What could possibly unite Bic Runga and Kieran Read? The former is one of Aotearoa’s most enduring singer-songwriters, an inductee into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in 2016, the other is one of the most decorated All Blacks of all time, a member of two World Cup-winning teams in 2011 and 2015.
They’re from different worlds, certainly, but Runga and Read share much more in common than you’d first think, because music and sport are inextricably linked by the nature of high performance.
For whether you’re touring your home country in celebration of the 20th anniversary of your beloved second album, or battling Australia for 80 tiring minutes in a historic final, a commitment to being the best version of yourself under intense pressure is always demanded.
On Tuesday, November 14th, APRA AMCOS NZ and AUGUST AVENUE will present Runga and Read in conversation in Auckland as they explore the notion that anyone can achieve greatness in music or sport regardless of their background.
“I’m so excited for the chance to chat with Kieran about what the Aotearoa music industry might learn from the high performance world of New Zealand sport,” Runga says. “New Zealand rugby has long dominated the world stage, and I hope to discuss and unpack what New Zealand music could look like with the same approach of leaving nothing to chance, learning to be effective under all circumstances, and achieving your best in an increasingly competitive global environment.”
Ahead of this month’s conversation, Rolling Stone AU/NZ asked Runga and Read about the nature of high performance, what makes the All Blacks such a strong rugby force, what music and sport can learn from each other, and more.
Rolling Stone AU/NZ: The All Blacks are the pinnacle of high performance sport in Aotearoa, and in the entire rugby world. When you watch them play, how impressive is their constant intensity and ability under pressure?
Bic: My Dad was a keen rugby player and also in the army so when the All Blacks play, I always see it through his eyes: as a universal metaphor for team work under pressure. Music can be viewed in this way too, you have to have so much mastery and high standards under all sorts of trying circumstances.
Musicians, especially when they start out, are always working under immense constraints. How difficult is it to keep going through tough gigs, small crowds, paltry payouts etc?
I think when you’re starting out it’s good to develop vision and resilience and work under the assumption that you need to be prepared to fend for yourself for a while, until you find your audience and your team.
Things are definitely improving in New Zealand’s music industry in terms of support for growing artists. But when you were first coming through, did you feel you had enough guidance and care?
The music industry wants to be better in its culture, in its duty of care for artists. When I was starting out I didn’t really know where to look for guidance, apart from role models and other artists that I looked up to. This collaboration with Kieran weaves in quite specific frameworks from sport, a seemingly different industry that New Zealand traditionally excels at and has spent a lot of resources developing. To me it is endlessly transferable and relevant. I think when artists are suffering from poor mental health or losses there needs to be a more positive, forward thinking and empirical approach to what success looks like for them.
What’s the main thing you can learn from a high performance athlete like Kieran?
Kieran is very clear and methodical and has heart and resolve and has been quite inspiring to work with. The
questions I’m especially interested to ask him are around flow state, focus and overcoming losses, there are so many things from sports psychology that music can also use.
What’s one thing you would change about the music industry to enable more Kiwis to become high performing artists?
I’m loving Australasia’s ambitions to be a net exporter of music. To me this is the unifying objective the industry needs. It views art and creativity more as a valuable natural resource than just something that weird people like to do for no money! The personal quality the industry needs to be nurturing and looking out for is creative leadership.
Talent is a given, hard work is a given, but does an artist have a vision of where they want to go and know how to get everyone on board to get it done? There isn’t time for each generation of artist to have to learn everything the hard way, creative leadership is a skill that needs to be developed and valued.
On another note, how did it feel to be honoured as an Icon at the Rolling Stone Aotearoa Awards? Your performance on the night was so well-received by everyone there.
I was really humbled and stoked and really appreciated being acknowledged after all this time, thanks Rolling Stone!
Rolling Stone AU/NZ: Is there a current or former All Black – aside from yourself – who you feel best embodied ‘high performance’?
Kieran: I think the professional game in NZ is set up well for high performance in that it gives guys the best opportunity to perform as they are looked after nutritionally, physically, mentally, and in training. One thing this can do, however, is it becomes easy to just think things will be given to you without the hard work, so the guys who are the consistent high performers are the ones who have a relentless drive to work hard, and not just relying on the hand out.
What New Zealand artists are you a fan of?
Bic Runga of course. I’m also a big fan of NZ bands and my vintage of bands are the early 2000s, so Goodshirt, Pluto, The Datsuns, The D4, Garageland etc. I think one of my first concerts was an Elemeno P gig at the old Roadhouse in Papakura.
What’s the main thing you can learn from a high performance musician like Bic?
I think it would be understanding how she goes about her creative process, the discipline and creativity in writing songs. Also, as a non-musician I am always in awe of the performance she puts out on stage, so understanding the process she goes through mentally to be able to put out a great show each and every night.
What’s one thing you would change about rugby to enable more Kiwis to become high performing athletes?
The great thing about rugby is that it is accessible to so many different Kiwis, not just socially but in body shape as well. I guess the game now is getting so professional that perhaps we have forgotten why we love the game, so I always say to athletes and my kids is that you have to love it first – if you don’t then find something you do.
And if kids aren’t enjoying the game as much anymore then we need to look at taking the pressure off them early. Don’t worry about going to this school or making this team, but just enjoying playing the game with a diverse group of mates. That, to me, is where it starts.