Triggering impartiality with SANNIA
The in-between presents itself as both a haunting place but also a void of ripeness, depending on the eyes from which it’s perceived.
Perched somewhere between the realities of Sardinia and a quietly racist Australia, Jackie Sannia emerged from a migrant background as an Australian musical powerhouse with a tenderness to care for the world around her. Her recognition as an artist began at the tender age of 17, thrust into the public eye as a contestant on an Australian season of ‘The Voice’. Peering into the fog of public recognition, this pivotal experience altered the trajectory of her music career, transforming it from a desire for fame to a profound quest for genuine human connection. Around the same time, receiving a diagnosis of Bipolar Type 2, the artist was forced to confront the implicit societal misunderstandings about mental health, deepening her understanding and compassion for the vast spectrum of the human experience.
Sophie from HQ sat down with Sannia to hear about her new track trigger and her upcoming debut album launch.
Hey before we start, I forgot to ask- how do I pronounce your artist name?
In Sardinia, which is where my family is from, it’s technically ‘sunneeya’ but no one says that. It’s ‘sanneeya’ in Australia not ‘sarneeya’ which drives me nuts. The other day I got a play off *** and I love this man, he’s my internet dad, but he always calls me ‘sarneeya’, and it’s been too long now for me to correct him, and I’m like yes, that is me…
Oh man, it’s okay. I won’t do that to you, I promise. I’ve been listening to your latest track trigger for the past week, preparing for this conversation and on a personal note, this song has come to me post-lovebomb implosion situation, so it feels like excellent timing.
The love bomb.
The love bomb. I wanted to know, your latest track trigger, where does it come from? It touches on some very real themes for me right now- things feeling like they’re starting and stopping, and maybe feeling a little bit chaotic and out of control. The lyric Baby put a bullet in my back… what was the inspiration for this song? I’m dying to know.
I’m a drama queen. Really with most of my songs I don’t sit down to write them. I’ll find myself doing things– I’ll be putting laundry away or I’ll be driving or I’ll be walking and then I’ll just sort of start like noodling lyrically. This really just fell out of me because I must have been processing what had just happened. I had feelings for someone for a very long time and they’d been sort of a slow burn/ will they-won’t they. Eventually this person that I was madly in love with was like: “I would love to date you, let’s give this a go”. I’m like, amazing, this is the best day of my life and things progressed. And then it was the most sudden cut off.
I can speak about this now because I actually live with this person and we’ve been together for two years and I love him more than life. But at the time I was like, sorry?
I had no closure. And then we went into COVID lockdown and there was no way to catch up and talk. It was very full on.
I recorded the song on Logic in one afternoon and then I shelved it for a year and a half. I wrote about everything else under the sun. And then at the end of 2021 when COVID decided to end, that situation completely reversed itself. And then I actually felt okay enough to finish the song because the situation was fine so I could write how I felt, but for a long time I couldn’t.
I think you’ve touched on something that always really fascinates me. I’m also a writer and use a lot of my personal experiences for creative fodder (for lack of a poetic way to put it). I’m always running circles around myself wondering where the ethical boundaries start and end for what is mine to share fairly and what isn’t.
It felt too real to write about. I feel like I can write about things that I’m past. If I’ve worked through it and I’ve done therapy and I’ve had to think about it, I can write about it. But if it’s something that’s just happened, it’s too real. It also just feels kind of rude. Initially I always feel like I am worried about the other person.
After the years go by I tend to be like fuck that person- if I don’t know them anymore, I don’t care anymore. But at first I do tend to hold back when I’m writing because I always get afraid of annoying people, which is dumb. I look towards Taylor Swift and wish I didn’t care. But I do.
That is a kind of emotional safety that you’re buying by giving yourself space between the emotion and the art. Has that coping mechanism always been under your belt, or did that kind of come in more strongly when you started putting words to feelings and sharing that?
I’d say when the words came into it. As a kid, if I was having issues at home, I would disappear into this room on the other side of the house and just play piano for hours. And I’d be in the dark, thrashing out some tunes and it was very emo, and that was just sort of how I’d cope with everything. Bad day, bad life, whatever: piano.
