Kate Ceberano has been a much-loved Australian performer for more than 20 years. She has just released her 21st album, Kensal Road – her first of original material in almost 10 years. During that time she became a mother, recorded cover albums and was artistic director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. I caught up with the 46-year-old singer-songwriter to talk about music, her ’80s cringe moments and her love of crocheting.
How did your new album come about?
[Sony Records] said ”we’d love to have you do an originals record”. I’m a singer-songwriter by trade but then I artistically direct festivals and I look after other artists and I’ve made films and I’ve been on television and done all of that. But my keenest wish is to just play music.
You’ve had an amazing career. What’s been the biggest highlight?
It’s tough, actually, to kind of pinpoint something because it seems like I’ve been living to discover who I’m going to become, rather than living to be happy with who I’ve been. It’s never really interested me who I have been – like, I very rarely listen to my back catalogue.
Oh, no, very rarely. And, in fact, this is the first album and the only reason why I listen to it so avidly is because I was actually a part of its production and I took a lot more responsibility for every single component and I studied the sound of my voice and I wanted to have the production be a certain way. It seems that every other album to date, I’ve never taken full responsibility like I have for this.
Why is that?
I would say ”undereducated” on the subject of music; feeling perhaps when I was younger that it wasn’t my position to tell producers what I don’t like. Often [their] translation of you could come out vastly different from how you see yourself and I think that’s really occurred in previous days. As you get older, you get more determined to hold those reins yourself. I’ve got perhaps a lot more confidence, too, in helping other artists, because from the [Adelaide] festival I can see what they need … [Artists] are sort of like thoroughbreds – we are skittish and we are idiosyncratic, it’s all of those things. We’ve got to be fed properly and when we are not, we misbehave; it’s exactly the same thing [laughs].
What do you think about the phenomenon of reality talent shows?
I get a little nervous. I think the judges fare better than the acts themselves and I do think that if you accelerate a person’s career with that experience, at some point there is a price you have to pay for that. I don’t really have a judgment over the process of putting up a competition, which is, I think, a very healthy thing. However, if artists are given the idea that they don’t have to work really hard … it’s a bit of a false promise – almost like a camouflage hole one day they are going to walk into, and they won’t be prepared for the fall.
Do you look back and have any cringe moments?
Oh god, there are so many, I can’t even tell you. You always have to get beyond two decades to fully enjoy what you are doing, you know. But all of the ’80s- like flamenco skirts and – oh god!
Do you still enjoy performing all your hits or are there songs you just don’t like any more?
Well, funnily enough, I’ve almost made a museum of myself in that now I can actually walk through my catalogue and can admire when and how and what circumstances were happening [around different songs]. And I actually feel I’ve come through the other side and I can respect the body of work, whereas about 10 years ago I definitely think I had my midlife crisis and I was just, like, burn and slash every possible evidence that I ever was around in the ’80s. I don’t know why but I think that late-30s is such an awkward era for women.
How do you juggle having a career and being a mum?
I won’t be winning a mother-of-the-year award any time soon [laughs] but … I suppose you just have to be clear with your children about what it is you are doing and insist that they understand and learn how to be a part of that, because there is a lot to be respected about a working woman.
What do you do for fun?
I’m the biggest nerd – I crochet. I make wild-coloured crocheted gypsy rugs.
WE WENT TO The Gallery Tea Lounge, Sheraton on the Park, Sydney.
WE ATE A high tea.
WE DRANK Tea and coffee.
I WORE A Dion Lee Dress.
CEBERANO WORE A Leona Edmiston dress.
Photography: Wolter Peeters