Success arrived early for Missy Higgins. She was in high school when her early tune “All for Believing” won a radio contest’s talent search in her native Australia, paving the way for her ARIA-winning debut, “The Sound of White,” in 2004 when she was only 21.
But after her second CD, “On a Clear Night” in 2007, she realized her fast-track life was missing something, and stopped everything to attain it. “I’d never gone to college, and I’d always been very curious what that experience was like,” says the folk-rocker, who enrolled at Melbourne University for a major in Australian indigenous studies.
Higgins — who hits The City tonight, backing her new “The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle” comeback — swears by going back to school.
“There was a big part of my brain that had gone unused for so many years, I thought it was going to shrivel up and die,” she says. “And I’d been on the road for so long, I felt like I needed a challenge, so college seemed like the perfect antidote.”
For the full dorm-rustic experience, she even moved into a shared house with four other people. “That was something I’d never done, either, another rite of passage that I felt like I wanted to go through,” she says.
Higgins was always fascinated with native Australian culture. But starring in “Bran Nue Dae” — an exuberant indie film billed as the country’s “first Aboriginal musical” (retitled “Brand New Day” in the U.S.) piqued her interest further.
In class, she studied Aboriginal authors and deep thinkers, and learned the alternative history of her homeland not taught in schools, all the way up to ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s formal 2008 apology to the 100-year Stolen Generation — a speech, Higgins says, “that was only words — there’s still so much to be done about reconciliation.”
Slowly, Higgins lost touch with composing. She finally ventured out on the 2010 Lilith Fair tour, where she hit it off with fellow Aussie Butterfly Boucher. They began working together in Boucher’s hometown of Nashville, Tenn., and their early co-write “Unashamed Desires” proved so compelling, both women showcased it on their latest albums (Boucher is also Higgins’ opening act this tour).
“Razzle Dazzle” boasts more compelling tracks such as “Watering Hole” and the Arab Spring-inspired “Hidden Ones.”
Higgins definitely got her groove back. Sometimes, though, she misses the anonymity of college, where she went incognito in long hair and a beanie, under her birth name, Melissa.
“One day, a girl in class turned to me and said, ‘You are Missy Higgins, right?’” she says. “I said, ‘Uh, yeah.’ And she said ‘OK, cool. I was just checking!’”