And so for me it was really easy to just transfer immediate feelings into piano. But then when it came to writing and adding words into it, I realized I could pretty much say exactly what had just happened and that was scary. And so I would write a song for me but no one would hear it.
I’ve been writing since I was 15 and I’m 28 now. So it’s taken me a long time to realize that it’s okay to speak. It’s probably a very common insecurity, to just be very afraid of what people will assume. Will they guess who this is about? Will I have to clarify something? Will anyone care? What’s the point? Who needs to hear my shit anyway? All these internal voices. So for sure, it’s been a coping mechanism my whole life. But with song-writing, I’ve always been very cautious about drip feeding lyrics.
Before I release something I go over it clinically, check to see if I need to use the thesaurus etc. Which is not always a good thing. I think I spend too much time editing, instead of just sending it out.
That could be a sign of the times. I feel like we live in a time when everything feels super manufactured and over-edited. Without it carrying a negative connotation, things do tend to feel a bit cold. You described yourself as chaotic at the beginning of our conversation. Do you feel like that in your art as well as in your life?
I’ve got a lot of these polished photos and all this [marketing] stuff and it’s all sort of very professional. But I think that people probably don’t know how much inner turbulence there is. I think I used to be a lot more chaotic when I was younger, but I guess growing older means it’s more like a slow internal doom rather than sporadic panic attacks. But I can be chaotic in my music and my choice of production. When we’re producing, I’ll be like “What if we chucked a sample of a clang of a bin in this?” And in half an hour, I’m like “I actually hate the clang. I’m sorry. Let’s take a coffee break”.
That is a true story. There’s a song that has a bin sample in it and it’s still in there and no-one knows. I really liked the clang sound in the end.
I noticed that about trigger as well. There are a lot of samples hidden in it. It’s a track that once it’s playing, you can’t stop listening until you reach the end. It hits you really hard. What’s the first thing you hear when you’re listening to a track? Do you build tracks in the same order as you hear them?
I think I listen most for lyrics. It always irritates people because they’ll come to me and be like “how good is this song?”, and they’ll show me a pop song that everyone loves and I’m like, what is this even about? I had this conversation with Backstreet Boys- I want it that way which everyone loves. What does it actually mean? It doesn’t make sense to me.
If I don’t get a really good lyrical journey, or if it’s not sort of intentionally written… That’s what I’m passionate about, really creative storytelling and good use of adjectives. Like the vocabulary of Dave Le’aupepe (Gang of Youths).
I have bipolar type 2, so you get two very different me’s when I’m writing. It can either be sad or anxious. And I tend to write in two different ways.
In one way, I’ll go with lyrics first. If I’m feeling pensive, I will sit down at a cafe, whip out one of my shitty typo notebooks, and I will write a whole bunch of things and later on, I’ll sort through it. But if I’m a bit manic and a bit frazzled, I will sit down at a piano and just play some chords and then sort of improvise without lyrics. So I always go back to my chaos roots if I’m really under stress and then if I’m planning to write, it’ll be lyrics first.
Which I hadn’t realized until now that I definitely do have a pattern. I cannot write lyrics when I’m stressed. So that’s free therapy.
Is Bipolar Type 2 something you’re comfortable in talking about more with us?
Yeah definitely I think it’s not talked about enough in a way that doesn’t demonize it. I think it’s often confused for BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s very often people are like “So are you two different people?”. I’m like, that’s not bipolar. It’s more like two distinct emotional ranges rather than two different people.
I’m very passionate about explaining it to people. Whenever someone’s a villain or someone is really problematic, the media likes to say they’ve got Bipolar. Everyone’s like, Kanye’s crazy because he’s got Bipolar. Robin Williams had Bipolar and he was out here, creating some of the greatest Disney characters of all time. I don’t want to hear that shit.
I think it should be talked about more and without the villain trope attached to it, because the stigma is terrible. When I got diagnosed, I was like, am I a bad person?
How old were you when you were diagnosed?
