Her bloodshot eyes sheathed in wraparound sunglasses, diminutive Australian Missy Higgins shuffle into the Burbank offices of her U.S. label, Warner Brothers, nursing a multiple-martini hangover from the company Christmas party the night before. But this 21-year-old singer/songwriter is nothing if not resilient. Soon she’s doffed the shades, and is cheerfully recounting the curious genesis of The Sound Of White, her ARIA-winning, multi-platinum debut disc from Down Under. She’s used to bouncing back, says the Melbourne native. That’s how she wound up here in California in the first place.
In 12th grade, at the tender age of 17, one of Higgins’s pliant piano-based compositions—“All For Believing”—was mailed in by a well-meaning sister to local radio station Triple J for its “Unearthed” talent-scouting contest. Lo and behold, the kid won, managers began phoning, record companies came a-courting and Higgins promptly announced she was—as she’d been planning for years—heading off to Europe for a six-month backpacking expedition with her best friend. Fame and fortune would simply have to wait. Most execs called her crazy. Only one label, the indie Eleven, wished her well on her adventure and said they’d be waiting when she got back. “While I was backpacking, I was getting these emails from my new manager, saying ‘You won’t believe this, but for some reason you’ve got interest from American labels as well’,” Higgins gushes, still a bit dumbfounded. KCRW in L.A. had begun spinning “All For Believing.” “And from that, I suddenly found myself being flown from sleeping on my brother’s floor in London to hotels in New York and L.A. to meet all these record-industry folks. And then I was flown right back to backpacking again—the one and only time I flew business class.”
So by the time her trip ended, Higgins—who croons in a charming ‘G’day mate’ accent—had a full-blown career waiting back at home. She still reckons the jaunt was her wisest artistic move ever. She flew into London, took the train to Paris, then bussed it all over Europe, often finding herself in youth-hostel singalongs at the end of the day. She got lost a time or two, and had to phone her mother for help. But mostly, she recalls the life-altering good times. “Like visiting Switzerland—it was the most amazing country I’ve ever been to, really untouched by the outside world. We were staying in this valley, with these massive rock cliffs, and there was a river going down the middle and bright green hills going up to the cliffs. There were waterfalls dotted all along, with all these houses with thatched roofs, and we ended up taking a carriage halfway up the mountainside to this little hidden village with no tourists, no cars, just donkeys and carts. And we just sat there on the edge of this mountainside and looked at the pure, blue sky and rock cliffs and waterfalls and thought ‘Oh...my...God!’ It just put everything in perspective—I was just this tiny musician from Australia, in comparison.”