Over the past couple of years Kate Miller-Heidke has been showcasing so many impressive sides to her artistry through writing an opera called The Rabbits, as well as the music for Muriel’s Wedding The Musical, to then competing in Eurovision. With all of these creative outlets causing a spark of fruition in her life, one area that she was struggling in was her solo music. Finding herself heading down different rabbit holes that felt unfulfilled and lacked the strong creative vision that she longed for, she decided to do something that she had never done before.
Signing up to APRA SongHubs, she found herself for the first time in her career in a room with two complete strangers to write music for what would end up becoming the early foundations to her fifth studio album. From meeting Evan Klar and Hailey Collier in those sessions, the three went on to write and record the majority of ‘Child In Reverse’ together.
Bringing it back to the experimental pop sonic that has always lingered in her music, the album feels like a real breath of fresh air in her discography. The eleven track collection is unapologetically her in all perspectives, and is one of her most directly honest approaches to songwriting. From the experimental pop layering of the production to the earworm hooks that will linger in your brain hours after listening, it’s obvious that she’s really created a special body of work.
I recently chatted to Kate Miller-Heidke about the sonical correlation between ‘Child In Reverse’ and her 2008 album ‘Curiouser’, discussed the new direction of songwriting she took within this record, and explored the creative processes and stories behind songs like ‘Simpatico’, ‘Twelve Year Old Me’ and ‘Born Lucky’. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your fifth studio album ‘Child In Reverse’ hears you embracing pop in a huge way, and to me if feels like the bold sequel to ‘Curiouser’ because of just how experimentally pop it is. Do you personally see a correlation at all from that record to this one?
KATE MILLER-HEIDKE: It’s really interesting because nobody’s asked me that and I haven’t thought about it consciously, but yeah I do think you’re right. ‘Curiouser’ was an album that came out of a very fruitful period of creative flourishing. It was written really quickly, and it was a big collaboration with my partner Keir Nuttall. I think the album’s that I made in-between ‘Curiouser’ and ‘Child In Reverse’ were possibly a bit more serious, and very painstakingly thought out and planned. Whereas I feel like this record does have a bit of that spontaneity and freshness to it. It’s really easy to listen to, and that’s kind of what we were going for with ‘Curiouser’ too. We wanted a record that you could put on at a BBQ, and it wouldn’t interrupt your experience.
TB: Yeah I really felt that ‘Curiouser’ was really experimental production wise, and this new album really embodies that again, in particular with ‘Born Lucky’ and the bridge.
KMH: It’s funny that you say it was experimental because with ‘Curiouser’ we were deliberately trying to make a pop record. That was our attempt at making something that sounded exactly like what was on the radio. But the thing is that we failed miserably at that, so it ended up sounding experimental when it was meant to sound mainstream pop *laughs*. In this case, the producer Evan Klar really knows what he’s doing, but we also had that super playful spirit which permeated the whole experience.
TB: ’Simpatico’ feat. Mallrat is an immediate standout on this record, and was a collaboration I didn’t see coming but was so stoked to hear. So can you explain the creative process behind this song?
KMH: Originally this was just a solo song, and gradually my creative team and I realised that it should be a duet, as it was a duet, and we needed to hear from the other persons perspective. My A&R sent me a whole list of options of dudes to sing the obvious romantic root, but that went against everything we were trying to capture as we actually wrote this song about female friendships.
It just so happens that Mallrat was working on her album at the studio downstairs, and we would cross paths and see each other in the kitchen, or have lunch together every now and then. I am a huge fan of her work and was too scared to ask her if she would do it, but Evan knows her well and was like “ go and ask her, she’s lovely! What’s the worst that can happen?”. So I got the courage to knock on her studio door and she just said yes straight away, and by the next day she had completely learnt the song and was totally nailing it. She brought something so special to the song. Her aesthetic is so mesmerising and full of complex emotion. So I love what she brought to the song.
TB: I loved that you worked with her, and I also loved that you worked with Evan Klar on this album because he is so incredibly talented!
KMH: He really is! His aesthetic as a producer is what really drew me to his work, and made me want to work with him across the whole record. These are all sounds that come out of his computer, but there’s such a warmth and analog humanity there. They are imperfect sounds, but there is so much sparkle and air to them. What he does sounds so beautifully fresh and real to me.
TB: Well you met Evan Klar and Hailey Collier at a APRA SongHubs writing camp before deciding to collaborate with them for this next creative process. So what do you think it was about their artistries that really resonated with you, and the vision you had for this album?
KMH: When I went to that SongHubs I was in a bit of a hole creatively as I had gone down a few dead ends. After Eurovision I think I was a little burnt out, and desperately searching for inspiration and nothing was working. As a sort of last resort I signed up to that APRA SongHubs and put myself in that position which I had never done before, as I had never co-written with strangers for my own stuff.
On the very first day I was put with Evan and Hailey, and they had this chemistry spark between them, even on the very first day. Maybe I was just aware of it before they were as I’m quite in-tuned to that sort of thing. But that was August, and they’ve been together ever since.
Hailey is a LA pop songwriting gun. She is a hook genius, and just knows how to get straight to the heart of the song. I sometimes tend to waste a lot of time and get stranded in the weeds, and go down rabbit holes from overthinking and trying to be too clever. But Hailey was really good at focusing where we went in the sessions, and helped make these songs into lean pop beasts. She also just had this beautiful, deep, rich and velvety voice which is across the whole album, and it’s this beautiful kind of grounding element underneath all of my vocals.
