She exploded onto the scene eight years ago with her Australian No. 1 album, The Sound of White. Since then, Missy Higgins has released two more Australian No. 1 albums, the latest of them being The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle. Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Missy while she visited Auckland promoting her album and uncovering insights into her worldly adventures, her memorable fashion disasters and the animal noises you’ll find when listening to her tracks. We seemed to have (un)covered it all in the fifteen minutes we had.
So the press release about this promo trip says you took a break from music. How long was the break and what were you doing?
It’s hard for me figure out how long I was actually, I released in Australia and toured for a year there and then I released in America and toured for a couple of years there. I think it’s been around three years, maybe four, I don’t know. I did lots of things; I wanted to use the other side of my brain because I felt like it had become rusty and underused and I really felt like I wasn’t challenging myself in that way intellectually anymore. So I went to university for a bit and I studied indigenous Australian studies. I did quite a bit of traveling that didn’t involve music; I hadn’t really traveled like that for a long time. It was almost accidental though, I got invited to my friend’s wedding in India and then I decided to take that opportunity to go traveling afterwards, so I did that and I had some incredible experiences. I met some people in India who invited me a few months later to Brazil and down the Amazon. We stayed in this incredible native village with people who had never seen a car in their life.
What was your experience in India like?
I spent a lot of time internally gazing and soul searching while I was in India. I became connected with a side of me that I never really connected with before, it was very confronting. During my time there I wrote a huge group email home, splurging on everything; what I was learning, what I’d discovered and how scary it was and how unsure I was of everything I knew. It was so intense; it was like my mind was self-combusting.
How much of your travel experiences can be heard in your latest album?
Indirectly, every experience that I have had, one way or another, ends up in my songs. Even if it’s just that it’s changed my perspective on love or life.
Tell me about your new album THE OL’ RAZZLE DAZZLE? How does it differ from your previous releases?
This album is quite different in some ways, and quite similar in others. I think what makes this album different is that we really used the instruments and the production as a tool to tell the story of the song whereas in the past, in my last two albums, the production was very simple and acoustic. The whole idea was to get it out of the way of the lyrics. With this album however, we were much more adventurous and creative. It was produced by Butterfly Boucher and Brad Jones. The three of us would just hang out in the studio all day and throw down different ideas, if something made us excited or made us laugh, we’d throw it on there and see if it worked. Butterfly and I would stay up really late in the studio and do things like make animal noises in the microphone. There are actually a couple of songs with animal noises on them. We also played around with toy pianos, anything that we could find in the back, in the garage of the studio really that we could put on the song just because it was fun; I’ve never had that much fun creating a world with instruments. We really did that this time and you can just tell by listening to the album that we had a lot of fun.
Bearing in mind all the animal noises back of the garage fun, how long did it take to produce the album in its entirety?
I think the actual album only took about six weeks but it was spaced over three months because Brad and Butterfly’s availability was all over the place. I kind of just hung out in Nashville and whenever they could get into the studio, we all just went in. It was pretty relaxed in that way.
I love the first single, UNASHAMED DESIRE, what’s the story behind it?
I wrote that with Butterfly Boucher actually. Funnily enough it wasn’t really written about anybody. When you co-write it with someone, the stories tend to be a little more fictional than about you personally because you’re trying to collaborate. Personally, I guess I just pulled from a general feeling of free abandonment and feeling as though you don’t want to hide who you truly are anymore and expressing your unashamed love for somebody and declaring that you don’t want to have any secrets or you don’t want to hold it in anymore. Just a general feeling of freedom, self-chosen freedom.
What can you tell me about the video?
The Video’s great (Mac+Mae: couldn’t agree more!). Natasha Pincus who did the Gotye video directed it and she’s just incredible. It was a really different video for me and that’s I wanted because this is quite a different song for me. I wanted the video to be a bit more stylized and theatrical and a bit more abstract and artistic than my others. I’ve never really danced before so when she suggested it I was like, “yeah, I’d love to do a bit of dancing” – not that I had to do that much. The dancers basically just kind of threw me around, but I had a lot of fun. It was really great working with a director who is very much focused on trying to pull out the most earnest and the most honest performance. So that was really interesting and she really encouraged me to get deep into the meaning of the song and the arc of the song, the emotional arc. That made for quite an intense and long couple of days and I’m really happy with the result.
