MISSY HIGGINS – MELBOURNE’S MISSY
December 8, 2005 | Author: Greg Phillips. Pics Marty Williams
Standing front of stage, hands raised and interlocked with her band members before a rapturous crowd, they proceeded to perform the traditional rock n’ roll bow, music’s equivalent to a sporting team holding the winner’s cup aloft. It was a significant moment. Barely four years after she had won Triple J’s ‘Unearthed’ demo competition, Missy Higgins, the homecoming queen had just played to a packed Melbourne Music Bowl. More than the awards and the chart success, if you have headlined and filled ‘The Bowl’, there is no argument … you’ve made it! The Bowl is the venue selected for the ‘special’ shows. This is where ABBA was elevated to superstar status. The same place Neil Diamond remembers as one of the most cherished gigs of his life. The place where Billy Thorpe and the Seekers played to hundreds of thousands of fans in the days before the venue was fenced off. Rod Stewart romanced then partner Britt Eklund as she stood doe eyed on the mixing tower in front of him. AC/DC had fans outside breaking down the fence to get a glimpse of their heroes. Thin Lizzy, Beach Boys (with Brian Wilson), Santana, even Carols by Candlelight. Everyone has a Music Bowl story and tonight Missy Higgins created thousands more.
Before she even sat at the keyboard, the audience was in the palm of her hand. Good friend and 2005 ARIA King of Pop Ben Lee had already lit the fuse with an energetic and fun show. Rather than being intimidated by the enormity of the event, Missy radiated confidence and seized the day. Her voice, projecting out onto the lawns from the Music Bowl canopy was robust, her piano playing bright and emotive. She announced that almost everyone who had ever had anything to with her life was here tonight. The person one of her best known songs ‘The Special Two’ was written about was “out there among you”. Her piano playing brother David, whom she performed with at home as a tot, was invited on stage to join her on two of her more jazzy tracks, followed by a prolonged and poignant embrace with his sister.
Eight hours earlier, twenty two year old Missy had just completed sound check and was sitting comfortably backstage in front of me showing not a smidgeon of nerves or apprehension about the gig that was to follow. She wasn’t even one hundred percent sure about the set list. Australian Musician was keen to capture Missy Higgins’ thoughts on the day of one of the biggest gigs of her life (so far!). Here’s what transpired.
GP: In your new DVD you said that no matter what happens with success, you would always call Melbourne home. The Music Bowl is a Melbourne icon … this must be a very special night for you?
MH: It is. Definitely one of the most special gigs I’ll ever do. It’s the biggest show I have ever headlined in Melbourne. The Music Bowl is the most amazing venue in town.
So you’ve been here to see concerts?
I saw Jamiroquai, at Vibes on a Summer’s Day. I’ve never been to Carols by Candlelight. I remember seeing Elton John on TV and thinking it would be an amazing place to play.
Do you ever allow yourself moments on stage where you step outside of yourself and think wow, here I am?
Every now and then I step outside myself accidently and go ‘wow, I can’t believe this is my life’. I kind of look back to when I was 13 or 14, first getting into writing my own music. And I think if back then you told this kid what she’d be doing now, she would never ever have believed you. I always had the dream of performing in front of masses amount of people but I never imagined that it would be my concert or my songs. I always thought I’d be a jazz singer doing covers.
Now that you have played in front of huge crowds, is it different to what you thought it might be like?
It is. It’s strange because big crowds are a lot less daunting than small crowds, because once you get over a few hundred people, it just becomes a sea of faces. There’s not one person you can focus on because there are way too many. It becomes kind of unhuman. Whereas in a really intimate gig you can see everyone’s face. You can see expressions and see them yawning if they’re bored, so it’s a lot more scary.
When you’re doing a gig of this size, what kind of things do you need to consider that you wouldn’t for a club show?
