I tell Kate Miller-Heidke that she strikes me as sweet, and that it may have something to do with the blonde hair, and the operatic voice. The Brisbane born 28-year-old soon sets the record straight, insisting the hair is ‘apricot’ (not, as I put it, blondie-brown) and there’s another side, slightly irreverent and a little bit cheeky, to the rising starlet of the Australian music scene – but I think we all knew that.
“Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ll come packing heat for sure, shoot Jessica Mauboy,” says Kate when asked if she’ll be busting caps at the ARIAs this year if she doesn’t win. Cue the sweet Kate: “No, please don’t print that! That’s definitely a joke!” And any killing may cause a slight problem, considering the two share a record label. Nominated for four ARIAs last year without a win, Kate is up for another four this year, including single of the year – although, still nothing compared to Jessica’s seven. But Kate, who’ll be performing on the night, says it’s an evening of celebration for her. “Look, It’s a cliché, but it’s just nice to go there and drink some free champagne and feel like I’m part of a community for one night a year. A whole bunch of musicians are there and I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.”
Indeed, Kate Miller-Heidke is bigger than just one woman. She’ll be sharing the celebration with her band. “It’s Keir and my band. Even though it just goes under my name, it’s very much a collaboration,” says Kate of her husband and collaborator, Keir Nuttal. When asked what that’s like, working with her lover, she lets out a surprise little gasp and a giggle. “It’s really good. I think we definitely bring out the best in each other, most of the time, I hope!” says Kate, with a touch of modesty that seems to regularly pop-up throughout our chat. “He’s an incredible song writer and his musical influences are very different to mine, you know? He grew up on a diet of Iron Maiden and Slayer, but he also has a beautiful melodic sense and is a great lyricist as well.”
It’s Keir who Kate credits with creating the ‘best part’ of their current hit single, The Last Day On Earth. “Kier had that beautiful, haunting chorus,” says Kate, demonstrating for effect – “the eye eyeeh… I think that’s the best bit,” says Kate admitting, however, that an entire song of that “could get a bit repetitive. “So the rest of the song sprung up around that.”
Talking to Kate, it’s sometimes easy to forget the musician and performer is only in her late 20s. Married, embarking on a career that continues to steadily soar, and working with high-profile artists, she also recently made the move to the UK. And rather than the move being linked to some career goal, it seems she just wanted the experience, like most 20-somethings. “I’ve lived in Australia for pretty much all of my life, and it was just time for a change. I was just pining to live in a different city and be surrounded by different things. London has such a vibrant music scene and so much going on all the time – like, to an overwhelming degree. I had some friends there and it just felt right,” says the singer.
But the UK isn’t where this interview finds Kate. There’s a touch of fatigue in her usually high energy voice. This may be the tenth interview for today, or it could be the time difference. It’s probably about 11pm US time for Kate. “I guess he just heard some of my stuff online and sent me an email out of the blue,” says Kate rather nonchalantly about supporting Ben Folds on his tour through some of the well-known and not so well known parts of America. “We’re going to Fargo at some stage, so yeah, really getting into the guts of America,” says Kate of a tour that kicked off in September and ends just in time for her to make it back to Australia for her own road-trip. Picturing Kate in the knee-high snow of North Dakota, Frances McDormand style, I ask if she’s excited about touring the, no doubt, sunnier east coast of Australia. “Yes! It’s gonna be great. We’re doing a lot of bigger venues and beautiful old theatres this time, for the very first time. I think it’s going to be quite special.”
Kate’s irreverent, cheeky side seems most on show in her side projects and in her live shows. Recent release, Live at The Hi-Fi, seems a nice combination of both. Released earlier this month, the new record includes Are You F*cking Kidding Me?, a hilarious lyrical exposé on one ex-lover’s audacity in adding her as a friend on Facebook. Kate says that while her little ditty will never be part of a studio release, this one and others like it have “always been a part of what I do.” She’s also covered Australian music legend John Farnham, a little cheekily, with mixed success. “In Australia I’ve had guys come up to me after we’ve played at a festival or something and say, ‘Mate, you stay away from Johnny Farnham. Can’t mess with him,’” laughs Kate.
She’s also involved in a London based project at the moment called Shoes, and while she’s eager to branch out, others obviously want Kate to take it slowly. “It’s a dance show, but set to music with little storylines threaded through it. I’ve offered to do the sprinkler,” says Kate, “um, but they didn’t take me up on it. I just have to stand and sing, that’s it.” Kate says it was Jerry Springer: The Opera’s season in Australia that inspired her to do “good, fun, side projects” outside her band. “You hear Jerry Springer: The Opera and you think, Oh, you know, that’s just swearing to music. Which a lot of it was, but it was just really, really fucking funny, and also extremely moving. It really had something to say about humanity and religion. It was completely blasphemous and disgusting. My character was a woman who liked to dress in nappies and shit herself and get spanked. It was just a really amazing, subversive piece of art with great music and I loved just being involved.”
Kate happily talks about her influences, like Joni Mitchell. “You’ve probably got Blue, ” she tells me when I list a couple of tracks on my iPod, “It’s widely regarded as the best album. I first discovered her music when I was 13 or 14 and that really, really opened up a part of my brain that I never knew existed before.” And Johnny Farnham isn’t an influence, just for the record, “but who knows how that kind of thing seeps into your brain when you’re having a weak moment when it comes on at Woolies,” says Kate. But, as open as Kate is, the singer is a little more reticent about one thing.
“I don’t really like saying it, because I feel too exposed,” says Kate in a sort-of half-whisper about who she might like to collaborate with in future. “It’s like asking you, ‘who do you have the hots for and would like to go and fuck?’ and then having your answer printed on the internet and not know if they like you back.” And to be fair, she is already married to one of her collaborators – we wouldn’t want to make Keir jealous, especially when they’re onto such a good thing.
Kate Miller-Heidke will be touring Australia next month. Dates are as follows:
Byron Bay – Nov 10, Byron Bay Community Centre
Caloundra, QLD – Nov 12, Caloundra RSL
Brisbane – Nov 13, QPAC Lyric Theatre
Cronulla – Nov 14,Toyota Park
Newcastle – Nov 15, Civic Theatre
Canberra – Nov 17, Hellenic Club
Adelaide – Nov 18, Adelaide Festival Theatre
Sydney – Nov 20, Enmore Theatre
Penrith – Nov 22, Evan Theatre Penrith Leagues
Geelong, VIC – Nov 24, Geelong Performing Arts Centre
Hepburn Springs, VIC – Nov 25, Hepburn Palais
Melbourne – Nov 28, The Forum Theatre
Launceston – Feb 10, MS Festival.
Kate Miller-Heidke, Live at The Hi-Fi and platinum selling album Curiouser are available now through Sony.