Nineties trailblazer Maree Sheehan is back from a decade-long hiatus with a new album.
Sheehan helped pave the way for women in the New Zealand music industry two decades ago by breaking the singer-songwriter mould and bringing homegrown dance-pop to the foreground.
The Christchurch born, but now Auckland-based artist grew up in a musical household and decided soon to make music the focus of her life. By the early 1990s, with the backing of a major label, she released a string of singles - among them the Top 20 hits Make You My Own, Fatally Cool and Kia Tu Mahea, which featured on the soundtrack and on the international release of the iconic Kiwi film Once Were Warriors.
The songs saw Sheehan nominated as Most Promising Vocalist at the NZ Music Awards in 1993 and nominated for Best Maori Song at the NZ Music Awards in 1996.
Sheehan signed an album deal with an Australian label and based herself across the Tasman to record her full-length debut, 1996's Drawn in Deep.
Sheehan's unique style, which blended dance-pop with traditional Maori instrumentation, hip-hop and R 'n' B, broke new musical ground.
"New Zealand was so used to having 'the girl with the guitar' but you didn't see women out there on the stage shaking their booties to dance music. At the time, it was different," says Sheehan.
But it wasn't an easy path. "Radio didn't really want anything to do with New Zealand music unless you were one of the Finn brothers or Dave Dobbyn. And certainly not Maori music - it was even harder if you were a woman."
Sheehan became an integral part of a pioneering group of female singer-songwriters throughout the 1990s, which included Emma Paki, Teremoana Rapley and Moana Maniapoto.
"There was a group of strong Maori/Polynesian women who were really fighting to get their music out there. It was cool. We were all kind of in it together."
It's here though, that Sheehan's story takes a twist. Frustrated and disillusioned with the mainstream music scene, she walked away.
"It's hard to explain why," says Sheehan. "I had huge expectations of myself. I never thought I was good enough. You know, now I look back and I think 'Wow, I did some really amazing things'. But at the time, I didn't think that.
"And I guess, I just got despondent with the music business. You know, I'd been doing it since I was 18. I was just burnt out," she said.
Now after years toiling away behind the scenes, the singer-songwriter and producer is taking her chance to shine once again.
The new album, Chasing The Light, showcases Sheehan's rich vocals and the depth of her songwriting experience.
"It's not about the business, it's about the music," Sheehan says of her return. "It's the music that dictates to me.
"I'm writing and I'm playing again - and I'm really enjoying it! I'm not doing this because I want to be famous. I just believe I've got some great songs, and I want them to be heard."
- © Fairfax NZ News