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Bic Runga's Beautiful Collision

Rachel Weinberg

Fusing Music, Beauty, Wisdom and Motherhood

Bic Runga stands as a luminary, her ethereal voice resonating with generations past and present, unfurling like a symphonic crescendo. Stirred by evocative encounters with Barbara Streisand and Gene Pitney during her childhood, she cultivated a deep desire to evoke profound emotions through her own compositions. The New Zealand artist has since woven a rich tapestry of albums that stand as testaments to her artistic prowess, including the renowned Drive (1997) and the captivating Beautiful Collision (2002). With each passing year, her vocal style continues to evolve, reflecting the wisdom and experiences gained through motherhood. As she prepares to grace the stage of Melbourne Recital Centre, performing the captivating melodies of Beautiful Collision, the promise of something new intertwines with the threads of her past successes. Emerging from a rather reclusive existence, Runga is ready to breathe new life into the moments that have shaped her remarkable journey.

Rachel Weinberg: You grew up in a household of musicians and music, your mum, before moving to New Zealand, was a professional singer and your siblings were performers. Do you think your upbringing has influenced your work in other ways? And within your own family, how do you ensure music is still a central value?

Bic Runga: Well, my sisters have gone on to do other things, Boh is a jewellery designer and Pearl is schoolteacher. Mum was never hell bent on us being singers. I think deep down, she is slightly disappointed that I'm not an accountant (laughs). I think her hesitation is that I have a job that relies on what people think of me, when in reality I'm quite reclusive and private.  That's not really what I'm in it for though, I'm in it for the song writing. I really love song writing and I really like recording. Everything else I just have to do because I care about the song writing.

RW: When did you know you could write songs? And when did you find your own vocal style? How has that evolved over time?

BR: When I was really little, my parents would play records and I was just so moved by them, to the point where I was kind of creeped out by these songs.

BR: When my parents would play, say a Gene Pitney song in the next room, I just felt like it made the lighting change, and sometimes it made me really scared.  I don't know how a song could do that, but I really just wanted to recapture that. I wanted to freak people out (laughs).

RW: Do you feel that sense in any other disciplines?

BR: Yeah, I do. Absolutely. I think anything well-made can do that. It can move you I mean, not creep you out (laughs).

RW: Then at this point in your career, after your impressive triumphs, how do you place yourself within commercial music, and how has your understanding of the industry changed over time?

BR: Twenty years ago, I never really felt like I fit in properly. No one really looked like me and I always felt like I didn't quite make sense to anyone. There's more diversity now than there was, which is quite exciting.

RW: Do you feel like you're in a safe creative position now?

BR: Yeah, I've got three children now, so nothing really fazes me. I'm way more resilient. I probably wouldn't ever have grown up, actually, if I hadn't spent some time laying low and focusing on family. It's been good to bow out for this long. I haven't made a new record for about nine years. I'm really ready to now though.

RW: How do you know when you're ready?

BR: I feel like there's stuff to say now. There are things I want to hear that I'm not hearing. I want to make the music that I actually want to hear.

RW: You're going on to perform Beautiful Collision next month. What did the album mean to you at the time of creating how do you feel towards it now?

BR: At the time, I was really focused on making a good record. I was really quite single minded about it. It took three years, and it was really hard, and there was a lot of tailspins and a lot of crises. But I think spending that long on something and trying your best to get it right, is always sort of worth it. We've been listening to it a lot recently and relearning the songs, and I'm still happy with it. It's cool.

RW: Do you always feel connected to your music when you re-listen?

BR: Yeah, I do. I feel like you hear the emotions of the young person that made it.

RW: And then on the album, you played the guitar, drums, piano, sang, produced. What was that independence like? Especially now that you can so easily collaborate and delegate.

BR: I mean, there's so many ways to do the same thing. it's so nuanced. If you get different people to do the same thing, they'll all do it differently. I'd often have the experience of being put in the studio with different producers and nothing ever worked. And because the songs were fragile and easily mishandled, if you treated them in the wrong way, they'd kind of implode. And so, I needed to fight for the right treatment and the only way to get it right at that point, was to do it myself.

RW: And when you decide to make a new album now, how will you carry that independence with you?

BR: Back then I was trying to teach myself how to produce and do everything the hard way. Now I know how to do it and I'm a little bit more confident in my ability to get it right the first time. I don't have to spend three years on a project. In fact, if anything, I really like the immediacy of capturing a project quite quickly. I don't have the time to be self-indulgent anymore. And I'm a bit better at speaking up. I didn't know how to speak up then, so I'd let things get quite far down the wrong track and not be able to express myself. Now, and I think I would credit motherhood to it, I can say, ‘that's right, that's wrong, no!’

RW: Why did you feel like that?

BR: It just took me a long time to find the right people. It's hard to find the right collaborators. It takes a really long time, and the right combinations are actually quite rare. I made a lot of Beautiful Collision in America, where I found people that really inspired me and I could explain myself better.

RW: How do you feel about performing the music again?

BR: I remember being really little and liking a lot of singers who were middle aged. When I was about six years old, I would listen to my mother's music, which consisted of singers in their forties, like Barbara Streisand. Now, I'm one of those women. I still think of Barbara Streisand to this day. I'm enjoying not being 'young'. I didn't really like being young, actually. It was awkward all the time.

RW: What keeps you going?

BR: I want to keep going because I think I'll be alright... as long as I start wearing big earrings or have big hair or something (laughs). I just need to find the thing that gets me out the door and feeling like a singer, but I don't know what that is yet.

RW: Do your kids see you in that way?

BR: I think they are sort of weirded out. This is all sort of new to them. I don't think they've quite cottoned on to what I do for a living. I've kept it pretty low key. In fact, they've only just listened to Beautiful Collision for the first time this year. I just wanted to run away from it for quite some time and just have an actual, normal, reclusive existence.

RW: Go back into your shell and wait until you're ready to come.

BR: Exactly.

RW: And thinking about your performance at Melbourne Recital Centre, why is it important to relive the past and share musical successes again?

BR: I'm excited to be an older artist and actually, I still feel like I'm transitioning into something new. I feel like the person I'm headed toward is, like, the 55-year-old version of myself. But I think, if you can hang in there after twenty years, it's going to get good again. You will just sort of know yourself.

See Bic Runga perform at Melbourne Recital Centre Friday 18 August. Tickets available here

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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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