Pretty young. They’d mentioned that it takes a long time for them to reach a Bipolar diagnosis. They’d gone and conferred with my childhood psychologist. I had a very, very troubled childhood and so everything was well documented. It took until I was 17 after I’d been on lots of different medications and tried lots of things that didn’t work before they diagnosed it. The last child psychiatrist I saw sat me down and explained what everything meant.
Coming from a migrant background, my grandparents moved here from Sardinia and my mum and my aunt grew up speaking Italian and Sardinian, not English. So even though they were born here, there was no sort of option to have mental health issues. There was no understanding that it existed. If you had mental health issues it was like- go for a walk, get a job.
Leaving that psychologist’s office, what was the first thing that you did?
So I walked out of there and I think I googled it. This was in 2012. I remember it standing out that Bipolar type 2 was the highest mortality rate of all the mental health disorders. And I was so confused about the mortality rate. I was like, does it give you cancer?
But it was suicide. The most out of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, BPD and a whole plethora of other things. I was just sort of like, wow so I’m kind of doomed to always want to die? That’s awful. And for a long time, I was like, how am I gonna enjoy my life if I feel like, at one point, I’m gonna want to kill myself again?
It was a very big thing to have handed to me at 17. Especially when I had my entire family being like ‘don’t tell anyone that you’re sick’. I’m like, what? It’s either ‘you don’t have a mental illness’ or ‘you’re sick and you can’t tell anyone’. So yeah, they weren’t happy when I put it on Facebook.
Me: I have Bipolar *updates status*.
My mum: whAt ArE You DoINg?!
What a crazy time. Remember when Facebook used to be the Wild West, and you would just put up 50 photos and then just say what you felt. Now it’s like, no honest thoughts allowed here.
I do. I actually recently had to go and delete some things that a 15 year old me had written.
I guess now Gen Z has stories for that. And maybe Gen Alpha will be like, you guys had stories?! We project our thoughts through AI.
There are kids now that are growing up where their digital persona and their real persona are one and the same thing. Whereas I still have a splintering between my digital life and my offline one that I enjoy. To your earlier point about keeping distance between the art and the artist’s real world, I agree that it allows me some sense of psychological safety. How do you feel about your relationship with the digital world?
I think that I curate myself way too much. I keep getting told to just be my dickhead self on social media, but I think I’m just so afraid of being a dickhead. Sometimes it’s then like well, maybe I should just be myself. But then I also have that converse feeling of: does the world need another person talking?
So what always stops me from posting is the fact that everyone is talking, everyone’s got a podcast. So does anyone really have the energy at the end of the day to hear what I’m saying? I sometimes struggle to motivate myself because I see from the other side as a consumer that I’m so tired of content.
I want a rest. I don’t want to sit there and listen to someone talk at me asking me “did you know about this?”
I think I am very skeptical and sort of probably pessimistic about the online world. I’m kind of a little bit afraid of it as well. I went on reality TV on The Voice as the same 17 year old that had been diagnosed with Bipolar.
That’s a big year.
And I was very much an introvert and I didn’t realize what it meant that there were three million people viewing every episode. That was really hard for me. They don’t really warn you but they also don’t know what’s gonna be the trending topic on Twitter.
For me, it was my teeth and my weight. I had crooked teeth, I was overweight, I had lipstick on my teeth in one episode and that was trending in Melbourne. Just never ending tweets and content of people asking questions and messaging me. I got death threats from random people. Probably the most troubling one – and the reason why whenever I see underage kids on TV I’m like, where the fuck are the parents – is I was exposed to so many pedophiles.
You would not believe how they come out of the woodworks and they’re like “You’re really pretty (in your pure child state)” but then when I turned 18 they vanished.
So I had a really big sort of reckoning at 18 with the world, with misogyny, with the internet, with all the systems. I went off and studied and didn’t want to be a part of this world at all. It was only about five years ago that I sort of started to feel comfortable on my own and want to put out some music again.
How did you deal with those feelings at that time?
Not very well. I was living by myself in an apartment in Sydney so I had no one with me to basically be like “hey you should really not read this stuff”. I was on the brink of suicidal. I was happy to be making music and I felt fulfilled in that way, but it was the people that were the problem. I felt like whenever I would bring that up with anyone they’d be like, “you’re so lucky” and all I could feel was how fucked up it was.
