Drive was Bic Runga’s first hit in 1986. Photo / Babiche Martens
Bic Runga explains to Greg Bruce why it is she dislikes talking about herself, and how YouTube changed her perspective on the world.
B.When ic Runga walked into Sony Music Holdings, she was still a teenager.
A cassette with five songs was created in just 10 minutes, one of which, Drive, she wrote while waiting for a gig in an Auckland café. Sony A&R executive Paul Ellis, who listened to that cassette that day, later told the New Zealand Herald of his reaction: “I’ll never forget staring at that carpet, just speechless, thinking, ‘This is it. This is the song.’ It was a life-changing tune.”
In 1997, at the age of 21, she released an album named after this song. This album changed her entire life. The album was a smash hit, and seven singles were released, including DriveIt quickly became the best-selling album in New Zealand history. She was a teenager when she became an instant celebrity, loved by the nation, and her image spread all over. She entered her career at the top, and as we know, it’s only downhill from there.
Except it wasn’t. She then went on to work even harder at her next album. The album took six years to complete and its sales were enormous, dwarfing the huge numbers achieved by Drive. It was also critically acclaimed (“The best songs here are her best songs yet,” said the Herald’s Russell Baillie). If there had been any doubt she would become one of the country’s most iconic and important modern musical figures, Beautiful Collision You can settle it.
This was twenty years ago. She has since released three studio albums. The last album, which was entirely original music, was in 2011. She has spent most of those years with her three children, now aged 15, 10 and 7, as well as her musician partner Kody Nielsen. However, she is about start a new tour. Nominally the tour is to celebrate the anniversary Beautiful Collision, but listening to her talk, it feels more significant and important than that, like maybe it’s the first step in her re-emergence into the music scene she bestrode in the late 90s and early 2000s.
The following are some of the reasons why you should consider hiring someone elseunga has never enjoyed talking about herself and says she often feels “icky” afterwards. She believes it’s not healthy to do this over and over again. “It’s like it’s got a kind of psychic yuckiness,” she says. And yet here she was, sitting with a journalist in a cafe, as she’s done hundreds of times over the last quarter century, talking about the same songs, answering the same questions.
She has a cup of coffee and blames it for her telling me about YouTube viewing habits. She was very embarrassed to tell me, but they sometimes include self-help.
Runga believes the meaning of life is to get over yourself: “You’re born quite self-involved and what you really want to get to is, when you’re really quite elderly, you’re almost like not even a person, you’re a frequency, so you can get to the other side. It’s a real de-selfing thing and I think that I’ve had to learn that through motherhood, and through fame in a tiny country.”
Advertise with NZME.
She recalls watching an interview with the legendary jazz musician Wayne Shorter on YouTube, who passed away last month. “He’s what I think of when I think of someone that got to the end of his life and became a frequency. That’s what I meant by that. It’s like Wayne Shorter is now everywhere.”
She says Shorter talked about music not as an industry but as “the taonga that it is”, and she says that’s something that’s easy to forget when you’re in the industry.
“You forget that by the way you have to deal with your own ego and strange treatment and all these things that take all that away. The Māori perspective of waiata is really quite a lot along the lines of what Wayne Shorter was saying. It’s kind of like the frequency – all of sound and all of music is just ordered frequencies…”
At this point, she starts laughing uncomfortably, presumably at the thought of how her comments might be perceived by a certain type of reader, and says, “Uh oh! It’s a slippery slope!”
The following are some of the reasons why you should consider hiring someone elseunga has a new manager for the first 10 years. Things are beginning to change for her. She has also recently toured with Sting and secured promoters in Australia and here. Amy Shark, an Australian singer, covered Sway and the song reached number one in Australia a few months ago.
Asked if she’s going to make another album of original music, Runga says: “Oh hell yeah!”
“I have never really lost that sense of me as an artist, expecting that I’m just about to make an album. That’s the self-concept I still have, but I think it’s probably better to just be cool about it and let yourself off the hook.”
The reason it’s taken her so long, she says, is because she’s chosen to put her children first. They are in school this year after being homeschooled for the last couple of years and, as they age out of the high-dependency years, she’s finding the space to again make music open up in her life.
Advertise with NZME.
“When I think about my need to write songs and wanting to write songs again, I owe it to myself to kind of write again because it’s who I am. But, yeah, I think a lot of that was lost for a long time through motherhood and through having my balloon pop, and all those things kind of get lost.”
But while being a parent has affected her ability to make music, she says it’s also made her a better person.
“I think I was pretty annoying at the start.”
I ask if what she meant by “annoying” was that her ego got out of control.
“Yeah, I would say that. I just sort of lost my sense of self. I felt like a balloon drifting off a lot. I mean, I guess they call it being inflated, and so, at some point, the balloon has to pop.”
You can also find out more about When asked whether any of her songs still move her today like they did when she first played them, she names just one and she doesn’t hesitate: Drive.
“I think that song is like some sort of ghost or something. It’s a song I can remember. I remember it being taken home and dropped off at a young age. I was young and didn’t want to go back to my family. I was about 18 years old. The road is still there, I still remember my father, I still think of him, I still think about all these things. That song is impregnated with all this stuff, so it’s like its own universe that I can always go back into.”
She wrote Drive Her biggest hit in just 10 minutes. Sway, even faster than that – she calls it “a three-minute song that took about three minutes to write”. The two songs that launched her career were so fast, the rest seemed painfully slow in comparison. The feeling of having to live through the early music explosion of a career for the rest their lives must be intense, and it can sometimes be. About eight years ago she said she felt like she had joined a Bic Runga-style cover band.
Still, she says, that’s all part of the process: “You can only learn your lessons at the rate you’re going to learn them. I couldn’t have sped any of that up.
“I’ve been through every peak and trough you could imagine and I’m definitely better for it.”
I asked her if she felt as if she had entered a new phase.
“It does. It’s because my love of songwriting has come back, and realising that that’s what I really am in it for. I love writing songs. It’s the best job in the world.”
Asked what brought the love back, she says: “I don’t know. It’s just a series of epiphanies, and probably some of them happened on YouTube.”
Tickets for the Beautiful Collision tour from July 15-30 are available at livenation.co.nz
Bic wears: Kate Sylvester blue Valencia dress, pink dress Bic’s own. Jewellery from Boh Runga.
Leave a Reply