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Interview: Bic Runga Talks King Sweeties + Touring In 2020

Interview: Bic Runga Talks King Sweeties + Touring In 2020

Annabel Kean / Photo credit: Karen Inderbitzen-Waller / Friday 16th October, 2020 11:52AM

The ginormous Elemental Nights concert series is upon us, kicked off by Church & AP last weekend at the Hollywood Avondale. Throughout the second half of October there'll be a dozen more iconic acts sharing their tunes in some of Tāmaki Makaurau's most magical venues; Hopetoun Alpha, Hollywood Avondale and the Auckland Wintergarden. On the extensive schedule alongside Leisure, Avantdale Bowling Club, Troy Kingi and many more, Bic Runga and Cass Basil's new group King Sweeties and Opossom take the Tuesday evening Hopetoun Alpha slot next week for King Sweeties' first ever live performance. This is almost the kick off point for Bic Runga's own tour (with band featuring Kody Nielson, Michael Logie and Cass Basil), which officially begins on 25th October in Tauranga.

Between rehearsing for three different shows, writing music for two albums and looking after three children, the legendary songwriter so kindly joined me for a chinwag to talk about the absolutely shit storm of a year we are all having. Cast your eyes over the dates for all Elemental Nights shows and Bic Runga's North Island tour below, and scroll down for the full interview...

Elemental Nights & Elemental Nights: Hopetoun Alpha Series

Saturday 17th October - Leisure, Hopetoun Alpha
Sunday 18th October - Nathan Haines Presents "Songs With My Father", Hopetoun Alpha
Tuesday 20th October - Opossom & King Sweeties, Hopetoun Alpha
Wednesday 21st October - Morning People, Hopetoun Alpha 
Thursday 22nd October - Daffodils, Hopetoun Alpha
Friday 23rd October - Marlin’s Dreaming, Hopetoun Alpha
Friday 23rd October - Avantdale Bowling Club, Hollywood Avondale
Saturday 24th October - Troy Kingi & The Clutch, Hollywood Avondale
Friday 30th October - Friendly Potential : Catacombs, Wintergarden
Saturday 31st October - Friendly Potential: Catacombs, Wintergarden 
Friday 20th November - Amanda Palmer, St Mathew-In-The-City

Elemental Nights tickets via Live Nation

Undertheradar proudly presents...

Bic Runga

Sunday 25th October - Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga w/ support from Yasamin ∞ 
Monday 26th October - Hawke's Bay Arts Festival ∞
Friday 6th November - San Fran, Wellington w/ support from Ebony Lamb* 
Saturday 7th November - Royal Wanganui Opera House, Whanganui w/ support from Ebony Lamb ∞ 
Friday 13th November - Hollywood Theatre, Auckland w/ support from Na Noise ∞
Saturday 14th November - Leigh Sawmill, Leigh w/ support from Kendall Elise*

Tickets available HERE via UTR*
Tickets available via ∞

Annabel Kean: Kia ora, it's Annabel from Undertheradar.

Bic Runga: Hey, thanks for calling!

I'm loving your King Sweeties singles, I want to know — how did you link up with Cass (Basil)?

I did a collaborative tour with Tiny Ruins five years ago. I didn't know them, I just liked their music and approached them through their record label, through Flying Nun, and just asked if they wanted to do something together. So we created this tour and did the whole country. I just have a lot of respect for them as musicians and Cass ended up playing in my band for that tour, and then we just got a really good working relationship going. After my twentieth anniversary shows, my partner Kody Nielson who's also in the band, he was going to be on tour with UMO for quite some time, for like two years. I was thinking "what am I going to do? I'm going to be left here by myself." I just said to Cass "let's start a girl band" [laughs]. She was really keen and it was just like a life line to me, coz I was just thinking I'm going to be home by myself forever, and I better learn how to use the studio, I better learn how to engineer and do everything myself — coz Kody would normally help with that stuff. So that's how it came about.

When you and Cass linked up for King Sweeties, did you have a conversation about the specific sound you wanted to create?

Yeah we kept it pretty on track the whole time. When we got confused we just referred back to our original conversations about what we wanted it to sound like. It's quite funny because both of us come from quite serious sounding music, Tiny Ruins and Bic Runga stuff sounds pretty earnest, to be fair. But when I deal with Cass I realised that we're both quite a lot sillier in reality. She's actually really funny, theres' something about her that I just wanted to make more of. She can write quite funky basslines and we both quite liked that little window of post-punk New York, like Tom Tom Club and I guess Blondie, stuff that sounds like that era. That was a specific sound that we were trying to aim towards, which was just so different from both our other projects.

From what I've read, you seem to have kind of thrived in lockdown. You wrote music for your own album, for King Sweeties, and then you've got three kids? That's incredible.

