Before her performance in Chicago last nightÂ at Park West, I had a chance to talk to the quickly rising star about her music, her inspirations and the way mass media spoonfeeds flavor-of-the-minute pop bands to the public. But she can say it better than I can. A transcript of the interview is below, and my review of her concert is also posted on BloggerNews
ZACH FREEMAN: So, youâ€™re in LA right now? The weather must be great.
MISSY HIGGINS: No, itâ€™s horrible. Itâ€™s gray and freezing and raining.
ZACH FREEMAN: Really?
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah.
ZACH FREEMAN:Â Wow. I donâ€™t know about that because Iâ€™m in Chicago.
MISSY HIGGINS: Well, itâ€™s not gray, freezing, and raining like your standards, but itâ€™s definitely not typical L.A. weather. But Iâ€™ve actually pulled out the jacket I bought a couple of years ago in Chicago when I was touring and I just could not believe how cold it was so I went into the nearest Nordstrom and said, â€œGive me the warmest thing youâ€™ve got.â€
ZACH FREEMAN: I just moved here from Austin in the summer so this is my first winter here andÂ I canâ€™t believe how cold it gets.
MISSY HIGGINS: I was just in Minneapolis and that was the coldest Iâ€™ve been in my entire life. Itâ€™s ridiculous. I donâ€™t know how anything survives.
ZACH FREEMAN: I donâ€™t understand why people move to these places.
MISSY HIGGINS: Me neither. Although apparentlyÂ Minneapolis was voted the most livable place in America, the most livable city. The most parks per person and all that.
ZACH FREEMAN: In Chicago when Iâ€™m walking in the winter and looking around and everything is dead and frozen, Iâ€™m thinking, â€œWhat made people settle here and go, â€˜this looks like a good place to build a big city. That seems like a good idea.â€™â€Â
MISSY HIGGINS: I think they must have decided that in the summer and then when the winter came around they were like, â€œOh shit, too late now.â€
ZACH FREEMAN: Thatâ€™s exactly whatÂ I said. Cause in the summer, itâ€™s like, â€œWow, what great weather. And thereâ€™s a lake, and itâ€™s so nice.â€
MISSY HIGGINS: I guess when it comes to the summer you appreciate it so much and you forget that the winter was ever a problem.
ZACH FREEMAN: Thatâ€™s true. Being in AustinÂ I never really had winter so you just kind of take for granted the fact that itâ€™s 70 degrees in February. And now I think by the time April rolls around andÂ I actually have some spring weather weâ€™ll actually enjoy the weather instead of taking it for granted.
MISSY HIGGINS: Right.
ZACH FREEMAN: Okay. So, how longÂ will you be touring in the U.S. on this tour?
MISSY HIGGINS: Well I start my tour in a few days and it will be about a month long. Iâ€™m bringing my Australian band over for the first time so thatâ€™ll be exciting.
ZACH FREEMAN: So they didnâ€™t come with you last time?
MISSY HIGGINS: No, Iâ€™ve never really brought them over. For the first album I brought them over once, but this is the first time Iâ€™ve brought them over for this album. Iâ€™m playing larger venues than I have before so that should be really fun.
ZACH FREEMAN: Thatâ€™s so exciting. When you wake up, are you like, â€œHoly shit, I canâ€™t believe this is still real! I get to get up and go play at all these venues!â€ or do you start feeling like itâ€™s a normal job like, â€œOh doing this again. Playing again.â€
MISSY HIGGINS: No, I feel extremely lucky. Sometimes it gets a bit tiring, the whole traveling aspect of it is not that fun but at the end of the day you get to get up on stage with your band for a couple of hours and have the most fun, so it makes all the travelling worth it. And I really love being on a tour bus. Thereâ€™s just something about living out of each otherâ€™s pockets that enables you to develop this really close bond with the people youâ€™re travelling with and thatâ€™s also one of the greatest things about touring.
ZACH FREEMAN: Iâ€™ve done a lot of theatre and you work for people for six months and you kind of develop a familial kind of bond.
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah. I went to boarding school so I had a similar kind of thing with the people in my dormitory where you develop these friendships that youâ€™d never develop otherwise with people you wouldnâ€™t necessarily be friends with outside of that world.
ZACH FREEMAN: But youâ€™re with them all the time, so you end up being friends with them anyway.
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah, itâ€™s great.
ZACH FREEMAN: You basically starting recording right out of high school, so do you ever think about if you were to get a regular 9 to 5 job, what you would want to do? Something with the environment maybe?
