Wellington singer-songwriter flying at WOMAD 2013
AMIRIA GRENELL will take to the stage at WOMAD this year as one of the voices that make up Wellington-based super-group Fly My Pretties.
But this Wellington singer-songwriter has much more on her plate. Since the release of her album Three Feathers, in 2011, Amiria has won the award for Best Folk Album at the NZ Music Awards 2012, and toured New Zealand and Melbourne with Fly My Pretties.
During the past year, she’s illuminated late-night Wellington bars and cafes with her sweet tunes, sessions she has described as some of her favourite gigs.
“I like the atmosphere and the direct connection with my audience. I especially love playing at Plum, the doors open out on to Cuba Street and I can see all the people walking past.”
Amiria is mum to five-year-old Sienna, and together with her partner, actor Tola Newbery, has also rekindled her work as a children’s entertainer.
She says the busy creative life can sometimes be at odds with full-time parenthood, though now Sienna has started Steiner School, there are a few more hours in the day for songwriting and administrative duties.
“Because Tola is travelling a lot for his theatre work, and I have to travel too, juggling it all can be tricky and sometimes stressful,” she says.
“We’re lucky to have our friends and family nearby to help out.”
She also acknowledges that time spent on the computer, such as emailing and using social media, eats into her creative time.
“It’s funny when I think it was only about six years ago how less computer-orientated I was. I used to only check my emails a few times a week, but now I spend time every day online.
“I guessed I used that time to pick up my guitar and write songs. I wouldn’t say I have writer’s block now, but I just don’t give myself the time to sit down and write.”
Juggling a varied and full music schedule comes naturally to Amiria, who has been composing songs since the age of 10.
Her father is the legendary John Hore Grenell, one of New Zealand’s best-known country singers. Her three brothers are successful musicians in their own right: Denver (formerly of Christchurch band Mountains of Murray), Oakley (hiphop and jazz producer) and Redford (former Shapeshifter drummer.)
The Grenell kids grew up on a farm in Canterbury dedicated to Appaloosa horses. Every summer for 14 years the family hosted the Whitecliffs Family Music Festival where folk musicians would stay and take part in concerts and workshops.
“When I was growing up, I had all this great music around me. My brothers formed a band, and at one festival a lady taught me some guitar chords. After that I started writing songs all the time.”
Amiria also learned violin, but describes herself as largely self-taught.
“I’ve always been very much an ‘ear-musician’, rather than a ‘theory-musician’,” she says.
Those first guitar chords sparked an adolescence full of music.
“I played my first gig, aged 14, at The Gathering in Golden Bay. I also taught myself a bunch of pop songs. My Mum and I went to folk music festivals together. I was listening to so many different types of music.”
After high school, Amiria completed a performing arts degree, and moved to Wellington where she made her first EP Cola Monti. That was followed by Kapowhai, recorded in 2005.
Three Feathers was recorded at the family farm and produced by her brother Oakley. And the family links are strong in the music itself. Redford is on drums while partner Tola provides guest vocals. The youngest special guest would be Sienna, who sings the sweetest rendition of E Toru Nga Mea with her mum.
The freshly-released album ended up in the hands of Loop Recording’s Mikee Tucker, who subsequently invited Amiria to join Loop-associated band Fly My Pretties.
“I was already such a fan of the group, I nearly jumped out of my seat.
“Being up there on stage with all those amazing musicians, it’s so much fun, I absolutely love it,” she says.
This year will be the first that Fly My Pretties has played at WOMAD. Amiria and her own band performed last year, an experience she describes as “thrilling, just to be a part of it all”.
And yet despite the award, the big performances and the touring, Amiria remains humble.
She admits that self-promotion, even in the age of social media and a constant online presence, can be hard for a creative soul.
“I still don’t think I’m that well known, really,” she says.
Regarding future plans, Amiria knows where she’d like to focus.
“I’d love to make another album. I have some new songs but need a few more. I would also really like to play some gigs overseas.”
But today, she’s packing up her guitar for WOMAD.
Fly My Pretties: WOMAD – 10.30pm March 13; Amiria Grenell: The Library, Wellington – 9pm March 19; Amiria Grenell: Thunderbird, Wellington – 5.30pm April 5