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Q&A: Kate Miller-Heidke

Lisa Ward


O Vertigo! is your 4th solo album. Is the process of composing an album the same each time, or do you find it varies with each album? if so what was the process behind O’Vertigo!?

Each album I’ve made has been a reaction to the one before. My last album ‘NIghtflight’ was much darker, and had all sorts of songs about death and mortality and missing persons, fun stuff like that. Touring it nearly killed me. So I wanted this one to be much more joyous, and lighter and a bit more varied. I wrote a lot of it walking along the by the banks of the Brisbane River, which is beautiful, and I would stroll along and soak up the view and record bits and pieces into my iphone.

O Vertigo! was funded by a PledgeMusic campaign, rather than the standard label backing. Was is daunting to change the process of how you funded the album?

It was exciting, mostly. I knew it was the right thing to do, and I knew my fans would come with me and be supportive. I wasn’t quite expecting that level of success, and that did suddenly create an extra pressure, to make sure the album lived up to people’s expectations, that they weren’t disappointed in the album they’d paid for without hearing a lick of it. But I was confident with the songs I’d written, I had a pretty good feeling that anyone who liked my previous stuff enough to buy the new album sight unseen would like the new songs. Combine that with my usual crippling self-doubt and you’d have a pretty good approximation of my head space at the time.

Artists seem to be moving away from traditional label backing, do you think this is because it offers the artists more creative freedom, or just a change in the way the industry is working?

I was always lucky in my relationship with Sony in that they never really stifled my creative freedom, and I always got to make the music I wanted to make. Where going independent has given me more freedom is in what happens after the album is made, in deciding on how to get the album out into the world, what the singles will be, how to market it, how I build a relationship with the people that listen to my records – all the stuff that’s not really about making the music, but does let me get my music out there to people.

O Vertigo! was the fastest selling crowd funded project in Australian history, does this set the pressure for the next album or are you just happy to have funded the current one?

Stop! You’re giving me an ulcer!

You’ve got several collaborations on the new album. How does the process of writing songs for collaboration differ to writing songs you know you intend to be solo numbers?

It varies. It’s definitely fun trying to write for someone else’s voice. “Drama”, which ended up as a duet with hip-hop artiste Drapht, actually started life as a solo number, and somewhere out there is an early version where I’m singing the whole thing by myself. But I sent it to Drapht – by email actually, we’ve still never met – and he worked out his own parts and recorded them, and we combined the two. It really transformed the song and brought a life to it I could never have given it myself. But that’s the only song on the record that I didn’t write, so I’m not sure it gives you much of an insight into my writing process. You’d have to ask my husband Keir about that one. “Ghost”, which I wrote and recorded with Megan Washington, was my attempt to explore some of the same kind of lyrical area as Nina Simone’s ‘The Other Woman’, with Megan and I each confronting each other as the ‘other woman’. I was a bit stuck on how to start it until Megan came up to me in the middle of a gig and said she thought the first line of the song should be “I don’t know what to say to you.” And we were off.

You’re about to play a show at Union Chapel, does playing for UK fans differ to Australian audiences?

It’s actually quite similar. I seem to attract the same diverse group of of nice smart music types. Obviously my audience in London in smaller than in Australia, and I don’t go there as much.

What can fans expect from the Union Chapel show? Do you have any surprises up your sleeves that you’re prepared to reveal in advance?

There will be some gorgeous set dressing and a few songs people won’t have heard. I’m still waiting on a reply from Ed Sheeran about his guest appearance.

Despite having a lot of success in Australia, it still feels like there might be some work to do to break into the UK mainstream conscience. Do you have plans to promote more heavily in the UK now you’re not linked to Sony, or do you feel like it’s something which will continue to grow over time?

I have no plans or expectations. The pop world is pretty unpredictable. My label in the UK, Cooking Vinyl, are really excellent at what they do – I know they would like me to spend more time in the UK but it’s really a balancing act at the moment.

You’ve got a side project with your husband Keir Nuttall called Fatty Gets a Stylist, what was the inspiration behind the moniker?

The first time we were playing at the ARIA Awards, Keir was – how do I put this and not wind up divorced – not in his peak physical condition (he’s better now, honest!). The stylist that had been hired by the record company was making a big deal about what on earth she could do to cover up the big porker. It was borne out of that as a bit of a running joke. But Keir and I have different personas in the band – I actually sing with a very different voice, even some friends don’t recognise it’s me – and my alter-ego’s name is Fatima Miller. Or Fatty to her friends.

Once you’ve finished promoting O’Vertigo! do you have plans to do any more work on the Fatty Gets a Stylist project, or are you focusing on your own solo career for now?

Yes, Keir has been working on more Fatty songs and we’re going to start recording the album once we get back home.

Alongside your career you’ve also maintained your classical training, undertaking a great deal of opera work, is it important to carry both on alongside each other, and what different things do each type of performing give you?

Five, ten years ago I thought I’d left opera behind for good, but I’ve been given some pretty incredible opportunities over these last few years. They definitely require me to use a different sets of muscles – I mean, yes, metaphorical muscles, as well as different physical ones. Theatre lets me be with other people and tell a story over a longer arc. My own career gives me the freedom to do whatever the fuck I want. I ‘m happy and lucky to have both things in my life.

Kate Miller-Heidke plays London’s Union Chapel on Saturday 9th May 2015.

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