By GRAHAM REID
It might not have seemed the smartest career move, but for Melbourne singer-songwriter Missy Higgins it was always in her plan. And sudden success couldn't dissuade her.
As a schoolgirl she won the Triple J radio Unearthed demo competition with her song All For Believing and record companies beat a path to her door with tempting offers. She put them on hold.
"I'd been planning to go backpacking in Europe and had been saving up. When I started to get record companies interested I was curious to see how they would react when I said I wanted to go overseas for a year," she says.
"Some panicked, but the companies I ended up signing with [Eleven, through Virgin] thought it would be good for me to develop as an artist. So I lived in London for a bit with my brother then we went around France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain. We went to a lot of art galleries, but I brought my guitar so there were a lot of singalongs in hostels.
"I left the guitar on a train in Spain so really only had the one finished song when I came back."
That was Greed For Your Love - from her self-titled EP, which spent eight months on Australia's indie charts - and it was voted one of the hottest 100 of the year by Triple J listeners.
The follow-up single Scar topped the Australian charts.
Her short career has been a dream run and her debut album The Sound of White - recorded with producer John Porter (The Smiths, Ryan Adams) and mixed by Jay Newland (Norah Jones) - went to the top of the Australian charts on release in October and was platinum in a fortnight.
The songs, written on piano and guitar, betray an emotional sophistication beyond her years - she is a young-sounding 21 - and the arrangements hint at her background singing jazz standards with her father's band.
"I listen to a lot of jazz, people like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, and I love all the old jazz standards," she says.
"I used to sing Cry me a River and Moonlight in Vermont and that's how I developed a love for jazz. I also loved Courtney Love at one stage."
Which perhaps explains the arrangements of acoustic bass, strings, steel guitar and cello that pepper the songs and create a diversity within the singer-songwriter idiom.
"We jammed for a couple of weeks and everyone felt their own way through the songs. In some I had it in my head already what the arrangements could be like, and in some it was very much trial and error in the studio.
"I only ever write when I feel inspired. Music has been such a pleasure my whole life and I'm trying to keep it like that. I don't want it to ever be hard work."
Higgins is living out of a suitcase while touring Australia playing small theatres and has high-profile dates with the Finns here and other shows scheduled in the New Year.
"It's pretty hectic but I'm really enjoying it. Everything is happening exactly the way I dreamed it. I can't complain because this is what I always wanted."
* Who: Missy Higgins, Australian singer-songwriter
* What: Opening for the Finn Brothers
at the St James, Auckland, Nov 13, 14
* Album: The Sound of White, released Monday