TB: To me, ’Twelve Year Old Me’ feels like one of the most important songs on the record. It hears you writing a letter back to your younger self in song form and empathising how cruel the world can be, but assuring them that it gets better. This is a song that feels really therapeutic, so how did that session and day feel with everyone involved?
KMH: I had the idea for the song a bit before that. I had actually written a completely different song using a version of those lyrics during one of my rabbit holes, but I just knew there was something worth pursuing further.
With my son Ernie, there was a girl at the park that told him he shouldn’t be wearing a pink jumper because “pink’s only for girls”. Just the look on his face going “is that true mummy? Can I not wear pink?” broke me. So I was feeling white hot rage at this little girl *laughs* but I also knew that it wasn’t her fault. I was also just so pissed off at the fact that Ernie believes me now that he’s allowed to wear pink, but next year he might not, and that really sucks.
I just knew that there was something there with those lyrics, so I just brought them in and like all the songs on the album they came out really quickly. And to be honest the three of us were really hitting our stride by then.
TB: It’s a song that I feel like will help people come to peace with their thoughts, but hopefully will also help people in the moment see a light. Because ’Caught In The Crowd’ was one of those songs for me. I was in Grade 10 when it came out and was severely bullied most days for being “different”. And I remember listening to that song and feeling an emotional release of “okay, this will get better, people will eventually see whats happening is wrong”.
KMH: Thank you so much, that seriously means so much to me with what you just said. I never write a song with the idea that I want to send a particular message or make people feel a particular way as I’m just trying to express my own emotions and make something that means something to me. But when the song goes off and becomes its own living organism like ‘Caught In The Crowd’ it’s overwhelming, and brings so much meaning to what I do that it’s had such a life. So if ‘Twelve Year Old Me’ could mean that to even just one person, then that will be incredible.
TB: On the song ‘Born Lucky’ there is lyrically quite a distinctive contrast of heaviness with getting trapped inside your head, and then feeling lucky to have a certain someone in your life to walk through it all with you. From “but the weight of the world, it just gets in my head. And I suddenly can’t get myself out of bed” to “when you hold me I know I was born lucky”. So what was inspiring you lyrically with this song and the particular contrast?
KMH: I love that about pop music, that you can sing a lyric over contradictory music. Like the whole sad banger thing, or singing happy lyrics over a really dark bed. Something that pop music does so well is sort of paint with different layers of emotions, and whatever you want you will find. You will see yourself reflected back in that raw painting.
With ‘Born Lucky’, it can mean anything to whoever is listening, but in my mind the chorus is kinda sung through gritted teeth. She doesn’t feel lucky at all, but it’s like saying an affirmation like “I’m happy with my life, I’m satisfied, everything is fine” *laughs*, but not really believing that at all and trying to tell yourself that to manifest it into reality.
TB: The first song you worked on the album was ‘Deluded’, which was born on day one of the Songhubs weekend. So what was the last song you finished for the album?
KMH: That’s really interesting! We wrote three songs at that Songhubs, and then me, Evan and Hailey wrote another 5, and then Tobias who I wrote ‘You Cant Hurt Me Anymore’ with came back and wrote ‘A Quiet Voice’. So I think ‘A Quiet Voice’ was the last one!
‘Hectic Glitter’ and ‘People Pleaser’ were songs I had written previously that I brought into those sessions, and Evan and Hailey produced them up. So they were the songs that were the tougher nuts to crack in terms of production. But in terms of writing, ‘A Quiet Voice’ was the last one.
TB: Looking back on the journey between ‘Deluded’ and ‘A Quiet Voice’ what would you say was the biggest shift or growth for you?
KMH: I would say it was from the very first day of SongHubs. There was an explosion in my mind when that happened as I had always avoided that style of songwriting as I was always scared of being revealed as a fraud, and of just making shit music. But when I finally put myself in that situation and it was very much the opposite of shit, I felt a real sense of liberation as I could sort of let go of my hang ups a bit, and let other people in and let them help me, which was a big moment for me.
TB: Your last studio album ‘O Vertigo’ was released in 2014. So reflecting back on that record, what would you say was the portal song on that album that helped open up the world of ‘Child In Reverse’?
KMH: Oh god, you are probably right, but I’m not sure *laughs*. I feel like even though that was my last studio album, there was so much happening in the interim like the opera I wrote, and Muriel’s Wedding The Music which I wrote the music for. If there’s a portal, it’s probably in Muriel’s Wedding. Maybe the duet that Rhonda and Muriel sing called ‘Amazing’… maybe it’s in there as it’s quite streamline and simple pop music with a lot of heart.
TB: One song I was hoping would make a last minute edition as a bonus track was “a sun, a world, uranus” from your son Ernie. That video has gone absolutely viral and has brightened so many peoples days and weeks up.
KMH: *Laughs* You know what that’s actually not a bad idea, maybe we should do something. That video has had more views than my songs *laughs*. He’s also been getting recognised at the park recently, and I’ve had people come up to me and I assume they’re coming up to talk to me, and no, they are coming up as they’ve recognised Ernie *laughs*.
‘Child In Reverse’ is out now!
Kate Miller-Heidke will be performing two exclusive and intimate shows in Brisbane this November. For all ticketing details please visit HERE