Kate Miller-Heidke

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Kate Miller-Heidke

After a career based around comparisons of her pop and orchestral music, Kate Miller-Heidke has decided to flip genres the bird – so to speak.

“I’m pretty bored of talking about, ‘Well this is pop music and this is classical music’. I think it’s kind of fun to just not give a shit and go with what feels interesting and what feels good and real to me,” the 34-year-old musician says.

“Something I am interested in is that blurry grey area that exists outside of genre.”

Her most recent step into the realm of the unknown, was in the production The Rabbits. A show that was inspired by John Marsden’s haunting picture book The Rabbits with the score written entirely by the songstress and saw her reaching to the deepest corners of her creativity.

“I feel like it was a big period of creative expansion for me just getting to write for other voices and other characters: 18th century rabbits who sing in this operatic asylum, and marsupials who sing in a more pop naturalistic way and then my weird operatic voice over the top. Writing for different voices actually was kind of a revelation for me,” Kate says.

The Rabbits was undeniably the right move for the musician, and you could even say Kate has lived a life of doing just that, after deciding on a record deal with Sony instead of a deal with Opera Australia all those years ago.

“I definitely made the right choice,” Kate says with certainty.

“Because I don’t covet the life of an opera singer. You have to live your life according to the whims of this tiny muffle in your throat and to put it above everything else: above staying out late or talking too much, or drinking and smoking – it just can be really lonely.”

Instead Kate has created a world where no two days are the same. As we speak over the phone she’s days out of her busy schedule with shows for The Rabbits and a show at MONA FOMA where her only solace were the fluffed pillows at the Langham at the end of the day.

“The MONA FOMA stuff was all my music arranged around the orchestra, which was actually one of the most electrifying musical experiences I’ve ever had,” she says.

“I was on such a high after that show and I really suffered for it afterwards but it’s something that I’d love to do more of. I think I’ve always been skeptical about the whole pop musician with orchestra thing because it’s so easy to be underwhelming or thoughtlessly done, but the way that these arrangements all came together was just really powerful.”

It’s an ideal match for Kate and for fans seeing her perform alongside an orchestra would certainly be something to behold, but seeing Kate in the flesh and experiencing her incredibly personable nature is just as exciting.

With each joke and remark at her own expense, it becomes instantly clear that Kate doesn’t take herself too seriously in an industry where seriousness is a form of measurement.

Just how she managed to get such a desired personal quality? Well, as you’d expect, it’s something that can’t be taught. “I don’t know what it’s like to live any other way,” Kate says.

And while she mightn’t be able to peg down where the origins of her admired quality came from, her on stage chatty manner is much more explainable.

“I grew up going to folk festivals, in particular Woodford, and watching those old school folkies perform and learnt just how important story telling was. Not just in the songs, but around the songs as well to give people an insight into the personality of the performer and entertain people and laugh a bit,” she says.

“If you can make people laugh and cry, that’s the ultimate goal really.”

A case where Kate has undeniably done both is in her single ‘Sarah’, which tells the true story of her friend who was drugged and abducted from a music festival and went missing for a few weeks until she was later found.

It’s a murder ballad that starts off lighthearted (or so it seems in person) and suddenly shifts to something much more serious – a song that never fails to garner the focus of her entire audience.

“It’s funny how in the context of a live show the song can take on extra meaning,” she says.

“I wrote that song as a murder ballad and it’s quite a serious song but I think it is fun in the live context.”

It’s quite interesting to say that even in an interview where Kate is the main focus, her mind often shifts to things surrounding her, in past interviews even bringing up such interesting and unexpected topics as ethical porn.

“Sometimes I get what Sia calls a proma: a promo coma,” she jokes of her, at times, strange interview subjects.

Things over the phone may be quite unexpected, but on stage you’re sure to receive a stand-out show exhibiting the limits and talents of vocal ability. Or as American writer Neil Gaiman describes, it will be like “being fucked by butterflies”.
Written by Amanda Sherring

Photo by Jo Duck

When & Where: Port Fairy Folk Festival, Port Fairy – March 11-14