Rivoli in Toronto, ON
September 22, 2010
Review by: Natalia Buia
Photos by: Pete Nema
What do you get when you cross the style of Regina Spektor and the attitude of Cyndi Lauper? You get the admirable, yet authentic Aussie that is Kate Miller-Heidke.
The 28-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, is one hell of an entertainer and the audience at the Rivoli last week can vouch for that. Sure, the venue was awkwardly set up, but it was packed right to the door and the performer was gorgeously dressed and ready to belt out the high notes. Some may know her from her novelty Facebook Song “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” from her second album, Curiouser, some may know her from those Neighbors promos (that is, if you watch Australian soap operas). Some came to the show already wearing her neon blue t-shirts, some came not knowing anything about the happy-go-lucky blonde. I can tell you one thing, everyone left with her tunes stuck in their head.
The show at the Rivoli was a stripped down, intimate set with just her and her husband, Keir Nuttall. Normally she has a whole band backing her up, but that night it was just an acoustic guitar, a keyboard and one divine vocal range. What surprised me the most was her voice. I never knew she was a trained opera soprano. She really put her former training to good use a couple songs in, during a cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” for instance. It’s like you were at the opera but for a fraction of the price. In between songs she spoke to the audience anecdotally and gushed at how much she loves Toronto, specifically Kensington Market. Before “Caught In The Crowd”, a song that won her the grand prize at the 2008 International Songwriting Competition, she told of the story about an 8-year-old fan asking permission to sing that song at his school, but he claimed the part that mentions the Sex Pistols may be too naughty.
I got to sit down with gem from down under and realized she may have a big future ahead of her, but her ego remains small.
Sticky: Curiouser has been out now in North America since March. Do you have any expectation now that your album is out literally everywhere now?
Miller-Heidke: I try not to quantify my expectations in concrete terms because usually leads to disappointment. I try to drift along as best I can and learn from my mistakes. I’m not too concerned about selling millions of albums.
Sticky: But you’ve done a lot to be proud of. Number one songs, songwriting awards, all that kind of stuff.
Miller-Heidke: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t Google myself every couple of months. It is an unhealthy activity. I love playing to people and I feel lucky that, in Canada and U.S., I’ve played to such lovely audiences. Playing at Coachella and Lilith Fair, I really haven’t had a bad gig since I started playing here [in North America] a year ago.
Sticky: Coming to Toronto for the first time, did anything surprise you?
Miller-Heidke: This is one of my favourite cities in the whole world. We’re almost thinking about moving here. It seems like a nice place to live. I love Kensington Market. We went there last time we were here. Tonight I’m wearing a dress I bought in Kensington.
Sticky: I’m so glad you enjoy the city, because everyone in here enjoys you too. The feeling is mutual. The song “Caught In The Crowd” won you a songwriting award. You were the first Australian to win it. I wanted to know how that song came to be, between you and your husband.
Miller-Heidke: It’s a story song. It’s part of our musical heritage. It’s very folky. I grew up going to folk festivals in Australia, so it’s an enormous influence on me. I just really admire the way those singers could just tell a story and convey a message and also make people laugh. But the verses kind of have a hip-hop delivery. Hip-hop is huge in Australia. The details [in the song] did actually happen to Keir and myself and kind of weaves together in one story.
Sticky: I love how you and Keir write music and tour together. Not a lot of musicians get to do that with their loved ones. How does this dynamic work out?
Miller-Heidke: Keir says we’ve been in the same room for the last seven years, besides toilet breaks. We do still close the door when we go to the toilet. The alternative is unthinkable. It just worked out this way that we share nearly aspect of our lives. It really works for us, but it can’t go on this way forever.
Sticky: Do you still keep in touch with those you’ve gone on tour with, like Ben Folds?
Miller-Heidke: Yeah we keep in touch. He’s an amazing amateur photographer. He took a series of photos of Keir and I on the first tour we did. I’m releasing a DVD later this year and his photos are the basis of the DVD artwork. There’s black and white shots of us on stage. He’s very lovely and supportive. Not all bands are like that, you know. Sometimes you’re the opening act and you get completely ignored.
Sticky: Because you’re a musician, do you befriend those that are on the same boat as you?
Miller-Heidke: Most of my friends are musicians. I really love spending time with my old friends from school that have completely different lives and don’t give a shit and are bored by my stories. It’s really cool to hang out with those people and forget the world about music. It can become all consuming.
Sticky: Do you shut it off sometimes?
Miller-Heidke: I love music and music itself is a friend. It’s more talking and thinking about the business side of things. Sometimes it becomes the most consuming part.
Sticky: With your “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” song about Facebook. It doesn’t get old playing that song, right?
Miller-Heidke: It will get old. I’m not under any illusions. It has a shelf life of maybe a couple of years. That’s another thing I picked up from the folk tradition. We have novelty songs. I’ve written a few of those actually.
Sticky: I like that side of you. You write songs that get deep and emotional but you also come out with fun cheeky songs. I just wanted to ask what is proper Facebook etiquette then?
Miller-Heidke: I’m no expert. You can either take a stand when one of your obscure semi-relations makes a racist comment on their Facebook page, or you can ignore it all together. To be honest, I neglect my personal page. It’s nice to keep in touch with friends overseas though. I hate the thought of people I’ve met once or twice adding me and looking through my photos.