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Resident has an alternative edge

The latest recipient of a New Zealand Pacific Studio [NZPS] residency in Wairarapa is already a prominent name in alternative music.

Winner of the last year’s Best Alternative Artist at the Aotearoa Music Awards, musician Vera Ellen has toured in New Zealand and internationally and is now staying in Greytown for two weeks.

On finding out she was selected for the place, Ellen said she was “physically jumping around in excitement”.

“It was one of those divine intervention moments,” Ellen said.

“I had actively been looking for a getaway, I just need to get out of the city noise and find somewhere quiet to work on music.”

Juggling fulltime work with music, Ellen said it can be difficult to find the time or space necessary to spark creative drive.

“It just really puts all the actual creative side of it to the wayside sometimes,” Ellen said.

“I think having this opportunity to actually dedicate time, and that be the intention of the trip, is an absolute godsend.”

Ellen was welcomed to Wairarapa recently with a dinner and was given a quilt made by Come Sew With Me’s Heather Bannister and a kete to keep during her time in Wairarapa.

She will spend two weeks in Greytown before finishing the residency with a solo gig.

Not having spent much time in Wairarapa before, she said it will be very different from her usual day-to-day routine – in the best way.

“I live with four other girls and I work on Cuba St, so really different,” Ellen laughed.

“I’m someone who really thrives when I’m alone and I have silence, as much as I can totally drive myself crazy as I think anybody would. But I think I’ll do really well
in that kind of situation.”

Ellen wants to use the residency to flesh out new song ideas and conceptualize what her fourth album might look and sound like.

Countering the darker themes of her past record – ‘Ideal Home Noise’ – she said she could see themes of love and community peering through, something potentially aided by support from the region.

“I think it will inspire themes of community and connection, even from what I’ve gathered so far,” Ellen said.

“I’ve already been invited to different dinners, so I love that.”

When it comes to the writing process, Ellen said she tries to have the lyrics done first.

Ellen’s latest album received high praise.

“I find if I’m trying to write lyrics to a melody, that’s when it doesn’t feel as authentic,” Ellen said.

“Sometimes you have to do it. But I’d rather have the lyrics there first, then it’s less about me trying to make something work.”

Ellen said her process for writing changes with every song, and ranges from leaving herself incomprehensible voice memos and recording a baseline with her voice into her phone at 3am, to occasions when a song all pours out at once.

“I made a good habit of keeping my phone by my bed because there have been so many times when I’ve dreamt about a melody,” Ellen said.

“It’s always just mumbling, but sometimes I can get one thing from it and that’s all it takes.”

The NZPS residency programme was founded in Wairarapa in 2001 and provides up to three residencies each year for writers, musicians and artists.

Ellen is the third recipient of a residency this year, with New Zealand writers Natasha Lampard and Juliette MacIver completing residencies in April and May.

The studio’s chair Madeleine Slavick said Wairarapa provides the best of both worlds when it comes to those pursuing creative endeavours.

“It’s accessible to Wellington and other centres, but it feels like such a getaway,” Slavick said.

“We’re all about giving writers, artists, and musicians the time to focus and get the work done.”

Noting Ellen’s fulltime job outside of her musical endeavours, Slavick said she hopes this time will serve as a space to hone her creativity.

“It’s a great time for her to drop those responsibilities,” Slavick said.

Ellen will finish her residency by playing an Up Close and Personal show on Sunday 27 August in Greytown. Tickets for this are available on Eventfinda.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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