SHE might live in Los Angeles, own a Chrysler and be immersed in the music scene, but Boh Runga couldn't be more down to earth if she tried.
Erupting into an Auckland cafe on a dreary Wednesday morning, she is like a ray of Californian sun as she animatedly chatters about everything from the nightmare of car parking to the weirdness of celebrity.
She is back home to be bridesmaid at a wedding, and has spent the last few days running around promoting her music and jewellery business and catching up with family and friends.
"I'm lucky enough to be able to breeze into everyone's lives for a week and then go again," she says, settling herself into a rickety wooden chair.
"The two places are incredibly different in LA I feel excited and energised and in Auckland I feel comfortable.
"In my ideal world I would be coming back and forth and at the moment it has been every few months because of the album."
After almost 10 years with Stellar*, who scored numerous Tui Awards and released two chart-topping albums, Runga has released her debut solo CD Right Here.
She admits that even after the band broke up, branching out on her own took some persuasion. "When I was a kid I always imagined myself to be the `doo-wop' girl in the background with two others. I didn't really think about fronting a band, let alone going solo," she says. "Although I guess I am a bit of a show-off."
Growing up in Christchurch, Runga and her younger sisters Pearl and Bic were surrounded by music. Chinese mum Sophia was a singer while Maori dad Joseph was a self-taught pianist.
Always close, the girls were rocked by the death of their father from a heart attack in 2005, something Runga still struggles to talk about.
"He was sort of the opposite of any father I know. He wanted all of us girls to be musicians, artists, that was his thing," she says reflectively.
"He'd be pleased I was doing the solo album, he'd be happy I was making music."
Helping the Rungas move on from Joseph's passing has been Bic's two-year-old son, named after his late grandfather, and Pearl's little boy, who was born four months ago.
While very much the doting aunty, happily relating tales about the boys' antics, Runga is in no hurry to start a family of her own with husband Campbell Smith, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. When asked if her nephews make her broody, the 39-year-old, who very much talks with her hands, replies with a resounding "No!"
"I think having children is a wonderful commitment, but a person has to be committed. There are happy accidents but I do think it should be taken seriously. I don't really know if I want to do it, I haven't really given it any thought."
Runga has been married to Smith, who manages both his wife and Bic, since 2003 and the bulk of the time the pair live on different continents, with Runga in their Los Angeles home and Smith working from their Auckland pad.
The bubbly singer doesn't necessarily speak to her husband every day but relies on texts.
"It works really well, I like being by myself and so does he," she explains, adding that they have a romantic holiday coming up. "He's got so much going on that to have me yelping around complaining about things would drive him crazy, and the other way around. It's good for us to have that time apart."
Runga is in regular contact with Bic and laughs off suggestions of rivalry. "I write pop music which is quite different to what she does," she says. Now that she's completed her solo album, Runga has been writing tracks to pitch to other artists, with hopes of achieving her dream of writing for Celine Dion. "I was out driving with Bic and told her I was doing this pitch and sang it. She started singing it back to me and said, `No it's good'. I hold a lot of value in what she says.
"But we are quite different, I'm more gregarious, she is more reserved, perhaps a bit shyer and more reflective." Back in 2004, Bic embarked on a New Zealand church tour and her big sister helped out with the teas and coffees. Now five years on, Runga has just announced her own performances, appearing with Greg Johnson, Nathan King and Lydia Cole in the Classic Hits Acoustic Church Tour in October.
After signing a clothing design deal with Storm, her jewellery line growing and her solo career taking off, Runga is becoming one of the nation's most successful women.
Does she feel like a celebrity? "I guess perhaps in New Zealand, but it hasn't got to the stage where I can't go out without heels and make-up," she says, with the qualification that she heeds her mother's advice to always keep her eyebrows presentable.
"But to actually feel like you have to be completely dressed all the time, well, I'd have to get out of bed a lot earlier. I'm a reluctant early riser. I don't think you should get out of bed unless you're catching a plane or going fishing."
Tickets for The Classic Hits Acoustic Church Tour go on sale on August 24. For more information go to www.acousticchurchtour.co.nz
- Sunday News