Melissa "Missy" Morrison Higgins (born 19 August 1983) is an Australian singer-songwriter, musician and actress. Her Australian No. 1 albums are The Sound of White (2004), On a Clear Night (2007) and The Ol' Razzle Dazzle (2012), and her most successful singles are "Scar", "The Special Two", "Steer" and "Where I Stood". Higgins was nominated for five ARIA Music Awards in 2004 and won 'Best Pop Release' for "Scar". In 2005, she was nominated for seven more awards and won five. Higgins won her seventh ARIA in 2007. Her third album, The Ol' Razzle Dazzle, was released in Australia in June 2012, and in July 2012 in the U.S.
Alongside her music career, Higgins pursues interests in animal rights and the environment, endeavouring to make her tours carbon neutral. In 2010 she made her acting debut in the feature film Bran Nue Dae and also performed on its soundtrack.
Melissa "Missy" Morrison Higgins was born 19 August 1983 in Melbourne, Victoria to Christopher Higgins, an English-Australian general practitioner, and Margaret (née Morrison), an Australian childcare centre operator. Her sister, Nicola is seven years older, and brother, David is six years older. She learned to play classical piano from age six, following in the footsteps of Christopher and David, but realised she wanted to be a singer at about 12 when she appeared in an Armadale Primary School production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Bored with practice, she gave up playing piano at that time. Hoping for more freedom, she urged her parents to send her to Geelong Grammar School, an independent boarding school attended by her siblings. At Geelong she took up the piano again, this time playing jazz including performing with David's group on weekends. She was introverted and found that piano practice helped her cope with living at boarding school.
At 15, she wrote "All for Believing" for a school music assignment and completed it just hours before the deadline. The assignment earned an A and she performed her song in front of classmates. She approached a Melbourne record company and was told that they wanted more than one song. She wrote more songs and worked with the Kool Skools project, which enables students to record music. In 2001, Nicola entered "All for Believing" on Higgins' behalf into Unearthed, radio station Triple J's competition for unsigned artists. The song won the competition and was added to the station's play list.
Two record companies showed an interest in Higgins—Sony and Eleven. She signed with Eleven, partly because they agreed that she would not be "made into a pop star" and partly because they were happy for her to take time off for a backpacking holiday. Higgins' manager is Eleven's John Watson, who also manages rock band Silverchair. Watson later disclosed that "Missy's the only time in my career I knew after 90 seconds I really wanted to sign her." The backpacking trip had been planned with a friend for years and the pair spent most of 2002 in Europe; while Higgins was travelling, "All for Believing" started to receive airplay on Los Angeles radio station KCRW. Such radio exposure attracted the attention of American record labels and, by year's end, an international recording deal with Warner Bros. had been negotiated
2003–2005: The Sound of White
Higgins was the support act on a 2003 Australian tour by folk rock band The Waifs and rock band george. She travelled to the US to work with producer, John Porter, and recorded her first extended play (EP), named Missy Higgins, which was released in November and entered the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Singles Chart Top 50 in August 2004.
She toured Australia, supporting both Pete Murray and John Butler Trio. Her second four-track EP Scar was released in July. The title track "Scar", co-written with US songwriter, Kevin Griffin, debuted at No. 1 on the ARIA Charts. Her first album, The Sound of White, was released in September, and debuted at No. 1 on the ARIA Albums Chart. Also produced by Porter, it sold over 500,000 copies. She was nominated in five categories at the ARIA Music Awards of 2004 for "Scar": Best Female Artist', 'Single of the Year', 'Best Pop Release', 'Breakthrough Artist – Single' and 'Best Video' (directed by Squareyed Films). At the awards ceremony on 17 October she received the award for Best Pop Release, beating Delta Goodrem, The Dissociatives, Kylie Minogue and Pete Murray. This was followed by her first national headline tour. Her second single "Ten Days" was co-written with Jay Clifford (guitarist in US band Jump, Little Children) and was inspired by Higgins' 2002 break-up with her boyfriend before she travelled to Europe. Released in November, it peaked at No. 12.
On 29 January 2005 Higgins performed with other local musicians including Nick Cave and Powderfinger at the WaveAid fundraising concert in the Sydney Cricket Ground. The concert raised A$2.3 million for four charities supporting the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. In March Higgins performed at the MTV Australia Awards and won the prize for 'Breakthrough Artist of the Year'. The following month she released her third single, "The Special Two", which was a radio hit and reached No. 2. "The Special Two" was released on an EP which included her cover of the Skyhooks song, "You Just Like Me Cos I'm Good In Bed", recorded for Triple J's 30th anniversary. The song had been the first track played on Triple J when it launched (as Double J) in 1975. In May, Higgins won the 'Song of the Year' and 'Breakthrough' awards for "Scar" from the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). She continued touring in mid-2005 and released her fourth single, "The Sound of White", in August. In September she played a sold out performance at the Vanguard in Sydney with the proceeds going to One in Five, her sponsored mental health charity. She was nominated for seven more ARIAs and in October won 'Album of the Year', 'Best Pop Release', 'Breakthrough Artist – Album' and 'Highest Selling Album' (all for The Sound of White) and 'Best Female Artist' (for "Scar"). She teamed up with fellow ARIA award-winning singer Ben Lee in late 2005 for a national tour.