I guess I have to consider entertaining the people right up the back that are not going to have a good view, and trying to involve the whole crowd rather than just play for the front twenty rows. It’s a totally different way of performing playing to a large crowd. If you you are talking and mumbling under your breathe, you know, quiet comments, nobody is going to hear you. That banter just doesn’t register with large audiences, whereas that is what I am comfortable doing. With large audiences you try to not say so much but when you do, really project because you are talking to a stadium full of people.
Have you added any musicians for tonight’s show?
Just my brother who is going to play with me. We’re going to play … actually I don’t even know yet what we will play. I just know that I am going to get him up for a couple of songs. I think ‘The Cactus has Found a Beat’ and we might do a duet, and Ben Lee and I are going to do a duet together, the James song ‘Laid’.
When you’re playing with your brother, is it different to playing with other musicians. Is it a different kind of musical connection?
It is because we have grown up singing and playing together in our bedrooms and recording. I think the first song we ever recorded together was ‘Better Be Home Soon’. So we are so comfortable singing and playing together, and there’s just nothing like playing on stage with your family. It’s indescribable.
With your sound check, do you use that primarily for checking levels or do you sometimes use the time to workshop ideas?
In this case we actually are still rehearsing so we have a new drummer and a new cellist, so we like to go over songs as much as possible.
Because you have been playing the songs for a while, have you been tinkering with the arrangements?
Yes, there are definitely a few different arrangements. There are some tags I put on to the start or the end of some songs.
A place like this is a long way from the solitude of your bungalow, what was it about that space that was so creative for you?
The fact that it was so dark. There was only one small window and it was so quiet because it was at the back of my parents’ house. When I went in there, it was late at night, so there was no noise from the outside, no birds chirping. Apart from the possums scratching on the roof, there was no noise. It was that feeling of solitude and peace I suppose.
With a lot of debut projects, there’s a lifetime of ideas and stories gone into them, whereas the second album tends to be about more immediate experiences. Are you finding that at all?
I still write now about the same things I did on the first album, I guess I write about universal issues like heartache, and anger and depression and love. So its not like I’m going to be writing about a new car or travelling on the road. Not that I have a car, but you know, I’m not going to write about my new possessions or how hard life is touring. I’m exactly the same person, so I’m writing about the same things … emotions.
Do you find that song writing is a little bit harder now that you are so busy?
It definitely is because before I started all of this I was doing nothing. Between leaving school and the recording of my album, I had at least a year of doing nothing. That allowed me a lot of time for song writing. Now it’s very hard to get time to myself where there are no distractions or I have to catch up on sleep, and I’m not exhausted or in a foreign hotel where I don’t feel creative. I really find I can write songs really well when I’m just at home, when I’ve had a couple of weeks off and really comfortable in my skin. I haven’t had that for a while but I’m getting a big chunk of time off over Christmas which I am looking forward to.
Have you got a fairly clear idea of what you want the next album to be like?
No, not at all. I do have a clear idea of how I want it to be produced and that is stripped back like ‘Sound of White’, but there are a few things I want to do differently. As far as song writing goes, its hard to describe where it’s going. I’m writing songs a little different to what I am used to in as far as experimenting with arrangements and chord progressions. It won’t be dramatically different though.
Is there anything that you have learned from the last time in the studio, that you will take into the next recording?
Definitely… because that was my first experience recording an album in the studio so it was a totally new experience. Everything that happened was for the first time, so I learned a lot about what I do and don’t like and how to achieve what I like.
Do you feel you are becoming a better musician?
Yes, I think so because I have pretty much been playing live every day for the last two years. I think playing live is the best thing you can do for both song writing and musical ability.
Do you write on keyboard or guitar?
Both. I used to only write on the keyboard and just occasionally on the guitar, but now with touring the only time I get to play keyboard is at sound check and the show. In hotels, I tend to pick up the guitar.
You’re a big fan of Aimee Mann, what do you like about her?
I like the way her songs are so simple. She hasn’t got any tricky or intricate arrangements in her songs. It’s just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus and that’s it. I love the way that they are just good pop songs but they really register with me, and I think she’s a great lyricist too.
The people from Roland had a big part in getting your first song recorded, do you still have a connection with them?
