Bic Runga returns to the stage
If you’re not familiar with Bic Runga, you should be. The NZ singer’s voice is ethereal and haunting, and her soft Kiwi lilt turns her music into seductively sensitive melodies. On top of that, her ethnically ambiguous looks (her father is Maori; her mother was a Chinese-Malaysian lounge singer) mean she has a kind of unique beauty that’s absolutely fascinating. I spoke to her for vogue.com.au about, well, life. Here it is:
For Kiwi chanteuse Bic Runga, five years off, the birth of a son and a new partner both in life and music has given her a new perspective. Here she reveals her laid-back approach to style and just how much being a mother has changed her as an artist.
How would you describe your style?
It always has to be effortless; I never want to look contrived. You have to look like an extension of yourself.
I noticed some of your favourite designers include Lanvin, Proenza Schouler, Balenciaga and Acne. Can you tell me why you like them?
To me, they hit all the right notes. They’re not too conservative, and they’ve got a really artistic edge to them.
Do you see parallels between yourself as a musician and designers?
Well, I have a lot of respect for designers because I don’t understand how they do what they do. Out of New Zealand we’ve got a lot of really great designers, and they’re all really strong, artistic and yet practical people. And that’s maybe something I don’t share with them and the music world. In music, often things are quite haphazard and we don’t tend to be quite as practical.
And the other thing I admire about people like Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester is that after they had children, they never missed a beat. They have businesses to run. When you’re making four collections a year, you just can’t drop the ball. You might make an album every three or four years and it’s actually a lot easier really, so I admire how hard these people work.
And I guess you took a break after your last album.
Yeah, that’s what I mean, really. I took five years off, and it’s unheard of in the fashion world to do that. So I have a lot of respect for people who keep their businesses going – it can’t be easy.
Music’s obviously such a big part of you. Did you feel something was missing while you took a break?
I love my full-time job as a mother, but it felt like there was something I was aching to do. And if you don’t eventually get back to your work and the thing that makes you happy, then you can’t do a good job of anything. At this point I’ve made my new record and I’m so happy with it, and I feel more myself now. So I have my family and I have my work and they’re all excellent. The two things nourish each other.
Can you describe what it was like doing the album for you? It seems like you had a lot of fun.
I did have a lot of fun. It was produced by my partner, Kody Nielsen, and creatively, we are a really good team. But it’s not always easy working with your partner, because it’s 24/7 and you don’t get to come home and complain about your boss. They’re always there with you. But whenever there’s conflict it’s really good for me to know exactly what it is that I want to do and be able to articulate it. So it’s been a good experience.
It’s nice to work with someone you connect with. How would you describe the feel of the album or the message you were trying to convey?
When you spend five years away, you really need to have something fresh when you return. I went out of my way to make something that was not like anything I’d made before. Even just by the cover artwork, there’s wind in my hair, and I guess it best sums up the music. There’s a freedom about it, and it’s optimistic while still being honest.
And so where do you think you’ll go from here, music-wise?
Well, now that I’ve got this great partner in Kody and we work so well together and I’m really so happy, I want to start making records much faster. It’s quite important that I have him now because before I felt so alone when I made albums. I want to make more and more records and not waste so much time.
See more of my interview with Bic Runga and some beautiful photos by Xiaohan Shen on vogue.com.au