2006–2009: On a Clear Night
During 2006, Higgins lived in Broome, Western Australia for six months, away from the entertainment industry. The relaxed lifestyle helped her focus on writing new material. The landscape made a big impression, "It was the first place I'd ever felt honestly connected with my country, with the physical land of my country" and inspired her to write "Going North". She then toured the United States and South Africa, writing more material on the road. In September she based herself in Los Angeles to record her second album, On a Clear Night, with producer Mitchell Froom. "Steer" was released as an EP, followed a fortnight later by its album on 28 April 2007, both debuted at No. 1 on their respective charts.
In February, Higgins had contributed a tribute song to the album, Cannot Buy My Soul, for noted indigenous singer, Kev Carmody, singing "Droving Woman" with musician Paul Kelly and group Augie March. On 7 July, she participated in the Live Earth concert in Sydney, performing her own set before joining Carmody, Kelly and vocalist John Butler on stage for the song "From Little Things Big Things Grow". Emily Dunn in The Sydney Morning Herald wrote "[the song] could have been the event's anthem". Rolling Stone's Dan Lander pointed out a highlight, when the "whole crowd sung along – all eleven verses."
Higgins returned to Los Angeles to focus on the US market—she spent September and October touring—where she was still relatively unknown. On 26 October, backed by the Sydney Youth Orchestra, she headlined the annual Legs 11 concert, a breast cancer benefit held in The Domain, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Two days later Higgins performed at the 2007 ARIAs where she was nominated for 'Best Pop Release', 'Highest Selling Album' and 'Highest Selling Single' (for "Steer") and won 'Best Female Artist' (for On a Clear Night)—her seventh ARIA Music Award. On 31 October, she was a guest at television music channel MAX's inaugural Concert for the Cure, a private concert for people affected by breast cancer. She sang headline act Powderfinger's "Sunsets" with front man Bernard Fanning and joined in with the encore of "These Days". She spent November and December on her For One Night Only Tour, taking in Cairns, Sydney and Perth. You Am I lead singer, Tim Rogers, joined her on some shows.
On a Clear Night, was released in the US on 26 February 2008, supported by a tour in March. Her ten-month stay in Los Angeles during 2008 promoted her songs for films and television shows. Her first US single "Where I Stood" was featured in US series including Grey's Anatomy, One Tree Hill and So You Think You Can Dance. During 2008, Higgins supported the Indigo Girls and then Ben Folds on their respective US tours. February and March 2009 saw her co-headlining a US tour with Canadian Justin Nozuka. On 31 March she released an EP, More Than This in Australia featuring cover versions of "More Than This" by Roxy Music, "(I'm) In Love Again" by Peggy Lee, "Breakdown" by Tom Petty and "Moses" by Patty Griffin. "Moses" had been included on Triple J's 2005 compilation album Like a Version: Volume One and "More Than This" was recorded as part of Covered, A Revolution in Sound, a Warner Bros. tribute album also released in March 2009.
2010–present: The Ol' Razzle Dazzle
Higgins started writing music for her third album in 2009. After about seven years of touring and recording she took a break from the music industry to pursue other interests. In 2010 she enrolled in a course in indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne. Her acting debut was as Annie in 2010 film Bran Nue Dae directed by Rachel Perkins. The film is an adaptation of the 1990 musical, Bran Nue Dae, "Australia's first Aboriginal musical". Although Higgins would consider future acting projects she has no plans to actively pursue it as a career.
In July and August 2010, Higgins played several dates of Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair tour in the US. At Lilith Fair, she met Australian musician Butterfly Boucher and they decided to work together. In 2011, Higgins travelled to where Boucher was living in Nashville to record her third album, which is co-produced by Boucher and Brad Jones. Titled The Ol' Razzle Dazzle, the album was released on 1 June 2012. Its first single, "Unashamed Desire", co-written with Boucher, was released on 23 April. In November 2011, at the ARIA Music Awards, Higgins performed a duet with Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.
"The Ol' Razzle Dazzle" album debuted at #1 on the ARIA Albums Chart the week of 12 June 2012. It is now Higgins' 3rd straight number one album. Higgins now ties Delta Goodrem, Olivia Newton-John and Kylie Minogue for the 2nd most Australian number one albums by an Australian female artist. Only Kasey Chambers has done better at 4 number one ARIA albums.
Musical influences and technique
Higgins grew up in the 1980s and 1990s listening to artists that her older siblings liked—Nicola played Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, while David favoured Queen and Kiss. Departing for boarding school at age 13, she was exposed to alternative artists like Nirvana and Courtney Love and started teaching herself guitar and writing her own music. She also began singing with David's jazz group on weekends. As an adult she prefers Nina Simone and Ray Charles to "poppy dance music". She has cited Patty Griffin, Ron Sexsmith, Rufus Wainwright, Paul Kelly and Sarah McLachlan as influences. Material from her third album is influenced by ambient music from Low, Jon Hopkins, Icelandic band Sigur Rós and Estonian classical composer Arvo Pärt.
