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Interview: Kate Miller-Heidke's 'Child In Reverse' Is Potent, Comforting & Spiritual

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Image Credit: Supplied

Kate Miller-Heidke has been drawn back to pop music, and boy am I excited about it. The result is a stunning 11-track album unpacking learned behaviours, habits and formative life moments in a classically Miller-Heidke-way, but with sprinklings of electronic instrumentation and multi-layered vocals that only elevate her already gripping style of song writing.

Speaking to Kate about this album was incredibly special; the contents of the album being powerfully vulnerable and drawing on Kate’s own life and upbringing. Child In Reverse is an album that will deeply resonate with all. It left me feeling deeply and relating strongly to Kate’s exquisite illustrations of the most intricate moments of the human experience.

If you haven’t already watched the music video for This Is Not Forever’, take a beat and do that first. This is the final track on Kate’s new album and was released in late May, alongside an acutely emotive video showing people in isolation moving with sombre beauty to Kate’s music. Directed by Christiaan Van Vuuren with movement direction by Lucas Jervies and VFX by Benjamin Zaugg, the lyrics and tone of this single are almost hymn like, empathetic in solidarity while also uplifting, drawing focus to the growth that emerges out of pain. Kate spoke on how the events of this year have influenced not only Child In Reverse, but her as an artistic on the whole;

It is a strange time to be making art, I have good days and bad days. I realise, now, that I do sort of feed off the energy of other people, and sometimes it feels like making art in a vacuum, and that’s hard. Other day’s it is fine…it’s nice to be putting something out because personally, for me, music has meant so much, obviously it always does but particularly, this year, I have just been listening to music and getting my solace from music even more than usually”.

Live performance is an area in which Kate shines. From her appearance on Channel 10’s The Masked Singer to her outstanding series of performances in 2019 Eurovision, her faultless vocal control and musicality lend themselves strongly to her ability to deliver. While sadly, not to a crowd, her recent live performance of album single ‘Deluded’ in the uncharacteristically-empty grand stair case of The Espy was absolutely mesmerising. Kate and backing singer Jess Hitchcock were aligned in perfect harmony while cascading through operatic-like repetitions that mimicked musically the delirious second-guessing game we all play in our minds.

“… I feel profoundly conscious of the power of art through this whole period of feeling way more detached and alone; separate from human connection beyond my own family. I have just been acutely aware of the role that art plays in our society, especially live art and how performance brings people together…It’s as potent and comforting and spiritual as church and I really miss it”.

Keir Nuttall, Kate’s equally talented husband, was supporting with guitar and trigger pad, among other instrumentation. This use of electronic sampling and drum sounds is something that runs through almost all the tracks on Child In Reverse,strongly contributing to moments of poppy brightness and groove while also creating real depth in the sound scape. After dabbling in so many genres, I asked Kate what it has been like experimenting with something more unfamiliar at this point in her career;

It’s definitely something new! Particularly in a live setting. But I think there is something about these songs on this new record; the production is so much a part of the song writing…all done by my producer, Evan Klar, who has such a beautiful, warm, human, analogue kind of touch with his programming and his drum sounds and everything just sounds so living and human…each song is different, but there are particular songs on this record that I think really need that. We are sort of pushing that sort of things with the live show…”

Kate’s affinity to pop music can be heard in her beguiling hooks and ability to employ restraint in times where the message is best delivered through simplicity. She undoubtedly understands the pop blueprint through and through, subsequently allowing her the freedom to veer from the rules and still appeal to consumers of that formula. Her unique vocal quirks and glistening operatic top notes add a specific character to this album that only enhance both the familiar and sometimes more enigmatic messaging behind the lyrics. I asked Kate in what ways she felt her experience as a genre-defying musician and composer contributed to Child In Reverse.

“… I think I went through stage early on in my career where I felt it was important to hide those parts of myself, you know, those pointy bits that didn’t fit into the pop hole, so to speak. And just in recent years, I feel, more confident to just embrace the parts of me that make me different…there is a fine line between something ‘cool and virtuosic’ and then just gratuitous showing off and it doesn’t serve the emotion of the song. There is a lot to be said for restraint and that hackneyed cliché of music being the silence between the notes. I think a lot of this album is about vulnerability and honesty and not about gratuitous vocal fireworks. If I can get them in there and it makes it more emotionally potent than that probably is going to happen…but I hope these songs are just about lyrics and melodies and texture…”

Lyrics, melodies and textures indeed. There are some incredibly lush moments in this album that will have you rewinding to listen back time and time again. In essence, though, is it the combination and balance between these three elements that have the emotive content of this album coming across so poignantly. Each of the 11 tracks spark a different wave of sensory reactions, whether you directly relate to Kate’s take on each or have your own experiences to draw from.

I think something I didn’t realise until the album was finished… but there is a common thread running through all these songs. It’s about childhood and it’s about unlearning. Trying to sort of discard messages or lessons that don’t serve you anymore. Things that you absorbed in childhood…I think, in retrospect, those things must have been at the front of my mind because I have my own child now and you can’t help but relive you own childhood. I watch Ernie go through his first experiences or things that might become formative experiences and it triggers memories in me."

It would require more than a single article to unfurl the intricacies of Child In Reverse, but there is one key takeaway that I personally felt after my first listen to the album in its entirety. I’ll let Kate tell you herself what she hopes we all take from this upcoming release;

I just hope it makes people feel good. I think that because of the way that is was written, quite quickly, for me there’s this beautiful, kind of, spontaneity, there’s this sort of sparkly, airy flow that goes through the record."

And for all you party people out there craving a post-lockdown groove at your next 10-person picnic;

There are some songs on there that you could even dance to if you tried! Which doesn’t always happen for my stuff haha."

Simply put, this album is glorious. It’s strength of concept, tasteful restraint and ceiling-less ingenuity leave it to speak for itself. Not that is comes as any kind of shock, but Kate Miller-Heidke has truly outdone herself with Child In Reverse.

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