Benny Tipene's career has flourished since The X Factor finished, writes Lydia Jenkin.
As we sit at a sidewalk table at a Ponsonby Rd cafe, it's soon apparent TimeOut isn't the only one vying for Benny Tipene's attention. People smile, wave and shout out their car windows at him.
It's clear that although it's been more than four months since The X Factor finished, the public is still very much enamoured with the third-place winner. His indie style and laid-back, sunny attitude helped earn him fans while on the show but the singles he's released since have kept him in the spotlight.
Walking On Water, which reached No2 in the charts and has been certified platinum, was written for him by Aussie songwriting duo DNA. It was mostly recorded while he was still on the show and was released almost immediately after the final.
"What happened was the top five had songs chosen or written for them, in case they were in the finals - so if I had made it to the top two that song would've been performed on the show. But then, when the show was done, Sony said, 'We think it's a good idea for you to release it, do you want to?' and I thought, 'Yeah, it's probably a good idea'," he laughs.
He was signed to Sony almost immediately after the show finished, but he's been grateful to have plenty of time to figure out his next step. The success of Walking On Water gave him room to move.
"It gave me a nice grace period. It was good to have that released while I took a few months to figure things out and write some songs. So I've moved up to Auckland, been living in Grey Lynn in a little loft, and I've just been writing and doing a few corporate gigs and stuff like that, booking some festivals and so on. So it's been quite eventful, just not in the public eye. Which is kind of the life of the musician when you're not on TV, I guess.
"I've been over to Sydney for a songwriting conference, which was awesome, and I've met some cool people and worked with some awesome people, so it's all going well."
Indeed, he's been made the voice of Coca-Cola's summer campaign with his latest single Make You Mine - a track that was written with Avalanche City's Dave Baxter.
"I met Dave while working on X Factor and he said to me at the time, 'If you want to write some songs together after the show is all done, you're more than welcome to come out to my house and chill out'."
The two have become good friends and have spent a fair amount of time writing together.
"It's funny, because I think the thing that got me into playing the acoustic guitar and singing was that Avalanche City album. I wanted to be just like him, he was such a hero, so to meet him and play with him and be able to write songs with him now is so cool."
Make You Mine was one of those songs that came out in a rush at the end of a day, and was all done in 10 minutes.
"I was stoked, eh. We just did one demo of it.
"It does have quite an Avalanche City feel, it has that sort of swing to it, but I think it's awesome."
Coke had approached him about writing a summer song for them and he'd started work on a few different options, but when they heard Make You Mine, they thought it was perfect.
"I remember the Coke ads from when I was little and I loved watching them. The songs would always be cool and would make you feel like heading out to do really fun stuff, put you in a good mood, so hopefully this has that effect on people too."
Coke has history of musical collaboration - Taylor Swift and Jack White are among the artists to recently have songs tied to Coke, but right back in the 60s and 70s the company was getting people like Ray Charles, The Supremes, James Brown, and Neil Diamond to write songs for their campaigns. So Tipene doesn't see it as selling out.
"Coke just seems to get musicians somehow, and all the people I've met [from the company] have been very friendly and welcoming, and they do loads of great stuff for kids and families, so I think it's a good opportunity."
Life has changed a bit for the Palmerston North guy who used to do things like miniature tours of friends' flats, but he's still churning out songs (see his Bandcamp page for some of his previous releases) and hopes to have a new EP out by February, with an album to follow in the not-too-distant future.
"I'm not too sure of the overall vibe because I haven't picked the songs yet, but there's a lot of happy songs, some sad songs, a bit of everything," he smiles.
Who: Benny Tipene
Where and when: Rhythm and Vines, Gisborne, Dec 29-31; Coke Loves Summer Festivals in Mt Maunganui, Jan 2, and Whangamata, Jan 4; New Plymouth Festival of Lights, Jan 9; Parachute, Hamilton, Jan 24-26; Homegrown, Wellington, Feb 15.
Listen to: Latest single Make You Mine