just wave.
The best one for me is hear out. So that’s what I do. And I think that’s the best one for people who have extreme, complex trauma because it’s externalizing in a way and keeps you grounded in the present moment. So right now, let’s say, okay, I’m meditating right now. So I’m listening to the sound of my air conditioner, and the sound of your breathing, and that’s hear out. And then, when I get carried away with a thought, I just come back to hear out. That’s what I do. So hear out is the one that I find the most easy, which is just focusing on all the noises around me externally that are in this perceived reality.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Now let me take a leap to something that I think is possibly related. You have written more than a hundred pop songs for people like Beyoncé, Britney Spears, and Rihanna, whose Diamonds hit number one, and so much more. I mean, the list is extremely long. You have, of course, then so much of your own work in the performative sense on top of that. And what people might not realize is some of your songs that, and this has a personal meaning to me, because this one has been on my playlist maybe the longest, and that is Breathe Me. The night you wrote that, you tried to kill yourself with 22 Valium and a bottle of vodka.
Tim Ferriss: So we’re going to talk about that. And the question is, because I heard you on, for instance, Howard Stern in 2014, and around the 16-minute mark, if people are interested, you play back a recording of coming up with the, I guess it was maybe the melody and some of the lyrics for Diamonds.
Tim Ferriss: Which everybody would recognize. And you sounded like you were almost channeling because you’re kind of mumbling nonsense syllables, and then it just fell into place. So that makes —
Sia: That’s how it is for me.
Tim Ferriss: What was that?
Sia: That’s how it is for me, and that’s how it is for Labrinth, and that’s how it is for, I think, Eddie Benjamin, who’s going to be the next Justin Bieber. It’s just like a form of channeling and words, sounds sort of come out and then you can sometimes make — you can just make, sometimes if you’re lucky. Well, the melody is pure channeling, and then the lyrics, if you’re lucky, also will come out. That’s awesome when that happens, when that accidentally happens. Then I think I’m really getting out of the way, and that I’m allowing it to just flow through. But yeah, for me, it’s just getting out of the way, getting out of the way, and just trusting in the present moment that what I do next is going to be what is supposed to happen.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to ask a whole bunch of questions about process because I know my listeners love process. I love process. I have a bunch of questions. The overarching question is, and the reason I asked about the taking of the drugs and the vodka and so on is, you seem to me to be very sensitive, not in a bad way. This means that as an empath, if you were a scale, you wouldn’t just be a bodyweight scale, you’d be like a Joule scale. You have a lot of sensitivity and —
Sia: I am.
Tim Ferriss: I wonder —
Sia: I’m a highly sensitive person.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So I wonder how much of the drug use and the suicidal ideation and so on is from an overwhelm of input, or is it from other things? I’d just love to hear you speak to that.
Sia: Well, that is interesting that you ask, because I never thought about it. I always just figured, “Oh, it’s because there’s something wrong with me. I’m broken. It’s my early trauma, or I’m an addict, or I don’t belong in this world. I don’t know why I’m here. I’m just different. I feel like an alien. I don’t know how people be happy.” I just didn’t have the right chemicals in my brain going on. And that was just, I now know, due to the first 10 months of my life. But, I didn’t know that then, and so I attributed it to all sorts of whatever I could, really. I’d just try and attach it to anything and be like, “That’s why I’m like this,” or, “This is why I’m like — oh, that’s why I’m like this.” And certainly, that night that I wanted to die, I can just remember just wanting to die, just thinking I was so broken that nobody could fix me, and then waking up in the hospital and feeling very embarrassed because you can’t commit suicide with Valium. You can commit sleep!
And like a pussy, because I think I must’ve called people. I don’t remember, but I must’ve called people because obviously someone came and took me to the hospital. There’s always been a part of me that wanted to live. And I think the part of me that I wanted to kill was the part of me that was in pain and not the real me, not the real actual me, who has levity and has found levity. I’ve always had some levity, but I also had that extreme sensitivity. I had some, yeah, just chemical issues in my brain. Just, I didn’t have the right biochemistry going on. So I had a broken — what’s the front of that one called? Frontal cortex? Frontal —
Tim Ferriss: Prefrontal cortex.
Sia: Yeah, that one. That broken prefrontal cortex. Yeah, that one. I had that. That was broken. And so the suicidal ideation was just — it was like a broken record going on in my brain. It’s actually a way to regulate emotion. So I would feel extreme sadness. There’s this idea that if I killed myself, I had power over it.
