Kate Ceberano

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Here's a woman full of passion!

I met Kate for the first time when we sat down to do this interview. There was an instant connection. She's warm, funny, incredibly smart, cherishes family and has a wicked laugh. All of that on top of being a hugely successful Australian singer songwriter. 

Here's what we talked about in 'My 30 Minutes'.

I struck out at 15. I was highly committed, highly energetic. I wasn’t interested in anything that was going to hold me at school for much longer. I left school at 14 said ‘that’s it, I want to work, I want to make money, I want to be secure and I want to have it on my own terms.’ So I worked three or four gigs a week at 15. It was psycho bananas, but I felt like one of those hair dressing apprentices at a salon that knew that one day I would own my own salon. You know those ones – they’re different to the ones that are just working for the boss, they’re the ones that will be the boss.  

Paint a snapshot of your life for me?

Probably contrary to popular belief I’m actually very old fashioned when it comes to my marriage.


"We’ve been married for 25 years and I’m very devoted to my husband."

I love what we are as people. He’s a very kind person. They have to know that I actually live that everyday. He’s a filmmaker/director. We are as equally apart as we are together and we raise this free range chicken who’s the most amazing person. She’s 13. She’s got all the best parts of us. She’s pragmatic and savvy like her dad. She’s empathetic and kind, which I think I am those things. And we get up, I take her to school, I then unpack all my bags from having been on tour for the last four days. I put everything in the wash. I go and water my garden, I love my garden. Then sit and talk about what we’re going to do domestically – Lee and I. That’s my husband.

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And then moreover I’ll go off and do this program with young artists. I’m really dedicated to helping women in music. So I bring together all the women I know, we sit together, we make music, we talk about music, we talk about gigs, we talk about how each other’s sustaining ourselves in music – have we got enough money, do we need any help? And I try plug in with them and see if there’s anything I can do to help them to be more stable financially and professionally.

I’m not a big fan of people who have high dreams but are lazy. I turn right off really fast. I have no tolerance for it. I won’t sit and have someone waffle on at me about all these things are going to be, without showing me what they’re going to do. To me you give me a kid who is showing me they’ve got five gigs that they’re doing. They’re making no money for it at the moment, but they totally plan on doing that. In the meantime they’re working in a café over here, and they’re doing composition for this person over there. It’s criminal for me – it’s like wanting something for nothing and that’s the basis of criminality. You need to know even if it all went to ruin, I could sit up here in this mall with an amp, like I did when I was 15, and I’ll put my hat out and I’d have enough money to eat.

You’re a household name in Australia. What does that feel like?

In this country that’s very honourable. People in this country don’t have the same weirdness about celebrities it seems. Well we kind of do, towards the great influencers, and the pretty people, we do honour that in one section of our world and that’s fun, that’s celebrity. But for an artist whose an all-rounder you sort of become part of the family.

People will come up to me and certainly when I’m with my kid and when she was younger – they were really respectful, like ‘we don’t want to interrupt your family time right now, but I just want to tell you we really like the way you dress, or I like what you stand for, I like your music.’ I think people like me in equal measure for a lot of things, other than just music.

You’ve been making music for more than three decades and you’ve done a lot over that time. Are there highlights or moments that make you feel proud when it comes to work, or does that exist more in your personal life?

There are moments everyday where you just go ‘wow, that was sublime’.

I did a thing with Anh Do and he said what’s your definition of happiness, or what is your advice on how to be happy, and I said ‘be easily pleased’.

Like last night when my brother Phil, who is just gorgeous,I’m in the wings and I’m looking at him and he’s working the crowd really hard, and he looks across to me and made some comment like ‘oh my sister’s not happy about her outfit tonight, so make sure you give her lots of applause when she comes out tonight because she was feeling a bit fatty boombah’. He’s already set the scene, so that by the time I get there the crowd just roars. That’s a beautiful thing.

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With all those years and all those albums, when we talk about success – do you ever feel like you’ve arrived?

No and I think that there’s an argument that I agree with that as an end goal, happiness comes from having overcome things. So when you put this marker for yourself that ‘I’ve arrived’ or 'I’m in the place that I’ve always wanted to be', I think you potentially stop being happy. I was watching this movie yesterday and it said ‘desire is a far greater motivator than happiness’ because when one is desiring or has the sensation of anticipation about what they’re going to get, or what they’ll find, or what it will feel like, or taste like.. that is actually a better definition for happiness than the end goal of happiness itself, or arriving somewhere.

