Gary Steel chats with Julia Deans and Anika Moa in anticipation of the June 25 Divas concert with the Auckland Philharmonia.
LATE NOVEMBER 2014, I met up with Julia Deans and Anika Moa at Salvation Kitchen in Avondale to interview them for the Auckland Philharmonia’s magazine, Phil News. In anticipation of their Divas concert with the APO at Auckland Town Hall next week, here’s the complete transcript of our conversation, minus the asides.
Anika Moa – We haven’t seen each other for ages, because she’s been busy and I’ve been busy with babies and shit. Excuse me for eating. If anyone wants to eat any of this just go for it.
Gary Steel – I would but I’m vego. [It’s a Mexican wrap with big bits of bacon].
Anika – Are you offended by me eating meat?
Gary – No.
Anika – Oh good.
Julia – As a vegetarian you kind of get used to it.
Anika – We went to a party last night and there were about 20 vegetarians, 50 gluten frees, and I was sitting there eating all the meat [cackles like a witch]. Suckers!
Gary – I usually find the opposite. You go to a party, they say they’re going provide for the vegetarians, there’s one veg thing and all the meat eaters eat the veg thing!
Julia – Especially when you order pizza, everyone goes ‘oh, this vegetarian pizza’s really good’, and it’s like ‘uhhh, I only got one piece’.
Gary – I’ve got my Japanese in-laws staying with me at the moment, so we’re having to put up with a bit of meaty stuff.
Anika – Are both you and your wife vegetarian?
Gary – Yeah. We’ve got a new bubba, 7 weeks old.
Anika – You’ve got a new bubba! We’ve got a new bubba too! Ours is 6 weeks old! Natasha, she had him. What’s yours?
Gary – A girl.
Anika – What’s her name?
Gary – Minay. M-i-n-a-y, which means ‘beautiful music’, which is the name of the shop I used to run.
Anika – Oh so cool!
Julia – Congratulations!
Julia – Well you did get two at once.
Anika – Just from having twins, having Soren our little boy is SO EASY. Natasha, it’s her first born, so she loves it but she struggles sometimes when he screams. He’s found his voice. Takes after me!
Gary – Have you got kids Julia?
Julia – No. Not yet.
Anika – You’ve still got time.
Julia – Oh I don’t know if I do.
Gary – So this Divas thing. It’s going to be difficult answering questions about something that’s so far in advance.
Julia – Yeah, we haven’t even started looking at getting arrangements done, selecting the songs or anything like that.
Gary – The basic idea is that you presumably select the songs of yours that you like a lot or that you feel the most appropriate with orchestral arrangements?
Julia – We’ll take some older songs and we’ve both got albums coming out.
Anika – And there’s lots of harmonies to be sung, eh? Eh?
Julia – And we’ll hang out together, and we’ll probably do some covers as well.
Gary – Will you do individual sets or will it all just be together?
Anika – I dunno, I think so, I think we should be together.
Julia – Because then we can laugh at each other’s jokes onstage because no one else will.
Anika– That is true.
Julia – Well no one will laugh at mine.
Gary – Being a classical audience they might clap politely at the jokes rather than laugh at them.
Anika – We both played a Christchurch Symphony gig separately, years ago, and I remember because they went ‘do 12 of your songs and two covers’, and one of my covers was ‘To Sir With Love’ and they said ‘oh, Julia’s just performed that with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra two weeks ago’. I thought ‘yes! We’re so awesome! We did the same songs!’ It was nearly 10 years ago. Bic Runga did one as well. So that’s pretty much my one and only experience with an orchestra except for when I was at high school when we used to be in the orchestra.
Julia – And we did the Adults with the APO a couple of years ago and Anika and Ladi6 joined us for the songs that were on the Adults album. That was great fun.
Gary – Everybody was raving about that. You’re using Hamish McKeich too.
Julia – Hamish is fantastic. We love him. With his velvet coat and his… I have this really exotic backstory for him. It’s not necessarily true but it’s a really good story.
Gary – Do you think you’ll end up doing your respectively well-known songs in the gig or…
Anika – I feel that, you know when I see my favourite artists… I want to see Sinead O’Connor at WOMAD because she’s one of my favourite artists, and I’m going to want her to sing ‘Nothing Compares To You’, and all my favourite songs. Not even off her famous albums, even some obscure shit. So I expect that of her, and I want that to be what people expect of me and her (Julia).
Julia – I think it’s good to deliver… I don’t think you have to deliver all the hits but you have to deliver a few of them because it is what people expect, and you get such a good response, it’s respectful.
Anika – And when we do ‘Lydia’, everyone’s eyes light up! And people dance.
Gary – Can a song like that translate to an APO thing?
Julia – Oh yeah, I’ve done that in Christchurch. And I did Orchestra In The Park in Nelson, and we used the same arrangement for that, it’s really sweet, it translates really well because it turns it into more of the ‘50s/’60s rock song that I wrote it as. It’s great.
Gary – Whose idea was to call it Divas?
Julia and Anika – Not mine! [laughs]
Gary – I wonder if people will be expecting diva kind of material.
Julia – I would have gone for ‘Something In The Water’ if it hadn’t been a Brooke Fraser song.
Gary – What do you think of classical music? Do you listen to it?
Anika – I used to, years ago.
Julia – I grew up studying classical music all through school.