Tim Ferriss: True.
Sia: That I could stop the pain. But what I was afraid of was dying as well. It was such a catch-22. It’s a very peculiar place to be in. And then, I realized, “Oh, I don’t want to kill myself. I want to live. I have a broken brain. I’ve got to take medication.” And as soon as I had started taking medication, Prozac, I took six days later, the suicidal ideation was gone, completely gone. And I was sad for myself that I hadn’t done it sooner.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Sia: I’d had that broken brain for so long that thought that there was something just very, very wrong with me. So I can’t even remember the question you asked, but does that answer it?
Tim Ferriss: My questions are really intended as prompts. It was more intended to open up what just came out. So yes, you did answer it. And what you said makes me think about a phrase or an expression that I heard from someone named Stanislav Grof, who is a famous Czech born psychotherapist who’s done a lot of work with LSD-assisted psychotherapy, developed something called Holotropic Breathwork also as a substitute. But he’s been on the podcast. He was on at age 85 or 86. But one of the things that he’s written about is the desire to kill oneself being a desire to kill the ego. But the only form that most people recognize for doing that is killing the physical body.
Tim Ferriss: And that there are other approaches, right? There are prescription options. In some cases, ketamine is particularly — and I was very grateful I went through my testing of ketamine because literally two or three weeks later, a friend of mine reached out — who’s a police officer who was suicidal — and he had battled depression. And really, the suicidal ideation was, I think, in part, because he had these loops that he could not interrupt, these endless loops. And he just wanted to stop the loops.
Sia: It’s usually PTSD that causes those loops, yep, a broken prefrontal cortex.
Tim Ferriss: And ketamine is, I would view it not to belabor ketamine, but just for people who may be hurting out there, and at the end of their rope, ketamine is not additive in my experience like some other compounds, let’s just say, psilocybin, in looking at treatment-resistant depression, I think is more additive, but it is subtractive in the sense that it hits pause on these loops and it allows you to experience yourself without the loop. And I think that you then can have the type of realization you did six days later saying, “Oh, why didn’t I do this sooner? I’m a microbe. I’m a microbe. I’m upside down.”
So let’s, if we could, and I know this doesn’t have to be this example, but to talk about process, the Diamonds example is a fun one, I think, because of how tightly it was done, given you had a plane to catch and a car waiting for you. But you have these expressions, and you have a very clear thinking around your songwriting. I’ve heard you talk about strong titles, and the ability to Google, right, in the case of Chandelier, milking the metaphor. I mean, you think about this very concretely. Can you just give an example of your process?
Sia: Yeah. Well, I mean, now it’s sort of changing. But, when I first started, my manager said — well, he said to me something that was monumentally important, which was basically what I needed to be doing was be writing a “high concept,” he was calling it. I think he was calling it high concept. I think that’s what he said. And then I Googled it, and it didn’t make sense to me, because it was talking about Big Brother and I was like, “Well, I don’t get it.” And I called him back, and I was like, “What do you mean exactly?” And he was like, “Well, you take something and then — ” And I was like, “Oh, hang on. Do you mean piggy bank? Like ‘I’m not your piggy bank?'” And he was like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. I think I’ve got it. All right! ‘I don’t want to be your piggy bank.'” He was like, “Yeah, that’s kind of it. Not it, but it is.” And then a week later I wrote Titanium, and that was the first one I wrote. I started always, I always would channel the melody, but then I was consciously writing down things that I thought would be good titles. Googleable titles or that would be good metaphors or catchy. And so that started to be a fun game. That’s what I did for a long time.
But yesterday I wrote a song that is just on the verge of cheesetastic. I wrote a song about New Year’s Eve; it’s called Three Minutes to Midnight. So you put the song on three minutes to midnight, and then everyone can count down together. So if you just press play at three minutes to midnight, it’s like I want everyone to play this song, and it’s so silly and fun. That one, I almost freestyled the entire thing. I don’t know. Some days I’m very formulaic, and some days people give me very specific, what they want for an end title of a movie, what they need, or what Rihanna is looking for at the moment, the sound she’s looking for. Here’s a track that she really likes. So sometimes I get direction, and I take it, I just take it.
And I don’t work so much with artists anymore, but it was so helpful to work with artists, because I am really good at being of service. I could totally eat shit sandwiches all day long if they were divas or whatever. Because I knew I would still be getting 50 percent or 30 percent or whatever of the publishing. If I can dissuade them from saying something extremely silly or bad; then I’ve done my job. But if they wanted to sing a song about something that I found banal or stupid, that was fine; I’m just there to support what they’re trying to do. I’ll challenge them to some degree if it’s very, very bad, but otherwise, I’m just there to support them. But that was really helpful to me, because of — that helped me, I think, in terms of becoming a director.
