Much as I could take the opportunity to bang on about why Missy Higgins is such an interesting and talented individual, I’m happy to let her talk for herself. If you can download the MP3 version of this interview, do so – you’ll get to hear snippets of her songs. Of course, you should have heard some of her work already – the Triple J Unearthed winner of some years back has been touring quite extensively, and her last release, The Scar EP, debuted at number one in the singles chart. So even if you wanted to, just try and avoid her.
I was initially going to sit on this interview until Missy’s album, The Sound of White, was released September 6, about a month after the interview was conducted, but after Scar leapt to number one, I had to run it – or at least a truncated version of it with a few less questions and song snippets, as part of the chart listing at the tail end of that week’s music news. But now I’m banging on. If she sounds interesting to you, buy her album – Missy Higgins really is a talented individual.
Soundbite: ‘Scar’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP.
Demetrius Romeo: Missy, you describe yourself as a songwriter, musician and singer in that order. Is that how you see yourself, as a songwriter first?
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah, definitely. That’s how I want to see myself, anyway. I’d much rather be writing songs and not singing, than singing and not writing songs. It’s my passion.
Demetrius Romeo: How long have you been writing songs for?
MISSY HIGGINS: I think I started when I was about fourteen.
Demetrius Romeo: How old were you when you sent your demo away to Triple J Unearthed?
MISSY HIGGINS: I was seventeen. I was in Year 12. My sister actually sent it away because I was at boarding school at the time.
Demetrius Romeo: Had you written a lot of songs by then?
MISSY HIGGINS: No. I pretty much only had that one song. That was pretty much the first song that I was proud to say was my song. And I forgot about it. It was, like, two months later, and I got a phone call saying that I’d won.
Demetrius Romeo: Wow!
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah.
Demetrius Romeo: How’d you feel?
MISSY HIGGINS: Well, the lady goes to me, “Hi Missy. So, are you sitting down?” And I thought, it must be a pretty big deal if she’s asking me if I’m sitting down. I didn’t quite know that it was a big deal until afterwards, really, when people started going, “Wow, that’s really great!” And I got my song on the radio, which is pretty cool.
Soundbite: ‘All For Believing’ by Missy Higgins, from her Unearthed session at Triple J (although a very similar version exists on The Missy Higgins EP).
Demetrius Romeo: You seem very comfortable with different genres insofar as some of your songs are majestic piano ballads, others have bluesy horns, some of them are just straight out syncopated, scat-singing jazz numbers.
MISSY HIGGINS: Yep.
Demetrius Romeo: What influences you musically? Where do you come from as a musician?
MISSY HIGGINS: Well, I guess I’ve always listened to a broad variety of music. I’ve always really loved jazz, I studied jazz through high school and I sang in my brother’s jazz band growing up, and listened to a lot of old jazz singers. But I listen to all different types of music and I think, as a songwriter, that’s the best thing that you can do: if you want to come up with an original sound, then you have to listen to heaps of different kinds of music so that you can make your own combination.
Soundbite: ‘The Cactus That Found The Beat’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP
Demetrius Romeo: The other thing I find interesting is that you were discovered through Triple J Unearthed. Within three years, you’re touring with people like Bic Runga, The Waifs, The John Butler Trio, Pete Murray. It’s all quite whirlwind. Did you have any idea that you’d be here three years later?
MISSY HIGGINS: No, not at all. I’ve always kept my expectations very low so that I’ll never be disappointed. I was just really excited by the possibility of actually having a full-time career in music, because I knew that I loved singing and I loved performing, but I always thought that it was something that I was going to do on the side. I’m just ecstatic that it’s something that I can do with all my time these days.
Soundbite: ‘Casualty’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP
Demetrius Romeo: How do you manage to write songs that sound quite mature in their lyrical approach and also their musical approach?
MISSY HIGGINS: I guess I’ve always been someone that feels very strongly and deeply about things. I’ve always been a fairly introverted person and have always thought very deeply about everything that happens to me. I’m quite emotional, I guess, so something that might seem trivial to one person, I feel like it’s the end of the world, that it’s something very important that is happening to me. I guess that’s how I get the depth in my songs. And I guess I have been through quite a lot – obviously not as much as people that are maybe six years older than me, but I feel like I have been through a lot.
Soundbite: ‘The Special Two’ by Missy Higgins, from The Missy Higgins EP.
Demetrius Romeo: You must have imagined at some stage in your childhood, because you loved music so much, that you would make a career of it somehow.
MISSY HIGGINS: I always knew that I wanted to play music and perform music but I never thought that I could do it full time. I thought I would do music on the side, as something I loved but couldn’t necessarily do full time.
Demetrius Romeo: So you didn’t even fantasise that one day you would be on the cover of…
MISSY HIGGINS: Oh sure, I used to fantasise all the time about singing in front of thousands and thousands of people. I used to dream about that. I loved holding a microphone so much, and having my voice amplified and performing. Yeah, I just used to dream that one day I’d be playing at a concert.
Demetrius Romeo: So is it going the way you imagined it, so far?
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah, definitely!
Demetrius Romeo: So what’s the next stage of the plan? How did you imagine it goes from here?
MISSY HIGGINS: I didn’t. The only thing I ever imagined was playing in front of a sea of people. I’m yet to play in front of a sea of people, but I’m getting there.
Demetrius Romeo: Fantastic! Missy Higgins, thank you very much.
MISSY HIGGINS: Thanks for having me.
Soundbite: ‘Scar’ by Missy Higgins, from The Scar EP.