By Paulette Crowley
Anika Moa is a real softie these days. Crooning lullabies to bubbas, playing kiddy-mummy gigs in playcentres and filling her days caring for preschoolers.
She’s firmly in the raisin and cracker-toting, snotty nose-wiping brigade. She’s a mama. It’s a long way from swigging beersies and telling dirty jokes on the pub circuit.
Moa has translated this tremendous change in her life, the passage to parenthood, directly to her art. The latest example of that is her seventh album Songs for Bubbas 2.
“I only write what I know about,” says the musician, 35, who lives in West Auckland with her fiancee, television journalist Natasha Utting. Together they raise boys Soren,18 months, and twins Barry and Taane, 4. Soren is Natasha’s biological child and Moa shares the twins with ex-wife, burlesque dancer Angela Fyfe, also known as Azaria Universe.
It’s crazy-busy-magic-cool, with her days following the routine every parent knows: waking, feeding, park, feeding, naps, playing, feeding, bathing, reading, settling and sleeping (if you’re lucky).
Writing music fits in there somewhere, too.
It’s a normal life, she says – the same as for a lot of working mums. “I work from the minute I wake up until the moment I go to bed.”
She’s quick to point out that being a parent isn’t all about happy days and snuggles. “It’s also tantrums and tiredness and exhaustion; me throwing my toys, them throwing their toys. A realistic version of parenting is not a fairy tale. I really try and have a healthy balance but I’m by no means perfect. I try and redeem myself with my music because I know I can help a lot of other parents out there.”
The songs on the album are sweet, funny and catchy, delivered in Moa’s angelic voice with her offbeat and charming humour. They range from soothing lullabies to raucous ditties with devilish giggling, loud yahooing and tales of spooky taniwha, witches chasing little girls (her muses think girls are dumb), and animals on nana’s farm. There’s even some farty sounds.
“It’s really naughty but really quite entertaining as well.”
Then there’s ninja fighting, which her boys are obsessed with and which inspired the song Chop Chop Hi Yaaa! A bit of friendly scuffling is okay with Anika, who doesn’t understand why no one likes kids fighting anymore. Karate chops and ninja kicks are all good at her place.
Her parenting duties mean there’s no more waiting for creative whims to strike. “I go away from my family now and write at my best friend’s house in Cromwell, or I hire a bach to spend time by myself. But mostly I snatch an hour away and I go and write in my room, with the kids banging on my door.
“I sometimes write on tour but those times are sporadic and few and far between. I just have to sit down, put on some music and go for it.”
Touring Songs for Bubbas 2 is a nationwide 20-stop trip to give back to her fans. They campaigned Moa for the second album and paid for it through the crowdfunding platform PledgeMe. Entry to the shows is by gold-coin koha.
Through social media, she’s telling fans when and where she’ll be, at venues ranging from libraries, schools, kindies and private homes. The gigs are planned around nap-times.
It’s just her and her manager hitting the road. “We’re doing it fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, grass roots ghetto-style. I’ll sell the albums after the gigs so we have enough money for a hotel for the night. Then we’ll eat fish and chips and go to the pub. Simple.”
It’s unconventional and classic Moa. Remember when she first appeared on the music scene? It was 2000 and she was talent spotted at the Smokefree Rock Quest as a teenager, then shipped off to the US where music execs attempted to shape her into a product for their marketing machine. She made her first album, Thinking Room, but could never reconcile the manufactured pretty pop princess pictures with who she was as a person and an artist. In 2002, she came home and did her own thing.
However, the crowdfunding approach to making an album was almost a step too far, even for her.
“I was kind of anti-crowdfunding because I think you gotta work really hard to deserve the money. Y’know, people giving free money to people who don’t work hard, blah blah.” But her fellow musician Mel Parsons had successfully used the model and talked her into it.
“I literally gave myself a month to raise $40,000, which would cover everything from writing the album, recording it, producing it and artwork: the whole shebang.”
The PledgeMe donations returned goodies that ranged from the Bubba albums and onesie suits through to surprise performances and a night on the town with Moa (you pay for the flights and accommodation, and the drinks).
She raised $43,000 in three weeks. It was a lot of hard work and very stressful, she says. It’s probably an experience she won’t repeat, although it certainly trumps the old system of NZ on Air grants and record companies financing albums.
“Record companies are not functioning. There’s a decline in album sales and they’re less willing to take risks on artists, no matter what you do. When I was with a record company I would give them my album, I would give them music, they would own it and I would get 20 per cent. But I’m stupid if I give my music to someone else and they make most of the money. It’s common sense but it took me a while…”
She’s now a protoype of how musicians need to succeed in a digital age. The new reich has happily coincided with her independence as an artist. Her terms, her creativity, her time line. So far, it’s working.
“What I’m doing is grass roots. I’m not a pop artist anymore, and I never wanted to be in the first place. All those other labels are for other people’s expectations of me – not for me. I’m first and foremost a mother, then I’m a singer songwriter.
I really am a Kiwi woman – a Kiwi wahine with ideas, writing Kiwi songs. I’m quite proud of that.
“I really enjoy my job. I’m one of the lucky few that manage to release albums and tour, and sustain my lifestyle. I’ve never had to get a real job, like in an office. Crazy, crazy.”
Partner Natasha is the one with the “real job”. I was warned by a seasoned entertainment hack that asking Moa about her personal life could be met with a prickly response. She was right: but only because I clearly hadn’t done my homework. “Don’t you read the Woman’s Day? I’m engaged to Natasha,” Moa points out.
The pair got together after Moa’s tumultuous split from Angela, who she wed in 2010 (at the time, they were the poster girls for same-sex marriage). After meeting Natasha, Moa was still fragile and raw from the separation but eventually fell for the smitten journalist, who was pregnant at the time with Soren.
Many may flinch at the prospect of running headlong into a fast-impending instant family – especially after twins arrived one year into her first marriage – but it hasn’t fazed Moa. A big family (she has eight siblings) is always something she talked about. She’s previously said she’d love to carry her own child.
If and when that happens, could it inspire a third Bubbas album? She laughs hysterically. Maybe, but some more adult music is on its way first.
“The adult album is completely in my head at the moment. I’ve only written a few songs that will eventually go towards it but my goal is to write and record it by the end of the year to release next year. Ha! I am crazy!”
This article was first published in Your Weekend, April 9, 2016