Tim Ferriss: Right. And we’re definitely going to talk about that. I just want to pause, bookmark for a second. For people who don’t understand the peculiarities or the intricacies of the music business, you said the percentages of publishing. Can you explain what that means for folks? Just so they understand how different people make money in the music world?
Sia: Yeah. So publishing is really the only growth industry in music. I mean, touring, if you’re Coldplay, you’ll make money, or U2, but touring usually, musicians will make a loss. Merch you can sometimes make money, but really the best way to make money in music, if you’re going to be a musician, is to write the music. So I guess you would, there’s a couple of different ways, there’s pop splits and there’s urban splits. I can tell you that. So I guess an urban split is, whoever’s in the room or whoever does even one tiny word or something, that all gets split between you maybe equally. I think that’s an urban split, but I don’t do that.
And it was really funny because Benny Blanco wrote me and he’s a producer. He did a bunch of Katy Perry hits, and he just writes hits galore, hits galore, hits galore. He stopped counting after he had 10 top number ones, you know what I mean? Anyway, he was writing me, and he was like, “Why are you —” Because he was working with a partner on producing a song. And I do pop splits, pop, right. I believe that if I write the melody in the topline, I get 50 percent of the song. And if you write the chords, you get 50 percent of the song and do the production; you get paid for your production separately, aside from getting paid the writing. So a good producer these days will make 30, 40 grand for producing a song. Producing a song means putting all of the sounds in there, all of the piano sound, and then it’ll be a violin sound or the sound with the bass and the beat, that’s called production. Your songwriting process is literally just chords and melody and lyrics. So chords are worth 50 percent of publishing, and lyrics and melody are worth 50 percent of publishing, and then if you go and produce it, you get a fee for producing. So I’m so lucky I wrote the chords to Chandelier.
Tim Ferriss: Can you explain what that means? Because I think chords and I think strumming a C or a D on a guitar, but I don’t know if I’m thinking of the same thing.
Sia: Yeah, that’s right. That’s about it. So a chord is, I guess it’s three fingers on a piano and they make a chord. And so you go, like [singing]. I’m doing a root note of a chord. So it’ll be like [singing]. They’re just four different notes, but I —
Tim Ferriss: Got it. And then you give that to the producer, they take that, they put it in. Just since you mentioned the piano —
Sia: With Chandelier, I did write the chords. Then I sent them to Jesse Shatkin, and I said, “Can you make a song out of this?” And he did all the production, and I’m nice, so I gave him 25 percent of the publishing, but I’m not required to do that. I could have taken a hundred percent of the song and paid him his production fee of $40,000, let’s say.
Tim Ferriss: And melody is the sound of the voice or the?
Sia: The [singing]. That’s just the [singing]. Whatever.
Tim Ferriss: Improv jazz.
Sia: Yeah. That’s melody, and then once you add lyrics to that, it’s called topline. Melody and lyrics together is called topline.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Sia: So I am a topline writer. But I actually now, I guess, I can write some chords, but I’m pretty shabby at it. I do clang away on the piano occasionally and send Jesse videos of me playing the piano so he can see which chords I’m playing. Then he will build songs out of those. Because I appreciate him and I know I couldn’t do it without him, I always give him 25 percent. But again, in another world, he wouldn’t be entitled to that, he would get a production fee. But I like to be generous.
Tim Ferriss: And when somebody says, for instance, if you were to say, “I have 50 percent of publishing.” What is that 50 percent of? Is it specifically what radio stations pay?
Sia: Well, across the board, it means — on a really highly listened to commercial radio station, let’s say, and this is a random number that’s not necessarily correct. Let’s say every time Chandelier gets played, they pay my publisher a dollar. Right? So now I get 75 cents of that and Jesse gets 25 cents of that. And my publishing company, I think they take 15 percent or something, as an admin fee.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. For your bookage, 15 percent.
Sia: Yeah. And that used to be 30 because I used to need a publisher. But I don’t actually need a publisher now, because I don’t need them to introduce me to any other songwriters or artists. I don’t need the services that they offer. So I only need them to collect money for me. So that’s how I managed to get it down to 15 percent because most people are still paying 30 percent to their publishers.
