Kate Ceberano is a survivor in the Australian music landscape. From her role as the vocallist in ’80s group I’m Talking, through the late ’80s ‘Brave’ era, Jesus Christ Superstar, the pop-filled ‘Pash’ project in the ’90s, right through to her more recent jazz-tinged albums ‘Nine Lime Avenue’ and ‘So Much Beauty’. She’s an artist not afraid to constantly evolve. And with her first Christmas album now in the shops, we sat down with Kate to talk the ‘C’ word, the bawdy showgirl within and putting up with poor interviewers.
“Most of them get so introverted with their questions, they forget that they’re listening for an answer. It’s actually what’s wrong with a lot of TV hosts too. My least favourite response to an answer is this; (Puts on announcers voice).. ‘Soooo… Kate, so tell me, you’ve been doing a Christmas album and…?’ So then I answer, ‘yes actually, it’s been an album I’ve had in my mind… blah blah blah’. And at the end they go ‘alright! And next you’ve also been’…
So in effect, every answer gets answered with ‘Alright!!’ as if he’s ticking off a box. And I said to one guy after doing 50 in succession, I got a little bit short and I said ‘Are you even listening to me?’
‘Alright!!!’ was the response. Look, in a hundred, you could only say that it’s about two and a half percent that are truly stupid (of journalists) and they hide it well.”
Alright… It’s hard to believe that Kate’s iconic album ‘Brave’, which spawned the hits ‘That’s What I Call Love’, ‘Young Boys Are My Weakness’, ‘Bedroom Eyes’ and the title track, is now 20 years old. But Kate tells us it’s as relevant today as it ever was.
“This last tour we did was 25 years of live music and in that, there was a large chunk of it devoted to ‘Brave’. The thing that strikes me is that the song ‘Brave’ is still relevant for me and it’s certainly been a mantra for me for the extent of my career ‘cause it’s basically stating the hopes that I can be actually brave and the hopes that I can become more able to face the things you need to face,” she says, laughing when we ask her whether it bothers her that the ‘Some Boys Are My Weakness’ thing haunts her still.
“Well there’s a point, isn’t there, where it just gets a bit icky ‘cause you’re sort of like at a certain age (dropping into accent) un certain age as they say in France.”
The 25 years that have encompassed Kate’s singing career seem to have flown by, but Kate assures us, “No, I know exactly where they went. I know I worked freakin’ hard at one thing or another, but the main thing is that I’ve been pursuing a very artistic life. Sometimes that’s very public, but then sometimes that’s very private too. The things that one does in the pursuit of art is not always witnessed.”
“Like, for instance, today I was telling somebody about an incident that happened to me in New York, which was extraordinary and it wasn’t an experience that anyone has reference to ‘cause back then we didn’t have video cameras or iPhones or – you couldn’t sit there and record something…
Being in New York and you’re downtown in a club and the singer’s just fled from the stage ‘cause she can’t cope. It was a private party and she was a model who had thought she wanted to go into jazz and my girlfriend had organised a concert of presenting her to these people. Very very hip downtown scene and this singer had just completely lost it. And my girlfriend, who I’d only met the night before at a club, she said, ‘you sing! You sing! Get up and sing! Can you sing!? What are you going to sing!?’ And I had one of those defining moments where because of the experience I had, I was able to get up and say ‘hey, ‘Skylark’ in the key of G and don’t come in ‘til the bridge’. You know, you’ve got this control that only in Australia could you have learnt that skill.”
It’s the skills that Kate’s learnt throughout her 25 plus year career that she hopes will lead her into the next chapter – part performance, part Shirley MacLaine, part Mae West and two parts Bette Midler – if only someone could financially back it.
“That’s my ambition, you know. The thing that I need is money. I’ve got to state it because this is what’s wrong with this country because per capita we don’t have the concentrated effort to put $26 million, which is what a show like that costs.
