Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with Missy Higgins

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(Myself, Missy Higgins)

March 11th, 2008, 4:30 P.M. The setting is the World Café Live, an intimate concert venue in Philadelphia. Sound check for 23 year old Australian sensation Missy Higgins’ headlining U.S. tour has just been completed. In her dressing room resting on the couch with a cup of tea and a scarf around her neck to keep her vocal chords warm in anticipation of the night’s show, Missy took a break to sit with me for a private one-on-one interview session.

AN: How did you celebrate the very first time you heard your first record had gone platinum?
MH: I was supporting (on tour) this guy in Australia called Pete Murray who was a much bigger artist than me at the time, and my album had just overtaken his on the charts and it was really exciting and very surreal. My manager came to the show and so did everyone from the record company. They brought a big bottle of champagne. I was jumping up and down and I called my family. It was just very exciting.

AN: What is the main difference between playing small shows in America and big stadium shows in your homeland Australia?
MH: I guess the intimacy and the real connection you’re able to have with an audience in smaller shows, and I really like that. It’s a much smaller scale of everything, you know, you turn down your whole stage persona for smaller venues. When you’re playing on huge stages you've really got to make yourself ten times as big as you are to reach the person in the back of the room. But in smaller venues, you can be much more yourself and have more of a conversation with the audience on an equal level. It’s really nice, it’s really refreshing. If it’s a good gig it feels like you’re just playing to your friends in your living room.

AN: Now that your music is receiving mainstream exposure in the United States on television shows such as “One Tree Hill” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” are you ready to be embraced by an international market?
MH: You know, I think I am. This is my second album that I’ve released over here, and I think for my first album I wasn’t ready and I was really pushing against being successful in America, I’m not sure why. I think my success in Australia was just enough for me to handle and already such a shock to my lifestyle, but I think I really grew into that role and became accepting of it and able to really appreciate it and be comfortable in that position. In the last year I made a conscious choice to actually give it a real go in America, and I’ve just moved to LA recently to not just mentally commit but also geographically commit to it. So I think I’m ready for whatever happens, whether it be success or whether it be me going home with my tail between my legs (laughs).

AN: Since the release of your debut album in 2005, you have gone from a regular teenager with a passion for songwriting to one of the best selling artists of all time Down Under. You’ve won seven ARIA awards and were a featured performer at the Sydney Live Earth. What was the first moment in your career that you realized your music had made an impact and that your entire life had completely changed?
MH: You know, I’m not sure. There’ve been so many things that have happened along the way that have completely shocked me and made me realize my life is never going to be the same. Playing Live Earth was incredible, singing in front of a stadium full of people as far as I could see, and knowing that it was going out to millions of people across the globe was a really incredible feeling. And just looking at the lineup of that show, the people I shared that stage with, like Crowded House. You know, Crowded House is one of my favorite bands of all time and then I got up on their last song with a whole lot of other artists and we all had a sing a long. It’s amazing how things come full circle. I used to listen to them as a kid and there I was up on the stage dancing with all these other musicians I really admire, singing with a band that I idolize. Yeah, my life has changed a lot and I think it’s just little things like that that have happened along the way that have made me realize it.

AN: On your second album “On A Clear Night,” you steered away some from the emotional piano driven songs of “The Sound Of White” for a rockier, more guitar based record. What inspired you to do so, and were you nervous that your fans would not be supportive of this creative switch?
MH: Well I try not to think too much about what my fan base expects of me because I think if you catered to people’s expectations then you’re never going to be an interesting, innovative artist, and that’s what art’s all about – it’s discovering new avenues and new things to prick your ear off that make you feel something on the inside. So I tried to kind of stay true to what direction I had wanted to go in naturally as a songwriter, and I think it’s a more guitar based record because I was on the road pretty much the entire time that I was writing for this record. The guitar was just in my hand a lot more than the piano was. I could take it into hotel rooms, I wrote quite a few of these songs in hotel rooms, and the piano is just a bid hard to lug around - it’s not so easy to bring one into a hotel room with you (laughs).

