Say what you will about that element of tack connected to the Eurovision Song Contest, when an artist as brilliant and refined as Kate Miller-Heidke enters the picture, things begin to look a whole lot more credible.
After winning over the Australian public with 87 points last night (and a jury of industry reps with 48 points, giving her a total of 135), Kate has been selected to represent Australia at Eurovision 2019, beating out standard popsters Sheppard, electronic duo Electric Fields, and drag diva Courtney Act.
And Kate’s worked hard toward her chance to represent.
From her quirky brand of pop (Words), to drop-dead gorgeous balladry (The Last Day On Earth), to her postmodern take on opera (Zero Gravity, which last night won her the top spot), this artist makes genre-hopping one challenging but fun and fabulous affair.
Here, Kate chats with Cream about songwriting from scratch, fuddy-duddy school teachers, and getting by with a little help from her indie muso friends.
Interview by Antonino Tati
Hello Kate. When it comes to making a new record, do you start from scratch or do you sometimes start with lyrics and melodies that have been hanging around for ages?
I mostly start afresh but there’s always that process of listening back through old demos. You know, I write a lot and throw out a lot, and there’s often something I’ve overlooked. There’s a song, for example, Bliss, which was a really old demo that I’d experimented with and abandoned, and then revisited. But most songs are fresh and written really quickly.
You studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. Did you find any of that study a waste of time?
[Laughs]. No, it definitely wasn’t a waste of time. I met a lot of great people doing it and I had a fantastic singing teacher and, you know, even though I had to ‘unlearn’ a lot of technical things vocally, it was still great to learn to look after my voice and how to warm up properly. And warm down. I still do those exercises every day and it’s sort of kept me vocally healthy in a lot of ways and allowed me to have a rigorous touring routine. I think elements of classical music from my studies have made their way into my songwriting as well.
You can certainly hear that influence in your opera-like songs. How would you say your music has changed since the early days?
I think my style has changed only recently. Now it’s very much about the marriage of lyrics and melody rather than any one component taking precedence. On my album O Vertigo! there were quite a few character-based songs, like the duet with Megan Washington. But, ultimately, I still sing about feelings.
There’s quite a few collaborations on that album [Megan, Passenger, Drapht]. Do you and other artists just meet each other at gigs and go, ‘Hey, let’s do something together’, or is it carefully planned via record companies?
Well, I didn’t have a record label at the time of making the album so it was all pretty much something I organised myself. Megan Washington is an old friend of mine so I just got her drunk and made her say yes! Passenger is someone I’ve worked with before, and I loved his voice. Drapht is another one. I’m a fan of his work and we connected over Twitter so everything did happen quite naturally. I liked the idea of having those three artists on the record because they’re all very different, but there’s something in their styles that kind of resonates with what I do.
“I think my music teacher didn’t like me too much. She thought I was a little shit. But she was just a little old lady so I’ve forgiven and forgotten about that now.”
Listening to your song with Drapht, ‘Drama’, it appears to be coming from a male perspective.
Yeah, originally it was written from a man’s perspective and I kind of liked singing that. It’s got this kind of gender-bending aspect to it, with me saying “All the guys want to be me”. So, I thought it was kind of funny.
You’ve also recorded a couple of duets with Passenger. Do you think fans might start to assume there’s a blossoming relationship between the two of you?
[Laughs]. Ummm, probably not, because I’m married!
Oh, your hubby won’t mind, would he? After all, you’re a rock chick at heart!
Yeah, we’ll have discussions about that and see how we go! [Laughs].
What’s one of the stranger places you’ve heard a song of yours being played?
I think the strangest experience I had was in suburban Sydney and seeing one of my songs on a karaoke machine. I tried to sing with the machine and it was really hard. I was terrible!
You once recorded a song that was used to promote Brisbane Tourism. Has anyone ever criticised you for selling out?
Well I don’t say yes to everything. If anything’s not in line with my area of values, I’d say no, and I have said no before. But we live in a different world now than that of years ago where musicians had the freedom to say no to any form of advertising. It’s very different now; it’s about getting your music out there.
I bet you wrote some kooky stuff in English class and that a few teachers didn’t agree with your style. Have you ever given the proverbial ‘two-fingers-up’ to old school teachers now that you’re a pop singer?
To be honest, I don’t think I had my own writing style at school. But I always loved English at school. If anything, I think my music teacher didn’t like me too much. She thought I was a little shit. But she was just a little old lady so I’ve forgiven and forgotten about that now.
Kate Miller-Heidki’s latest single is Zero Gravity.
The Eurovision Song Contest is being hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel, from Tuesday 14 May to Saturday 18 May, 2019 and will be broadcast on SBS.