Especially looking at my phone and watching notifications come through with such a tempo. It feels like hands are just dragging you under, like that scene in Harry Potter. It was very intense. When in week three or four it went to the coach vote and they picked someone else, I was so relieved to go home.
I was so tired, I really felt like I hated the music industry. But I’ve grown to realize that that was the television industry, which is a very different thing. I think it’s been 10 years since I went on The Voice and I think it’s changed a lot. I think they protect their artists a bit better now.
I don’t think it was malpractice back then either, I just think that they couldn’t have known in that year, 2013, what we were facing with Twitter and Instagram taking off.
It’s one of those weird things that’s very hard to talk about without seeming ungrateful, because a lot of people only see all of the things I got to do and the people I got to meet. And of course I am very grateful for that side of it. But it also came at a huge psychological cost.
I hated the entire world. I felt like everyone on earth was flawed and terrible. I didn’t want to be here. And I was a very dark jaded 19 year old after that. It was a very distinct time.
That is huge and, as you said, when there’s no rule book and no protective barrier, I can only imagine the amount of confusion and disenchantment you would feel, especially at that age.
I think we’re in that phase with TikTok right now. I think that TikTok is in the early stages where it’s huge and everyone’s on it, but there’s some policing. I still look at the live streamers and the comments that come through unfiltered and wonder how those people are going.
I was actually going to ask you, are you on Tiktok?
I work with a lot of teenagers so I did a lot of “social media is a devil” preaching until I got it myself. I made a TikTok about Vladimir Putin which went viral. When it happened I was trying to get my music out there. I made one video about Russian politics and suddenly I’ve got all these Russian right-wing bots being like You will die, American girl.
So that was a mistake. It’s always my cooked takes that go off. I made a video about Anthony Albanese becoming Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, Taylor Swift and Seamus Finnegan from Harry Potter and those are my highest viewed videos. The rest is fucking crickets.
Do you think that the political voice inside of you always existed? Do you feel like your early experiences in the public eye, kind of seeing the dark side to the world, intensified it?
I think it’s a bit of both. As a kid when I watched Harry Potter, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Atlantis, where all these heroes are fighting big injustices, I really had a hero complex. I was trying to get the animals out of the zoos, writing petitions and thinking I could change the world.
Ironically, it was during The Voice when I realised the world was fucked for the first time. That was when I was like, maybe I can’t go out there and help people and fix things, maybe everything is fucked. After that, I was like, what is the point of anything? What can I possibly change? This world is so much bigger than I thought.
I really feel this being a theme in your life- being in between two definite states- having a migrant background, being in between fame and normality and also your diagnosis as bipolar. How would you describe your emotional range to someone who is neurotypical?
If a neurotypical person’s range is sad to happy, I don’t have the happy end. It’s like the whole thing is skewed downwards. So I never quite feel true happiness. I’ll be happy about some things but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced pure euphoria. And when I do, I panic. I’m like, is it mania? Is this real happiness or am I experiencing a swing?
But the lows are hard to describe to people because I don’t get the whole stay in bed, stay at home, eat comfort food kind of depression. I go straight to suicide. For me there is no real landing period where I know that I’m going downhill. So I’ve been medicated on the same stuff for about seven years. Before that, at any given time I could be like- I’m done here, thanks for having me.
That’s characteristic of type 2- we don’t have the mania. Whereas bipolar type 1 will have really intense mania and can have a crash where it will be the stay in bed sort of depressive episode for a few months. For me that was one of the reasons why I did a lot of music. As a teenager, it was like well I can’t kill myself because I don’t have any implements, so I’ll just go play piano. It would literally be that practical.
I’d think, oh my mum will notice (if I killed myself), so better go play some piano.
Me and my sister grew up in a very abusive household. And so at school seeing other kids that were quite well adjusted, I wondered if I was the problem. Sometimes I’ll see people I went to high school with on Facebook and I wonder if they still think that I am that psycho kid. I know why I was the way I was and I was on all the wrong meds. I get quite sad thinking that there might be this representation of me, or this different version of myself out there that I can’t control. I guess that’s also a byproduct of The Voice, constantly thinking about how I have been interpreted.