Tim Ferriss: So do you get paid when albums are sold digitally as well, or is that completely separate?
Sia: I do, but I don’t know how, and that would be a question for my manager.
Tim Ferriss: No problem. We don’t have to.
Sia: I collect royalties, and I don’t understand that one at all.
Tim Ferriss: Now process-wise, you were talking about the volume of work that you do. And I found an interview you did with The Guardian in 2016, this is a while ago, so this may have changed, but I’d love to hear you expand on it a little bit. And here’s the quote: “I love the idea of how fast can we make the song, but I don’t think that I’m necessarily like a super-talented songwriter. I think I’m just really productive. One out of 10 songs is a hit. So where a lot of people will spend three weeks on one song, I will write 10 in three weeks. Maybe the song that they sculpt is going to be as successful as just one of the 10 that I wrote.” Is that still true, that you basically —
Sia: Yeah, that’s definitely still true, but I also think that I’ve gotten a little bit better at picking tracks that are hits. So sometimes people send me tracks — okay, so for the people listening, tracks are when a producer sends you out already fully done bottomline. Which is all the music, all the sounds, the beat, everything, the chords, it’s all there, that’s 50 percent right there. They send you 50 percent of a song and if I hear the way the chords move and think that it’s a smash — because I actually record myself to everything I listen to the very first time, so I press play when I listen to something for the first time, I press play and record on my computer, and I’ll sing along to it and see if I can intuit where it’s going. And if I manage to intuit where it’s going, and it sounds good, and something works, I’m just better at picking now what I think would be a hit or what would be catchy. Because I do believe now that pop music is really just indoctrination, which is sad because music used to be good. What a diamond — when music was good! There’s still great music out there, but I never hear it. But I don’t listen to music; I just watch television and movies. So that’s probably why; the only person I listen to is Labrinth.
Tim Ferriss: Is that true? You don’t ever listen to background music?
Sia: No. Oh, yeah. Because I just got Apple Music. I don’t have Spotify or Pandora, but I just got Apple Music. And so now I just type in theta waves or beta waves or alpha wave, and I just press play on one of those, and then I’ll meditate or whatever. But if I’m not watching television, I’m talking to a friend. I’m not usually listening to music; it’s not what I do.
Tim Ferriss: It’s very interesting. Has that always been the case, or did that at some point just feel too much like work to you or you can’t listen to it without breaking it down and thinking about the topline and this and the other thing?
Sia: No, it’s weird. It’s just, I did it very much. I was obsessive as a child around it. I would listen to, and I’ve said this billion times, so apologies to those who’ve heard this before. But I would listen to that part in The Doors song where it goes [singing]. And I liked that part so much, but I just didn’t care about the rest of the song, so I just recorded that part 50 times onto a 30-minute tape, and I would literally just listen to that over and over again. And I would sing along to it and the same with this Chrissie Hynde one, Don’t Get Me Wrong [singing]. I still can’t do it; I can’t do it. I’ve never been able to do it, and I can’t do it like she does it. I would try so hard, and I just technically could not do it, and I still can’t do it. So that’s exciting, because I love not being able to do something and leave — [laughter]. Because I was sort of recently thinking, “Oh, wow, I’ve never wanted professional and personal goals. What do I do now? It’s nihilism, or is it full engagement?”
So I guess I could still keep trying that fucking Chrissie Hynde lick. I was super fussy with music as a child. I didn’t have a television until I think I was 10 or 11, and then I became addicted to television, but I still listened to music. Some music, not much, usually whatever my parents were listening to. That was like Soul II Soul and Malcolm McLaren. Well earlier, when my dad was around, it was all ’60s, Motown, and girl groups and really just fun and pop, that sort of stuff. When he left, it became, I think my stepfather, he brought the Malcolm McLaren and the Soul II Soul into the house. So Caron Wheeler, Terence Trent D’Arby, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chrissie Hynde, and Annie Lennox sort of became these voices that I — when Mariah Carey actually, these voices I just started to mimic, I just wanted to — so the obsession for me as a child was I would mimic these artists until I thought I sounded exactly like them. So then, I guess when I wrote, when I sang the first original song ever, I had the voice that was an amalgamation of all of those people that I had studied. It wasn’t very good. I mean, there’s an amazing video of me when I’m 12, and I’m really a bad singer, and I’m definitely going to put it out sometime.
