Try as you may, it's virtually impossible to pigeon-hole Brisbane's Kate Miller-Heidke. Since bursting onto the mainstream charts with her Sony Music debut 'Little Eve' in 2007, she's developed a devoted following through her incredibly intimate live shows and her honest lyrical content. Yes, the girl knows how to write a great song. So much so that two of her tracks, 'Can't Shake It' and 'Caught In The Crowd', have been hailed by the critics and by some of Kate's favourite artists. auspOp caught up with the singer and congratulated her firstly on her APRA Nomination for 'Can't Shake It'.
“Thankyou, yeah, I’m stoked. It’s great and I love the APRA Awards. I had a great time there last year and to be nominated in the ‘Song Of The Year’ category alongside one of my heroes Nick Cave is pretty amazing and ridiculous in a way. And the fact that it’s peer voted – voted by other musicians. It’s nice to feel part of that little community of APRA members," she says.
But it's not just in Australia where the critics are fawning over the singer-songwriter. Kate was recently awarded the Grand Prize in the prestigious International Songwriting Competition for her single 'Caught In The Crowd', a song she co-wrote with partner Keir Nuttall.
“It’s an incredible honour. It is! Scrolling through the list of judges, it’s just totally overwhelming but I guess on a practical level (for the gong, she also picked up a $25,000 cash prize), it’s just fucking awesome because it means that I can take all my band over to Muse Expo next month in London. I’ve never really played internationally before besides a couple of third world countries, which doesn’t count”.
At just 22, Kate Miller-Heidke released her first EP 'Telegram' independently in 2004, but five years, four ARIA nominations and this year's industry nods later, we ask her if she views the awards as validation for the hard work she's put in.
“I guess so. I try to be self-sustaining to the point where I don’t need that external approval because there’s always going to be people out there with their opinions. And for every person that loves it, there’s gonna be one person that can’t stand it and I’m a musician and I’m going to keep going but I guess especially with the international songwriting competition, it’s nice because that’s an internationally recognised thing. It’s a reason for someone overseas to listen to the album who might not have otherwise, and that’s great."
But despite the industry accolades, the singer still finds it difficult to garner mainstream radio airplay in Australia, even though she's signed to one of the world's largest record companies, Sony Music.
“Oh yeah! It’s practically impossible and I’m on a major label as well, so… It is frustrating, you know – people can be so incredibly conservative with their tastes and Australia I guess has such a small population that I suppose can’t sustain too many niche artists, but that’s not how I feel about myself. But yes, commercial radio is very conservative”.
Which brings us to 'Caught In The Crowd'. Kate's current single has been used to champion a nation-wide campaign, aimed at stamping out bullying in schools. She says about the song's creation that she and partner Keir knew they'd created something very special and very powerful.
“Well it touched me, you know – and it touched Keir who wrote the song as well. After we wrote it, we both knew that it was something special. We did sift through a lot of different songs – we had about 30 songs for ‘Curiouser’ that we whittled down to 12, but that song was always the sort of jewel in the crown (if I can say that without sounding arrogant). So for me it stands out – it has that sort of timeless, magical kind of spark that every good song has and I can see myself playing it in 30 years as opposed to a silly little song like ‘Can’t Shake It’, which I don’t think I will be”.
We question her comment about 'Can't Shake It', saying that she should love all her songs like babies, to which she replies, “Well there are some babies that turn out to be runts. No – it’s cool, it definitely has it’s charm, but what I’m saying is that I can’t imagine singing that song at age 50."
Which takes us back to 'Caught In The Crowd'. The song struck a chord with many throughout Australia in the past few months, with it's empowering anti-bullying message and Kate's heartfelt apology to 'James', a student she turned her back on when he needed her most. We've always been curious as to whether 'James' actually exists.
"James exists, but his name’s not James. I haven’t been in contact with him since the song came out. The thing is, the story is drawn from a lot of truths, shreds of truths all woven together to create the story, but it’s not word for word. It’s not a literal retelling of anything I went through or that Keir went through. ‘James’ is a universal character – he’s the most unpopular kid at school and every school has one of those. And so that’s what he represents.
I was bullied at school too – but no-one’s ever said ‘sorry’ to me, those arseholes!”
So with a national tour now complete and the global music industry sitting up and taking note of her songwriting talent, the road next leads to the international stage.
“Keir and I are going to be based in Europe for most of the rest of this year. I don’t know what we’re going to do for money – we might end up busking – we’ll see how we go. We’re just going to go and play little gigs and make ourselves available and then we’ll come back to Australia and play some summer festivals and do a little tour”.
Wait a second... Did she just say 'busking'? Given she's signed to a major label, wouldn't she be rolling in the cash?
“In fact that would be a reason that I’d actually be totally poverty-stricken. Being independent makes you rich. It’s a catch 22 because having the resources of a label – in a way that’s invaluable – it’s having a whole bunch of people work for you and you kind of do need that. Even though a lot of people are now trumpeting how fabulous it is to be independent, that’s all very well and good, but the truth is that the bands that are really making a go of it like Radiohead and… at one point, you still have to have the power of a major label behind you”.
Thankfully, the powers that be within Sony Music continue to do their darndest to ensure the world continues to hear of the glorious successes, the incredible melodies, the heart-felt lyrics and the continued rise of the desperately talented Kate Miller-Heidke.
Kate's album 'Curiouser' is in-store now, along with her single 'Caught In The Crowd'.