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The Green Life: Trendsetter: Singer-Songwriter Missy Higgins

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July 07, 2009

Trendsetter: Singer-Songwriter Missy Higgins

SMJA09_EN_01 After the success of her debut album, Sound of White, this husky-voiced Aussie stole away to a rural part of her homeland for six reflective months to write music under an open sky. Higgins -- one of Billboard’s ten greenest artists, along with Jack Johnson and Willie Nelson -- is a stalwart eco-warrior. Her tours are carbon-neutral, she’s a vegetarian, and she totes her trusty SIGG bottle wherever she goes. Her sophomore album, On a Clear Night, reveals a deep appreciation for the healthy abandon we achieve in the natural world, especially in freedom-cry tracks like “Going North” and “Steer.”
 
Q: You partnered with the Sierra Club to give away your hit single, “Where I Stood,” to benefit the 2% Solution campaign.
A: Being involved in that is great because it’s a really inspiring and realistic way of getting people to make a change, by doing it a tiny bit at a time -- just cutting two percent [of carbon emissions] a year. I think a lot of people panic because they think going green is going to take out all the pleasures of living… But it’s about taking a more realistic approach.

Q: Will you ever sing about environmental problems?
A:
I’ve tried, but I can’t figure out a way to do it without sounding cliché. Some people protest through their music, and some have to do it through other means. Midnight Oil does it pretty well [through their music]. They’re big environmentalists.

Q: Is there an environmental issue particularly close to your heart?
A:
The drought is so bad back home. I would love to know how farmers could adapt to global warming. Not enough farmers know how to handle what’s happening to them and it’s really sad to see. It’s devastating my country. The fires recently were impossible to control because the whole place is so dry.

Q: You’ve cited Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as having inspired you to get involved in the environmental movement. What else got you interested?
A:
I have this environmentalist friend in Australia who’s an architect and really great at designing eco-friendly houses. He was actually the first person in Australia to have a wind turbine on the top of his home. I just got talking to him about the fact that I hated how polluting the tour buses were and how the amount of flying I’m doing contributes to global warming. He told me about carbon offsetting, and I got really excited and thought this is something I could do for my tours and make it a public thing so that people can learn and become conscious about how much they actually are polluting on a daily or yearly basis.

Q: Your single, “Steer,” was inspired by the night sky in Broome, rural northern Australia. Can you describe that?
A:
I went to Broome to live for about six months to write for this album. I mainly chose to live there because it was the first place I’d ever felt honestly connected with the physical land of my country. It’s just so ruggedly beautiful, Broome is. You can feel the heat of the red Pindan soil under your feet. And the sky at night is the clearest night sky I’ve ever seen. You really feel like you’re sitting underneath endlessness. And this night I was just looking up and I felt so tiny amongst it all, I felt so insignificant. That really empowered me, because I realized how short my life was in the grand scheme of things. Why am I even compromising one minute? Why am I wasting any time? It was a really powerful and poignant moment for me, and I think it really took getting out of the city for a while and literally putting my feet on nature for awhile and getting reconnected with my country to remember who I was and get my priorities straight.

Q: You’ve talked about simplifying life as one way to move toward sustainability. How do you simplify your life?
A:
I love going for a bike ride with a friend and then just sitting together somewhere, in a park or by the beach. My favorite thing to do is just to go and lie on the grass with a friend and just talk for hours. I love camping. I’m not that big on resort holidays or complicated adventures, I just really love taking time to sit and stare and slow time down.

Q: If you had to write a song based on a sound from nature, which would you pick?
A:
Maybe the sound of an earthquake, the tectonic plates rubbing together. What comes to mind first is when I saw Neil Young play, and at the end of the show, he got his electric guitar and he was kind of scraping it and hitting it and rubbing it alongside the sharp edge of something—I think it may have been an amp—until all the strings came off. Then he put it on the ground and started hitting the pickup with the end of the strings, and it just made the most thunderous, incredibly huge sound that just went through my entire body. It took me a while to realize where the sound was actually coming from, because it was so overwhelming and powerful. Yeah, I reckon I’d do something like that.

--interview by Tobin Hack

To get Missy Higgins’s free single and take the 2% pledge, go to this link.

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