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In the time of Bic
She’s New Zealand’s biggest musical star. For her new album, Bic Runga retreats from sunny pop songs in favour of an introspective sound inspired by the death of her father.
Ed Power, 12 May 2006
Bic Runga’s new record is called Birds, not because the singer adores our feathered cousins but because they creep her out a little. “Birds,” she says, rolling the word on her tongue and wrinkling a nose that, perched beneath vast mirror-dish eyes, looks implausibly tiny.
“They’re a little strange, don’t you think?” offers the New Zealand songstress, who hunches forward when she talks, as if preparing to share secrets. “There’s something otherworldly about them – have you ever had the feeling they know things that we don’t?”
Runga (30) speaks very deliberately; her conversation is as concise and elegant as her music, a folk derived drive-time pop that brings to mind a spikier Beth Orton or – and we mean this as a complement – Natalie Imbruglia with song-writing chops.
Today, we find Runga engaging but deeply knackered. She’s on the Dublin leg of a pan-European jaunt in promotion of Birds, to be released in Ireland six months after it debuted at the top of the New Zealand charts, refusing to budge for weeks.
“Europe is a transition. In New Zealand I’m basically quite a large star. I’m properly famous,” says Runga, the biggest selling artist in her country’s history, trumping Crowded House at a canter. “I’ve got a following here and in the UK, but in New Zealand it’s at an entirely other level.”
I ask how her much of much a millstone being a celebrity in New Zealand is. Can Runga go out in Auckland (the city where she took her first steps in music) without fans pestering her? At restaurants, do people follow her with camera phones in the hope she’ll twat a waiter or start dancing on the tables.
“Oh no,” gasps Runga, as though the idea of fame having a downside had never previously occurred. “We’re not so in your face in New Zealand. People give you space. While they may recognise you in the street, they don’t like to intrude.”
One reason Runga’s so drained is that Birds is, in large part, a eulogy to her father who passed last summer. For the past six hours, she’s been holding forth to sundry media on the pain of losing a parent. Before meeting me she was interviewed by a ditzy TV reporter, whose froth – “Do you like Ireland?”, “God, New Zealand’s a long way away isn’t it?” – came nearly as a relief.