I know, but I got really depressed when the lockdown was first announced, because I think everyone was really in a genuine state of shock. it was really hard to understand what was happening. I remember watching the Prime Minister's announcement that we were going into this quite extreme lockdown, I literally put my head under the covers and cried my eyes out. I didn't know why I felt like that, because I think we're living through something quite catastrophic. I just got really intensely into music, coz that was my only way to not be miserable. It was a good way to check in with friends as well, like say "hey let's make something." We'd been working on King Sweeties for a year, we didn't seriously think we were going to put it out, but when lockdown happened we thought "this is like a life line right now." And I really liked getting Cass' emails and having someone to focus on something with. We did a lot of finishing up of it during lockdown, it was something to focus on. I had lots of other music projects happening at the same time to not sit still, just to not get depressed.


Everyone dealt with it completely differently. Some people just went into hyper productivity mode. How are you feeling about travelling and sharing space with lots of people? Is it like a weird adjustment period?

It's a bit of a moral dilemma to be putting on shows... Three things really — we're just so lucky to be able to do shows, (this is) one of the few places in the world where shows can happen, so there's that opportunity to seize. Making sure that everyone's safe, I don't think we would do anything other than Level One. So that's okay, for my own personal tour we were lucky we timed it in a way, we just got lucky really, we're in Level One now and my shows can go ahead. On the other hand, the third thing is people need something to do. Without sounding worthy, I think music's really vital right now, really important. It's certainly kept me sane and I think giving the option for things for people to do is a good thing.

When was the last time you played live?

I haven't had a major tour for three years, when I did my 2017 twentieth anniversary tour that was the last real tour I did. I guess I can't really tour too much in New Zealand, you sort of only hit it every now and then, because it's so small.

You have to make new bands and tour those [laughter]. So you're playing two sets for this Elemental Nights show, right? Because you're in both bands.

Yeah I'm in King Sweeties and then we're doing Opossom. We're going to do something else as well... it's going to be a Tuesday night party.

Absolutely and Hopetoun is such a beautiful venue.

We're really excited, we've been practising so much.

I was going to ask, how do you find working with your partner? Because I've started doing that and I'd say we've learnt a lot very quickly. Any advice?

Oh yeah man. We've been working together for a really long time. We've been together for ten years and we've been in so many bands together, and I think we've actually learned to just be professional. I kind of really respect professionalism. Because what it is, especially when you're on the road and it's maybe a bit like being in the army, you have to stay focussed on the task at hand and just be really professional. Because crazy stuff happens all around you, I think its a good default setting... professional with your partner.

What is your role in Opossom, specifically?

I used to play the drums and the guitar in Opossom, but for this show I'm actually just singing, which is new to me. It's quite unusual but it's working out. Kody and I have also been recording together new Opossom material and in that recording context I more play keyboards and sometimes guitar. It's just all sorts, whatever, both Kody and I play lots of different instruments. Our roles get blurry.

Whatever needs to be done. Are you learning anything new at the moment?

I've just joined the APRA board, which has been a real learning curve. I'm really interested in music licensing and how to make things better for artists. That's something I'm really passionate about... that I almost have a fury about. As long as I've been in the business, it's always felt like a struggle and I don't really know why. Now that I'm on the board of APRA I kind of understand why. I think it's because musicians are at the wrong end of the food chain and I think that's about to be disrupted quite seriously.

It's an interesting time to be a musician, with things like TikTok disrupting everything. We have a number one artist in New Zealand right now [South Auckland producer Jawsh 685] via TikTok. Even now TikTok are rolling out aggregator services, where you can upload your song but also get quite a lot bigger royalty share, and go direct to Spotify through that platform. The industry's changed so much, it's actually really exciting, it should really be in favour of the artist.

It's cool that you get to be involved with that so closely. I'll ask just one more question... I saw that you're going for a low emissions tour using electric cars, that's really cool. What else are you going to do on the tour to try and offset your emissions?

I'm luck because my tour manager, her company is called Susie Says, she does these amazing independent tours, but she also used to work for the sustainable business network. So she really knows how to do a sustainable event. It's been a learning curve for me because I actually don't know a great deal about it, but she organised these electric cars. We decided not to fly anywhere, but she told me it's not hard to offset emissions from flights as well, you pay for offsetting the carbon emissions there. I don't know if your watching [inaudible] the stuff that's on Netflix right now, it's so sad. I can't believe what's going on. I actually don't know what to do, but I do know we have to do something immediately... I'm as guilty as the next person of being wasteful.

I flip flop between feeling like it's partly an individual responsibility and then being mad at the big companies, y'know?

Governments just need to cooperate with each other and do something now. I dunno who's going to save us, but it's getting down to the wire now.


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