“If we import Wicked, that’s what that costs and that’s why we love it. It’s got the full ambition of all of America’s greatest talents behind it with creative designer, the writers, the script editors, the lighting, the costumes. Now any less than that and it’s going to look tawdry and homespun and I don’t want that. And yet I know that I could pull of, with all the skills I’ve attained over 25 years, a divine miss Kate. I need like Baz Lurhmann. I need someone or Hugh Jackman to come back. I need a producer of that ilk… See the problem is… if you spend that kind of money in this country, you can’t export it necessarily, so you can’t really get it back. But if it was a show that was kind of generic and it wasn’t relying on a local audience – on a local fanbase only, but was a really great show….
We tell her she could take it to Vegas!
“Yeah!? Or Broadway even! I want to. I dream of it. I’m on it. I actually wrote a one-woman play and put it up at the cabaret festival a couple of months ago in Adelaide for the purpose of starting to sharpen the pencil as it were in the direction of livretto and monologue and music. And it was beautiful. The show was really powerful and well received. But it’s not the sort of thing that I can do in the long run here – I just can’t make a living doing it right now. But it’s done. The cat is out of the bag and this thing is really real for me. It’s something I will want to… So… I’ve said it and it’s out there.”
This year Kate has released her first ever Christmas album ‘Merry Christmas’ (pictured).
And despite some people who’ve questioned it’s release given Kate’s Scientology beliefs, Kate says the album’s intentions are pure and simple.
“In a nutshell… I think Christmas belongs to family, first and foremost. I don’t think it matters necessarily what you believe religiously, I think people innately all believe in family. And that’s we honour – and that’s what anybody honours – anybody who isn’t a Grinch. Let’s face it, all the Grinch is really is someone who didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas, so we know what makes Grinches. Somebody should have just bought them that present. They didn’t buy them that present from thereafter they were like ‘fuck you, I’m never going to follow Christmas again’.”
Erm.. Did Kate Ceberano just drop the ‘f’ bomb? Surely not.
“For me, it’s a private joy knowing that other people know me to be a certain way. It’s never going to be a public persona – they won’t believe it. You could tell them I speak a language like that, but they go ‘Ceberano? Oh no – she’s a Scientologist – she’d never say anything like that!’ They’re imposing their own stereotype all across me! I mean, I am so bawdy. And I’m not saying it to gloat, it’s just I’m a rock and roll girl – I was born and raised in a tour bus. It’s authentic, but they see something different.”
We suggest it may be this bawdy side of Kate that sees her purring sexily all over the Christmas classic ‘Santa Baby’ on the new album.
“Oh you’re just hearing it through different ears. If you listen to it through a child’s ears… It does sound like a little baby singing it to me. I think that there’s something that…” (we interrupt, saying she’s pulling our leg) “You’re seeing me as sexy! Kids are not seeing me as sexy, so there’s like the double life of Veronique is what I’m saying.”
At this point, a couple of Universal Music reps have meandered into the boardroom, and we plump for a vote. It’s unanimous – Kate’s version of ‘Santa Baby’ is sexy.
(Kate, innocently) “I can’t help it. It’s not my fault if they write lyrics like ‘come on down my chimney tonight’ – that’s someone’s innuendo, it’s not mine!! Come inside my chimney tonight? No. (Laughter). Come and trim my Christmas tree! Well they’re the words! I’m just singing how it was written!”
We tell her we’ll have to get this well-hidden Kate Ceberano out to the general public.
“Listen, you could try, but they won’t believe you. Because even myself I can’t put my own scandal out there. You could and they’d be like ‘gee these guys are a bit down on Ceberano. They clearly don’t understand her, the sexy Scientologist would never use words like that.’,“ she jokes.
But she does admit to having a little crush on a certain Irish crooner who joins her for a duet on the new album.
“Ronan Keating… I have to admit, I’ve got a little bit of a crush. I gotta say. Because he’s got a great sense of humour and he’s a musician – I’m a bit partial to both those things. I’ve found his interest in me, thinking that I’m a middle-aged mum compared to him, the fact that he was interested and he was sincere really blew me away. I was saying ‘I really like your voice and I love singing with you’ and I was going (GUSHES). Wiping spit off the table.”
More laughter ensues. Joy and laughter. Two essential ingredients for the festive season – and two that Miss Kate Ceberano delivers in spades. Merry Christmas indeed.
Kate’s album ‘Merry Christmas’ is out now.
Santa arrives overnight tomorrow night.