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About Kate Miller-Heidke
Fearless. That was the word that kept coming up when Kate Miller-Heidke was dreaming up her second album. Fun was another one. The fact that she dared to dream either of them while her debut of ’07, LITTLE EVE, was still ringing loud and clear suggests a couple more F-words. Forward. And Fast.
“We had no songs,” she says. “What we had was a huge burst of inspiration. We went into this album with a vision. We mapped out how we wanted it to sound; the aesthetic, the spirit of it. Experimental, hooky, unashamedly pop . . . we wanted to exploit everything that’s unique about my music.”
Daunting parameters, even with two minds exploiting in harmony. “We” includes Kate’s partner in life and music, guitarist/ songwriter Keir Nuttall. It was during a holiday in Laos during January 2008 that the vision and spirit of CURIOUSER began to demand their strictly undivided attention.
Picture it . . . sunset on the Mekong . . . Beerlao in hand . . . Queen, Cyndi Lauper, Divinyls, Devo, Elbow and countless other wisps of inspiration slipping under their shared doors of perception.
“Songwriting was always too personal and I felt too self-conscious to collaborate,” Kate says. “But after a certain point, I just lost my inhibitions and I didn’t care. We got into a groove where we bring out the best of each other. These songs are better than anything we’d written individually before.”
CURIOUSER radiates a newfound sense of mutual certainty from the first song. “The One Thing I Know” is an audacious mash-up of primal percussion, stomp box, ’80s synth squiggles, oddball sound effects and operatic interjections that sticks together into a seamless three minutes of timeless radio pop – with enough glue left over to stick in any head in its path.
The weirdly tangled mix of exuberance and invention rolls on to the playfully acid-tongued “God’s Gift To Women”, “No Truck” and “I Like You Better When You’re Not Around”. “Can’t Shake It” may be the world’s first booty-swinging tune about a booty that just won’t swing.
“Caught In The Crowd” is a different kind of song, with a double-fisted tug of heartstrings between the gently tootling texture of the music and the recognisably real story of lingering childhood regret. Ditto for “The End of School”, which captures an elusive blend of optimism and disappointment with universal imagery and one of Kate’s truly sky-bound choruses.
Then there are the simpler songs of pure, translucent emotion. “Our Song” and “The Last Day On Earth” both describe the indestructible power of love in the most fragile and finite surrounds, the eternal calm between the crazy infatuations of “Motorscooter” and “Supergirl”.
“That was part of the vision,” says Kate. “Songs had to either have heart and be really emotionally affecting or have a sense of fun or wit about them. If a song didn’t meet either of those criteria it was out. I’ve written songs in the past that don’t fit those two categories and those are the songs I kind of get sick of. They don’t seem to have much potency after a while.”
It’s hard to detect any obvious lapses in potency in Kate’s brief but prolific back pages. She cut her stage teeth as an annual high-school troubadour at the Woodford Folk Festival near her hometown of Brisbane – with the significant advantages of operatic training and a love of musical theatre that remains evident in her effervescent wordplay and striking visual sense.
She began to infiltrate national consciousness with a trilogy of EPs from ’04 to ’06 – Telegram, Comikaze, Circular Breathing – before Little Eve crashed the upper reaches of the ARIA charts in June ’07.
The album went Gold on the back of four ARIA nominations: Best Female Artist, Best Pop Release, and Breakthrough Artist for both the album and its frenetic Top 50 single, “Words”. With her road-hardened band practically setting fire to the ARIA stage, Kate’s live performance of the song was the most memorable moment of the show. “Touring is the core of what I do,” she says. “For 18 months we were on the road, which is why Little Eve enjoyed a bit of success. We didn’t really get the traditional radio play. It was more word-of-mouth.”
After a life-altering Australian tour with Cyndi Lauper, murmurs about Kate reached the ears of Los Angeles producer Mickey Petralia (Beck, Peaches, eels, Dandy Warhols). Over the phone, he seemed to have the right mix of humour, enthusiasm and weird old electronic stuff, so Kate, Kier, bassist Ben McCarthy and drummer Steve Pope hopped a plane for two months of madness.
“We’d gotten heavily into Flight of the Conchords,” says Kate, citing another one of Petralia’s recent triumphs. “Independent of the comedy it was musically brilliant. I’d done a few comedy songs in my time as well and it’s not easy to get that right. I knew this was the right guy.”
In spite of his strict 4pm to 4am working hours (with zero days off), Petralia’s studio wizardry turned out to be the perfect galvanising force for Kate and Keir’s carefully detailed home demos. “To me,” she says, “it sounds like a modern album, a forward-looking album.”
For some artists, no other kind would make sense. As Kate mischievously sings in “Politics In Space”, “The 60s were 50 years ago, you know. Get over it.”
“Mickey thought CURIOUSER was a noun, something that made you more curious,” she says. “That’s what made up my mind about the title. Wouldn’t it be great if people listened to this album and it made them curiouser?’