I want people to know that I was no Christina Aguilera. She was incredible. When she was 10 years old, she’s doing these insane technical runs. I was not; I was a very mediocre singer at 12, and I went on this talent show and super mediocre. I sent it to basically — this is silly. Again, I’m bringing up the Kardashians, but I sent it to North because Kim Kardashian told me that North got sad because she couldn’t sing Chandelier as well as I did it. So I sent her the video of me when I was 12 and —
Tim Ferriss: That’s amazing.
Sia: I said, “Look at this, I couldn’t sing at all when I was 12. You’re only little; you’re going to be an amazing singer.” They’re so nice and funny, but it’s a pretty hilarious video. I might have a rat’s tail.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to — that makes two of us. I had a rat tail at 12 on Long Island, but I wasn’t doing any singing.
Sia: I couldn’t have had my legs further apart, standing. I was always doing the splits when I was singing a song about [singing].
Tim Ferriss: I would love to see the video. So please do put that out.
Sia: I’m definitely going to do that because I want kids to know that — I don’t know — I wasn’t always a good singer, and I’ve gotten better. I think even just over the years, last 20 years, I think, I didn’t really belt, that means singing out really big, loud. For the listeners, I didn’t really belt until maybe six years ago, 10 years ago.
Tim Ferriss: Wow, very recently.
Sia: Yeah, ’cause [inaudible] was my whisper album. I had yet to find my voice.
Tim Ferriss: So you’ve honed your voice, and I want to ask you about the movie. Before we get to the movie, I have to ask you about the decision to, at least in many cases, hide your face and get away with a lot, right? And I’m reading here, this piece from the Rolling Stone profile, let’s read one paragraph and then I have a couple of other additions, but, “The success of Titanium…” which is a whole story unto itself that we won’t get into right now, but people can look up the song in Wikipedia, “…made Sia one of the most in-demand songwriters in the business. But she needed to put out one last album to get out of an old publishing deal. Sia said she’d do it, on the condition that she would have artistic control and do no promotion — no touring, no press, no media appearances.” All right. Now you’ve also sung with your back to audiences. You’ve been on the cover of magazines with your face entirely covered. Why did you make these decisions?
Sia: I can’t really 100 percent remember the genesis, but I’ve got this vague recollection that I thought, “All right, I’ll sing with my back to the audience and I’ll put this blonde bob on other people, and then everyone can be the pop star.” And then I cast Maddie in Chandelier, and she was so incredible and engaging and lovable.
Tim Ferriss: Does she pronounce her last name Ziegler, or how does she?
Sia: Yeah, Ziegler.
Tim Ferriss: Maddie. So for people who don’t know, this is an incredible dancer.
Sia: Unbelievable — and actor, by the way.
Tim Ferriss: And actor.
Sia: She’s Oscar-worthy, it’s crazy. So she, I didn’t realize was going to be so engaging and wonderful and lovable and that I was going to want to immediately have her in my life all the time. So I guess, in the beginning, you’ll see there are pictures of lots of different people wearing the blonde bob in the artwork for A Thousand Forms of Fear, I think. Because originally I was just going to have other people like celebrities. I asked Kanye if he would just wear the blonde bob and sing my song or whatever, or I thought, “Oh, I’ll ask Robert Pattinson, or I’ll ask other people.” I was going to ask Robert Pattinson if he would do the cover of Rolling Stone, I’m like, “If I could just put his face over my face on a stick.”
So I had all these ideas how it would be funny, to just hide from celebrity or just ask other people if I could borrow their celebrity just for the day. So that never really evolved because of my partnership with Maddie. Because I fell madly in love with her as a person and as an artist and as a collaborator. So suddenly, I was just like, “I don’t want to work with anyone else. I love this person; she’s so wonderful.” So I guess she became almost an avatar, and I know most of the tweens and the little people think that she is Sia. When they meet me, they’re so disappointed. Actually often we’re out, me and her together, and often people will come. Most of the time, I try and bodyguard her, and I’ll be like, “Oh, unfortunately, we can’t do photos right now. She’s not supposed to be in town.” Or “No one’s supposed to know where she is.”
Because it’s getting gnarly for her, people wanting selfies and stuff like that now. But on the rare occasion that it’s a very sweet little, tiny person, they’ll say, “Would you mind taking a picture?” They think I’m her mum, which I love.
I mean, I dated a couple of celebrities over the last few years, but I loved that one time I was on a date with someone, and they recognized the person I was on the date with. They were like, “Oh, my God, could you take a picture with him, with me? Me and him?” I was like, “Of course.” I loved being the plus one. I would love to be a plus one.
