Kate Miller-Heidke interview – Aussie star on the C word and why Lilith Fair wasn’t a ‘concentration camp’

September 30, 2010
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Kater Miller-Heidke - photo by Brian Banks, Music Vice

Kate Miller-Heidke is one of the brightest stars to emerge from Australia’s music scene in recent years.  Our Melbourne, Victoria based writer Danny Crombie lauded her talents after seeing her play a show at Hi-Fi in May 2009, declaring, “Kate is someone that you must see before losing the will to live after seeing way too many crap crust bands who only have a 1,000,000,000th of the talent she possesses in her front bottom alone.” Soon after that show in May, somebody recorded Kate’s “Facebook song” at a concert – that video became a YouTube hit, with over a million views and many, many ‘shares’ on Facebook. These are the common-knowledge facts about Kate Miller-Heidke: in the fifteen minutes that I spent chatting with Kate before her show on 22 September at the Rivoli, Toronto, I managed to find out a little more for about her. This was by all accounts the most disorganized interview I’ve ever done. It was also one of the more fun ones.

I’d arrived nearly 20 minutes late. Sorry Kate. In my defence this was the first time I’d ever been late for an interview…well, at least as the interviewer. Also, I’d only had the interview confirmed less than 24 hours previous via a late night call from a Sony rep. No excuses. Yet it didn’t leave me much time for proper prep but this is the way these things happen sometimes, though they don’t teach you that in journalism school. One thing they do teach you though is shorthand, but I’d managed to gleefully dodge that bullet, the slack-off student that I was. However, tonight I’d regret my lack of knowledge of “journo Chinese” as my ever-dependable little Sony digital recorder decide to become less-than-dependable at the critical moment…

As I entered the backroom at Rivoli, Kate spun around from putting up a poster to greet me. We sat down to start the interview. “Are you from Scotland?”, Kate asked, to which I confirmed, and then like a sarcastic bugger I asked if she was Australian. She acknowledged this as a fact. Our chat started off with a bit of Australia-UK banter with Kate asking me why Scottish people find it offensive to be called “Scotch”. Then we talked a bit about the differences between North American English and British/Aussie English.

“They don’t like the C word here in Canada and America. But us Aussies and Brits love it!”, commented Kate. “What… CUNT?! Yeah, what’s up with that?”, I exclaimed in agreement, while nearby a few innocent Canadian souls were eternally damned after hearing my profanity.

It was at this point my digital recorder refused to cooperate, declaring itself to be “FULL”. I saw a guy sitting nearby with a Macbook so I went over and asked if I could plug in my recorder to delete some files. Slightly baffled by my request, this fella called Rubin, generously obliged by helping out. We sat down again but the recorder still refused to cooperate. Once again Rubin kindly helped out but to no avail. This little episode took about 5 minutes of our allotted 15 minutes. Kate remained patient through-out as I tried to laugh it off. “I guess you’re going to have to take notes. Do you know shorthand?”, Kate asked. “Sort of…I did go to journalism school, honest, but I use my own version of shorthand,” I replied, as I began scrawling illegibly on a blank piece of paper with a sharpie…

Kate told me that she’d just flown into Toronto the night before after spending some
Kate Miller-Heidke - Curiouser album artworktime in London on the West End. I asked her about her classical background, as it can be clearly heard in her music, and how she ended up becoming a pop star.

Kate – I studied at the Queensland Conservatory of Music in Brisbane for four years. During that time I started singing in bars, and that’s where the interest grew. My singing teacher couldn’t understand why I’d come into class each morning reeking of booze and cigarettes.

One day I had to make a decision between the two different career routes. I was approached by a record label (Sony Australia) and then shortly afterwards I was also offered the role of Mabel in Pirates of Penzance at Sydney Opera House. That’s a big gig. It was a tough call, but I went with the label so that I could make my own music, I love the creative buzz.

Luckily I still get to dabble into the theatre stuff too, like with Jerry Springer: The Opera at the Sydney Opera House last year. And also with the Song and Dance Revue that I just came back from playing on the West End in London.

You played Lilith Fair this summer in North America. The tour received a lot of bad press, with a lot of the dates being cancelled due to poor ticket sales. What was your experience?

Kate – I had a great time, there was a lot of bad press and it was dubbed a failure but that wasn’t my experience. We got beat-up by the media. At each date there would be “media calls” where all the women would sit a table and face a firing line of journalists.

The punters really enjoyed it. Well, except for one guy I overheard who was lining up to use a porta-potty. I heard him say to his partner “it feels like being in a concentration camp”.