Yeah, actually I’m still in touch with the guy I first recorded ‘All for Believing” with. I think ‘All for Believing” is still a demo (Ed: to be found on some of Roland’s VS recorders). So that’s how I first recorded that song with a guy called Marc Allen from Roland. They give me good deals on instruments.
You generally play a Roland RD700, why that model?
At the time when I needed a keyboard, they recommended that one to me. I got it and the keys were the perfect weight and it was the perfect length, and it was really simple to work out how to transpose things and how to create different sounds. I pretty much want a nice grand piano sounding keyboard, and I got a really nice sound out of that.
Are you tempted to explore different keyboard sounds?
They gave me this sampling pack (SRX11 Complete Piano Expansion Board), you just plug it into the keyboard and every note sounds like a Steinway. They have recorded every note of a Steinway at 4 different velocities, so it’s really good. The RD700 is not what I’m playing tonight. That’s what I usually play but tonight, and for some of the other shows I’ve had like a mini baby grand. (KR15 Digital Grand Piano). It doesn’t have strings in it but it look likes it does and sounds like it does.
What about your acoustic guitar … it’s a Maton?
I went out to the factory and picked a couple of guitars. The one I use is the one they gave me years ago when I was first starting. Then I went out again and I chose another one with a darker wood finish. I also chose one of their electrics (Mastersound 2000) which is a new thing thing for me. I’ve been meaning to play it live but I haven’t had any time to try it at sound check, but I definitely want to incorporate that into my live show.
You grew up playing jazz, is there a possibility you’ll do a jazz album in the future?
It is possible, but I really don’t think I do jazz much justice. The people that I admire like Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald are so many miles ahead of me that I don’t think I’d want to kill those songs by recording my version of them. I love performing jazz but … I mean I’m not horrible at it … but I’m definitely nowhere near as good as the people I admire, so I don’t think I’ll do it.
At the moment!
At the moment yeah … I just think I’m better at singing my own songs, so I will stick to that.
Before you won Triple J’s ‘Unearthed’ competition, what was the more practical life plan?
The practical plan was to go to uni and be a musician on the side. I guess I wanted to get some sort of jazz band together and do some gigs. I can’t remember whether I wanted to get a band together or play solo. I think at the time I was writing my own stuff. So it was really to go to uni and get a proper job.
What were you going to study?
I don’t know. I hadn’t actually decided. I think I was going to do an arts degree. I’ve always been creative and I liked creative writing and I also liked philosophy and psychology so it might have been that, or studied music, I don’t know.
On the ARIAs a couple of years back you were on stage and said you had nothing really to say and wish you’d had a drink … you made up for it this year! You seemed to have a lot of fun?
Yes, that was the first ARIA that I had won. I enjoyed it this year though. I was a little more prepared this year because everyone thought I was going to win, so I thought I had better prepare a speech.
Did you catch up with David Hasselhof afterwards?
No, I was really embarrassed. I couldn’t get to sleep that night. I was just thinking ‘should I have done that’? I totally made a fool of myself. But it went a lot better than it could have gone. I had in my imagination that my dress was flying up and over my head while I was hugging him and not actually realising that my arse was showing to the entire country. Thank god that didn’t happen.
(Ed: For those who didn’t see the ARIA Awards, Missy jumped up into Hasselhoff’s arms when she got to the stage to receive her award)
You’ve been in the media so much over the last couple of years, what’s something that you have read about yourself that has really irked you?
Actually I don’t think there has been anything. I guess the general tone of some interviews can make someone out to sound like an idiot or someone who is naive but nothing specific. Some people have printed up an interview and have taken certain quotes that I would rather they didn’t, or they have made themselves out to look smarter than I am. I guess that’s a little frustrating. Overall I don’t think I have been misconstrued or painted in a really bad way.
Soon after the interview, we passed Missy in the lunch room sharing a meal and a chat with her band… totally comfortable in her world, totally in control of her own destiny.
MISSY HIGGINS – MELBOURNE’S MISSY