A couple of weeks ago The Spinoff streamed a Facebook Live performance by Bic Runga and her band, ahead of their three-date tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of her debut album Drive. Here’s her performance in full, for your viewing pleasure.
And while you’re here, you may be interested in reading a condensed transcript of the interview contained in the video…
The Spinoff: I guess the dumb question to ask is why now, because it’s twenty years, so maybe the slightly less dumb question is how long have you’d known you’d do this? At 17 years did you go ‘Ah, maybe at 20’?
Bic Runga: No, I didn’t see it coming at all. Actually, it wasn’t until someone from the record label said ‘Did you know it’s 20 years now?’ Xan [Hamilton, music promoter] and I just scrambled to put on some shows because it doesn’t come around very often. Why didn’t someone tell me earlier? It’s not like I keep track. But it’s cool. It’s quite fun to make some acknowledgment of it.
I assume you don’t listen to [the album] very often, but you must have listened to it again in the last couple of months. What was it like to listen to it?
It was really cringey at first. Because my partner Kody [Neilson], he was faithfully learning the drum parts and I don’t know that he ever even heard this album. So I was thinking ‘He doesn’t even know me as this kind of ’90s…’ I was really young when I made it. I was listening to him drumming to it downstairs with my head in the pillow, just going “Oh no, he’s listening to ‘Heal’ and ‘Swim’.” Those are my two cringe-worthy songs I think, but the rest of it I’m actually pretty happy with, so there’s some good things about it and some not good things about it.
We’ve got an oral history of the album on the Spinoff in which you talk about producing the album and talk about those moments of cringe and there’s a certain ’90s-ness to some of it, but then some of it is timeless. What’s the difference between the timeless stuff and the real ’90s stuff?
I think drum sounds. Some of the drums sounds have gates on them and the ringy snare drum sounds and we laugh at those. But some of the more classic sounding stuff was more ’60s influenced and I guess because the ’60s had already proven themselves as a good place to draw influence from in the ’90s, those are the songs that lasted well, songs like ‘Suddenly Strange’ and ‘Roll into One’ and ‘Sway’ to some extent.
And you talk about this songwriting directness or innocence that you can never get back. You can write a certain type of song when you’re young and then never again. What’s it like to listen to your younger self in that way?
It’s pretty funny. If everyone had to write something at 17 and then be beholden to it for the next 20 years, it’s quite cringey. But reading the Spinoff article – a really great piece by Hussein, it’s a really nice memento of that time but I was really young, I was really naive. And I was just saying to Cass, my bass player, that I sounded like a fairy or something. And I was thinking how am I different now and I was thinking that I’m a cynical fairy.
To jump from your first record to your most recent record, Close Your Eyes. The title track is one of the two songs you wrote for the album, the other ten are covers. Why make a record of covers?
To be honest, I just hadn’t written any songs, but I didn’t want to let that stop me from making something. Because I don’t really get time to write so much because I have a family. But the two songs I did write I am really proud of those, and all the other songs I chose were chosen because they felt autobiographical. I guess I’ve always been a singer-songwriter, but in the absence of being able to write songs I don’t think should stop making music, it was just a way to put one foot in front of the other and it was just working again and make music again.
The two songs that you wrote, where did they come in the process of figuring out what the other songs were going to be.
There were some other songs, I just guess they weren’t strong enough. And the two songs I wrote they were just the best ones.
Were they influenced by the songs you did choose to cover?
Not really. There are some songs I’ve just always wanted to cover. One of them was ‘Andmoreagain’ by Love. There was a Kanye song. And The Blue Nile song I’ve always loved called ‘Tinseltown in the Rain’. Just stuff I’ve always really liked.
And the night before the record came out you were honoured by being inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame, and a legacy award. How did that feel to be honoured in such a way the day before your new record came out.
It was cool. That would have been coming up to 19 years. I guess it’s kind of early to get a legacy award. It just made me want to make more music. I don’t want it to be all retrospective. It made me put more music out.
You said in your speech, getting recognised in this way has been really inspiring, is that now making you want to write more?
I just love making music. We have been organising this tour and it is so full on, it’s so high stress. I’ve been looking forward to this all week, because it’s actually just really fun playing music. It makes you nervous, we were all nervous. But actually, it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages. I’ve just got to remember to keep doing more.
Bic Runga plays the Civic in Auckland on Thursday 2 November (joined by Aaradhna and Shayne Carter) and the Opera House in Wellington on Friday 3 November (joined by Estere and Shayne Carter). Find more information here.
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