From the vantage point of NZMusician.co.nz, it’s sometimes easy to see when a new artist is kicking up more dust than any of their contemporaries, simply based on digital statistics. So it was three years ago with Bene, even before she added a second ‘e’ and went on to become the country’s dominant pop force. And so it has been in 2020, with another budding Auckland pop artist named Paige Tapara – though to be fair she showed she could crack the interweb with her own podcast Paige’s Space early on. Signing to Sony Music NZ then Arista, a whirlwind couple of years recording and performing including opening slots for a bunch of big-name acts and social media props from superstars Lizzo and Billie Eilish, meant that by the time her sophomore EP ‘Always Growing’ dropped in July, Paige had her own global audience. Chris Bates caught up with the 23-year old in a quiet Auckland café.
The first line in the chorus of Too Much To H8, currently her most popular song on Spotify, says ‘I don’t drink coffee, I’m sorry. I get anxious and I shake.’ So clearly the most important question to ask Paige, especially being in a cafe, was what she drinks instead. Then came the shocker.
“I started drinking coffee during lockdown… I needed a routine for lockdown cos it was like, I needed something to do everyday… The first thing I did was get up and get my large mocha. It has to be a sweet coffee though, ’cos I can’t have a coffee. This is a mocha, so it’s different,” she insists.
Her sweet tooth apparently developed from three years working at Krispy Kreme – doughnuts! She’d still been worked there only two weeks prior to our interview. It’s remarkable she stayed on so long even after her music began taking off, but over time it understandably grew to be too much. Now it’s music full time.
“I just had to keep cancelling shifts, ’cos I’d get booked in for a session with Josh Fountain –and I wouldn’t be able to reschedule it because it’s Josh Fountain!”
Fountain is Paige’s primary producer, and quite likely New Zealand’s most in-demand pop producer currently, given his close association with other huge artists such as Benee.
“The day I met Josh Fountain I wrote Bloom, and then we wrote another song in the same day, ’cos he’s so fast and it’s so easy to make pop songs with him.”
Waves is another song on Paige’s EP that’s actually been in existence for a few years.
“I feel like Waves got to the point that I really wanted it to be, and I didn’t think it’d get there. It took so long because I didn’t have any sort of management, I didn’t have funding to get it produced by someone that could make it real good, so I waited. I was like, I’ll wait because one day I’ll be able to get it produced real well… Luckily Josh helped me with it and he did such a good job, which was mean, he’s the man.”
After having waited so long, she explains the surreal moment she received the final Waves production on a flight to New York last year, not long turned 20 and on her way to sign a record deal with Arista, an American branch of Sony.
“I was like, okay, this better be it because we’d gone through it a few times, and I was listening on the plane and I was like, ‘Oh man, this is how I wanted it.’ And he finished Yellow the same day!”
New York is an extreme contrast for someone coming from Clarke’s Bay, a beach suburb an hour south (with no traffic) of Auckland CBD, itself a small city to global standards. Paige says she finds that city/beach contrast healthy, and even enjoys driving the route most days.
“I don’t mind the drive because I feel like when I drive I listen to albums on the way in. I listened to Little Mix on the way today, their new album. Loved it. I love Little Mix, I think they’re awesome. It’s a bit corny but I love it. I love pop. I love pop music. I’m still buzzing cos it was great.”
Perhaps some of this instinct can be credited to MAINZ, where she studied pop music, but with two more years left to go she decided it was time to leave.
“I only wanted to do MAINZ because I wanted to meet people that could help me do my music. I was there for three years and then after I signed with Sony I was off.”
She had met her bandmates there and hit the jackpot with lecturer/producer/songwriter Noema Te Hau, who taught her music production. He was the first person gathered up along the way in her growing team, and consequently important in shaping her sound.
“I was only doing acoustic stuff because I didn’t have anyone that could help put my music together, so I’d only do acoustic. And then I met Noema and when he kind’a helped me put my stuff together, I was like, ‘Oooh, this getting fun.’”
Throughout our interview Paige comes across as a very well-grounded individual who certainly values the people around her, the same going for her fellow NZ musicians.
“I used to be that person that was like, ugh, New Zealand… I wanna go to America. And then like, I love the music coming out of NZ. More than probably anywhere to be honest, all my favourites are from NZ. I love Benee… I love Wells, Navvy, Leisure, Vayne, there’s so many cool Kiwi artists doing stuff and I love it.”
Her ‘Always Growing’ EP is one of the strongest pop projects to come out of NZ this year, as witnessed by Paige being finalist in both the Best Pop Artist and Breakthrough Artist of the Year categories at November’s Aotearoa Music Awards. ‘Always Growing’ blends her acoustic background (in evidence on Waves and Hit n Run) with her evident love of easy pop. There are also hints of RnB in her melodies, perhaps a precursor to where she might next be heading musically.
The EP is well named, each song thoughtfully written with its own unique flair, her natural pop music sensibility matched with a global sounding pop production that the rest of the world should totally be listening out for.