Spotlight On Kate Ceberano

WORDS: Caroline Russo Visit: PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

Kate Ceberano burst on the music scene as a teenage sensation in 1983, fronting seminal band I’m Talking, becoming a superstar of the ‘Countdown’ era. Since then, she has effortlessly moved across genres as a soulful tour-de-force, racking up 11 platinum albums, 10 Top 10 singles and countless awards and accolades.

The most prolific Australian female artist of the era, Kate has forged an unassailable distinction through more than 6000 live performances spanning every concert, theatre, and festival stage in the country and beyond. Very thrilled to have her in our Spotlight.

  1. Can you tell us about your early experiences in the music industry and what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I wasn’t setting out to make music per se, and I don’t think any artist really sets out to. I was asleep for most of my teenage life and then someone invited me to put up a scene on stage – just a local band – and it was suddenly, “Oh my god – I am awake!” In fact, I think it would have happened whatever stage I was put on – it could have been acting – it could have been anything – it was like the light switch had been turned on.

  1. What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started in the industry, and how did you overcome them?

The challenge was probably with the part of the culture in Australia that doesn’t like show-offs and trying to balance my enthusiasm for entertainment whilst trying to keep it cool – and the two don’t work together – you can’t have that war with expression and trying to second guess yourself, because you just stop yourself before you even try.

  1. You’ve had a diverse musical career, spanning various genres. How did you navigate through different styles and find your unique musical identity?

I got more relaxed as an artist – I realized you never know anything, and life is a series of practice runs – you are trying on new things, like a new skin. You like it, you don’t like it until you find the skin that fits, and then when that skin is yours you start to build your story from that. But that didn’t come to me until very late in life.

  1. Are there any artists or musicians who have had a significant influence on your career and the way you approach music?

The artists that have influenced me as a musician are performance artists like David Bowie and Kate Bush.  I really love their courage and their very full expression. They take all the music, they take all the theatre and take full responsibility for everything they want as an artist, but they leave their audience guessing what they’re going to do next.

  1. Your debut album Brave was a massive success. How did that album impact your career and shape your future musical endeavours?

It was a double-edged sword because instant fame can come with a whole package of things and a lot of it has to do with the fact that you don’t really know why you became so instantly famous except for people thinking, “Oh, this girl is kind of cute”.

Brave was solo pop, and with that came a whole range of fantastic opportunities and me thinking, “Hang on, maybe I can do this for a living” … Which was great as I’m not good at anything else! And the second thing was I don’t think I can pretend to be cool for as long as I think I need to be… I knew something was going to have to give!

  1. The first woman to be in the Hall of Fame for singer-songwriter. How do you look back at that achievement?

That was a highlight for me. I loved getting it and it reminds me of Lady Gaga – often people like to compare you constantly in the media, “Oh you are just like this you are just like that”.

Lady Gaga was trying to defend herself when she heard, “You are a lot like a modern-day Madonna”. Her face goes sour, and she says, “Well that is nice, I respect Madonna but I am nothing like Madonna. I am a multi-instrumentalist, I produce my records, I spend hours recording and trying new things, and whilst I might rehearse and create shows I allow things to happen by accident – I embrace my flaws.”

There is the performing artist who will rehearse and perform for the sake of entertainment, but then there are musicians… And I think that I have realized as I have gotten older that being a musician is something I am more comfortable with.

  1. How has your style and approach changed from your early work to your recent projects?

My style is much richer obviously – my life is deep… deeper than it ever was, and I am singing with more introspection rather than desperately feeling like I need to please and entertain others. It’s like, “Let me take you on this journey, and hopefully while I am there you can feel the way I feel when I sing this song and it might be good to feel that experience”.

  1. How are you feeling at this time of your life?

This is the most exciting year of my life to date. As a creative human, the fact that I can have my work put to the sound of a 70-plus orchestra puts it into a space. Every night is like living in the middle of a soundtrack – a film that is your life, and it’s being respected and being made beautiful, moving and happy… plus a little bit sad and imperfect and played by the most perfect musicians in the country. Reflecting, my friend said, “Oh my god, you are like 100 people in one. Director of Cabaret Festival, you are a mum, a performer…” So many labels and different versions of myself.

  1. A new book coming out, Unsung – how did that come about?

COVID offered me a whole different way of looking at things and my response to it as an artist was to try to firm up thoughts in my head about music that I could play out into the physical world around me. I think I got a bit nervous that after three years of not performing, a song wasn’t going to do it – I needed something to keep me relevant, so I started quilting and painting instruments that have all of my songs over them. They are called my unsung songs.