Music Meets Earth: Missy Higgins Combines Her Talent for Music with Her Love for the Environment

 Missy Higgins.  Photo by Steve Baccon.

Missy Higgins.  Photo by Steve Baccon.

For the first time in a long time my digital voice is running speechless...

Missy Higgins is awesome.

Last November (2008) I had the opportunity of seeing Missy Higgins live twice in one day - first in 103.7 The Mountain's Music Lounge and then at the Showbox Theater just near Seattle's famous Pike Place Market. I had never seen her in concert before, which is a shame because I had been a fan for years.

The shows were spectacular and Missy's voice sounded even more beautiful in person than it does on her albums. One thing that her studio recorded music cannot capture is the witty remarks and stories that make Missy Higgins' shows such unique and fun experiences. On the checklist of traits that make a quality artist, Missy scores amongst the highest. Over the last few years she has been touring pretty much non-stop, earning larger and larger crowds everytime she tours the US.

And the best part: She's leaving the world a better place in her tracks.

"Steer", the third song on her latest album, On a Clear Night, not only showcases Missy's musical prowess, it also reflects her respect for the environment. It was inspired by her visit to Broome, Australia while she was writing the album. The song definitely inspires listeners to take control of their lives and "step into the clear."

Her environmental efforts span all the way back to her childhood in Australia. "As a kid, I was a Greenpeace follower and I was always conscious of saving water and electricity, so much so that I kind of drove my parents mad sometimes," she says. Now, as an adult she has become one of the most environmentally friendly musicians in the music business - ranking number 9 on Billboard magazine's 'Green 10' in 2008.

With that, I hope that you can not only find a favorite musician in Missy Higgins, but also an awareness of our ability as individuals to make a positive impact on the environment through slight changes in our lives. I hope you enjoy my interview with Missy Higgins!

So you just finished a partial US tour about a month ago, what have you been up to since then? Anything fun?
Missy Higgins: Yeah! (laughs) I’ve been doing a lot actually. I just went to India for a friend’s wedding, which was crazy and unexpected. I wasn’t gonna to do it because I had just come off tour and I thought ‘ah this is my time off over Christmas’, but then I thought ‘when am I ever gonna get the chance to go to a good friend’s wedding in India? I don’t think that will ever come up again.’ I did that, and I took the opportunity to go travelling for a bit by myself, which is just life-changing, it’s just such a magical place.

You also just finished filming a movie, Brand Nue Dae, too right?
Missy: Yeah, that’s the other thing I did!

What was that experience like for you?
Missy: It was really amazing; I was really scared at first. I had no acting experience ever and when I was asked I thought ‘I don’t know if I can do this’. I did a little bit of theater in high school but I never really thought that I would end up acting in anything professional or serious. It was a musical, so half speaking dialogue and half singing, so I was half in my comfort zone. It was in a town in Australia that I feel very much at home in. There were a lot of my friends working and it was just a really beautiful, laid back atmosphere. I had a really, really fun time.

Was it different performing as a character in a film as opposed to performing as yourself on stage?
Missy: It was, yeah. You know, I’ve had experience, I guess, kind of, acting on camera before with my films clips but in those situations I’m pretty much just being myself and so to try and act another character was something completely foreign to me -- but it really helps when you’re surrounded by professional actors that are completely in their characters, and after awhile it just feels like you’re a kid again just playing dress up with your friends. That was how I felt and it was so much fun, it was just like playing pretend…playing nurses and doctors.

Will you do any more films in the future?
Missy: I don’t know… I had a lot of fun, but there were many factors that made that film perfect. For example, there was the fact that my friends were working on it, it was in Australia and it was a musical. So, I’d have to see what comes up.

So if the right thing came along you might?
Missy: Yeah, exactly.

You’ve been on tour pretty close to non-stop for the last few years; do you ever have a hard time being away from your family for so long?
Missy: Occasionally it gets a bit hard when I’ve been touring for months non-stop without a break. Sometimes I miss the comfort of having a family and friends around me, but most of the time I’m just having a ball. My whole crew and my whole band are amazing. The shows I’ve been doing for the past couple of years in America have just been getting better and better. I’m building a fan-base slowly but steadily, so it’s still really rewarding every time. So most of the time I appreciate it, sometimes it gets old, but most of the time I’m in a good head space.

How different is it to play enormous venues in Australia compared to playing more intimate shows in the US? Which do you prefer?
Missy: It is different. I can’t say I prefer one or the other because I really enjoy having the contrast. I love the electricity of playing a huge venue. Every emotion and every gesture and every note is amplified but there’s also something really beautiful about playing a small venue and being able to have a rapport with the audience and feeling a certain connection with them that you’re not able to feel with a crowd of a thousand or more people. I really love both, both kind of appeal to different sides of me musically.

Do you do anything special to prepare for your show? Exercise your voice? Huddle with Ben and the crew?
Missy: I should, I should warm-up (laughs)…most of the time I don’t. Yeah, usually I do a few “fa-la-las” and little throat warm-ups when I’m feeling sensible. Most of the time I just am throwing on make-up or rushing to actually throw some clothes on to get to the stage on time, I’m fairly laid back when it comes to that kind of stuff.

