Anna Coddington and Steve Abel on feeling the love for each other’s new albums

Steve and Anna at Anna's home studio in Grey Lynn. Photography by Simon Wilson
Musically, Anna Coddington of Grey Lynn and Steve Abel of New Lynn have little in common. While hers is all slinky base lines, catchy grooves, and layer upon layer of delectable harmonies, his is spare, quiet and so intimate you feel you are alone in a room with him

But in a spooky coincidence, the pair have just released their third, and what I believe to be greatest, albums: his titled Luck/Hope, released in August on his own imprint Kin’sland Records; hers Luck/Time, released by Loop in September. Coddington discovered the remarkable concurrence not long before Abel’s album came out. “I said, this is crazy! Do I have to change my album title? But I’d been sitting on it for ages and the artwork was all done.” 

Do the titles represent different takes on what constitutes luck? Coddington says she names each album after a song that best represents it. “And this seemed to fit because the song is about accidentally having a baby and then your life just kind of flips over and changes completely. This is the best my life’s ever been and I feel really lucky that I’ve landed here.”

Abel’s album too is named after a song, with the opening line: ‘A man needs a little luck to have a little hope.’ “It was about the idea that sometimes good fortune can give you a belief in the providence of the universe. You need a bit of good luck to believe that there’s hope, and it’s hard to have hope if you haven’t had some good fortune.” 

Both also took an absolute age to get their albums out. Coddington has the pretty good excuse of giving birth to two humans (Arlo, three, and Eddie Ray, the most chilled out baby of all time, who is a silent partner in this interview). It took four years to finish: “This time I wanted to be more deliberate and considered about every aspect of every song.” 

Abel, however, wins the slowness prize. Most of the eight tracks on Luck/Hope were recorded in 2009 after he received a Creative New Zealand grant to travel to New York to work with musicians including his friend and collaborator, Texan Americana queen Jolie Holland. “It just took a long time to be sure about it. I was very fussy about how the songs were mixed and mastered because they were pretty much live room recordings. So

I basically had this thing mastered three times, which is just idiotic. Don’t do it!” 

Something else the pair has in common is strong political views of the green variety. Abel has an equally high-profile career as an environmental activist, and having seen him on the loudspeaker for Greenpeace at events like the March Against Mining in 2010, it has crossed my mind that he should be running New Zealand. “I would be unelectable,” he says. “I’m definitely interested in political activism but I’m more comfortable on the outside. Which probably explains my problem in life in general!”

Coddington is outspoken about the way female musicians are marketed and perceived. “I read an article about female singers saying, ‘These are the next Lordes.’ It wasn’t about their music but their social media abilities. ‘This girl does three posts a day and that’s what it takes.’ I feel like these current music trends have pushed women back into being singers and not players and producers.

“A lot are producing their own beats but they’re not perceived that way. They have to really overstate it: ‘I produce my own music.’ But when it’s a dude doing the same thing, it’s just a given.”

We discuss the moment when, as Abel puts it, “everything went Lordey” after the release of Lorde’s album Pure Heroine. “It was groundbreaking. Everyone around the world who heard it was like, ‘Oh, this is fresh and new.’ Then everyone was like, ‘I know what we need: a really awesome female vocal and some finger snaps!’ Because this album happened over that time, there was a little moment there when I was like, ‘Do I need finger snaps?’

I kind of considered it, then in the end I was like, ‘No, don’t do that.’ ” 

While Abel feels he will never live down his “melancholy melodramatic alternative balladry” image after being awarded The Saddest Song in the World competition in Berlin in 2009 (“Fucking hell! It just gets quoted everywhere”), Coddington says she has the opposite problem: she is not easily categorised. “My music’s a bit out on a limb and it’s a bit lonely. I wish I could group it with other things because I feel like I’vemade a really great record but it’s a bit of a hot potato.” 

She says while RNZ supports her, she’s not always “alternative and cool” enough to make it on to BFM. But is radio play still important? “For me, that’s a big one because you’re at risk of losing money when you go on tour with a band. Getting a number one on radio is one of the easiest ways to get the word out to lots of people at once.” Abel: “I’ve never had radio play apart from bits on RNZ. BFM did play one song which managed to get to number one – probably because it had Jolie Holland on it.”

A bonus source of revenue has been TV soap operas. Many of Coddington’s songs have featured on Home and Away while an Abel song once played on Shortland Street.

“I didn’t see it but apparently it was for a lesbian proposition scene. It was my most successful song ever: the duet with Kirstin Morell [Lonely I Be]. That’s all anyone wants to hear of me. I’m doomed to only be known for singing with more famous women.” 

Despite not being fans of the current government, both say it would be unreasonable to berate them for underfunding music, though that’s not to say they don’t see room for improvement. Under NZ On Air’s New Music funding scheme, musicians can be awarded $6000 for a project, the catch being that the musician has to contribute $2000. Alternatively there is a bigger project fund, but artists have to be signed with a major New Zealand label. “That’s older model stuff,” says Abel. “For me, I like having a manager – but you don’t need it. But it’s a requirement that you can’t get funding unless you’ve got that.” 

However, he says, local music is in excellent health. “I think the Auckland live scene is the best I’ve ever seen it. There’s an amazing amount of bands making really good, original music. Despite all the barriers and lack of money, people are making music anyway.”

And despite their musical differences, both are feeling the love for each other’s weirdly similarly monikered albums. “It’s my favourite of your work so far,” Abel tells Coddington. “It feels really solid, really strong. I love the feel of it.” Coddington: “I do feel like it’s more self-assured. I feel like when you get older and have babies, you don’t give a fuck what people think any more. And I’ve loved having time in the studio. It’s been a special treat, time to myself.” Abel too says he feels “more legitimate. I feel like I’m a real musician now that I’ve made three albums. I have less imposter syndrome.” 

And in a moment of extreme New Zealandness, he adds, “I feel like… I don’t know how to say this but… [incredibly long pause] it’s good.” 

This article was first published in Paperboy magazine.
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