Kate Ceberano’s ’surprising’ new gig
Kate Ceberano, professional singer since she was 14, is knee-deep into the longest break of her career - but not by choice.
"I'm in a premature retirement," she says, only half joking.
Like all musicians, Ceberano lost her main income source when live venues became another victim of COVID-19's enforced social distancing.
"We've had to stand down," Ceberano says.
"It's hard to protest too much about the fact we have no jobs because in the scheme of things playing music seems so trivial. That's what people who are struggling to feed their families would think. And I understand that, I get it. But we also have to put food on the table. So in a sense, until we can do otherwise, I'm in semi-retirement."
It hasn't been a walk in the park - even if Ceberano now has time for a bath each afternoon as well as actual walking in the park.
"It's been a struggle," Ceberano admits.
"I smash my forehead on one wall, walk to the other end of the hall and smash my forehead on that wall."
Ceberano's husband Lee Rogers has had a front-row seat to his wife's forced break.
"In the 29 years I've been with her she's only got one gear, and that's 11," Rogers says.
"This is the first time that I've ever seen it have to come to a grinding halt. It wasn't pretty for the first few weeks."
During the first lockdown, the couple transformed their bohemian home in Melbourne's inner east into a makeshift TV studio.
They rebooted Kate Ceberano and Friends, her ABC cabaret show from 1993, as an online live-stream for nine Fridays in a row.
Ceberano was joined - virtually - by everyone from Vanessa Amorosi to Richard Wilkins and even sang with 16-year-old daughter Gypsy.
Money raised (a five-figure sum) from those who paid to watch went to music industry charity Support Act and the other talent on either side of the camera - Ceberano didn't take a cent herself.
"Kate was climbing the walls and wanted to help her fellow musicians and keep creating," Rogers says.
"But after doing that show for so many weeks the house was chaos. We stopped doing that and it was hard for Kate, she was like a junkie coming down from the adrenaline she runs on. She's only coming out the other side now after she's started painting. It's been the toughest time I've seen Kate go through. We've been through things like being dropped from a record label, some tough things, but this has been harder than anything we've been through."
For Rogers, the pandemic has also required him to reinvent himself.
A high-profile director of film, TV (Neighbours - including the Margot Robbie era, Home And Away, The Dr Blake Mysteries), TV commercials for brands from Swisse to Mazda and music videos (his second-ever video was Ratcat's No. 1 That Ain't Bad), he also found his industry in a holding pattern with no end date.
Pre-pandemic, the lifelong surfer was killing the 90-minute journey to the ocean by listening to audio books. Once in shutdown, his listening habits turned to informative podcasts - including The Hope Initiative and The Tim Ferris Show.
He realised the podcast was a great medium to entertain and uplift, especially during the pandemic.
"With all the work drying up, who knows when large numbers of people getting together and filming will happen? What if it doesn't open up, what if it takes a few years, what if my career as a director is all over? What will I do? I need to reinvent myself. I'm digging podcasts, we can do it from home, we'd done Kate's weekly live streaming from home, we were old dogs learning new tricks. Learning how to live stream, I didn't have a crew to do the shooting and lighting, I was doing it myself, and it got me back on the tools. Had the pandemic not happened I wouldn't have done a podcast in a million years. I'd be in the Kate Ceberano vortex where it's always so busy."
Contacting creatives and envelope-pushers in many fields, artist David Bromley was his first guest in the podcast he named The Blank Canvas.
While guests including Deborra-Lee Furness, Eddie Perfect, entrepreneur Anne McKevitt and comedian Jim Meskimen are to roll out weekly over the coming months, Rogers didn't look too far for his second guest - his wife.
"He was way more nervous than me," Ceberano says of recording their podcast.
"He doesn't live with the artist Kate Ceberano but the person Kate Ceberano, who has quite strong thoughts about a lot of things. The artist is obliged to represent themselves in new ways now, often with a venue now you're required to do a certain amount of posting on your social media. It puts a lot of pressure on you to think of yourself as being an object, something to sell, rather than just being a person. Gone are the days where Nick Cave and Paul Kelly were allowed to just be themselves for the rest of time. With the podcast the public saw us in a new way. I'm OK with that."
Their episode is full of conversations and revelations, including that Ceberano, 53, started getting her first menopause symptoms during her live-streamed concerts from home.
"For the first time I'd be in the middle of a song and thinking 'I can't f---ing breathe' and wondering what the hell it was all about. It's a very real thing. I think we're in an age where a lot of people talk about it enough and it needs to be discussed."
The pair met in 1991 when Rogers directed a live concert for Ceberano at Sydney's State Theatre.
A Sydney local, Rogers found Ceberano while her career was flying (she was still riding high on triple platinum album Brave and the hit Bedroom Eyes) but her personal life was floundering - she'd split with her drummer and manager Bruce Pawsey.
"He dropped her the week before the show," Rogers says.
"I'm in pre-production and she was in such a funk. She's away from home in Sydney so I said 'Do you want to have dinner?' to cheer her up.
"You always see the happy Kate, I got her at a weak moment, which is lucky for me, she'd probably have never been interested if she wasn't in that state!"
"I was so dramatic, I am so dramatic," Ceberano says.
"Lee came along like a knight on a white charger and a very f---ing handsome one to boot."
Next year is their 30th anniversary as a couple - they're still wildly in love.
"One of the reason it works is I'm not the jealous kind," Rogers says.
"He's not even jealous of my career which is astonishing," Ceberano says.
