Bic Runga’s uniquely phrased pop songs and hauntingly beautiful melodies have already earned her a special place in the pantheon of New Zealand song. Since emerging at 19 years old with her debut single "Drive" a decade ago, Bic has travelled a remarkable musical journey, taking her to the top of charts at home and around the world at the same time as winning enormous critical acclaim for her winsome, transfixing tunes.
Her albums, 'Drive' (1996) and 'Beautiful Collision' (2002), have sold seven and eleven-times platinum respectively in New Zealand, the latter spawning the single "Get Some Sleep", a top ten hit in Japan and Ireland that also broke into the UK top 40. 'Beautiful Collision' featured at no.32 in Mojo magazine’s list of the best albums of 2002 and no.34 in Uncut’s annual critics’ poll for that year.
Having spent most of 2003 and 2004 living in Paris and London, Bic returned home for the summer of 2005. That summer ended on a sad note for the Runga family with the death of Bic’s father, Joe, but Bic went on to complete a world tour playing as a soloist in support of the Finn Brothers through March and April.
Neil Finn had long been a fan of Bic’s music and had contributed vocals to 'Beautiful Collision'. Talking with Bic on the Finn Brothers tour, he immediately warmed to Bic's idea to record her new album as “live” as possible -- and agreed to join as pianist/guitarist with the ensemble of players she had in mind including vocalists Anika Moa, Shayne Carter and Anna Coddington, Trinity Roots’ Riki Gooch on drums, Conrad Standish of acclaimed Melbourne band The Devastations on bass, and “Boxcar” Benny Maitland and Pluto’s Tim Arnold on guitars.
Taking the role of album producer herself, Bic convened the band in Auckland’s Monte Cecilia House in August 2005. Built in 1879, with wonderfully detailed architecture complete with parquet floors, elaborate ceiling roses, marble fireplaces and four-storeyed tower overlooking a wooded park, Monte Cecilia provided the perfect location for the month-long recording session.
Initial recording concentrated on capturing the often elusive magic of great “live takes”. With up to ten singers and players recording in the room at one time, Bic’s approach harked back to jazz recordings of the 50s and beyond and the timeless pop recordings from before single instrument track-laying became the norm in the 1970s. There is a natural intimacy between instruments and voices playing live in the same room that she felt could be easily lost in a modern studio setting.
By the time an eight piece string section and further instrumentation including French horn, flute, harp and clarinet had been added, the intricate arrangements and richly textured songs were taking shape. Bic flew with the tapes to London to mix the album with Simon Gogerly, renowned for his work alongside Nellie Hooper and with artists as diverse as the Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens and U2.
The resulting album is a superb distillation of Bic Runga’s incredible songwriting talent and her firm grasp on the universal language of romance. Undercurrents of subtle melancholy in songs like the breathtaking and spacious "Captured" and "Say After Me" flow through to uplifting notes of hope in first single "Winning Arrow" and "If I Had You".
Bic Runga’s ubiquity in New Zealand music belies her relative youth. Three albums into a career that her numerous admirers trust will run for many years to come, she demonstrates the artistic value in trying new ways to bring her songs out into the open and letting them soar on new wings. Bic will tell you that this album’s creation was a magical experience for her -- and you can hear that magic in the songs. 'Birds' is simply her finest musical statement yet.
“…she moved on, took some risks, tapped into something deeper, made her best album yet.”
**** Russell Baillie, NZ Herald