MISSY HIGGINS: I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™d go and get a regular job. I go through these stages of fantasizing about what else I could do with my life for a change and what I may have become if I hadnâ€™t become a musician. But I think at the moment Iâ€™m just accepting the fact that this is what Iâ€™m meant to do right now and Iâ€™m just going to ride this out til Iâ€™m finished. And then I think Iâ€™ll do a bit of exploring and see what I gravitate towards. Obviously Iâ€™m really interested in the environment and Iâ€™m also doing a lot of self-exploration at the moment and trying to figure out all those deep questions like â€œWhat am I doing here?â€ and â€œWho am I?â€, so I might be going to India or something like that.Â I donâ€™t think you ever find the answer, but I think itâ€™s interesting all the things you discover along the way.
ZACH FREEMAN: Definitely. Your career got kicked off when you won a writing competition, but were you already heading towards being a musician or did that kind of push you on that course?
MISSY HIGGINS: I definitely decided that I wanted to be a musician, but I had no idea that my songs would be received like they were. I guess I had no idea that I was any good, but I knew that I had a passion for it and I didnâ€™t want to do anything else. I knew that I was a pretty good singer so I thought that that was kind of my calling: maybe be a singer in a jazz covers band or something. And that was fine with me because thatâ€™s what I loved, but then when my â€œâ€competition started being received and people started really responding to them and saying that they could totally really relate to them, that was when my world kind of shifted and I realized that maybe that might be what I was supposed to do.
ZACH FREEMAN: Two of your songs on â€œOn a Clear Nightâ€ were recorded in one take. Do you try to do that just in general so that you can maintain a sense of rawness and realism that you have on your album?
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah I do. With Mitchell and I we made a conscious effort to make the songs sound as alive as possible without having them sound like theyâ€™re in a big grubby music hall or in a live club or anything. Just keep the life in them and keep the emotion raw and all the instruments sounding fresh and new and I think we really achieved it. I donâ€™t think you can actually achieve that live sound unless you do the takes completely live, but as far as everything sounding really fresh and beautiful, I think Mitchell and Dave definitely achieved that.
ZACH FREEMAN: Speaking of realism in the songs, I read that â€œWrong Girlâ€ was written after a bad breakup, and it seems like â€œPeachyâ€ is from that same kind of place. Do you find that you write better when youâ€™re melancholy and heartbroken?
MISSY HIGGINS:Â I find that itâ€™s definitely easier to write from the very bottom of your state of mind. I think when you canâ€™t get out of that dark place, I find that writing a song helps you claw your way out word by word and note by note. I think itâ€™s such a cathartic thing to do that when youâ€™re feeling like youâ€™re stuck, writing a song about it is a good way to kind of work it out and get it out from the inside and onto the instrument or out into the world and so itâ€™s no longer your problem, itâ€™s everyone elseâ€™sâ€¦ or no oneâ€™s at all. Itâ€™s just like writing in your diary I guess. Itâ€™s my way of writing in my journal, to write a song about something Iâ€™m going through. But when youâ€™re happy, I donâ€™t have such an inclination to sit down with my instrument. I guess I feel more like going out and frolicking in a field or something rather than sitting in a dark corner with my guitar and a bottle of whiskey. Two very different needs.
ZACH FREEMAN: Do you write lyrics or words first?
MISSY HIGGINS: I usually write the music first. Iâ€™ll just be singing along with it and humming a melody and then words will come and form themselves in my mouth and then Iâ€™ll write it down and usually I write down the first lyrics that come to my head without thinking about them and then I go back and try to make sense of them all.
ZACH FREEMAN: When I listen to your lyrics, I really get the feeling that thereâ€™s a real person behind them, like a singular voice, itâ€™s a similar feeling I get when I listen to Jack Johnson. Do you write exactly what you feel or do you ever find yourself changing something so that it might connect with more people?
MISSY HIGGINS: I think I writeâ€¦ I try to explain whatâ€™s going on inside my head in the most eloquent way and I think I try to write in a way that mirrors exactly whatâ€™s going on in my head but also in a way that can be understood universally, not necessarily specific to any one moment in time. I guess thatâ€™s just my way of writing, so that everyone can relate to it, and in yearâ€™s time Iâ€™ll be able to relate to it even when Iâ€™ve moved on from the personalness of Â this moment.
ZACH FREEMAN: So take something thatâ€™s specific, but make it so it applies to everyone?
MISSY HIGGINS: It can be adapted to everyoneâ€™s story. And I donâ€™t think I do that consciously, I think thatâ€™s just my way of writing.
ZACH FREEMAN: Why do you think thereâ€™s not more singular voices out there? Are record labels too controlling or are artists not willing to stand up to record labelsâ€™ demands to change things?