AN: I’ve read reviews that cite you as a “modern, female version of Bob Dylan.” What are your thoughts on this comparison?
MH: Very flattered but I don’t think it’s quite deserved. I mean I guess if you have a sense of story to your lyrics then you can always be compared with any other singer/songwriter because that’s what we share in common – we tell stories through songs. But I would never be so assuming as to put myself in the same category as him.

AN: Your lyrics tend to be filled with various emotions. Are there any songs on either one of your records that almost didn’t make the cut because you were afraid of exposing yourself too much?
MH: No, not really, I’ve never really had a problem with having personal issues in my songs. There are always times when you’re writing a song when you wonder if you’re giving too much of yourself away. I think it’s important to always hold onto a sense of self, especially when you’re in the public eye, which is why I don’t like to delve in too much about my personal life with the media. But it’s also rewarding when you’re completely honest and forthright in your songwriting, because that’s what makes it feel really great when you sing it. That’s what makes it feel cathartic and as though you’re releasing whatever it is inside of you, so it’s much more satisfying than fiction, or writing about something that didn’t happen.

AN: You have toured with the likes of Anna Nalick, Howie Day, and Ray Lamontagne. If you could embark on a co-headlining tour with anyone in the industry, who would it be and why?
MH: Gosh. A co-headlining tour? It would probably be Neil Finn I would have to say. I mean I just think he’s such an incredible songwriter and I’ve had the chance to work with him a little bit, he sung and played guitar on my album. We’ve toured together, and obviously played festivals together, and I just find him such an inspiration. His lyrics are just incredible, so I think as far as who can teach me the most, just watching him perform every night would be amazing for me.

AN: Speaking openly about your bisexuality, as well as having represented organizations such as PETA and performing at Breast Cancer fundraisers, you seem to use your public image as a voice to reach out to people not only musically, but to raise awareness about issues that are important to you. What is the single most important issue to you and what do you suggest the general public can do about it?
MH: The single most important issue? That’s really hard. I guess at the moment I’m trying to work with various people to lessen the environmental impact my touring is having. That’s what I’m focused on on the moment. I’m researching what it is to tour with biodiesel in the tour bus, and we’ve got recycling, we’re offsetting the tour with wind powered electricity. You know, just doing little things along the way. My suggestion for everyone at home is to read up about all the little things you can do. There are so many things whether it be changing the light bulbs to fluorescent light bulbs, recycling, having shorter showers. Fly less, drive less – ride a bike, it’s better for your health and for the environment. There’s heaps of websites such as www.easybeinggreen.com and if you want you can actually offset your lifestyle through carbon credits, which is money invested into renewable energy projects. That’s a great thing to do after you’ve done the initial change of whatever you can do in your own life to eliminate the emissions in the first instance, and then after you’ve done everything you can to offset it is a really great thing to do as well. But it’s just about becoming aware of things you do throughout your day, just the little things. I could ramble on, but I’ll stop (laughs).

AN: And finally for my last question: Every liberal arts college is full of aspiring artists and musicians. What is the best advice you can give us Muhlenberg students about pursuing our dreams?
MH: The best thing to do, I find, is to just get out there. You know, I started writing songs at a young age, but regardless of how young or old you start, I think the thing to do is get as many songs under your belt as possible – open mic nights, make a demo tape, and hand that out to venues and clubs. Just try and perform live because performing is the best thing that you can possibly do for your songwriting and for your experience as a performer. You know, get your own MySpace and Facebook and all those kinds of sites up and going, and try to generate a fan base. Word of mouth is a really strong marketing tool these days.

AN: Well thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
MH: Yeah, of course, no problem!
AN: I’m looking forward to the show tonight, break a leg!
MH: Thank you so much!! Good luck with all your future interviews!!

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krysia said...

I love the interview with Missy Higgins. Very informative, intelligent,she really opened up to you. Reading it I learned a lot not only about Missy Higgins but about the music in general. Bravo, Alex. Keep on doing this kind of work,

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