How do you feel you've changed since you released The Sound of White?
Missy: So many changes to myself… I released that first when I was in Australia when I was 20 or 21. That’s hard to say, probably every aspect of me as a person has changed since then. I’ve had so many experiences, I’ve seen so many different parts of the world, I’ve played so many shows and learned so much about myself along the way. I think I’m much more relaxed and comfortable as a person on and off stage. And I think I’m wiser because of being through the ups and downs of the music industry and just life in general.

I think I’ve matured probably as much, if not more, than most people would in that short amount of time because of the amount that I’ve seen. I feel like I’m in a really good place right now, I’m really thankful for every part of the journey.

You’re not only a very talented singer and songwriter; you’re also a very dedicated environmentalist. Have you always been very concerned with the environment? Where did that start for you?
Missy: I’d always thought that I was concerned with the environment. But I guess it was only a few years ago when I saw <em>An Inconvenient Truth</em> that I realized that I wasn’t as concerned as I thought that I was. As a kid, I was a Greenpeace follower and I was always conscious of saving water and electricity, so much so that I kind of drove my parents mad sometimes. But that was when I was quite young, and then I think when I went through my teenage years I kind of forgot about that a little bit and those years were all about me, which is quite typical, I guess, for that age.

A few years ago I became much more aware of each person’s individual impact on the environment and how that has accumulated to the situation we’re in right now globally. I thought it was my responsibility as a person whose career involves a lot of travelling to try and lessen my impact on the environment as much as possible. I looked into how to make touring more climate-friendly and that involves carbon offsetting and using biodiesel in the bus and having environmentally responsible merchandise and organic produce and all that kind of stuff.

What kinds of tips would you give people who would like to make an environmental difference in their communities and in their own homes?
Missy: There are so many great websites out there at the moment. There’s a site called easybeinggreen.com. It’s basically a company purchasing renewable energy or planting trees on your behalf, which amounts to the same portion that you’re letting off into the atmosphere through your daily habits so therefore kind of evens it out.

There’s all these websites that inform you and allow you to offset the amount of pollution you create for a certain amount of time, which is carbon offsetting.

But the most responsible thing to do is to try and lessen your impact in the first place because once carbon is in the atmosphere it’s impossible to suck out. So you know, little things like riding or walking as much as possible or taking public transport as opposed to driving. Even if you can cut it down by ¾ or two-thirds…and of course recycling. One really great thing to do is to switch the electricity and gas in your house over to green energy, which is energy providers that take power from renewable sources like wind energy, like wind turbines, that’s totally clean and a great way to stop coal from being burnt, which has one of the worst impacts on the environment. So there’s a lot of things you can do and there are so many great websites, just go Google-ing for ways to make your lifestyle greener and there’s some great information out there and there are a lot of websites out there that will help you track your progress along the way.

You’re so amazing and you’re doing so much to help Americans learn how to curb their emissions and have a greener economy! I recently learned about what’s been going on in Australia’s Kimberley region and would really like to help. You do so much for us in America, how can we help you?!
Missy: Aw thank you! That’s so lovely. Yeah, it’s really horrible what’s happening on the Kimberley coast. There’s a lot of industrialization that’s purposed for this beautiful, rugged, untouched coast. It is so, so precious and something that hasn’t been discovered by enough people obviously, because if it had, there would be an uproar as to what these overseas mining companies are about to do.

They’re about to do a massive gas hub in one of the towns just near the place where I wrote my second album actually. It’s a real tragedy, so I’m trying to do as much as possible. I’ve done a YouTube video about it and we’re trying to rally with the government and local organizations to try and stop these people, but these oil and gas companies are extremely powerful. It’s an uphill battle but we’re trying our hardest. The other thing I can say is that I would love it if people checked out my YouTube video which explains a lot of what’s going on, there’s also a website called SavetheKimberley.com. As with most things, it’s about people informing themselves of matters and then writing letters and creating an uproar…the power of the people.

What kinds of movies and books are you into right now?
Missy: I just saw a really cool movie called In Bruges, which has got, Colin Farrell? Yeah, it’s got him in it. It’s kind of a dark, Irish comedy about two hit men that are sent to a place in Belgium to hide out during the aftermath of this murder they did. It’s really, really funny, I loved that- I saw it on the plane.

What else have I seen? I saw the latest Woody Allen movie with Scarlett Johansson, which I really enjoyed too.

Books…I just read this beautiful book called One Can Make a Difference. It’s by Ingrid Newkirk, she’s the head of PETA. It’s a collection of stories from a whole lot of famous people and whole lot of non-famous people about little things that they’ve done in their communities and in their own lives or in some people’s cases, in the public arena that have just made a massive difference…people that have been really courageous and stood up for a cause that they really believed in and as a result have made a huge impact on the world. That was really inspirational.

I’m just about to start this book by Harlan Coben called Hold Tight. He’s a really famous author and I’ve been doing some little in-stores with him because in this book he actually mentions my name and my album, and one of his characters is a fan of mine. So I ended up meeting up with him over in America and we’ve been doing little half in-store performances for me and half signings and readings for him. He talks about his book and I talk about my music and we talk to each other in front of the people. It’s been really unusual but really fun actually, so I’m just about to start reading that book.

For more information about Missy, her music and her environmental work, head on over to her website.