Boh Runga tells Karl Puschmann why it took 20 years to release Mix on vinyl and why she's still a fan of the humble CD.
"Have you seen the vinyl?" Boh Runga asks, excitement in her voice. "It's bright red! Like my hair used to be!" then she explodes into laughter.
We're talking because her band Stellar* have just reissued their chart topping, award-winning debut album Mix on vinyl. This is the record that thrust Runga, the band and her now iconic electric red hair into the national spotlight and housed a number of Kiwi pop-rock classics, including Every Girl, Part of Me, What You Do (Bastard) and of course the pulsing, electro-rock stomp of their wordy, breakthrough hit Violent.
Of the 11 songs on Mix, five were released as singles and all entered the Top 20. The album itself went 5x Platinum, sold more than 75,000 copies and knocked Ricky Martin, who had been Livin' La Vida Loca, off the top spot to claim No.1 before hanging around the charts for a massive 42 weeks. At the New Zealand Music Awards that year the band cleaned up, taking home all the biggies including best group, single of the year and besting Shihad, Salmonella Dub, Ardijah and The Mutton Birds to win album of the year.
But as it came out in 1999, the glory days of the humble compact disc, Mix was never released on wax.
"It was CD all the way. We never released on vinyl. CDs were it," Runga says. "It was exciting when it first came out. We'd go to a record store to check it out and there was a whole bunch of our CDs in a row. Back in the day when people used to buy music like that. It's a different world now with streaming and what-have-you."
Runga's a reluctant streamer and only played CDs "until recently".
"They'd have to kick them out of the way in my car," she says. "I've got so many CDs and play CDs all the time. They're good quality, they just sound good. But my new car doesn't have a CD player, so I'm streaming now. The quality isn't as good. I'm not a big fan of streaming because I've only just … I'm behind on everything. I really like better quality sound and vinyl gives that to people. It's a better sound."
Runga says the band decided to put Mix out on vinyl to celebrate its 20th birthday.
"It's crazy isn't it? 20 years! Can you believe it? I can't," she says. "So much has happened. And honestly, it doesn't feel like 20 years ago. I have no concept of time though, ask anyone."
With its groundbreaking fusion of pop-rock and electronica, its world-class production, hook-laden songs and Runga's powerhouse vocals, the legacy of Mix is undeniable. How does Runga look back on it?
"When we first arrived on the scene we were quite different-sounding from our peers, the production was pretty high-spec," she says. "We had the amazing Tom Bailey [of 80s new wave icons The Thompson Twins] as our producer. The dynamics and sound of Mix are big and lush. People really liked it and it made its mark. I'm really proud of it."
Looking back now she says there's only one thing she'd change.
"I was nervous about how I was singing. I was very conscious about being in tune and trying to do justice to everything. I would just want to say to that person who is singing, that girl back then, 'Just sing girl! Just do it and enjoy it'. I wasn't a bundle of nerves, but now when I sing I'm not so precious. I'm not so caught up in being in tune or correct all the time. It's more in the moment."
Since reuniting to cover Sharon O'Neill's Maxine at the 2017 NZ Music Awards Stellar* have been on a career second wind. They've just announced a national summer tour with The Feelers and will also support Billy Idol in January.
"I was thrilled when we got asked to do that," she exclaims. "He's one of my favourite artists. He's got such swagger."
Runga says she's noodling about with a couple of new songs that may, or may not, find their way to the rest of the band. She warns they're "quite different", but says right now they're not much more than ideas on her phone. "I don't actually know what the chords are," she grins, but the band is receptive to making new music which represents a sliver of hope for the Stellar* faithful.
But for now we're talking about 20 years ago. For someone who earlier told me she lives in the now, does she get nostalgic about this sort of thing?
"Oh, of course. I can't believe how young we were! Look how young and unlined and kind-of-fit looking we were", she says, "Gosh. Handsome!"
Who: Boh Runga, vocalist/guitarist for Stella*
What: Summer tour and the release of their debut album Mix on Vinyl.
When: Mix in stores now, tour kicks off tomorrow night in Dunedin and reaches Auckland's Powerstation on December 12.
From Boh to Bacon
Are there six degrees of separation between Boh Runga and Kevin Bacon? This, friends, is the kind of excellence you come up with after spending lunch (and $36) down the pub before going into a TimeOut planning meeting and pitching to your editor as - and I quote - "a good idea" ... Anyway, let's find out!
1:Boh Runga when she's not frontwomaning Stellar* Runga is a talented and in-demand boutique jeweller. Recently she released a collection of earrings titled Discologo, which are available at her Ponsonby Rd shop and reputable stockists nationwide. Her simple yet elegant style and sublime craftmanship have won her many fans, including ...
2: Jacinda Ardern is not only our beloved PM she is also an astute and thoughtful gift-buyer. As such, she snapped up a pair of ear studs from Runga's Discologo collection and presented them as a gift to the Duchess of Sussex, aka ...
3: Meghan Markle who before becoming A Royal was An Actor. Her big break was, obviously, marrying Prince Harry, but before that she was starring in weekly procedural TV shows like CSI: NY and movies like the little-seen and even less loved dramedy Dysfunctional Friends with ...
4: Reagan Gomez-Preston , an actor whose face you won't recognise because her last movie, 2012's Dysfunctional Friends, has a Rotten Tomato score of just 53 per cent. However, chances are you'd recognise her voice from recurring roles on cartoons like The Cleveland Show and Steven Universe. But before Dysfunctional Friends' failure necessitated a pivot to TV voice work, Gomez-Preston had a steady flow of film roles including a part in 2005's Beauty Shop, which saw her starring alongside the Academy Award nominated rapper-turned-actress Queen Latifah and ...
5: Kevin Bacon! And there you have it folks. From Boh Runga to Kevin Bacon with one degree of separation still to spare. Amazing. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've another planing meeting to, ahem, go and "prepare" for ... cheers!