Christchurch mums take national music scene by storm
It was a stranger-than-fiction experience when two Christchurch friends and mothers, Jenny Payne and Lucy Hiku, found themselves sitting among the audience at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards in November last year.
The pair felt humbled to be in the same room as some of New Zealand's biggest artists, such as Broods, Bic Runga and Six60, but they weren't there just to watch the show. The children's music duo, Itty Bitty Beats, were nominated for the Best Children's Music Album and Best Children's Music Song of 2016.
Privileged to just be nominated, it came as a shock when their names were called as the winners of both awards. "You should have seen our faces. We were like: 'What, no, surely not us'," Lucy laughs as she and Jenny reminisce about the win at her Linwood home.
*Hollywood-inspired Kiwi designs
*The gentle art of giant knitting
*Teen to sing for country stars
The New Zealand Music Awards kicked off a flurry of attention for the band. Suzy Cato invited them to perform at Screenies, a film festival for children, and they attended the Silver Scroll Awards. "It has been a cool journey," Lucy says.
The journey began when the close friends met in their late teens at the Ara Institute of Canterbury Jazz School in 2002. Coincidentally, it's where both women also met their husbands, who are musicians too.
After graduating, they went their separate ways fronting local bands. Jenny and her husband, Rob, have two children, Izobella, 11, and Lachie, 5, while Lucy and her husband, Clayton, have a daughter, Maia, 3.
The award-winning duo reconnected in 2014 when the Christchurch music scene was withering in the wake of the earthquakes.
"Everything changed in such a drastic way. The gig scene shut down, so we had to reinvent ourselves musically. We both had kids at the same time, so it made sense to combine our love for music with the love for our kids," Jenny says.
"We had this little dream to make fun, educational music for kids and it's exploded." The "little dream" has produced three CDs in three years: Bath Time, Lay Your Head Down and the newly released album On the Move.
The women say it wouldn't have been possible without the support of their husbands, who've done much more than just cheer them on. Rob played every instrument on the first two CDs.
Lucy describes the music as "unapologetically Kiwi". The song Kiwi Convoy on their latest album encapsulates this perfectly with lyrics such as a "tuatara in Tekapo trucking in a tractor" and a "wagon full of weta in windy Wellington".
Their music is targeted at children, but, as mothers, they're acutely aware parents have to listen, too. "We're very clever with how we write with adults in mind," Jenny says. "We don't want something that's going to drive them bonkers.
"Children are very smart musically, so there's no reason to dumb it down." With this in mind, the latest album is a medley of genres, including jazz, rock'n'roll and pop.
The finished albums are polished works of art, but the music-making process is better described as wild and hectic. Jenny and Lucy compose songs in the rare moments between teaching singing lessons during the day, performing gigs at night and, of course, parenting.
Despite their busy lives, Lucy says they're constantly buzzing with ideas. "Itty Bitty Beats has made us beyond insane with ideas."
Jenny and Lucy each have studios at home, but finding time to sit down in their studios and compose is more of a dream than a reality. Songs are more often written on scraps of paper when they wake in the middle of the night or inspired while playing with their children.
"Just last week, while I was tucking Maia into bed, she said 'Mummy, there are dinosaurs in the wardrobe'. So, of course. I wrote a song about it; it's impossible not to."
Still recovering from their whirlwind awards journey, a well-deserved break was on the cards over Christmas, but that hasn't happened yet. "We can't help ourselves," Lucy smiles. "The ideas just keep coming ... I have more than 15 different songs I'm working on right now."
Itty Bitty Beats might be new to the game, but it has already taken the musicians further than they could have imagined.