My partner is always telling me that it’s not my fault what people think. And I’m like you mean to tell me that even though I’ve made it my problem my entire life, it’s not my problem?
As someone who comes from a similar background of a turbulent household, I think your hypervigilance and sensitivity are tools you developed to survive.
If I’m outside in a park and the wind stops, I’m like, something’s wrong. Whereas other people just notice that the wind has stopped.
How are you in emergency situations?
My mother got diagnosed with cancer, and she was pretty much dying. And this was the year after The Voice. And everyone around me was sort of expecting me to fall apart. I don’t think I cried once, which seems sociopathic. But I was just in a space of heightened awareness instead of panic.
My mum’s fine now, by the way. She’s in remission.
I’ve grown up in chaos. I’m able to operate in chaos. I’m able to do things with lots of stuff going on around me because there’s lots of stuff going on inside as well. So, it doesn’t make a difference to me.
In a lot of ways there are some unspoken and unacknowledged powers that come with being on a different frequency and perception spectrum to everybody else.
Is there anything else that you have realised is a power that is unique to you?
I think despite being very skeptical and closed off to a lot of things, I would say that my empathy is probably my biggest power. It sometimes even surprises me because given the circumstances, maybe I shouldn’t have that. I should be pissed off at the world.
But I think that seeing a lot of the world means that I can put myself in someone else’s shoes and see the reasons they are acting that way. I’m often the one having to say to other people: “This is how this person must be feeling”.
It makes me a good writer as well, being able to put myself in a lot of people’s shoes. But that’s a blessing and a curse because having that level of empathy for others means that I have definitely been walked on a lot.
It’s hard because I have had to learn how to detach after I’ve had empathy and I’ve seen where they’re coming from. I’m still learning the boundary between that, even with family members and very problematic family things. It’s like: “I love this person, I have empathy but I have to take care of myself now”. And that is a recurring battle in my life.
When you grow up in a very turbulent household, you carry that sort of guilt and keep feeling responsible for things and for people. You have to be like: this is actually not my problem. I have to stop worrying about everyone around me. Sometimes I will just go for a long drive to be away from people.
I should go on to those Irish islands. You know how they keep trying to get people to live on the uninhabitable Irish Islands? I’ll do that. I love the ocean.
What does your dream safe space look like?
I think it would be somewhere facing the ocean. But with lots of trees around me. I would love to be in a house with lots of light, lots of trees, and then eventually a body of water. No people, no footpaths, no gardens, just trees. I’m not really a big manufactured garden person. I do love a lemon tree because I’m Sardinian, but apart from that… Actually no, I tell a lie. Lemons and olives. The two most important trees.
I did want to end with one final question. It’s a question that I like to ask people, especially artists. Especially because I think, at some point in everyone’s life, they had a moment where the world suddenly got a lot bigger and scarier than what they grew up knowing it to be. And that moment, often is quite a devastating one for people’s faith in themselves, and in the world. So I want to know: what is one hope that you haven’t let go of?
I really hold the hope that humanity will wake up in time to sort out climate change. I feel like we came together for Live Aid and we still haven’t solved world hunger (which if Elon Musk could just fucking sort that out, that’d be great). But I still have this hope that we can stare down the barrel of destruction and actually not let ourselves be destroyed by capitalism. One hope that COVID gave me was actually watching the world come together for one cause. Everyone was like, well this disease is pretty bad and we should sort it out. I think we could probably do that for climate change. I hope to see it happen and I hope that I live to see the world and not stare into the sun as everyone gets melted in a ball of flames.
For myself, I don’t want to say the word success, because it’s not about success for me. I don’t want fame. I don’t want any of that ever again. What I want is to be able to put out music. I want people to feel seen and heard in the way that I have felt seen and heard by artists. For me, singing other people’s music just made me feel sane and normal and heard. And I just want to be that for someone else. I don’t really need to be the next Taylor Swift. I just want people to feel like they’re not by themselves.