"He's quite practical, he's a realist and very organised. And I'm chaos.
"We look at our creativity through completely different eyes, which helps. I don't have the patience to micromanage the admin he seems to love - putting together film crews, forecasting budgets many months ahead, putting creatives in touch with design teams. And he could never write a song. The two of us marvel at each other's talent. I think that's what ultimately keeps us in love."
The pair married at Queenscliff Hotel in February 1996.
A few months later Rogers cast his new wife in Dust Off The Wings, a film he directed which was based loosely on their wedding.
Filmed at Bondi, Rogers played the lead role, Ceberano played his wife and her brother Phil was also in the cast, who improvised many of their scenes.
"It wasn't completely autobiographical but it was certainly inspired by the 48 hours prior to our wedding," Rogers says.
"Facing monogamy after living in Bondi for many years and having a fairly spirited lifestyle, let's just say. It was confronting, you've got your mates on one hand and your future life partner on the other."
The singer isn't overly fond of the movie, released in 1997, which Rogers recently uploaded to streaming site OzFlix.
"I had some strong moral rejection towards the script," Ceberano recalls.
During filming Ceberano took a break to attend the Toorak wedding of friends Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness in April 1996, where she sang Ava Maria.
"That wedding was a f---ing fantasy, deadset romantic," Ceberano says.
"So I come back to Lee and we had the biggest barney. I thought 'Why are you releasing this evil into the world!' Nobody needs to see the underbelly of Australian beach culture, especially one that didn't seem to have a happy ending. I'd just been inside my favourite Leonard Bernstein musical at Hugh and Deb's wedding. That's how they live, they don't live in anything less than Disneyland. Lee and I are cut from a different cloth.
"I think the key to Deb and Hugh is Hugh always says Deb is always right," Rogers says. "That's probably the secret to our longevity, too, I know Kate is always right."
"The hardest thing about living with me is when it comes to art I'm relentlessly in pursuit of being better all the time," Ceberano says.
"I expect everyone else to feel the same way about whatever they're doing. Even my daughter often says 'Mum give me a break, everything's fine.' I am quite a perfectionist."
Another change at Ceberano HQ in lockdown is that Rogers has officially taken over the singer's management - a role he has been doing unofficially for most of her career.
"All Kate's gigs for the year dropped out of the calendar, literally, her income has dropped 98 per cent, so we really need to be tight with our money," Rogers says.
"We had to re-look at everything. Whatever work is happening this year we can manage ourselves. Once work picks up again and it's frantic we'll definitely need more help but right now we're keeping it close to home."
While they're waiting for gigs to come back, the household is now hooked on the ABC's new Australian music show The Sound, airing in the old Countdown timeslot on a Sunday evening.
Ceberano was thrilled to be the final guest on episode one ("everyone knows the last song on Countdown meant you were No. 1!") as part of her "midlife indie album" The Dangerous Age with Steve Kilbey from the Church and musician/author Sean Sennett.
The wildly acclaimed album proved uncannily prescient by being recorded remotely before it was the necessary option to make music.
"If there's one thing to be glad for, the whole of the country is facing inward and supporting homegrown talent," Ceberano says.
"We've been watching The Sound with Gypsy, like when we used to watch Countdown together. And Gypsy is going 'I could do that'."
Indeed while she's already past the age her mother was when she played in jazz groups and then pop/funk band I'm Talking as a teen, The Sound could be responsible for inspiring Gypsy Rogers' music career - the next generation of the Ceberano musical DNA.
"Gypsy over the last two weeks has written four hit songs," Rogers says proudly.
"She's found her voice as a songwriter and to a great extent it's from watching The Sound, seeing other young people doing their thing, singing live, and going 'I could do that'."
While Rogers has a long list of guests lined up for his podcast and has taken on a role as a key note public speaker, Ceberano has started painting guitar cases on request - personalising them for the owner.
"It's a complete surprise to me I can sell anything other than songs," Ceberano says.
"It's a miracle to me people will pay. When the money lands in my account it's not very much, I'd get paid 10 times that to go out and do a gig, but I'm like Snoopy on my doghouse going 'Life is good!'"
AND FINALLY …
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE PANDEMIC?
Lee: "Because the train is always in motion I've looked at Kate at times and thought 'She is so talented, I'm not, I should just stay supporting others'. But in lockdown who knows when the gigs are coming back, what are the things I've been dreaming of doing? I've got no excuse, I need to back myself and have a crack at a few new things. I feel like I'm doing something on purpose for me."
Kate: "I'm a very complex woman. That was news to me, I was obviously in some kind of professional amnesia. I know I can make strong decisions if it means it helps others and I can learn new tricks as an old dog."
WHAT TV SHOWS DOES THE OTHER PARTNER HATE?
Lee: "I love watching drug-fuelled crime dramas like Narcos. I love Ozark. Kate certainly loves her British lifestyle shows, Antiques Roadshow and Kevin McCloud her TV husband on Grand Designs."
Kate: "He hates British historical dramas like Vanity Fair. One day he was raving about this new show, he knows I love sci-fi like Blade Runner. He played me an episode of Black Mirror and I was distraught. I couldn't cope with the idea that's the world my daughter is going to grow up and live in. Look how fast it's become real."
FIRST THING YOU'LL DO POST LOCKDOWN
Lee: "Straight down to the surf coast."
Kate: "I'll go to Chadstone. And I want to go on tour."
Originally published as Kate Ceberano's 'surprising' new gig