Replete with fine detail and all the wonder you’ve come to expect from this voice of voices, Child In Reverse is Kate Miller-Heidke’s enchanting exploration of personal history and catharsis through pop.
Some of these tracks came out of the APRA SongHub songwriting weekend. You’ve said the thought of such an activity always terrified you. Was it the pressure to create in a small amount of time?
No – it’s the pressure to create with people I’ve never met. You know, the old ‘I’ll be revealed as a fraud’ chestnut. That sort of never goes away. Also, I had a protective thing about my songs and my songwriting. I guess that finally, at the age of 38, [I] felt confident enough to just go ‘F-ck it’ – let all of that go, and be open again.
I guess it’s a sort of a lifelong learning process. A lot of art forms, particularly music, [they’re] not made for one person to hold on tightly to. It’s a form of communication. I mean, obviously as a solo artist it can be a balance, because ultimately nobody cares as much about this music as I do. It’s my name on the poster. I have to feel ownership of it. But, I think there are pitfalls associated with that when you allow yourself to fall into the trap of over-editing or over-thinking, which is something I tend to do when I spend too much time writing music alone in a room. It actually needs to live and breathe through the ears and hearts of others, and sometimes that can paradoxically make it sound more personal and more intimate. Sometimes other people can just help you distill what you’re saying down to an essence.
Here is a technical question about singing. Little Roots Little Shoots opens with a vocal ‘ooh’; it rises up, perfectly harmonised, for an entire octave-and-a-half. But there’s no beats or syllables to tell you when you should arrive at the next note of the harmony. How do you execute this? It sounds like black magic.
That’s such a cool question. Well, I don’t want to demystify it too much – but there was a bit of a click track going on – but I’m pretty good at singing with myself now, so there’s all sorts of little cues you can pick up on. It’s weird, isn’t it. I’ve never really thought about that directly. I think it’s like an extra-verbal form of communication actually. Once you’ve done it once and you hear it once, you can sort of just internalise it. I guess that’s what’s so fun about music: it really does go beyond language.
So there’s a muscle memory thing to it, too?
Totally. And, singing is all muscle memory. Your body’s so smart.
The track Twelve Year Old Me explores the idea of a young person desperately wanting to be pretty. Listeners may anticipate you changing the word ‘pretty’ to ‘smart’ or ‘funny’ but the lyric doesn’t switch out. How do you understand this idea now as an adult?
It’s hard when something’s so ingrained. It’s put into your fabric; if you absorb a message in your formative years, it’s really hard to get rid of it. I’ve got a little mother’s group, and a couple of them were despairing that their four-year-old only wanted to look pretty and wear princess dresses even though the parents had done nothing to encourage that. But the message is out there in the world and it’s really hard to protect your kid from that. And I see it happening to [son] Ernie. A little girl followed him in the park and said, “Why do you have a pink jumper on, you’re not a girl, you shouldn’t be wearing that.” And I just get filled with this incandescent rage. ‘Cause it’s so bad for little boys as well.
Gender roles are toxic for everyone, for sure. Did Ernie say anything back to the girl?
Well, he’s like a little sponge. He didn’t say anything at the time, but then later he was like, ‘Should I not wear this jumper? If pink’s only for girls…’ It’s so f-cked. Anyway, I definitely remember as a young kid being acutely aware that I was mostly defined by how I looked, and how I looked wasn’t good enough.
The percussive details across the album are beautiful: the woodblock on Born Lucky, the mouth-clicks on Simpatico, the little scrape in the chorus of Child Of Divorce. Was percussion very important to you from the beginning of this album’s creation?
I wish I could take credit for the percussion, but it was Evan [Klar], my producer. It was one of the big reasons why I was so drawn to his work; it does have this sparkly airy quality. It feels so natural, every sound he chooses is so warm and human. I really, really love that about his programming.
Speaking of the track Simpatico: it features the very awesome (and recently ARIA-nominated for the first time) Mallrat. Did you guys just run into each other in the studio rooms?
Yeah. It was serendipitous – she was working on her record in the studio downstairs, and sometimes we’d have lunch together, or be making coffees in the kitchen. [Evan] and I were talking about [Simpatico] and maybe making it into a duet, and Evan just went “Why don’t you just ask Grace? She’s just downstairs.” I was a bit scared; I had to work up the courage to ask her, but she was so lovely. The next day she recorded her whole part, and put her own energy to it; those subtle but important tweaks.
Child In Reverse by Kate Miller-Heidke is out now via EMI.
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