|photo by Heidi Ross|
Australian singing sensation Missy Higgins, best known for the 2007 gold-selling U.S. single “Where I Stood,” has returned after a long absence with “The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle” -- her third and strongest album to date.
While the adult alternative music artist’s previous releases were often stark and contemplative, this one is brighter, due to an emphasis on melody. Recorded in Nashville with co-producers Brad Jones (Jill Sobule, Matthew Sweet) and fellow Aussie musician Butterfly Boucher, it shows the Melbourne native in a less timid light.
“Butterfly and I both share a mutual love of harmonies and really enjoy creating them,” said Higgins, 29.
“At every given opportunity, if vocals could [replace] an instrument, we used that instead…I’ve never had that experience in the studio before: being with another female and doing harmonies at the same time.”
Lately, Higgins has served as opening act for Gotye’s tour, where she often joins him to do “Somebody That I Used to Know.” For the solo Belly Up show, Boucher will be Higgins’ vocal partner.
The more vivacious sound on “Dazzle” (currently top 10 Down Under) is evident on the English music hall vibe of “Hello Hello” and dance-inflected “Temporary Love.” Grammy-winning songwriter Dan Wilson (Adele, Dixie Chicks) collaborated with Higgins, as did Kevin Griffin (Better Than Ezra, Blondie), who suggested the album title.
Utilizing less common instruments like stylophone, vibraphone and harmonium helped keep the studio process fresh. In addition to the usual piano, Higgins also “tried new things. I played Tibetan bowls, toy piano and made animal noises. There was a lot of laughing involved and it was a very joyful experience.”
Music City’s influence can be felt on the folky, mandolin-fueled “If I’m Honest” and bluesy “Watering Hole.”
Alluring album opener “Set Me on Fire” helped temper her creative stagnation. Having emailed various American friends about whether they needed a house or dog sitter, Higgins embarked on a cross-country sojourn. Brooklyn made a distinct impression.
“I wrote a whole heap of lyrics about my writer’s block” there.
Throughout the songs, there’s a unifying lyrical theme of finding your identity. Key examples include the feminine assertiveness of “Tricks,” haunting, PJ Harvey-esque confessional “Unashamed Desire” and power to the people message in “Hidden Ones.”
During the early 2000s, a still teenaged Higgins received airplay on influential Aussie radio station Triple J with “All for Believing.” Stateside, KCRW in L.A. played the tune.
First album “The Sound of White” debuted at No. 1 on the national Australian charts in ‘04 and sold more than half a million copies (the platinum certification threshold is 70,000). The track “Scar” was among the most played on Aussie radio. Reprise Records later put out “White” in America.
“That was crazy,” Higgins recalled. “I got signed while I was still in high school. I really didn’t have many songs. A couple of years later, I’d written the album and released it. The fame happened quickly. I think it’s probably taken me until now to finally adjust. It was a huge roller coaster.”
The 2007 follow up effort “On a Clear Night” featured a guest appearance by Crowded House’s Neil Finn and also went to No. 1 at home. Over here, it received NPR attention and TV placements on “Grey’s Anatomy,” “One Tree Hill” and elsewhere. Then Higgins had the honor of performing on her country’s segment of the global Live Earth benefit concerts.
All told, Higgins has amassed seven ARIA Awards (equivalent to our Grammy), some MTV Australia Awards and a half dozen top 20 singles back home.
“When I look back, it’s a blur. I almost didn’t have time to appreciate it for what it was. I didn’t feel like I really worked for it very hard. It’s good to be in a place now where I feel much more comfortable.”
Facing a crisis of confidence in 2010, Higgins went on a journey of self discovery. She took a college course on Indigenous studies and delved into charity work.
“Part of it was disillusionment and feeling I really wasn’t making a difference; what I was doing really wasn’t worthwhile. I wanted to do something that would make an impact I could actually see.”
Higgins’ big screen acting debut in “Bran Nue Dae,” an adaptation of Aboriginal musical co-starring Geoffrey Rush, also came that year.
“I never realized that I’d love acting so much. It was just like playing dress up as a kid and so great to be creative in an area that wasn’t music. [Now] I know other outlets are out there.”