“I didn’t think that I could accompany myself on piano and write my own piano ballads.”
Missy Higgins admits that this sounds like a funny thing to say. Particularly given how many quality releases she’s now released.
I liked the way she seemed to be a real musician and not at all using her sexuality as a selling point.Missy Higgins — Don't Look Back
Even though she was playing and singing in her brother’s band from a young age, the recognition of being an artist in her own right didn’t come along until she crossed paths with a particular Canadian songwriter.
As a teenager, Missy was a big fan of soundtracks. She unashamedly loved The Bodyguard, Titanic and Sleeping Beauty.
Whilst watching City Of Angels, she heard Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel’ which led her to the 1997 album Surfacing. Hearing McLachlan’s songs helped her form a solid idea of her creative self.
“It came to me at a time when I was just starting to form my identity as a musician and as a songwriter and trying to figure out what my sound was,” Higgins says.
“I was in Year 10 and my music teacher asked us all to write a song for a class project. I was just listening to that album over and over at that point, and I got into a room and wrote my song ‘All For Believing’.
“[Sarah] was the first piano singer songwriter that made me realise that’s what I could be. I didn’t really know that was a possibility. She showed me the way, I guess.”
It wasn’t just McLachlan’s music that Missy connected with.
“At that time, I was really anti-popstars; the girls who were wearing short skirts and high heels and just all about sex and all about their looks. I want to be respected for my music, for my ability as a songwriter and for my talent,” she says.
“I felt like I had more dignity and more confidence in myself as a musician to not do that. So I liked the way she carried herself, I liked the way she seemed to be a real musician and not at all using her sexuality as a selling point. And her songs were super heartfelt and super earnest, vulnerable and emotional.”
‘All For Believing’ launched Missy’s career when it was Unearthed in 2001. When she hit a creative roadblock after her second album, it was again Sarah McLachlan who played a key role in bringing her out of musical retirement.
“I’d decided I couldn’t do the touring, I had no more songs left in me,” Higgins says.
“Then a couple of years later, out of the blue, I got a request from Sarah McLachlan’s camp to be involved in Lilith Fair. At that stage I had said to my manager ‘don’t tell me about any gigs, I don’t wanna know.’
Luckily her manager ignored that directive in this one case.
To Higgins’ own surprise, she said yes straight away. That instinctive response proved to be affirming. As she stepped up on stage at that first Lilith show and saw all the fans who’d turned out to see her, something clicked into place.
“They were so happy to see me on stage, it was just so humbling,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wow, you guys remember who I am, and you’ve stuck by me and you’re still interested in hearing my music.’
“It was really life changing and I got straight back into music again, I got really inspired and made my third album and now I have a completely different perspective on music and what it means to me and why I do it.”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Missy Higgins on Don't Look Back.