Charismatic singer/songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke has spent the past year working on a number of different projects, from composing and starring in the Helpmann Award winning opera The Rabbits, to filming her television acting debut in the musical mini-series The Divorce, airing on the ABC in December, and she’s even announced a heap of 2016 tour dates.
But this festive season, Kate is turning her attention to growing and sharing; a beard that is.
The result is an hilarious charity Christmas single, where she has teamed up with hairy Adelaide legends, The Beards, with all proceeds going to Bowel Cancer Australia.
‘I’m Growing a Beard Downstairs for Christmas’, addresses the serious issues of manscaping and ladyscaping, while keeping with the festive spirit and raising money for a great cause.
Speaking to The Upside News from Melbourne, Kate says the Christmas single came about after a suggestion from a social media follower.
“The Beards and I go way back, they opened for me on tour a few years ago, and they are friends. Somebody earlier this year on Twitter suggested that we do a Christmas duet and the title for the song came to me instantly. From that moment it seemed like fate. The Beards very graciously said yes and we whipped it up pretty quickly,” she says.
“Kier [Nuttall], my collaborator, wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music with another guy in Sydney. I’m such a huge fan of The Beards, they’re hilarious, but what sometimes gets overlooked is that they’re also brilliant musicians.”
But as well as raising money for Decembeard, Kate has high hopes for the cheeky song to go down in carol history and maybe make it to shopping mall fame.
“A place in the cannon of classic Christmas songs forever would be good; we’re not asking much. I do think that there’s a dearth of secular Christmas songs and if I hear this song once at Westfield during extended shopping hours I’ll die happy,” she laughs.
On a slightly more serious note, ‘I’m Growing a Beard Downstairs for Christmas’ inspires some worthwhile discussion about the pressure on people to look a certain way, despite our body hair serving an important purpose.
“I have been getting quite a few people asking questions and I was just speaking to this radio station that have used it to kick off this whole discussion about Brazilians and how there are all these terrible side effects from shaving rash and stuff,” Kate says.
“I mean pubes are there for a reason. When you have sex, all the friction that goes on there, if you’ve got no buffer zone you’ll end up very red and irritated. But I’m really not an expert and I would never pretend to tell anyone what to do with their bits,” she laughs.
After Christmas, Kate will be preparing to head off on a tour of capital cities and selected regional centres in February and March next year and she’s thrilled to be getting back on the road.
“For me playing live has always been the real beating heart of what I do as an artist. It gives me enormous satisfaction and happiness. It just feels like such a long time since I’ve gone out on the road singing my own songs. I guess it’s a bit more rock and roll than the worlds that I’ve been inhabiting recently, so I’m looking forward to that aspect of it,” she says.
And she’ll be heading to Adelaide at the best time of year to play an all-ages gig at The Spiegeltent on March 2nd.
“I love the Fringe,” Kate says. “I’ve been to festivals all around Australia and I think it’s one of the most special for sure. I always have great times, always lots and lots of mates there and I think the atmosphere is just magical. And the Spiegltent is obviously a beautiful venue, of course.”
“I’m going to be trying out some brand new material that nobody has heard yet. I’ll be playing an excerpt or two from The Rabbits, my opera, and songs from O Vertigo, and a mixture of old back catalogue stuff. I’ll probably be taking requests, so it’s going to be a broad choice of songs.”
The Rabbits is the musical Kate penned, based around John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s partly allegorical fable about colonisation, told from the perspective of the colonised.
“That’s been a large scale operation and has been in the works for a few years now,” Kate says of the project. “It was my first work for the theatre and it was a work of true collaboration between myself and Lally Katz, who wrote the libretto, and John Sheedy, the director. We just had weeks and weeks in a room together, looking through the book and mapping this out.”
“Shaun’s illustrations are so complex and multi-layered. There’s so much going on in them, they’re almost musical in themselves, they’ve got all these counter rhythms and different motifs. It’s really, really rich source material.
“So I’d go into a little room with a piano and bash something out and then we’d all workshop it together. It was my first time writing for voices other than my own and so to get to write for such a broad spectrum of voices: operatic, Gilbert and Sullivan singing rabbits, musical theatre pop marsupials; and then my own character who’s a kind of other-worldy bird who’s on top of everything. It was just a really new, exciting, inspiring creative experience.”
The show was a huge success, winning multiple Helpmann Awards and the approval of the artists who inspired the project.
“Shaun Tan, to his amazing credit, just gave us a blanket green light for whatever. He came to opening night in Melbourne, and thank God he didn’t hate it! And John Marsden, because they hadn’t seen it before that. In our case we were really lucky because it’s quite rare to mount a full scale new Australian musical work. We’ve had a few runs at it now. After opening in Perth I went home and wrote two new songs and we made quite substantial cuts and improved the show drastically before the Melbourne season. And we’re about to go and perform it in Sydney in January, so it feels like it’s in good shape,” she says.
Another creative project for Kate was The Divorce, which recently screened on the ABC (and available on iView); also starring Lisa McCune, Marina Prior and Hugh Sheridan, the television opera was her small screen debut, and a rich experience.
“For me it was a huge learning curve,” Kate explains. “I’ve never done any acting for TV before, so every day was a new experience. But I had a lot of support from the cast who were all stalwarts and extremely experienced and amazing. It was a thrill really, I loved singing that music and working with those people. To be a part of something so fresh was quite a privilege.”
Check out ‘I’m Growing a Beard Downstairs for Christmas’ and donate to an exceptional cause this festive season. Grab your tickets to Kate Miller-Heidke’s Fringe Festival gig here.
By Libby Parker
You can also support The Upside News’ Matthew Trainor by donating to his Decembeard cause. Please help him grow his beard back so he looks like an adult again!