 

Desiring to be somewhere, desiring to do something - it’s intoxicating and I hope I never lose it, I hope I never feel satisfied.

 

You had your daughter Gypsy it was 13 years ago. When did you get back into work, when did you feel was the right time?

I always had this sort of idea that I would be an example to working women, that I would continue to work through and after and all that. Because not every woman is going to want to have babies and they’re not going to have them as some sort of indicator that they were successful as a woman. So I wanted to make it look effortless and that was a pile of shit. It’s like the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I loved my pregnancy, I was completely oblivious to it. I worked right up until, and right through and onto national tours. I did a television thing for the world rugby, 44 million viewers at eight and a half months pregnant. Kasey Chambers couldn’t do it and I had to fill in for a campaign she was meant to be fronting. They literally put me on a golf buggy, took me out into the middle of the field, I was enormous.

 

'There I was demonstrating to women ‘be proud, own your bodies, own your babies’. I was clueless.'

 

Then I took about eight years to learn how to actually take responsibility for parenting and the choice you make when you have a baby. And I say eight years, it took that long until she was mobile and truly independent and could speak for herself. It was a really interesting journey and I had to actually pull out of my own desire and my business, and focus on her. I had to really change my mind, which at 38 was hard, about who owns this space here (gestures to torso), she owns the space, she owns the space! You have to just manage it, and monitor it, and keep her safe, keep her warm, keep her fed, keep her alive. That is the choice you make. If you’re not going to do that, don’t have children in my opinion. It’s all about you in your 20's – have that, love that, enjoy that, eat heartily from that plate. But if you’re going to have babies, know that it’s not fair to the child or to the environment around the child, to have any of that.

So did you think you would go back to work?

I had no idea what was going to happen. I was so clueless I went straight into Dancing with the Stars when she was 10 months old. I literally just stopped breastfeeding and went straight on television, into a five hour a day dancing routine. Madness.

But that must have been a good way to get back out there?

At that stage I was still learning. So if there was any damage done then, I feel like I’ve been making it up since.. of the absence. Children don’t want you to be absent in those early years, they really want you to be there. They need you there. They need to know that you’re just half a foot away, so their little arms can reach out and you’re there. Even if it’s to push you away. They just need to know.

Whilst professionally it had all the right reasons, like keeping my profile out there, but in my heart it felt wrong.

So what would you say to other mums in that situation?

Marry someone rich and just check out when you’re having kids. (laughs)

Turn off all electronics and get down on your hand and knees and be on their level, because that’s what children need to be good people in this world. Fortunately my mum and dad were living with us at the time, so my daughter was surrounded by family and friends, but that’s not common for people.

I don’t regret how I did it, but it seemed like a kind of vanity.
 

'I didn’t even know I was so vain, or needed it career wise.'

 

You joke that we should marry rich and have babies, but I believe the desire in you would have driven you to keep going?

I always say to the modern woman make sure that the desire doesn’t send you in one direction, at the cost or the neglect of the things that count. I’ve got girls who are 15 years younger than me and haven’t even had a relationship yet, because there’s no time. They’re recklessly perusing their desire, which is fine no boyfriend is fine, but they don’t see their parents and they don’t call their grandma anymore. 

If you had to define success – how would you define it?

I struggle to find, because I think my mind goes out to – success as a parent, success as a wife, success as a person. I think in the end all I can say is this – If you seek to be the most honest person you can be, and have integrity in everything you do, and be trustworthy by others, I can only imagine then that you would be a success in life. Because anything other than those things is to fail. To be dishonest, to be untrustworthy, to be unable to look at yourself and your life and know I truly decided to do all of that, no one else could have decided that for me.

I think there are grades of success and grades of failure – all of which I think you need to experience because without failure you have no success. Nobody seeks to be perfectly happy, they want to have desire and desire will send you down some really narky paths, towards narky people, where you have to own it and have integrity. When you’re making those decisions and basing it on the right truths and you’re coming up with the right answers – then you’re being more successful. How about that?

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We all hope to leave some sort of legacy, or our little mark – hopefully it’s a good one – but what do you want to leave behind for your daughter?

I guess that same thing that my grandmother left for me which is that it is possible to maintain a kindness in a world that is pretty hard. If my legacy is that I tried to be as kind as I could to the people that count, really that’s it ultimately, I have small ambitions.

Just stay kind!

 

At every provocation there’s every reason to become those hard bitter people and end up being really judgmental, and I just don’t want to turn into one of those people. That would be the legacy I would like to leave.