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Image for Missy Higgins - The Sound Of Maturity

Missy Higgins - The Sound OfMaturity

If you’ve harboured any doubts that Missy Higgins isn’t the real deal, then I’m here to put your disbelief to bed. If Melissa Morrison Higgins always appears affable, personable and saccharine sweet, then that’s because she really is. Although, I did get to her to say “bullshit” once in twenty five minutes.

Her new baby is On A Clear Night, a record that’s been in gestation ever since she gave birth to her firstborn LP, the astronomically successful The Sound Of White. “I started writing actually as soon as I finished recording The Sound of White,” explains Missy down the phone line. “100 Round the Bends, one of the songs on the album, I actually wrote while I was recording The Sound of White. So I started quite early because I knew there would a lot of pressure for the second album and I didn’t want to write songs under anyone’s stopwatch. It hasn’t been too bad.”

The young 23 year old Melbournian’s foot in the door came courtesy of Triple J’s Unearthed competition, when in 2001 she stole the radio station’s, and its listeners, heart with the gorgeous piano ballad All For Believing and the catchy acoustic pop ditty Greed For Your Love. With propulsion courtesy of the singles Scar and Ten Days, her debut album The Sound of White rocketed to the apex of the ARIA Charts, where it planted itself for 7 weeks. It also garnered her enough awards to fill an Ikea store: 6 ARIA Awards and 2 APRA Awards thanks to the success of Scar and the album it’s found on.

Though she’s first and foremost a pianist, the majority of the songs on On A Clear Night have guitar as the foundation. With most of the record written while she was on the road, Missy admits that the ease of writing on guitar, as opposed to having to “lug your keyboard in, plug it in, set it all up and get headphones” meant that necessity bred invention. She’s also a better guitar player for it. “I hadn’t been playing guitar very long for the first album so I think I’m definitely a better guitar player, and probably a worse piano player because I haven’t been able to play it much over the last few years,” she laughs.

Travelling to LA, Missy enlisted the production talents of Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello) to help bring On A Clear Night to life. “He just got a real… quirkiness about his production that I found really intriguing but at the same time he really brings out the individualism and personality of the songwriter and the singer so I thought we’d make a really good combination,” avers Missy. “I think my songs are very lyrically and vocally driven and I think that what’s he really does best, while at same time really making the recordings have a lot of personality to them.”

Two other artists that helped Missy along the way were Tim Finn, who contributed backup vocals to Going On and guitar to the feisty_Peachy_ , and drummer extraordinaire Matt Chamberlain, best known for his work with Tori Amos and Fiona Apple. Of Chamberlain, Missy says: “[He’s] a drummer that I always thought, in my mind, he’d be my ultimate choice to play with because I had a Tori Amos live album To Venus and Back and I thought, ‘Wow that drummer is amazing’. He’s so effortless and completely unassuming.”

On A Clear Night is clearly – no pun intended – the sound of a maturing artist. Missy started experimenting with song structures, saying that “I guess it was just a subconscious thing to go down that road because after a while if you keep writing songs with the same formula it gets a bit boring and old so I just wanted to try new ways of writing and production”.

The haunting echoes of closing track Forgive Me were recorded in Mitchell Froom’s “pub”, a room in his house that, aside from having a bar with enough liquor to intoxicate a bikie gang, was tiled floor to ceiling: “We just basically set up, we just put one microphone in the middle of the room and I just sat down with my guitar and just sung the song through a couple of times.” Then there’s her song called Angela, which was inspired by a black and white Gone With The Wind still. Lyrically, Missy wrote from the point of view of an imaginary woman, vying for Clarke Gable’s affection, jealous of what Vivien Leigh has.

“I guess I write with two extremes,” explains Missy. “[One] is writing from my personal life and sometimes being very intimate and personal, and the other extreme is me putting myself in the mind of a totally fictional character and just having fun playing that role. [Fictional stories] are much easier to talk about because there’s no chance of you giving away too much about your personal life. But on the other hand it’s nice to write personal songs because then it feels really cathartic to play them live and to get them down on tape.”

With the album recorded, mixed, mastered, packaged and waiting to be loaded into the van to be delivered to record stores around Australia, Missy’s taking time to help Triple J select artists to open for her forthcoming national tour. “I feel like I owe so much to Triple J for helping me out at the beginning of my career so any hand that I can have in helping young acts get noticed and get out there, I’m kind of jumping at.” She’s also moving into the world of activism: having donated her time to PETA in the past, she’s now lending her voice to Reformation Australia to hopefully, finally, get the government to apologise for the injustices committed to indigenous Australians.

“We’re looking at promoting just reconciliation across Australia. There’s a lot about the Indigenous culture that we don’t understand yet and I think it’s really important to try and get that information out there because these are our brothers and sisters that we’re living with in our daily life that we really don’t know enough about and we don’t understand why they’re struggling the way that they are. I think the key to that is education. I don’t understand what the big deal is about saying sorry. There’s a lot to say sorry for. I think just that one little word represents respect and understanding.”

Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night is out now through EMI.

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