Rikki Morris is one of the best-known faces of New Zealand '80s music.
The younger brother of the late Th' Dudes member Ian Morris, he has held about every position possible in music – he's been a roadie, sound man, band member, songwriter, producer, popstar, studio manager and talent spotter.
He had a number-one hit with Nobody Else in 1988, won an APRA Silver Scroll in 1991 for his song Heartbroke, and has worked with top Kiwi artists, including Gin Wigmore, Lorde, Peter Urlich and even Sir Paul Holmes. But there's one singer who's captured Rikki's heart more than any other – his 19-year-old daughter Oni Kidman.
"Oni is incredible," says the proud dad, 63. "She has an amazing ability to write really good words. I'm the opposite. When I write, music always comes before lyrics, but Oni has the words in her head. She knows how to create a story."
"I remember when I was about five or six, Dad put on karaoke songs and he'd let me make up my own words to go with the music," recalls Oni, who grew up with her mum Tina Kidman, and regularly visited her father, who lived in the same Auckland suburb of Devonport.
"I'd often play piano with him. A lot of my memories involve Dad and I making music together. I still have a CD we made in 2009, when I must have been five or six – it's a 10-minute rendition of me singing Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King, but I'm making up all my own words!"
It would be easy to think that having a musical dad would make being a musician a breeze – but Oni has dyslexia. While it's widely known that people with dyslexia struggle to read, write and spell, the learning disability can also impact a child's ability to read, decode and interpret music. But dyslexia is no barrier for this determined teen.
Oni left school at 15, and Tina and Rikki happily encouraged her passion for music. She had singing lessons with New Zealand pop icon Suzanne Lynch of The Chicks fame, and spends much of her time with guitar in hand or sitting at the piano writing and singing music.
Her style is very different to her father's. "Dad's music has… I think, a very specific sound," Oni teases, playfully.
"Careful now!" jokes Rikki.
"I love country music," she says. "Dad was a huge influence on my little four-year-old self, of course, but these days my songs are more contemporary country, like Taylor Swift and Keith Urban."
Oni's also a huge fan of American singer-songwriter and country music superstar Luke Combs, whose recent hit, a remake of the iconic Tracy Chapman song Fast Car, reached number one on the Billboard US Country Airplay Chart.
"Her music is very contemporary – she's not a 'headin' down Route 66' type!" says Rikki. "Country is a popular genre now, so it's happening at the right time."
As well as being her dad, Rikki is Oni's producer and records all her songs. He's also her manager as she attempts to break into the mainstream music scene.
"Oni has an amazing ability with writing verses and choruses, and I'm teaching her some of the more technical aspects of how to write a song. I've also written the music for a couple of songs where she's created the lyrics. She's exceptionally intelligent musically, which in this business can make or break a song."
While Covid meant Oni's stage options were previously limited, she's gearing up now for the next stage in her career: performing to a live audience.
"I did quite a lot of performing when I was with Suzanne Lynch," she explains. "Once a term, she'd put on a live show for all the musicians she was teaching. That taught me how to feel comfortable singing in front of people. I've also sung with my dad on stage too. And I'd love to play internationally – my dream is to play the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville."
"Over the next year, the plan will involve playing gigs, supporting other artists at concerts, and perhaps finding herself a band to sing with," tells Rikki. "You have to play live or no one sees you. Yes, there's social media, but as a musician, you have to get out there and find your audience."
And that next step is well on its way for both dad and daughter. Oni's next single, What If I Don't Know, will be released digitally later in the year, while Rikki is releasing new music this month, with a 35th anniversary version of Nobody Else, this time with Anika Moa.
For now, it's about Oni getting experience and being heard. "Oni's very lucky because she has time," says Rikki. "When I was 19, I hadn't even started my musical journey. Oni is well on her way."
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