Anika – I used to go around to this lady’s house, she was a hairdresser, she used to play classical music when we used to walk her beagle. I was a geek. All I wanted to do was walk the beagle and listen to classical music.
Gary – But snoopy likes jazz!
Anika – I don’t listen to it now. I like country music. I went and saw Tami Neilson the other day, she was amazing. At the Winchester. There was a whole crowd of dressed up country people. Awesome.
Gary – So your new album is going to be country and western?
Anika – It’s electronic. I’m a Gemini. Every time I do an album I change it musically. No, it’s totally electronic, Joel Mulholland did it, he produced the whole thing, and we just wrote the songs together. They’re half my songs half his, so it should be our album, but I’m calling it my album because it’s my money [emphasizes the word], first and foremost, and my song ideas so… he’s amazing, he’s my fat Joel, I’m Lorde, he’s my fat Joel.
July – Fat Joel! Ha-ha! He’s not even fat!
Anika – He’s fat Joel because of skinny Joel, skinny Joel Little. So my album’s out in April, and I’m releasing a single in December. And when’s yours out young lady?
Julia – I’ve got to finish it first. My life has been taken over by Jesus Christ Superstar and I also did a psychology paper… just doing fulltime rehearsal and studying assignments for exams. And then my exam was on opening night during production week, and we were at the theatre basically from 10am to 11pm every day, so it was kind of… my brain got completely wiped out.
Gary – You wouldn’t want to have a breakdown while you were doing a psychology paper, would you?
Julia – Ha-ha! Or would you? I was going to do a summer school paper, but I’ve just decided not to. And I’m supposed to be trying to do my album at the same time but…
Anika – Why don’t you try adding a baby in the mix?
Julia – I find it hard just to keep on top of the dishes. Honestly, our house has turned into this BOMB site.
Anika – Because you’re never home. I’ve lived with yuzz, I know.
Gary – So your album’s not recorded yet but you’ll be looking at doing it…
Julia – No, it’s recorded and we’ve got two songs to mix… one and a half really.
Gary – Does it have a tentative release date?
Julia – Not at the moment. I’m just still getting my head back on top of things and getting my head in the routine of doing seven shows a week. But the last couple of days I’m finally starting to get my head back, so it’s good.
Gary – And have you both got labels lined up?
Anika – I’m distributed by Rhythmethod.
Gary – It will be independent?
Anika – I dunno. I had a meeting with them the other day. That’s all I remember. [laughs]. They said let’s release it and I’m like yeh-yeh-yeh-yeh!
Gary – A lot of artists don’t even seem to have a label now, just a distributor.
Anika – Well I’m distributed through Rhythmethod but Lisa Paris is doing my promo, so… I give them the product. I had my baby. I recorded it and said: here you go.
Gary – I still haven’t heard ‘Music For Bubbas’. Now I’ve got a baby I’ve got to get it!
Anika – You have to get it! That’s on your top two things to do today!
Gary – You didn’t know I had a baby!
Anika – But I think our show will be good. Obviously we haven’t at all been able to think about it, but we’ve done shows together and I know how beautiful and luxurious her voice is and our voices are very compatible…
Gary – A good blend.
Anika – And we’ve got the same sense of humour. We’re both amazing! And we’ve both got such a long catalogue of music. I love Taylor Swift at the moment, just so you know.
Gary – Do you like that new album?
Anika –I’ve never liked her before, but her songwriters are amazing.
Julia – That guy from ‘Shake It Up’ is the same guy, that Swedish guy who’s written just about every pop hit ever for the last 15 or 20 years. Crazy.
Gary – Parts of what she does I’m okay with, but parts of it… there’s a chipmunk thing.
Anika – It’s young.
Gary – Yeah I’m an old fuck.
Anika – You’re right you ARE an old fuck. [laughter]
Julia – I like her because she’s not doing the whole I’m going to take all my clothes off and be sexy thing. She sings about relevant emotions to young people, but she’s not about ‘you have to be this’. It’s ‘no, be yourself’.
Anika – Have fun, shake it off.
Gary – It sounds real, it’s unpretentious. It’s not like that Sia thing, ‘Chandelier’.
Anika – She loves it!
Julia – The thing that I like about that song is that I know it would be great fun to sing. It’s such a singer’s song.
Gary – Great karaoke potential.
Anika – How can anyone sing that high? I can’t sing that high, it’s ridiculous. You can.
Gary – It’s that Whitney Houston thing.
Anika – I love divas. How’s your voice holding up?
Julia – Really good. It was really tired last week and then on Monday… I did eight shows last week so I spent all Monday in bed and I didn’t talk to anyone, the same on Tuesday, I just lounged around the house until I had to go to the show and I feel so much better now.
Gary – It’s a real strain on the voice singing those rock opera songs?
Julia – No, in all honesty it’s not. The songs that I have lead on sit really comfortably in my range, it’s just that we all sing in the chorus, so we’re pretty much singing the whole show, and there’s lots of running around, so that’s crazy.
Gary – Is your album electronic too?
Julia – Well sort of, I wrote on keyboards using old synth sounds, so I just wanted to change… it’s not electronic per se but I’m incorporating electronic sounds. I wanted to take old synth sounds I’ve used and translate them into orchestral sounds, use the full…
Gary – Palette!
Julia – That’s the word!
* Divas, Auckland Town Hall, Thursday June 25, 8pm.