Q&A with Annie Crummer

Auckland Philharmonia’s Robin Lane caught up with acclaimed New Zealand vocalist Annie Crummer ahead of her performance with the orchestra for Boogie Wonderland: Disco Ball. 

When it is time to get a boogie on, what are your go-to disco favourites for filling the dancefloor?
If I’m at a party, I’m not leaving until they play ‘Don’t Stop 'Till You Get Enough’ by Michael Jackson. I will hang around until they play it because I want to dance and a party is not a party until you play that song! I got the chance to support him on his New Zealand tour in November 1996, which was an amazing time.

Are there any hidden gem disco records you love that more people should know about?
Peter Brown's 'Dance with Me' is the first one that comes to my head. It really strips down exactly what makes a disco song. You hear everything in the mix - the high-hat, all the strings (which are such a big part of disco music) and bass. You have the mamas singing the backing vocals and the lead singing about dancing, it is a real 101 disco song. But I don’t think it became as popular as it should have been because it is quite sparse…but that’s what I like about it! 

The disco period was known for some rather bold fashion choices. Which style do you think should come back into vogue today and which should stay firmly locked away in the past where it belongs?
In preparation for this concert, I’ve been watching clips of Earth, Wind and Fire and I was just struck by their optical poptitude.  But I say bring it all back! Actually, if you look at some of the fashion these days a lot of it is already coming back. Who doesn’t love a bit of razzle dazzle, sparkle, sequins, and lycra? (RL – I pointed out to Annie that if I were to go out in public wearing lycra it would be cause for a public incident. She responded with her trademark infectious laugh and a gentle push of ‘Go on, maybe some Kylie Minouge hot pants?’ 

This is not your first time performing with the Auckland Philharmonia; you joined the orchestra for a previous disco concert back in 2018. What are your memories of that night?
As a non-classical singer, it is so rare to share a stage with an orchestra and I feel so blessed to have done it a number of times over the years. Hearing all those strings played live, I just stand there and stick my head into the sound and soak it all up. It is so delightful to hear disco music with a full string section and the luxuriousness of the brass, it’s hypnotic to be inside that mosh pit of sound. There are no synthesisers, everything is real and so organic. It is a real buzz to be in there amongst it. 

What has been a high point of your career so far?
I get asked this a lot and I have so, so many, but my one go-to answer that always comes to mind is performing with Sting. Back when I was supporting him on his tour of Australia and New Zealand, he came out and watched my full set. After that first set, he grabbed me and asked me to sing a duet with him. It was a song called ‘Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot”. There have been so many highlights in my career but that is one of the coolest ones. 

Sir Andrew Davis 2000x1300
Annie Crummer performing on stage with Sting in the early 1990s Photo credit: Photo by Garry Brandon. RipItUp Archives.

Do you follow any rituals or routines before you go onstage?
There is such a big difference between waiting to go on stage and performing. When you are waiting you are still pretty much on earth, but I step on stage, or the curtain rises and BAM. I just get into this hypnotic state, and I am glad I do because I don’t want to be conscious. What stupid idiot would go and sing in front of a crowd of people? But this is where all the hours of preparation kick in, rehearsing and getting ready for the show. In the hours before a show, it is about taking the time to calm down, shut out the outside world and try to be normal. Then, as you put on your makeup and costume, you do whatever it takes to make you that confident person that can give that performance. I also take the time to warm up my voice and get it ready. At my age, I sometimes have to give my voice the heads up in advance if it needs to do a big job for me. 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? 
Just give it a go, you never know what is out there. I don’t remember who said this to me as a kid, but it stuck with me. That is what made me fearless to walk through those audition doors and enter all those talent quests back in the day.

What advice would you give to a young aspiring singer?
The one thing that has always helped me, maybe due to my dyslexia, is to master the art of listening. Whenever I find myself getting stuck, I go back and listen to the song because that is where the answers are. It is up to us as performers to take a step back for a second and just listen to what the song is telling us. Life is not like Glee, where the performance just appears, you must do the preparation and work to get the performance you want out of yourself. 

This event is raising funds for the Auckland Philharmonia’s Learn & Participate programme. In your opinion, why is access to music and the arts important for our tamariki and the wider Auckland community?
I’m learning about all the incredible work the orchestra does off the stage in the community. I love this kaupapa, giving life to life by helping to raise funds for our future artists and music makers. I wish I had had access to these kinds of programmes and support back in the day. I’m so glad that parents get to see their child’s passion in music getting the support of the Auckland Philharmonia. It’s such joyous, glorious, innocent and pure work. 

Boogie Wonderland: Disco Ball
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