Interview: Kate Miller-Heidke hits Europe

Kate Miller-Heidke

Australian songstress Kate Miller-Heidke is heading to Europe to perform some shows over the upcoming weeks. We thought we’d grab a few words with her before she departs:

Hi Kate! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us at Something You Said. You could say, you’re been jumping around like a March Hare! How has 2015 treated you so far?
Well, it has been a series of surprises and learning curves. I finished composing my first Opera and had the opening at the Perth Festival. My friend Dave lost 7 kilograms just by giving up milk in his coffee, I discovered ethical pornography and I put my arm in a hippo’s mouth.

Wow! Talking about hares, the operatic adaptation of John Marsden/Shaun Tan’s ‘The Rabbits’ has been getting rave reviews recently. Can you tell us about how this project came about and your role within it?
I was commissioned by Opera Australia to compose the music. I also sing in the production. It was about a year in development and before I knew it it was opening night. I was lucky to be surrounded by a team of amazing people, it was a highly collaborative process and very different from writing a pop record.

Having grown up with Shaun Tan and John Marsden’s ‘The Rabbits’, I never understood the book’s underlying concepts of colonisation and culture clash until later in life. It’s strange adapting to a new culture whilst respecting old cultural ways, especially those who come in as first generation immigrants like myself, slightly removed. However, the difficulties many of us face in regards to adapting to a new culture is universal. How do you perceive the play being received by international audiences, especially those unfamiliar with the text?
I think it is a universal story. Colonialism is something that has touched most of the globe, and cultures continue to clash. In even broader terms, the opera has two mindsets clashing, one driven by an endless, fevered striving and another by deep listening and being. In the end, the former’s hubris becomes a negative for both approaches.

Some say that opera is becoming a somewhat segregated and prestigious art-form in comparison to contemporary pop music. Having been involved in the two, what you are your thoughts?
I think I’d rather look at the merits of individual artists or works. John Adam’s The Death of Klinghoffer, Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s Jerry Springer The Opera were both immensely powerful and relevant operas. Beyonce makes immensely powerful and empowering pop music. If there is one difference that makes opera segregated it would be the cost of production without the ability to reach a larger market – you can only fit so many people in a theatre each night.

What differed regarding the process of writing O Vertigo! compared to writing for ‘The Rabbits’?
Well, I worked with a librettist, Lally Katz on The Rabbits, whereas I wrote the lyrics to O Vertigo!. In the early stages though it was a very similar writing process – me at a piano with garageband. In the later stages of O Vertigo! I had a producer (John Castle) helping arrange and finesse the songs, in The Rabbits I had much help from Iain Grandidge the polymath genius who arranged and was musical director on the show.

The success of crowd-funding O Vertigo! highlights how supportive your fans are towards your music. I’m really glad that you decided to donate funds from that to helping conserve the Great Barrier Reef.  Are you planning on supporting any other conservation projects in the near future?
It’s an ongoing thing, definitely. I recently visited the Woodford Folk Festival site north of Brisbane. These people have a festival site where they have planted literally thousands of trees, built water and sewage processing for the site and have a 500 year plan for its sustainability. It’s the type of long term perspective that shifts the way you see the planet.

What are you most looking forward to as you head to Europe for a tour in support of O Vertigo!‘s release?
I am looking forward to being in Europe when it isn’t winter for a start – the last few times it’s been freezing. Playing the songs to a new audience is always a really inspiring thing for me, you see them in a different light. In Australia, I perform mostly to people who are already familiar with my work, which of course is lovely. But there is a kind of revitalisation creatively from having to convince strangers you’re worth listening to, and I experience that on European tours.

Do you have any tips on passing time during long road/plane trips?
Audiobooks and podcasts are invaluable – there is almost no limit to what you can learn from them. My guitarist uses the time to write his autobiography and study the tarot.  What a wanker!

How was performing at Sydney Mardi Gras 2015? I find post-midnightperformances to be the most interesting possibly due to the lack of sleep….
It is always a wonderful and positive, open atmosphere there. There was certainly a lack of sleep on my part but the audience in no way seemed the least bit weary.

People may not have heard about your electronic side-project, Fatty Gets A Stylist. Can you tell us a bit about that? Apparently there is a new album in the works later this year?
It’s a side project that my long term collaborator Keir Nuttall and I put together after recording my second album, Curiouser. It was a welcome break from my solo stuff, we invented personas and a whole aesthetic for the project. The album didn’t sell many copies, but it went on to have great success in TV shows and ad campaigns. We are working on a new album at the moment, due for release late this year.

I’m inclined to say that you enjoy reading due to your cleverly written song lyrics. What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?
I just read Martin Amis’ new book on the Holocaust, The Zone of Interest. He is such an amazing writer. I understand that he is by turns loved and reviled in the UK, but being an antipodean all of that escaped me. I just like his writing. I am reading Jon Ronson’s new book too. I always devour everything he writes, and this one raises a lot of interesting points about the social media phenomena that I don’t think have been explored.

Finally, If you could choose someone dead or alive to collaborate with musically who would they be and why?
I think probably the composer Charles Strauss who wrote the music to Annie the musical. Some of the most sad and beautiful melody writing I have ever heard.

Kate will be playing at the following venues in April/May:

April 27th Cologne Köln Studio 672
April 29th Amsterdam Tolhuistuin (Tuinzaal)
April 30th Paris La Maroquinerie
May 6th Dublin The Sugar Club
May 7th Cork Cyprus Avenue
May 9th London Union Chapel

For more details, head over to



Words by Addy Fong