Higgins' song writing grew out of a desire to express her emotions when she was at school and her lyrics describe her feelings about her own life and relationships. The piano was the first instrument she learned to play, and she continues to use it as well as digital pianos including a Roland RD-300SX, RD-700 and KR-15. She also uses guitars extensively in her music particularly when touring, due to their portable nature and favours the Australian brand, Maton. On occasion she plays keytar, xylophone and melodica during performances.
On 7 September 2012, Higgins recorded a cover version of Gotye's "Heart's A Mess" for the "Like a Version" segment, explaining "on-air" that the song is her favourite Gotye composition. Higgins had traveled with Gotye previously and referred to him as "an incredible singer" in the interview prior to the rendition.
As a vegetarian, Higgins promoted the health benefits of not eating meat in a 2005 advertising campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); and has supported their anti-fur stance. She is interested in environmental issues and is involved with the Sierra Club, a grassroots organisation based in California. She has protested against the proposed industrialisation of the Kimberley region of Western Australia and donated the royalties from her 2009 EP More Than This. Since early 2007, Higgins has tried to make her tours carbon neutral, she purchases green energy to power venues, uses hybrid cars where possible and purchases carbon offsets.
On 5 October 2012, Higgins performed alongside The John Butler Trio and Clare Bowditch at the Save the Kimberley concert held at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia. In relation to the Kimberley region and campaign, Higgins stated:
Apparently scientists are still discovering hundreds of new plant and animal species there every year, which goes to show that there is still so much we don't know about the region. I just fell in love with it; it gets under your skin. Woodside Petroleum are planning to build one of the world's biggest LNG (liquified natural gas) processing plants on the Kimberley coast, just north of Broome. They would be drilling for the gas out at sea and bringing it onshore at this plant, which would just be devastating for the region. The question everyone is asking is, why not process it offshore or pipe it to one of the mining towns down south that already have the infrastructure in place? Why ruin the Kimberley if there's an alternative?
Higgins performed at another concert in support of the Kimberley cause on 24 February 2013, with John Butler also appearing again, with the event held at The Esplanade in Fremantle, Western Australia. Jarrah Records, the record label that John Butler co-founded with The Waifs and Phil Stevens, worked in partnership with The Wilderness Society to stage the free event that also featured the band Ball Park Music and Dr Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens Party. A march to protest the proposed gas refinery construction at James Price Point accompanied the free concert and campaign supporters were photographed with banners and placards.
As of 2012, Higgins is one of numerous publicly known advocates for the 'Oscar's Law' campaign. The campaign, launched in 2010, protests the existence of "puppy factories" in Australia, whereby animals are factory farmed. One of the campaign's slogans is "Break the Puppy Trade—Don't buy puppies from pet shops" and the list of notable advocates includes Paul Dempsey (musician), Kate Ceberano (singer) and Mick Molloy (comedian).
From 2004 to 2007, Higgins' sexual orientation was the subject of media speculation based partly on interpretations of her lyrics and her interviews. In an October 2007 interview with Australian lesbian magazine Cherrie, she was asked if she fell under the moniker of "not-so-straight" girls. She replied "Um, yeah, definitely. ... I think sexuality is a fluid thing and it's becoming increasingly more acceptable to admit that you're that way." In November her Myspace page reported, "I've been in relationships with both men and women so I guess I fall most easily under the category 'Bisexual'". She went on to say that she wanted future interviews to focus on her music rather than her sexuality. In a March 2008 interview with AfterEllen.com, Higgins said that her song "Secret" was written about an ex-girlfriend who was not comfortable, at first, about going public with their relationship; "I was so head over heels in love with her I kind of wanted to shout it out to the world, so it was just a song about keeping something under the covers ... keeping it away locked in a little room." In 2013, Higgins had began a relationship with Broome playwright and comedian Dan Lee, which further put to rest ongoing speculation about her sexuality. In December 2013 Lee announced the couples engagement on his Facebook, While he remained tight-lipped on the details, Lee said the proposal was low-key. "It was very simple," he said. "Just a thing between us." Lee is keeping the wedding details under wraps but said the couple, right, were "very excited" and didn't rule out a Broome wedding.
Higgins has been a patron of Australian mental health charity One in Five since 2003. She described her younger self as "a bit of a depressed child" and "introverted", and that she had "experienced various degrees of depression". Prescribed antidepressant medication while in high school, she learned to channel low moods into song writing, calling music her "emotional outlet". In a 2006 interview she said that her songs were "coming from more of a happier place". While recording her second album she discovered a passion for rock climbing, as a "meditative pursuit" and that, "It's the first thing I've had—other than music—that I'm passionate about."
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