Do motherhood and creativity go hand in hand? Not according to musician and performing artist Kate Miller-Heidke. “Many songwriters say that misery is inspiring to them,” she tells us, “but that’s never been the case for me unfortunately!”
Thankfully, they have lots of family support, which has enabled Kate to continue forging an incredible career in the music industry, despite being what she calls “pathologically underslept.” Here, she tells us how she does it – and why she mourns the loss of the village.
By MD® Head Of Content Gemma Dawkins
How did motherhood impact your career?
As a freelance artist I’m reasonably in charge of my schedule. I did my first show when Ernie was 9 weeks old and I remember it being quite tough as I had to get acquainted with my body and voice again after giving birth.
How do you manage motherhood and creativity?
Many songwriters say that misery is inspiring to them, but that’s never been the case for me unfortunately! Being pathologically underslept is in conflict with creativity for me. I need some sense of spiritual buoyancy to find joy in creating.
How did your identity change as a mother?
I felt my previous identity was burned to the ground. It had to be completely destroyed and then rebuilt again brick by brick. The process was not enjoyable.
How do you manage touring?
We are fortunate to have lots of family support. There’s no way we could manage without it. We’re lucky our son is an easy going chap who is very bonded to extended family. Touring is incompatible with being a parent, for me. Especially as while on tour, I often have to stay silent during the days to preserve my voice, and I need to be vigilant about sleep.
If Ernie is at home, my partner does the vast majority of the parenting while we’re performing. Ernie and I do sign language and write notes to each other on the days I’m saving my voice.
Have you had to miss out on anything since becoming a mother?
I have been getting better at saying no as I get older, but I’ve never had to say no to anything I desperately wanted to do, except a second child. I had to say no to that.
How has Covid impacted your career?
It continues to impact me – things are not normal yet. Our entire industry was shut down and a lot of it may not come back. It’s been a dark time. Getting to perform and sit in audiences now such cherished, precious experience for me now, one I’ll never take for granted again.
“I like to do creative work in the morning. I have to be disciplined and vigilant about protecting my time.”
Does Ernie come to your shows?
Generally we don’t bring him on the road, but he does love the Woodford Folk Festival and has been there every year of his life. Recently at the Wildflower Festival at the Brisbane Riverstage he crashed the stage – he basically upstaged my whole gig. He loves to dance and do improvised rap battles.
What’s your parenting philosophy?
When he was younger, I’m sure Ernie would have preferred if I just stayed home to be his maid. However as he gets older (he’s 6) he is showing more interest in my career. I recently got to do a voice on ‘Bluey’ which was a turning point in earning his respect.
In all honesty I’m concerned about the world we’re leaving our children and I’m not sure if ‘follow your dreams’ is the best message to give him. It might be, but I’m not sure. The main message I try to impart is that if you love something and you work hard at it, you can get good at it.
I just try my best to be present, and to not spoil him or interfere too much.
What’s the most surprising part about motherhood?
Just emotions, often contradictory ones, on steroids. Love and fear, new life and mortality, happiness and dread, love and loss, all of it. Having to constantly say goodbye to the little person he was last year, or the year before. It’s bittersweet.
When are you most creative?
I like to do creative work in the morning. I have to be disciplined and vigilant about protecting my time – I walk him to school, then come home and do music for a few hours. If I can I try to save emails and life admin until the afternoon. I have to use my time much more effectively than I used to.
What’s the biggest challenge of motherhood?
I really mourn the loss of the village. Parenthood is so much harder and lonelier without it.
When you’re having a rough time, what gets you through?
I love getting out into nature with Ernie and watching him get into a flow state.
You’re about to perform at BLEACH* festival. What do you love about festivals and what can we expect from your set?
The open-air setting will be so beautiful – I love getting to play outdoors at sunset. I’m bringing some extraordinary musicians with me and it’s our last Australian show for quite a while.
You can see Kate perform at BLEACH* Festival on 14 August 2022.