A concentration camp? Haha, that’s a bit extreme. Cueing up to take a piss is pretty much a common occurrence at any music festival..

Kate – Yeah. It’s part of the festival lifestyle, but I thought his comment was funny. Oh, hey, you better include something good I said about Lilith Fair and not just the concentration camp thing otherwise Sarah McClachlan is going to hate me!!

OK, no problem there. You’re close with Sarah?

Kate – Yeah, well, we’re going to be doing a small version of Lilith Fair together in Australia this October called ‘A Taste Of Lilith’. It’s me, Sarah, The Courtyard Hounds and The Verses. I’m really looking forward to playing on an all-female tour in my home country, it’s going to be fun.

Speaking of Australia… There is a unique comedy subculture in Australian music. Our contributors Down Under have reported about a fair few truly bizarre comedy-based bands.
[Take Root or Death O’Connor as just two examples.] What is it that makes it common for Australian acts to merge comedy into their music?

Kate – “It’s just a scene. Something that has become part of Australia’s identity. There are some popular comedy-based bands like Tim Michen and Tripod. The history with Britain is there and British comedy remains a big influence. I mean, I like American comedy too, Curb Your Enthusiasm is brilliant, but that’s separate.

And you inject an element of comedy and fun in your music too…

Kate – “Yeah, and I guess more along the lines of the sarcastic or dry British style. Deepdown there is something in me that resonates with that type of dark humour.”

But it’s not all giggles, you have have your serious and more tender moments too like the aching “The Last Day On Earth” as just one example, great song. I noticed though that “Are You Fucking Kidding Me”, (the hit ‘Facebook song’), was only added to Curiouser as a bonus track on later special edition copies. Was that a concience decision to seperate your serious music with your fun stuff?

Kate – Actually, that song wasn’t even written at the time I was recording Curiouser, so that’s why it wasn’t originally included. It was added later but only as a live version. It wouldn’t work in any other way, it wouldn’t come across right without the audience’s reactions.

But as for the comedy in my music, I think it’s a good thing because it keeps the crowd interested and alert. I come from a sort of folky background, and there’s a lot of humour in folk music. A few laughs keep the crowd awake. It’s a fact that when you laugh your body takes in more oxygen, and the more oxygen you have going to the brain the more awake and attentive you’re going to be.

So… you’re Australian, let’s talk about Neighbours!
[An Australian soap-opera]

Kate – Oh god don’t talk to me about Neighbours! That’s a bit of an insult! Well I guess I have a lot in common with Jason Donavon, right? They did use “Last Day On Earth” in Neighbours though for a big story-line, so that was great and it got the song a lot of attention.

So Neighbours is still popular in Australia? Nobody watches it anymore back in the UK since the BBC cancelled showing it and it got switched to Channel 5.

Kate – Oh yeah, it’s huge!

Well it looks like our time is nearly up, so let’s talk about something else quick. In your song “Caught In The Crowd”, you talk about an experience in witnessing a boy you’d befriended get bullied in the schoolyard. You stood by and turned the other cheek. It’s a touching song, and full of regret. Would you say that you’re still passive?

Kate – No. I don’t think you can be as a performer. Ultimately it comes down to being able to get out there and go out every night and connect with an audience, so I can’t be timid. School was traumatic, but everyone has traumatic stories from high school. It can shape you, but if you want to follow your dreams then you’re forced to look at yourself and grow.

Well, I’m convinced. Kate was engaging and enthusiastic throughout our chat. It was a lot of fun to chat with her, and the cock-ups made it more fun. I rounded off the interview with the obligatory MusicVice.com question…
So Kate, other than music, do you have any other vices that you’d care to reveal?

Kate – Well, I’d love to stop creeping myself on the internet! I’ve got a habit of Googling myself every day. It’s hard to understand how some people so distant from you can pass judgments about you. I’m a bit of an internet scrap-booker. I’m just hooked on typing my name into Google to see what people are saying about me.

© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice

Kate Miller-Heidke’s is back in Australia this October for the “Taste of Lilith” tour. Dates and ticket info:
4 October – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (www.ticketek.com.au)
8 October – One Movement for Music, by Twilight, Perth (www.moshtix.com.au)
10 October – Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre (www.ticketek.com.au)
12 October – Palais Theatre, Melbourne (www.ticketmaster.com.au)
16 October – Convention Centre, Brisbane (www.ticketek.com.au)

Related internet links:
Kate Miller-Heidke

Brian Banks

Editor and Founder, Music Vice Magazine. Writer. Photographer. Poet. From Scotland. Not Ireland. Proudly based in Toronto, Canada. Rock N' Roll Don't Pay The Rent... 

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