Because I like being entertaining and fun and nice and friendly to my friends. Obviously through my fans or whatever, or to you, or people who are trying to make the world a better place. But I don’t care about adulation from people I don’t know. I don’t know. I get my validation elsewhere.
So celebrity is this huge, gaping — fame is a huge disappointment. For those of you who are listening who want to be famous, just do something else. It’s not what you think it is. It’s toxic.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s the best way to put it. It’s not what you think it is. Highly accurate.
Sia: I don’t know. I fell in love with Maddie and then the big wig was actually, I think my ex-husband was like, “You should wear a really big wig like an anime character.” So I did that at the Grammys, and then that became kind of, I guess iconic.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I would say that.
Sia: Then my Halloween costume. Then Maddie also became a Halloween costume in Chandelier. That was conscious. I was like, I want to always make outfits or looks that can be replicated for very little money because I want people to be able to afford to dress up as the pop star.
Tim Ferriss: I had no idea.
Sia: Yeah. The same with my movie, all of the outfits in the movie, I’m having made for Halloween affordably.
Tim Ferriss: We’ve alluded to the movie a few times now. Why don’t we tell people more about it?
Tim Ferriss: What’s the genesis story? Why do a movie?
Sia: Oh, wow. Yeah. I don’t know. I was very [laughter] — it was about, I don’t know, maybe 15, 16 years ago now. I don’t know. I thought of this; I just had a story come into my head. I wrote it down, and then many years later, it evolved into a screenplay. Then it was a kind of mediocre, pretty good indie screenplay.
But my best friend, who is a screenplay writer, he said, “I mean, this is great, nice indie. You could do this.” It wasn’t a musical. It was pure narrative. I was very against making a musical because I really wanted people to view me as a serious director.
Because I really thought that they’d think I was a wanker and it was just a vanity project or an actor making an album. I was scared of judgment, basically. Then he said, “Oh, we could make this, I can help you with this, and we could make it better.”
So I started from the scratch with Dallas Clayton, and he’s my best friend, the one I was talking to before I talked to you. Just so I could go get some co-regulation in. Because it was a movie and it worked. 20 minutes. Oh, that’s a top tip. 20 minutes of co-regulation with someone that you trust and that trusts you, that you have a 50/50 relationship with. 20 minutes of conversation with them will make you not want to do a drug, smoke a cigarette, gamble, to have sex, porn, shop.
It’s the cure to addiction. It’s connection. 20 minutes of co-regulation with a person that you trust. That’s the solution. Bill W. from AA, he just sort of happened upon it accidentally, I think. But now it’s proven science.
So anyway, back to the movie. We wrote it, and I was too scared to make it. Then some personal — went through a divorce. I think he had wanted to just put babies in me and me not drink, be working so much. I realized that I was in the wrong relationship. That was very devastating. It’s been about a four-year recovery from that divorce.
To help me through it, I guess Dallas, my best friend, we went and saw La La Land, and he just said to me, “You could do that.” I was like, “You think so?” Because I loved it. He was like, “Yeah, you could totally do that.” I was like, “You really think so?”
Because I’d always directed with a partner called Daniel Eskils. That’s who I directed all my music videos with. So I wasn’t sure if I was really a director. Or was I just an artist with good ideas? But it turned out Lena Dunham and Dallas, they said to me, “You can do it. You can do it. You’ll totally be able to do it.”
Because of who they are to me, good friends that I trust, I guess they gave me the self-esteem that I was lacking. So I called up Vincent Landay, who had been producing, who’s produced nearly all of Spike Jonze’s movies. He’s one of my favorite directors and done Adaptation and Being John Malkovich.
I said, “Can we try again?” Because we’d talked before. He said, “Yes. Okay.” Also someone, like maybe three people, had said to me, “Also you’re an idiot. You’ve got to turn it into a musical. You’re such an idiot. It’s like having a blank Scrabble piece and not using it. You’re an idiot.”
So I finally caved, and of course, then the budget went from four million to 16 million. But I did a good deal. I got two record labels in a bidding war for my albums, and then I just said, “Whoever’s going to lend me 16 million is who I’m going to go with.”
Tim Ferriss: Nice, nice.
Sia: So that’s what happened. I loved the movie. I’m proud of it. It’s a beautiful film.
Tim Ferriss: What’s the name?
Sia: It’s called Music.
Tim Ferriss: Dig it.
