12 May 2023

Bic Runga: 'I appreciate things more now'

From Nine To Noon, 4:45 pm on 12 May 2023
Bic Runga 2020 Tour Photo

Bic Runga 2020 Tour Photo Photo: karen inderbitzen_waller

Bic Runga has been awarded just about every musical honour that Aotearoa has to offer. Her 1997 debut album, Drive, is one of the biggest-selling New Zealand albums of all time.

It’s more than 20 years since the release of her second album, Beautiful Collison, which was an 11-time platinum best-seller. Later this year, she's embarking on a four-date New Zealand tour in celebration of Beautiful Collision, which she says remains her favorite album.

It wasn’t my intention to stop making music, but the industry doesn’t support mothers

“A lot of my favourite artists, like Kate Bush, didn't make records after she had children for quite some time. And, you know, I think Patti Smith didn't make a record for 10 years. And I remember thinking about those two artists all that time, thinking, wow, you know, it is really hard doing this.

"I mean, the industry doesn't sort of seem to support motherhood, especially, so you're out for the count when you have kids and try and be a musician. [Runga has three children with musician partner Kody Neilson.]

"And if you think about classical music, there's so few women classical composers. It's just a bummer, really. So that's in the back of my mind all the time. I kind of tried to fight the good fight trying to get back into writing because, you know, we are missing a whole sub-demographic of what song writing could be from mothers.

“Partly that it [music] doesn’t seem like a job is how it got away on me. I couldn't sort of say to my family, ‘I've got to go to work’; there was nowhere to go. It just happened that way. It wasn't my intention to sort of lay that low. But they're all back in school and I think it's the right time. I've got songs coming out now which is good.”

Song writing takes practice

“You have to have all that fitness for it, so that when the moment comes where a song is coming, you've got enough tools to get it out. And yeah, I guess a bit being a bit older, I have a bit more control over where that song is headed, just by having a bit more life experience and technical ability.

"I think the voice stays true, I battled a little bit with ‘gosh, I have to reinvent myself. I have to move with the times’ but actually, I think the thing that unblocked my ability to write is that I think it's OK to repeat yourself. Some of my favourite artists just keep doing the same thing but in different ways. And I think that's OK. I think sometimes artists have to just be resigned to that and that's a good thing.

“I'm writing again, which is cool because during the pandemic... [music] was just my kind of go to kind of feel ok. I'm reinvigorating my love of song writing and realising that's just what I do."

Performing is everything

“You don't really know what the song is until you play it to an audience. It's sort of written in a vacuum so it's an essential part of being a musician, connecting with an audience.

"I loved playing with Sting, that also really reinvigorated my love of song writing. I was a big fan of his when I was really little. I used to thrash his music and The Police, and I just thought he was such a good songwriter.

“If you don't play, you wonder if it's still even working. I’ve been sitting at home on my hands for two years. I need to go out on the road and reconnect with an audience.”

I wanted Beautiful Collision to be timeless

“I was listening to a lot of '60s music and '30s music, so it was always referencing something that wasn't quite of the time and that was conscious so that I could make something that seemed outside of the time that was in.

"I had the expectation of a hit record before and so it was the second album thing, where you there's a lot of pressure. That's why it took so long to make it, it took three years. But I am happy with how it how it survived.

"I've just only just recently played it to my kids because they hadn't heard it before, and it sounds OK through their lens, to me.

“It's a bit disorientating thinking about it being 20 years [since making the album]. I feel kind of different. I feel tired! But yeah, I still like the record and it's still gonna be fun to play.”

The music industry isn’t equitable for musicians

“The industry is having a really good look at itself. Artists never had any real support. A lot of artists talk about it now, about how you’re set up to fail and it is really stacked up against you.

"Music’s such a pure art form and maybe in Plato’s time it was a highly regarded thing, but the power is taken right away from musicians. It’s not really set up for us as artists, but I think we’re having a look at that kind of stuff more now.”

Getting my songs translated started my te reo learning journey

“Dame Hinewehi Mohi reached out to a bunch of artists and said, ‘would you like some of your songs translated by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu?' 

"What an experience that was. She's a real powerhouse of energy… she’s really motivated to make a bilingual music industry and there's no reason why New Zealand can't achieve that. We're sort of on our way. I think a lot of the artists just found it incredibly enriching.

"When I met Hinewehi I felt, she was exactly the sort of person I wished I’d met 20 years ago because she was an artist herself and just very supportive. I hadn't really experienced anyone in the industry quite like her before. And she's just doing a great job.

"We had so many takes of me trying to get the Māori right. Sometimes I'm just crying and I'm really emotional. I don't know why, I mean, it's because it's my actual language and I never knew it. Suddenly New Zealand starts to make a bit more sense or the place names start to kind of come to life. It’s just it's a really cool journey to be learning Māori.”

I appreciate everything I have more now

“Things happened so fast for me I didn’t really understand or appreciate any of it. I’ve been humbled by motherhood and just generally just sort of feeling like maybe the song writing thing that I loved so much was lost to me. So, you know, I appreciate it all. Now, I think I just appreciate things. I’m grateful.”

Bic Runga’s Beautiful Collision tour starts in July.