What’s your favourite song on the new album?
It’s so hard to say. There’s a song called ‘Watering Hole’ - it’s a bit Southern, bluesy, a bit gospelly, and it’s a bit like a voodoo stomp… it’s really different for me and it came from wanting to just have fun with it, with another friend’s lyrics. I had asked him to send me a poem or something that he’d written that I could turn it into a song. He sent me the first verse and I put that into a song, never intending it to end up on my record but it just turned out that it had so much character. That was one of the songs that we stayed up and put animal noises on; it’s called ‘watering hole’ so it’s kind of about the creatures that crawl into your mind when you’re trying to sleep. We got in this really old gospel singer from Nashville, his name was James Nixon, he just was so amazing. He has the most beautiful, deep voice and he sung his magic throughout the song. It’s very fun song to do live. (Mac+Mae: it sounds amazing, can’t wait to hear it live!)
You have quite a few shows selling out across Australia, where else are you touring?
We just organized a show in New Zealand on the 7th of August (Mac + Mae: This show has sold out but second show has been announced for the 6th of August. Buy your tickets here). I’ll be playing at the Q Theatre. I’ve also got a big tour in Australia in June and then I’ll be going to America for a couple of months. We’re also trying to organize some UK shows, I’d definitely like to get over there.
Tell me more about ‘Save the Kimberley’ – I’ve seen you tweet about it before?
The Kimberly is a beautiful big wilderness in Western Australia that’s under threat from industrialization at the moment; it has been for quite a few years. I lived out there for a while and it’s just the most beautiful place on earth. Scientists are still discovering new species; they’re discovering like100 new species a year. It’s just a totally unexplored area and industrializing it would completely ruin it for future generations. The oil they want is offshore so what we’re trying to do is get them to bring it onshore, it’s not necessarily anti-industry, it’s just anti-bringing the industry onshore into the wilderness that needs to be protected. I’m a huge supporter of Save the Kimberly.
How is the campaign going?
It’s definitely growing, more and more Australians are finding out about it and even people overseas are finding out about it. It’s literally one of the last great wildernesses left on the planet.
From the wild to your style, let’s talk fashion. We have a huge fashion focus at Mac+Mae, how would you describe your personal style?
That’s a tough one; I guess you can say I go from tom boy to girly with a street edge.
Who are your favourite designers?
I really love Gorman. I wear a lot of Gorman, she’s Australian. I love Lover and I also really like Karen Walker too. My name, Melissa, means bee in Ancient Greek and I have a Karen Walker bee necklace that I really love.
I was watching Fashion Police while putting this interview together so I have to ask, what’s been your biggest fashion mistake ‘til date?
I don’t know, I think someone else will be able to tell me that! Sometimes I look back at the things that I wore in my first film clip (Mac+Mae: Scar)… I don’t know what I was wearing, it was some sort of grandma knitted doily with plastic beads… which was probably semi fashionable back then but maybe (Mac+Mae: they were big, my drawer is full of them!) but now I look back and think, why didn’t I invest in a stylist.
Do you have a stylist now?
My mum and my sister are really into fashion. My sister owned some fashion stores called Nicola for a few years so they’re quite knowledgeable on the topic. My main thing is being comfortable. I don’t understand how woman can wear stilettos all day every day (Mac+Mae: they’ll disown me for saying this, but I couldn’t agree with you more!).
Being May*, we’re celebrating NZ Music Month, do you have any favourite Kiwi artists?
Kimbra, Lady Hawke, obviously Crowded House (since we’re claiming ¼ of them), The Naked and Famous, I love them. Sometimes I forget who’s Kiwi!
I’m not trying to put you on the spot but since I’m one of the first to interview you today and you’ll probably be asked similar questions several times over, can you tell me something you probably won’t be asked about?
I was a mad rock climber for a few years, I’m vegetarian, I’m about to move into a warehouse in Melbourne which is really cool and I have a very cute nephew named Alfie.
And finally, any last words?
I’m very excited to be coming back to New Zealand to play; it’s been too many years. (Mac+Mae: and we can’t wait to have you back!)
Missy’s new album The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle (which has just gone to number 1 in Australia, making it three out of three) is available in-stores now. You can also catch her live at the Q Theatre in Auckland on August 6 and 7 (show sold out).
*Interview was conducted in May