How Stranger Things inspired a new Missy Higgins sound
Missy Higgins describes her new album, Solastalgia, as “fresh” and “a new direction”.
Part of that is its thematic element – it draws directly on her fears for the future of the planet (more on that later).
But part is the sonic element. It’s not the kind of sound you generally associate with Missy Higgins.
And, the singer tells Double J, that inspiration came from an interesting source.
“It was very much inspired by Stranger Things,” the nostalgia-driven Netflix series, the 34-year-old says.
“I was obsessed with that series at the time.
“I loved the soundtrack, and I loved how 80s it was. Going in, that was a big reference of mine – I said I wanted it to be retro-futuristic, but with a bit of my old sound thrown into the mix so it wasn’t a complete departure.”
Higgins said she knew she wanted to make a more electronic, more programmed album this time.
It led to a different way of working.
“It was really fun to write that way,” she says.
“Usually, I would write first and foremost on a piano or a guitar, and then we’d build the song from there,” Higgins says.
“This time, it started with the synth as the springboard for the rest of the song.
“I said I just wanted to go really far out with this record.”
She said that effect was necessary because she had a timeline for the album – the first track would be set in the present day, the last track after the apocalypse.
“I thought, ‘I want to write an album where it starts with now and it ends post-apocalypse, when earth is dead and the aliens are coming back and judging all the humans for how they ruined their own planet … That was kind of the prologue.”
There are so many things we do in our everyday life that are potentially contributing to the problems of the world, but we're so entrenched in how we live that it's really hard to break out of that habit.Missy Higgins — Double J, 2018
Missy Higgins has long felt some anxiety about the state of the world.
That’s manifested, over the years, in the environmental activism – over the fate of the Great Barrier Reef and the Kimberley – she has taken up alongside her commercially successful, ARIA-winning musical career.
But, she says, that anxiety seems to have gotten more intense as she has gotten older, read more widely, and – importantly – started a family.
“I have started becoming more aware of climate change, and reading more about it,” she says.
“I read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and it kind of did change everything for me.”
The book, by the renowned cultural critic and author of No Logo, argues rampant capitalism is ruining the natural world.
“I immediately had so much anxiety about the state of the world and the futility of trying to change the future of the planet when you are only one person and you are relatively powerless in comparison to the people with the big bucks,” Higgins says.
Missy and her husband, Dan Lee, had their first child, Sammy, in 2015. They have another one on the way – something the singer revealed earlier this year, on stage, during her tour supporting Ed Sheeran.
“I thought having a child would make me feel so kind of calm, like [I would] write songs about rainbows and unicorns.
“But it did the opposite – it just made me terrified.”
A mash up of the words ‘solace’ and ‘nostalgia’, the album title references a distress brought on by environmental changes close to your home.
It’s a word to describe how we feel when things around our home aren’t the way they used to be when we were younger.
There is “a big apocalyptic theme” running through the album, says Higgins, who has sold more than 1 million albums since The Sound of White and its lead single ‘Scar’ thrust her into the national spotlight in 2004.
The song ‘Hallucinate’ talks about “all the questions that I found myself asking myself, and asking the universe, once I'd woken up to the fact that we might not be heading in the best direction”.
‘Starting Again’ grapples with bringing a child into an “unstable” world, while on ‘How Was I To Know’, Higgins imagines various characters, at some point in the future, looking back on this period and interrogating their actions.
Explaining the thought process behind that song, Higgins says:
“There are so many things that we do in our everyday life that are potentially contributing to the problems of the world, but we're so entrenched in how we live that it's really hard to break out of that habit.”
But Higgins says that, while there is a bold theme across the album, she didn’t want to lose the personal or the relatable from her work.
“I knew what I wanted to write about,” she says.
“But I am also, first and foremost, a story teller. It had to come from a place of true emotion but it also had to tell a story, and I wanted it to be a very visual story.”