Kate Miller-Heidke: ‘I feel more uncertainty now’

Each week, Benjamin Law asks public figures to discuss the subjects we're told to keep private by getting them to roll a die. The numbers they land on are the topics they're given. This week he talks to Kate Miller-Heidke. The classically trained singer-songwriter, 37, has recorded four solo albums and represented Australia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. She is touring nationally from mid-September.

‘Parenting is having your heart walk around outside your own body. It’s terrifying.’Credit:Louie Douvis


Your son, Ernie, was born in 2016 following a tortured labour, after which he was sent straight to intensive care with a blood infection. Was it a near-death experience for you?
Absolutely. I was staring into my own mortality. Ernie had to be in intensive care for a week, I was in this windowless room and I felt the abyss sucking me in. It was the first big lesson that, in fact, death is all-powerful, and it’s coming for us all.

You’ve said it was the kind of childbirth that, 100 years ago, would have killed you and your child. How do you reflect on that?
With a lot of gratitude to live in this era, for a start. And a bit of befuddlement towards people who don’t seem to appreciate all that science has offered us, and will continue to offer us, if we listen to it.

Has parenthood changed how you see life and death?
Parenting is having your heart walk around outside your own body. It’s terrifying. It forces you into a kind of surrender.

One of your biggest songs is The Last Day on Earth. What would be your ideal final day on the planet?
I’d love to be in control. Obviously a lot of good pain meds and a good party. Flowers, somewhere out in nature. Maybe they can wheel my bed out to a forest somewhere. I’d be surrounded by the people I love, they can all deliver me glowing eulogies while I’m still alive, then I could say my goodbyes. Pop my little purple pill and just drift off into oblivion.

What songs do you want played?
Both Sides, Now by Joni Mitchell, to make everyone cry. The Book of Love – the Peter Gabriel version – to make sure everybody is sobbing sufficiently. Then Master of the House from Les Misérables. To confuse everyone.


You’ve rolled sex.

Where did Kate Miller-Heidke get her sex advice or education from?

Dolly Doctor.

What did Dr Dolly teach you?
[Laughs] Just about everything, really. But there was also my friend who told me how to wank a guy off …

Uh … how did she do that?

She said, “You just go up and down!” I thought, “Wow, it really is that simple.”

How old were you when you got that advice?
About 14. [Laughs] And when I heard the phrase “to suck someone off”, I thought that literally meant sucking.

You became a Dyson.

And the first time I tried it, the guy was like, “Owwww, ow!” I’m sure they have all sorts of great YouTube tutorials now, but I was flying blind. Many of my first boyfriends turned out to be gay.

Wait, what?! You have to tell me more about that.
Well, we were the musical theatre and drama kids. I went out with a parade of gay guys, all of us kind of in denial. I was going out with this guy, and his friend used to come to all of our dates – his best friend! The day we decided to lose our virginity to each other, his friend set up this entire stereo system to play Madonna’s Like a Virgin really loudly through the wall of the bedroom. I wouldn’t describe it as pleasurable for either of us, but we did the best we could.

Regarding sexual politics, are there double standards between men and women in the music industry?
In pop music, when you’re a woman, a lot of your currency comes from youth. If anything, I feel more uncertainty now, because I’m 37. If you’re a man, you get a free pass, even if you’re up to 50. It’s scary, but I’m lucky I have a loyal fan base. We’ve got all these amazing male heritage acts in Australia: Paul Kelly, Jimmy Barnes, Neil Finn – not strictly Australian, but you know. But who are our women in their 50s and 60s, still killing it, with a huge profile, in Australia?

True. Globally, who are the women you look up to?
Kate Bush, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt … they continue to have fabulous careers. Something about Australia has not permitted that to happen. Yet.


After you graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium, you had a choice between performing with Opera Australia or recording your first pop record with Sony. Which path would have earned you more?
Definitely the path I’m on now. Unless you truly rise to the very top internationally of the opera circuit, you’re on a salary. Where I’m at, I’m in more control. I own my own business. Opera singers aren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination.

How easy or difficult is it to make money as a singer-songwriter in this country?
I’ve got a lot of incredibly gifted, amazing friends who write better songs than I ever could, who have been forced to get day jobs and put music on the backburner. They’re worn down by it and can’t make it work. It is really difficult. Australia is a small country. It’s not like the US, where you can just tour forever – and that lifestyle’s not really sustainable long-term anyway. Personally, coming from my education in the classical world and my theatrical background, I’ve been able to diversify.

After basic necessities – food, water, shelter, clothing – what’s your next personal necessity?
Books. And a piano.

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