Sia: Yeah. Actually, Maddie Ziegler plays a character called Music, who is a teenager who’s suffering severely from autism, and she’s quite low functioning. She is nonverbal, although she does have echolalia. So she can repeat what you say, but she doesn’t generate her own vocabulary sentences.
So anyway, that was really scary for Maddie. I remember in the first day she came — I cast everyone basically off Twitter by just looking who can sing, who can sing, who doesn’t seem like a musical theater major. Who could sing. I basically just tweeted the people I want to do my movie, and they said yes.
Tim Ferriss: Cool.
Sia: Then Maddie was really scared because I based the character on a guy called Stevie, who I used to sit next to in an AA meeting on Sunday mornings at the log cabin. His mother was the deaf interpreter. So he obviously himself wasn’t an addict, but he was in there with her because she couldn’t afford care for him while she worked.
I fell in love with Stevie. I sat next to him, and I don’t know, I just fell in love with him, and I’d already had this story in my head. So the character was always suffering from autism or suffering, or I don’t know, flourishing from autism, depending on how you view it.
Then when I met Stevie, I was like, oh, my gosh, he’s so beautiful and perfect, and I love him. So I taught Maddie all of his mannerisms and his vocalizations, and she got scared. She got scared. I remember the first day that her and Kate Hudson were going to come to rehearsal, and she got there. Because I had bought a house across the road for her to live in temporarily because she was always here in town doing auditions and things like that. I didn’t think it was good for her to always be in different hotels and stuff like that.
So she came over across the road, she came over, and I could see something was off. I said, “What’s going on?” She burst into tears. She said, “I’m just really scared. I don’t want anyone to think I’m making fun of them.”
She is such a sensitive, beautiful person. I just said to her, “I will never let that happen. I will not let that happen. You can have final say over the cut. I will never let that happen.” Then we spent three days working on all of Stevie’s utterances and vocalizations and tics and movements. I have Stevie to thank for this amazing character that you’ll see in the movie.
Then inside of her head takes place all these musicals where she’s unburdened by any of her physical disabilities, the tics and the pain. Her body is free from autism and all the associated collection of things that you can have.
Everyone with autism is different. Every single one. There’s no two that are alike. So when we sent it off to the Child Mind Institute to make sure that we had done a good job representing the autism community, I was really hopeful that we’d done a good job. I felt proud. I thought we had. But they came back with 100 percent approval.
That, to me, was the day that I cried and felt relief. Thought okay, I’ve made a movie that’s meaningful, and that is interesting and moving and fun and funny. That’s what I’d wanted to do. So it’s — bring your Kleenex, but you get your hope. You get your lovely Hollywood ending, so don’t worry.
Tim Ferriss: Congratulations. I mean, it sounds like a real —
Sia: It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever —
Tim Ferriss: A real journey, a real journey.
Sia: I think that’s why I’ve also been in bed for three years.
Tim Ferriss: What keeps you going? What gives you the most energy these days? I mean, you’ve seemingly ticked off nearly every professional accolade and success you could ever want.
Sia: Yeah. I’ve got no goals now. Just being a mom. I just adopted two kids.
Tim Ferriss: How did you decide to do that?
Sia: I saw one of them on HBO. I tell you, I’m so obsessed with television. That’s why I’m friends with the Kardashians. Like Kathy Griffin. My interior designer was on Million Dollar [Decorators] or whatever, on Bravo. I’m friends with Bethany Frankel, for fuck’s sake. I’m into celebrities and reality TV.
I basically audition all my friends through reality TV to decide whether or not they’re safe or not. Then I go and find them and ask them to be my friend. Then I’ve got my regular friends, my regular circle of friends. But the only celebrities I’m really friends with are reality TV stars.
Tim Ferriss: Now when you say safe, that just means that they’re so aware of the public and exposed to the public, that nothing weird related to your fame will happen?
Sia: No, just psychologically not fucked, not going to harm me. That they’re just good people. They’re good, well-meaning people.
Tim Ferriss: How does the adoption fit into this?
Sia: Oh, well, yeah. How does it? Why did I start that?
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned HBO somehow.
Sia: Oh, yeah. That’s exactly right. So I was watching a documentary on HBO, i.e., reality TV, but it was about the foster care system. I saw a boy on there, and he was 16 at the time. I thought, “I can be his mother,” and what a hilarious overstatement that was. I found him, and he was 18 by the time I found him. I met him, and he said, “Can I bring my friend? He won’t make it. He’s too pretty.”
Tim Ferriss: He’s too what?
