“If it wasn’t for Home and Away, I would’ve been fucked in the last year or so.”
Charismatic performer Anna Coddington (‘Underneath the Stars’) talks with Alexander Bisley about earning a living, Don McGlashan, Dads, and why you should see her live in New Zealand’s oldest cinema. Photography by James Black.
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ALEXANDER BISLEY: These days musos have to get a song, a TV show, a film, or an ad to earn pingas?
ANNA CODDINGTON: I’m the most played artist on Home and Away, [laughs] that’s my claim to fame. I’ve never watched an episode of the show in my life, but that’s been really good. It’s a good income stream. In fact if it wasn’t for that, I would’ve been fucked in the last year or so [laughs].
AB: As you say, you sell a thousand albums and you’re doing well?
AC: Yeah, and you’re not making your money back. You sell a thousand albums and you’ve paid for a tenth of what you spent on that album. At the same time you can’t write for that purpose. I mean, things like this kids’ TV show I’m writing, commissioned specifically for something, that’s different. But when you’re working on your own music you can’t have that in the back of your mind, ‘Is Home and Away going to play this song?’ Music in an ad, that’s the golden egg for lots of musicians. But I wouldn’t know, I’ve never had one. Making a living out of music, you’ve gotta let the money trickle in little bits from lots of different places. No one thing is enough.
AB: You were 30 last year?
AC: Yeah, let’s go with that [laughs]. You know, it’s not polite to ask a lady about her age? Let’s keep the mystery, I’ll be as old as you think I am [laughing], whatever you think I’ll get away with.
AB: What’s your favourite live Don McGlashan song?
AC: We did this beautiful song of his together for the Wanaka show called ‘While You Sleep’. Julia Deans and me sung the amazing harmonies. He’s got a couple of songs about his daughter, which I really love. I really love to hear a man sing about his daughter. I’ve got a thing about dads, I reckon they’re awesome, it’s such a special relationship.
AB: Probably my favourite Anika Moa song is that one about her Dad, ‘My Old Man’. It’s really lovely.
AC: Her Dad was a really cool guy, real character, real crazy dude. When Anika and I lived together, I remember coming home one day and there was a pot of corn on the stove, and I was like, ‘Oh where did this pot of corn come from?’ Her Dad had come round and no one was there and he’d just cooked a pot of corn and bailed. Men are supposed to be staunch and this and that, especially in New Zealand. I think a lot of New Zealand men have this idea that they need to be a certain way. But you see a dad with their kid and it’s really lovely, that their heart melts the same as a mother.
AB: So might you write a song about your dad sometime? I guess you pay tribute by playing at Raglan City’s Yot Club, which he owns, on tour?
AC: I’d love to write a song about my dad. I love him, he’s amazing. My dad has always been self-employed and that’s really something I get from him. I really hate the idea of working for someone else, always hated people telling me what to do, and my dad’s the same. He’s never been able to stomach working for someone else. So I get that from him, and he’s also likes to work with his hands, he likes to make stuff and so do I.
“With any artist you get more of a sense of them as a person, physically and also personally. And there’s no trickery with live performance. Anyone can make something sound good in a studio these days. I think a good live performance is what will really separate the wheat from the chaff.”
AB: So you still have some of those possessions?
AC: I’ve got stuff my dad’s made for me. He made me a cover for my amp. He made me a bed.
AB: You are a second dan black belt. Do you still do karate for balance?
AC: Twice a week. Mondays and Thursdays. The kids are real cute. I’m mostly teaching now, that’s why I’ve been running a lot. Because when I teach I don’t get to train as much. Singing’s really physical. You have to be fit for it, you got to keep your chops up.
AB: I enjoyed your yarn about running off a rip-off Parisian meal. The first time I saw you live, at WOMAD 2010 with Anika Moa, she joked on stage about how none of the musicians were getting paid, then looked at you and said “in money.” You replied, “Have to ask him about that [referring to boyfriend on stage].” What does the audience get seeing you live, that they don’t get at home?
AC: My sense of humour [laughs]. I think with any artist you get more of a sense of them as a person, physically and also personally. And there’s no trickery with live performance. Anyone can make something sound good in a studio these days. I think a good live performance is what will really separate the wheat from the chaff. If you can’t deliver, people will know. I put a lot into my live shows. I enjoy it and I really try and give it everything every time, regardless of whether it’s three songs down the road at Kingsland’s Portland Tavern, or a solo show in Devonport at the Vic Theatre, New Zealand’s oldest cinema.
AB: Despite all the musical and personal changes, you’re still going to play songs like ‘Never Change’ and ‘Little Islands’ at gigs, right?
AC: Of course. I still love those songs. I’m working on finding new ways to play them live.
AB: The music industry’s not easy to live off, but there’s lots of good music and good live gigs, that’s what it’s all about.
AC: Totally. And I think if you’re willing to work hard you can make it work. There’s lots of ways to make little bits of money. You’ve just got to try and enjoy it, otherwise go and not enjoy something else and get paid. That’s what it comes down to.