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Kate Miller-Heidke On the Women Who Shaped Her

"Joni Mitchell left an indelible mark on my soul as a teenager"

Ahead of her new album release, the opera/pop queen pays homage to the creative forces who shaped her art.

Jenny Miller

My mother Jenny is a go-getting, power-walking ball of energy. She’s been a constant support and inspiration to me, and I credit all of my success in music to her. When I told my mum how much I loved music as a kid, she bought me a piano and a violin and booked me in for singing lessons. As a teenager, she got me my first pub gig at The Cornish Arms [in Melbourne] and rocked up with seven of her friends to cheer me on. My parents divorced when I was six, and my mother raised me and my younger brother as a single parent. Being a parent myself now [to Ernie, four], I’m acutely aware of how difficult that must have been for her. My teenage years were an especially tough time – so many intense emotions – but we’ve really bonded in recent years, and I’ve looked to her to learn how to become a mother myself. I’ve inherited my mum’s deep curiosity and love of learning. After Dad left, she went back to university to do a Master’s degree and eventually her PhD. She often doesn’t have time to see me because she’s doing Zoom classes in Spanish, or yoga or choir. Did I mention my mum’s relentless energy?

Annie Lee

My cousin Annie Lee, also known as Mourne Kransky from the musical comedy troupe The Kransky Sisters, is a true eccentric. She grew up in Tasmania, never finished high school and became an artist. She’s never tried to fit into mainstream society, and lives her life through her art. When I was growing up in Brisbane, she was the only person I knew who had a career in the performing arts; she showed me that it could be a viable dream. Annie used to come to family gatherings in character, wearing fake teeth and a costume. As a kid, I was in a state of euphoria watching her. She still does it every Christmas. My favourite act of Annie’s is her roaming street performance called Potato, where she tries to sell a raw potato on a stick for $1 from the back of a cart. Before she goes out, she rubs raw steaks all over her body to attract flies. It’s just hilarious. When I was a teenager, Annie was a part of the iconic Brisbane concert series Women in Voice, which I went to every year. I think seeing a really potent live performance as a child is something that shakes you to your foundations and changes you for good. Annie did that for me.

Joni Mitchell

There’s a particular point in life, around the age of 15 or 16, where your personality is not fully formed and your heart is soft, squishy and open. During that formative time, I discovered Joni Mitchell and she left an indelible mark on my soul. She was my hero and my inspiration. She wrote with such brutal honesty about the darkest feelings. Hearing Joni’s exposed loneliness, frustration and poeticism made me feel less alone. When I started writing songs, they sounded like bad Joni Mitchell songs for a long time. I would sit next to my CD player transcribing her lyrics. Those songs carved out pathways in my brain and they’re still there underneath my own songwriting now. Joni has always been uncompromising in her artistry. To see a female songwriter with complete creative control and vision during my squishy teenage years meant everything to me.

Kate Miller-Heidke releases her fifth studio album later this year.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of marie claire.

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