Sia: He’s too pretty.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, pretty.
Sia: Yep. I said, “Yeah, okay.” Because I had two spare bedrooms. I, like an absolute maniac, took them home that day. They were both 18 at the time. The last year has just been an absolute roller coaster, but just the most rewarding and the best thing ever.
Being a mommy, like a godmommy to Maddie, has been the most meaningful thing to me over the last, what, eight years? Six, seven years. Now being a mommy to my boys is now the most meaningful thing to me. That’s all I got. That’s all I got. I don’t care about anything else.
I just want to make sure that they don’t end up in the five percent that end up — because they statistically should end up in jail for murder. With the histories that they have, the trauma histories that they have. I want to fuck the system. I think the system is fucked. I want to help keep them out of jail. So then they could change the world.
Tim Ferriss: Well, thank you for doing that. It’s something that I can’t even, I can’t put myself in your shoes, of course. I mean, it must be such a multifaceted, emotional experience.
Some of my closest friends have adopted kids, and actually one, a woman I’m very close to, had a somewhat similar situation in the sense that she and her partner were planning on adopting one child, and they came home with three.
Sia: Then they wrote a movie about it!
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. In this —
Sia: Starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg.
Tim Ferriss: This was a different couple, but similar ideas. Parenting, I would imagine, I don’t know, have kids of my own, but it seems like the most rewarding and most difficult job imaginable.
Sia: Oh, I have —
Tim Ferriss: Certainly all the more so, I would imagine when you are picking up where the system has left off, I would imagine.
Sia: I mean, I have a complete, newfound respect for all parents. I feel like I’m lucky because they have structure, but they have trauma. So my job now is to use what I’ve learned in my attachment repair therapy with George Haas and use that with them to create a secure base for them. To help them, their brains — the neuroplasticity of their brains — to be able to become secure as well.
That’s my only goal at the moment is to help my children earn secure attachment because they’ve been in at least 18 different homes, each of them.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Sia: They were being treated abominably. So I’m just lucky I’m able, I have the resources that I can get them the kind of help that they really need. I’m grateful that it only took a year for me to get them on board.
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible.
Sia: It was a tough year.
Tim Ferriss: I bet.
Sia: I was an Al-Anon ninja.
Tim Ferriss: Well, Sia, I know we’re coming up on time. I mean, we don’t know each other that well, but the little contact that we have had, I’ve really enjoyed. I love your work. I enjoy your work. I enjoy you and what you’re doing in the world. People can find you on Twitter @sia; it’s the best handle ever. At S-I-A. Instagram is @siamusic. Of course, I’ll link to everything that we’ve discussed.
Sia: I mean, I occasionally tweet, but I don’t really run any of those. They’re more marketing things. You’re being very nice. Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: But I’m mentioning them. Also, I just realized as I’m looking at my hands right now that I do know the difference between supine and prone. Because when you’re doing a chin up and your palms are facing you, that’s supination, which you can remember because you could put soup in your hands to eat it with your palms up.
Then when you have your hands facing down or away, that’s pronation. So if you’re laying on your stomach, that would be prone. If you’re laying on your back, that would be supine. Just to come full circle with the pro and supine.
Sia: I just love learning. I don’t care if I’m wrong.
Tim Ferriss: Sia, is there anything else that you’d like to say before we bring to a close this first conversation on the podcast?
Sia: No, just I mean, I feel like we could talk for seven hours.
Tim Ferriss: I bet we could. I bet we could. We definitely could.
Sia: Thank you for all of the good things that you’re bringing to the world. I really appreciate it. Really, really interesting and broad coverage of what’s globally of importance, I guess. I appreciate what you do. Thanks.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: I really appreciate it, and I appreciate you taking the time. So thank you, thank you, thank you once again.
Sia: Of course, of course, of course.
Tim Ferriss: Hopefully, once this pesky virus gets handled, we’ll have a chance to actually spend time in person at some point.
Sia: Yeah, that’d be awesome. I’ll bring darts!
Tim Ferriss: I would love it. I would love it. To everybody listening, we will link to everything in the show notes, all of the resources, all of the concepts. The movie certainly. All of the handles, everything you can imagine, we will link to in the show notes at Tim dot blog forward slash podcast.
As usual, you can just search Sia. It’s very memorable, very easy to spell S-I-A in I would imagine almost every language. So you’ll be able to find it at Tim dot blog. Until next time, thanks for tuning in.
Sia: Thank you so much. Love you.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 800 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.