Since she first appeared on the music radar at the Smokefree Rockquest in 1998, and following the successful release of her debut album, Thinking Room, in 2001, Anika Moa has become a well respected and loved name in New Zealand. After the quieter release of her sophomore album, Stolen Hill, in 2005, Anika has been touring NZ, Australia and the UK, returning home to record and promote her third album, In Swings The Tide.
Appearing in Wellington for one show only at Sandwiches, Anika caught up with Charlette Hannah for a chat.
Charlette Hannah: There's been a reasonable gap between albums, but you definitely haven't been idle. You seem to be playing with just about everyone in the country. Singing on albums by Rhian Sheehan, touring with Dimmer, Bic Runga, Tim Guy... Is it that you enjoy playing with a wide range of people or can you just not say no?
Anika Moa: When you work with someone, it leads to more work with the other person. Like when I did work with Dimmer, I stole his drummer for my album, and then his drummer now works for Miriam Clancy. And then I did Bic Runga stuff and her drummer now does my flatmates stuff. We're all just basically incestuous musicians, except for we don't sleep with each other, we make beautiful music. Yeah, it's just, you know people, and they go 'I need this' and you say 'of course I can, I can sing harmonies for your album, sweet as bro'.
Charlette: The Tim Guy gig is a really interesting one in that you've branched out into playing bass. Is that taking you out of your comfort zone or do you quite like to do that now and again.
Anika: We've down about 10 or 12 shows so far. When I first started, nervous, like, oh my god, what are people going to think of my bass skills? But as I learnt the songs more and more it's easier. You really up your game and become a better bass player. The only thing I find hard about playing with Tim is that I'm not the main person, and I can't talk to everyone. But we've got this new thing where me and Anna, who's the drummer, we just pretend to fight on stage and hard out talk and Tim's all quiet.
Charlette: At one of the Tim Guy gigs, you wore an extra large hat and seemed to be standing in the shadows. It seems a little different to the extroverted personality you show at your own gigs.
Anika: I know, that's the awkward thing is that I can't be extroverted, 'cause it's not my gig. You know, it's Tim's beautiful music, it's his love. I've just got to play the bass and look hot, really.
Charlette: Both the Dimmer and the Bic Runga gigs involved a gathering of the cream of New Zealand musicians, was it ever intimidating working with that level of talent, or was it more like hanging out with a bunch of mates?
Anika: It was more intimidating because Neil Finn is really good at ping pong, table tennis. His skills were far better than most of ours. That was the competition. We'd always, when we finished recording, we'd go and play table tennis. I'd be like, 'come on, you've got hit songs, hit albums, could you at least let me win a couple of times, like lower your standards'. So he let me win a couple of times. He gracefully bowed out. But I could tell he didn't like it.
Charlette: The last album [Stolen Hill] was a beautiful, mature, contemplative work which seemed miles away from the 'next Jewel' publicists were trying to push you as in America with the first album. Was there any pressure to take a more commercial direction with the third album?
Anika: Not at all, but I know I have written some pop songs for this album. It's pop country. Pop country's good. It's a good mixture and I think I've finally met my match in music, in that I've found my home as a musician. I mean, I'll always be growing and evolving, but at the moment this is probably 100% of the kind of person that I am, the honesty that I portray, it's in this album. There was no pressure. I didn't go, 'ok I want to do a third album, I need some pop songs'. I wrote these songs, and they happened to fall into that category, which is great. Every artist wants to be played on the radio, every artist wants to sell their album, no matter who they are. So that's what I'm hoping to do.
Charlette: What are your hopes for the third album, In Swings The Tide?
Anika: I think, yeah, radio play. 'Cause I didn't get it for the last album. There are a lot of factors, but we won't go into that. I want to travel New Zealand, do a tour, and then hit Australia. There's 22 million people there, so there's a bigger audience. People like Brooke Fraser are paving the way for Maori singer/songwriters, so I'm quite grateful to her for that. I could have tried when I released my first album, but I wasn't ready for it, and now I'm ready for it. It's good because I'm taking the challenge on myself, no one's pushing me, I'm pushing everyone else. So yeah, Australia, the UK and Europe, the world basically.
Charlette: There was a lot of press around the release of Thinking Room, but comparatively little around Stolen Hill and the new one so far, why is that?
Anika: We haven't started doing anything with the new one yet, believe me, as soon as we release the single, then we're going to push it.
Charlette: Bigger than Stolen Hill...
Anika: F#$* yeah!
Charlette: Almost ten years on, if you could go back in time for five minutes, what would say to the Anika Moa who entered the Rockquest?
Anika: Wear shoes! Wear shoes you poor Maori! Probably that.
Charlette: And would she have listened?
Anika: Nah. She would have said f#$* off.
Charlette: You said on your website you don't like watching rugby anymore unless it involves naked players or even better, hot lesbians. Why is that?
Anika: (Laughs loudly) My website is one long joke. Every blog that I do, half of it's true, half of it's false. The only reason I write it is because it's 4:30 in the morning and I have nothing else to do.
Charlette: I was quite enjoying reading it earlier.
Anika: It's funny eh?
Charlette: You also said you're in a relationship with a man and it might be love...
Anika: Totally lying.
Charlette: Your brother recently had a baby. Any plans for children for you?
Anika: Yeah, I was actually talking about this with a friend the other day. I do want children, maybe in two years or three years. Not now. Not right now. But I do want heaps. I want like seven or eight or ten, however many normal people have.
Charlette: Apart from In Swings The Tide, what else is in the future for you?
Anika: There's a Tim Guy and the Two Ties tour in November, as well as an Anika Moa tour. Just music. Just releasing singles and releasing the album. We're releasing the album at the end of September. I've got a new record company, so that's all good. EMI. They're great, great record company. Just, you know, fulfilling my duty as a musician.