Turn­ing back the tide

Anika Moa gets real about love, death and suc­cess 10 years on from her tough­est days, writes

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE -

ABrid­get Jones.

nika Moa reck­ons she could write this story her­self. And to be hon­est, she’s prob­a­bly not wrong. Any­one who has seen her bril­liant Maori TV se­ries All Talk With Anika Moa knows she can get blood out of a stone with her cun­ningly mis­chievous, all-too-brazen in­ter­view­ing tech­nique. And as the writer of some of New Zealand’s most beloved pop songs of the past two decades, she can ob­vi­ously turn a bloody good phrase.

‘‘I’d work at Stuff, I could do that, aye? I’m just go­ing to work here ev­ery day, whether you like it or not.’’ Let’s be clear, Moa doesn’t want to do my job - but re­cently, she has had to con­sider what life would be like with­out mu­sic. At the end of Au­gust, out of nowhere, her left eardrum burst and the other got in­fected. The singer lost her hear­ing al­most com­pletely, al­beit tem­po­rar­ily. ‘‘I just woke up one day [and it was gone]. I’ve never had any prob­lems with my ears and af­ter a day of pain - worse than child­birth, toothache - it was scary. But it’s not any­more, be­cause I can hear again,’’ she says mat­ter-of-factly.

She’s al­most back to full strength, and now plays the whole thing out like a bit of a joke. Stock-stan­dard Anika Moa, re­ally. But there’s no deny­ing she found the whole ex­pe­ri­ence un­nerv­ing.

‘‘My mis­sus takes the p... out of me. At home, be­cause ev­ery­thing is so loud, I’ll be like ‘What’d you say? What did you say, dear?’ So I get a lot of s ....

‘‘This kind of thing hap­pens to ev­ery­body though…’’

But not ev­ery­one re­lies on be­ing able to hear things for a liv­ing.

‘‘That’s what I was scared about,’’ she ad­mits frankly. ‘‘I thought about what I was go­ing to do - I was go­ing to have to get a real job, work at Count­down or some­thing.’’

In re­al­ity, Moa’s doc­tors say she’ll be fine and won’t have to con­sider a ca­reer rein­ven­tion. She says she only had to can­cel one gig - ‘‘it was a char­ity gig for my boys’ school, so lucky I wasn’t get­ting paid for it’’. But the health scare came at a time she was al­ready nat­u­rally re­flect­ing on where she’s been - and where she is head­ing.

It’s been 10 years since the re­lease of her third - and most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful - al­bum, In Swings The Tide, and she’s about to take it back on the road for a mini-New Zealand tour to mark the oc­ca­sion.

It’s also been a decade since she came out as gay. And since her dad died. In fact, all three things hap­pened within about a week of each other, back in Oc­to­ber 2007.

‘‘I had to tour and do pub­lic­ity while I was griev­ing, and that was re­ally, re­ally hard for me,’’ Moa, 37, re­mem­bers of her fa­ther’s death. ‘‘I’d wake up ev­ery day and cry - and then put makeup on and turn it on - that’s my job and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to take the al­bum out to the world. But it was very, very hard.’’

She had grieved her fa­ther - his bat­tle with can­cer was a long one. But the sit­u­a­tion felt a lit­tle tougher be­cause there was a song about him on the record - a song she couldn’t just ig­nore as she did the things artists do to make peo­ple buy their mu­sic. She calls My Old Man ‘‘the di­a­mond’’ that ended up defin­ing the al­bum and their re­la­tion­ship.

‘‘My dad was home­less and he was a bit of a vagabond. I saw him more as a re­ally cool home­less per­son that I knew, not as a fa­ther-fig­ure.

‘‘Even though I wrote this very painful, raw, emo­tional song about him, I called him my old man - I never called him dad, ever.’’

Moa calls her mum her ‘‘mum-dad’’ and more than any­thing, it is her she hopes is proud of what she has achieved. Her fa­ther was the one she saw on hol­i­days, the one who she talked mu­sic with. That was their com­mon ground.

‘‘We loved mu­sic so much and we used to sing to­gether all the time. That’s all we did, we had gui­tars, amps and singing. He was wild, but he was a re­ally good song­writer, one of the best I’ve known. It’s in the blood.’’

In com­par­i­son to the loss of a par­ent, no mat­ter how re­moved, Moa plays down what it was like to come out when she was 27. As she puts it, it was a cou­ple of in­ter­views, then she was done.

‘‘It wasn’t re­ally me com­ing out, it was more me say­ing ‘ah yeah, I’m just a lezza’. It was ac­tu­ally re­ally lovely and re­ally cool.

‘‘I re­mem­ber one per­son asked me if I was scared peo­ple wouldn’t buy my al­bum be­cause I’m gay? I was like, OMG that is the most ridicu­lous thing I’ve ever heard be­cause why would that dic­tate [any­thing]?’’

She was right, it was ridicu­lous. In Swings The Tide spent 39 weeks on the al­bum chart, peak­ing at No.6, and was cer­ti­fied plat­inum for sell­ing more than 15,000 copies. The al­bum’s first sin­gle, Dreams in My Head was the sound­track of that sum­mer, lit­er­ally – it spent 18 weeks in the charts and picked up a Sil­ver Scroll nom­i­na­tion along the way.

But for all her tal­ents, Moa is not a for­tune teller. She knows there are so many peo­ple – in­clud­ing artists, mu­si­cians and ac­tors – who hide their sex­u­al­ity to safe­guard their ca­reers against un­de­served back­lash and it took her to be con­fi­dent in her­self to shake off those fears.

‘‘It’s kind of like a weird lit­tle twisted thing, where for the first five years that I was dis­cov­er­ing I was gay, I didn’t want to say any­thing. I was scared be­cause it’s such a known thing, where if you’re gay, peo­ple won’t like you, which is ridicu­lous. It’s nor­mal.’’

There was hate mail, only two emails from church lead­ers which were pretty nasty. She didn’t bother re­ply­ing. To­day, she calls her­self a ‘‘gay pas­tor’’ to her fans.

You can imag­ine she would have had some thoughts to share with those two peo­ple who both­ered to write to her, though. And given the way she de­scribes her 20s, it’s pretty sur­pris­ing she didn’t.

‘‘I couldn’t con­trol my emo­tions. I didn’t have a path. I was just go­ing with the wind. I was crazy. I’d fly to Lon­don, then get bored and fly home. Then, ‘I’m bored of New Zealand, I’ll fly back to Lon­don’. All within a week. That’s how psy­cho I was.

‘‘Re­ally though, I was just a twen­tysome­thing woman who had hor­mones.’’

Com­pared to a decade ago, life these days is very dif­fer­ent for Moa. She mar­ried her sec­ond wife, jour­nal­ist Natasha Utting, in Fe­bru­ary 2017, and the pair have a 3-year-old son, Soren. Moa also has 6-year-old twin boys, Taane and Barry, from her first mar­riage to Azaria Uni­verse, which ended in 2013.

"I'd wake up ev­ery day and cry - and then put makeup on and turn it on. That's my job and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to take the al­bum out to the world." Anika Moa

LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF

‘‘It was the most in­tense time I’ve ever had,’’ Moa says about re­leas­ing In Swings The Tide.

HANNAH PE­TERS/ GETTY IMAGES

Natasha Utting and Anika Moa mar­ried in Fe­bru­ary 2017.

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