Kate Miller-Heidke: Curiosities Laid Bare

A few years back I fell hard for Kate Miller-Heidke’s Curiouser.  The album, the second from the Australian songstress and first released in the US, boasts a dozen postmodern...

A few years back I fell hard for Kate Miller-Heidke’s Curiouser.  The album, the second from the Australian songstress and first released in the US, boasts a dozen postmodern piano pop anthems… like a matured and coolly restrained Kate Nash, sprinkled with playfully sassy synths.  Some of the songs are a bit silly, but they’re well aware of that, but others, despite their sing-along-ability, actually contain ten-ton-trucks of tales… existentially speaking.  The album was a smashing success in Australia and by 2010 it dropped in the US, accompanied by a tour (including two performances at World Café Live). However, aside from a mini-side-project, the states haven’t heard much from her since then.  Well, her follow-up, Nightflight, was released here in June and she’s currently nearing the end of a US tour, which includes a stop tomorrow night, July 15th, at World Café Live.  The album is quite a departure from CuriouserNightflight has Miller-Heidke strip her aesthetic down to its core.  The songs are achingly humanistic and often quite melancholy.  They’re quite pretty, but far from peppy.  It’s a stark new side of Kate and it’s likely to inspire a bit of awe.  I recently got a chance to chat with the songstress about this new side of her, what she’s been up to, and just what her sound has in mind for the future.

Izzy Cihak: You’ve been touring the states for more than a month now. What have been the highlights?

Kate Miller-Heidke: Getting to spend decent chunks of time in LA and New York has been lovely.  A highlight would be Lucinda Williams coming to see my show in LA – I was pretty excited about that.  Also, the flying grand piano at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC.

IC: You’ve played a handful of shows at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. What are your thoughts on the venue and the city?

KMH: The venue is really world class – so nurturing of artists.  I’m a fan of the whole culture behind the venue and the radio show.  I really love Philadelphia too.  The Mutter museum is one of my favourite things in the world.  I’m taking my band there tomorrow.  They are also keen to buy some soap from some Amish people.

IC: What were the biggest inspirations behind your latest album, Nightflight? It’s quite a bit more low-key and mellow than your previous release, Curiouser.

KMH: In some ways it’s more mellow, but it’s also a lot darker and richer than Curiouser. Curiouser was a pop record with synths and semi-novelty songs.  Nightflight is more cinematic and the themes are a lot more serious.  I wanted to make something more beautiful, more expansive, more organic, real, and honest.

IC: Where do you see your sounds going in the future? Are you enjoying this more stripped, minimalist form of musical storytelling, or do you see yourself eventually going back to the more epic and playful sounds of your past, or is that yet to be decided?

KMH: Yet to be decided.  My mind is all over the place at the moment.  I still love stupid pop songs though.

IC: What do you consider to be your biggest non-musical influences? I always find them to be more interesting and telling that musician’s musical influences.

KMH: I’m a fan of comedy.  I hold Daniel Kitson in extremely high regard.  I think he’s one of the best storytellers on the planet.  I like Stewart Lee.  I love going to the theatre to see plays.  I love writers with a sense of poetry and a sense of humour, like David Mitchell, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, Barbara Kingsolver, Mark Twain, John Kennedy Toole.

IC: In addition to pop music, you also do opera, recently performing in a production of The Death of Klinghoffer. How do the two genres/mediums compare, if there’s any comparison? You also do electronic music. How did that find its way into the fold?

KMH: The electronic project, Fatty Gets A Stylist, is very much the project of my partner and collaborator, Keir Nuttall.  I wrote one song on the record but, besides that, I’m just the singer really. Performing opera and making my own music are very different.  I don’t think there is much comparison, but I do like what opera does to my brain.

IC: I just heard that you’re going to be doing the role of support for the reunion of the original Ben Folds Five later this year. How excited are you for that and what else are you most excited about for the rest of 2012?

KMH: I’m very, very excited.  Very.  I grew up listening to Ben Folds Five.  Ben Folds is one of my favorite people in the world and I can’t wait to get on the road with him again.  I’m also excited about doing my album launch tour in Australia next month.  Then, later in the year, I get to work with the English National Opera in London again.

IC: Finally, I have to tell you that I’m a professor at Temple University and every semester, in a class that I teach, I use your “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” in one of our first class sessions and I have students critically analyze the song’s message as an introduction to semiotics. How do you feel about being part of an on-going university curriculum? Most of my students quite like the song.

KMH: Ha!  I’m very honoured.  Your semiotics class sounds fascinating.  Another of my songs, “Caught in the Crowd,” is part of the anti-bullying curriculum in Australia and I often get letters from school children about that one.  It’s a very humbling experience.

Band Interviews

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.