MISSY HIGGINS: I think society has become a little bit too obsessed with image and there are so many amazing songwriters that get lost underneath all of these beautiful, young blonde things that are trampling them and getting on tv shows to launch their careers and then getting professional songwriters to churn out these mediocre songs for them. So I think itâ€™s just a matter ofâ€¦ a reflection of societyâ€™s obsession with pop culture and image and the superficial aspects of music and I think that people are forgetting that the greatest thing about music is the individuality involved. Itâ€™s like fashion, I think that itâ€™s boring when people are over-styled and everyone dresses the same because itâ€™s not an expression of who they are as a person, itâ€™s an expression of how someone else thinks they should be or how someone else thinks that they should dress. I donâ€™t know. I think the person that wears those clothes, and similarly, the person that sings the song that was written for them tends to get lost in the process and when you look at that person or you listen to that person you donâ€™t feel a connection to them because theyâ€™re so far underneath it all that they get lost.
ZACH FREEMAN: Do you ever feel that you have to fight to distance yourself from that kind of thing being in the entertainment industry?
MISSY HIGGINS: Iâ€™ve made a point from the very beginning of my career to not be involved with people that donâ€™t respect my vision and the fact that I want to maintain my sense of individuality and so I guess Iâ€™ve made the right decisions to get where I am and Iâ€™ve surrounded myself with the right people, so I donâ€™t feel a constant pressure to be anyone that Iâ€™m not.
ZACH FREEMAN: I think weâ€™ve already kind of touched on this but it seems like for every few singular female singers, like Tori or Alanis, weâ€™ve got 20 Jessica and Ashlee Simpson and Pussycat Dolls and Beyonce saying â€œto the left to the leftâ€ acting like her boyfriend cheating on her didnâ€™t hurt her. What do you think causes this glam persona and false sentiments like that? Is our culture asking for that kind of sentiment?
MISSY HIGGINS: Itâ€™s hard to tell what part of the demand is coming from the public and what is being force-fed to us from these record labels. I think over the years the record labels and the radio stations have begun to dictate what people fall in love with and a link from a record company to a radio station will mean that the hot, new, young thing will get 20 times a day and so people will be forced to get it in their head and then forced to go out and buy it because they think that they love it all of the sudden because they canâ€™t stop hearing it everywhere. But also thereâ€™s another movement going on on the internet where that aspect of it is out the window and people are redeveloping their sense of freedom of choice. On all these music sites people can discover new acts and acts can get broken merely from Myspace.
ZACH FREEMAN: Or Pandora.
MISSY HIGGINS: Pandora is a great one.
ZACH FREEMAN: My wife really likes Tori Amos and she was listening to a Tori station she made and then one of your songs came on there and she was like, â€œThis girlâ€™s really good.â€
MISSY HIGGINS: Cool.
ZACH FREEMAN: Something like that helps you find what you want. Instead of a radio telling you what to listen to, youâ€™re telling them what you want.
MISSY HIGGINS: Yeah, thatâ€™s great. Thatâ€™s a really great movement and I think itâ€™s becoming a bigger and bigger deal these days. I think that gives me faith. And in the end real music is always accessible and so itâ€™s up to the people to demand more for themselves.
ZACH FREEMAN: And it will stand the test of time, whereas pop music will be on the radio for three months and then gone.
MISSY HIGGINS: Exactly. And I think you can feel the tension in the record industry because they realize that the power is being given to the people and everyoneâ€™s trying to adjust to that at the moment. I think weâ€™re feeling a big shift. Itâ€™s a really good time.
ZACH FREEMAN: Tonight my wife and I are going to see Jesus Christ Superstar and itâ€™s starring Ted Neeley as Jesus, heâ€™s the guy that played Jesus in the 1973 Norman Jewison film. So, this guy is 64 years old and still playing a role that he played when he was 30. Do you think youâ€™ll have that kind of longevity with your music or do you think youâ€™ll reach a pointÂ where you stop playing certain songs and only play stuff you wrote later in life?
MISSY HIGGINS: Itâ€™s hard to tell because I get sick of my songs quite quickly but then I stop playing them for a couple of months and then I start becoming interested in them so I hope Iâ€™ll try and remember that when people come to see you play they donâ€™t just want to hear your most recent songs they want to hear the songs that they discovered you from. A lot of the time the people in the audience have been following you for a long time and theyâ€™ve been these really faithful fans your entire career and theyâ€™ve come to see you play and thereâ€™s probably one or two songs that are the only reason they came to see you play and theyâ€™ll just be devastated if you donâ€™t play those songs. And when Iâ€™m on the stage I really want the audience to have the best time possible, and if that means playing a song that Iâ€™ve been playing for two decades or more, Iâ€™ll probably do it. Because that makes a really good show when people walk out of the theatre with big smiles on their faces.
ZACH FREEMAN: Good luck on your tour and Iâ€™ll see your show in Chicago. Make sure you bring your jacket you bought last time you were here.Â
MISSY HIGGINS: You can be sure of that. As well as many layers of long underwear.