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Interview: Vera Ellen, Reb Fountain and Voom - Nationwide Tour

Interview: Vera Ellen, Reb Fountain and Voom - Nationwide Tour

Chris Cudby / Tuesday 14th May, 2024 10:30AM

Winner of the prestigious 2024 Taite Music Prize for her breakout third album Ideal Home Noise, Vera Ellen is linking up with 2021 Taite winner Reb Fountain and legendary fellow Flying Nun Records alums Voom led by Buzz Moller for a four date nationwide tour. We were privileged to have the star-powered trio along for a group-chat chinwag, brought together by the video magic of Zoom, with UTR's Chris Cudby passing around the virtual talking stick. Playing together in Ōtautahi, Ōtepoti, Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Tāmaki Makaurau, these Aotearoa icons shared invaluable insights into the art of songcraft, live performance, artists they admire, potential special guests for the tour and more. Look out for Ellen's new Heartbreak For Jetlag EP out this Friday and don't miss this titanic team-up from 30th May onwards — brought to you by Eccles Entertainment...

Voom, Vera Ellen, Reb Fountain National Tour

Thursday 30th May - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch*
Friday 31st May - Errick’s, Dunedin
Saturday 1st June - Great Hall, Wellington
Sunday 2nd June - Powerstation, Auckland

Tickets on sale now from

Chris Cudby: ‬Welcome to the conversation room today. I see my role as hopefully enabling conversation between the three of you‪... we‬’ll have to figure out how it works as it goes along‪,‬ but I do have some questions as well. If nobody wants to talk to each other then I've got plenty of questions that ‪I‬ can ask you all‪.

‬R‪eb Fountain‬: We love each other, we can talk to each other.‪ Chris you're included.

‬ ‪

‬Thank you. Are you each playing with bands for this tour?‪

‬R‪eb‬: We all have bands‪.

‬B‪uzz Moller‬: Yes, we all have bands. It's a rock and roll show!‪

‬ ‪

‬No solo stuff?‪

‬V‪era‬: Not for this one. ‪T‬he idea for this one is we wanted to feel really big and awesome‪. ‬I think bringing your band along is a real fun way to ensure that it's a good old rocking time. Because sometimes when you’re performing alone it's great but it can be a little solemn. That's definitely not the vibe of this show‪.

‬B‪uzz‬: And almost in the opposite direction of solo, we’ll probably end up at some point with all three bands on the same stage‪.

‬ ‪

‬Grand finale!

‬R‪eb‬:‪ ‬An opportunity to have a good time. Voom is a band, Vera Ellen I think of you as a band and I certainly am that in myself, you know? Reb Fountain is the sum of her many parts.‪

Vera: We may look like humans, but in fact...

‬ ‪

‬Just wondering ‪how‬ it actually came to be, this tour. ‪Did‬ somebody talk to someone else?‪

‬V‪era‬: I feel like I got an ominous text from Buzz, that's all I remember. Then all of a sudden, it was all happening and I was like, “This is very cool.” Obviously both Voom and Reb are absolute legends and I’m super honoured to be on this bill.‪

‬R‪eb‬: Same though Vera. It’s so cool to go out with your peers and make music and do a show together. We don’t get that opportunity‪ — ‬maybe if you’re playing at a festival you get to hang out backstage‪. We’re gonna get to listen to each other’s music, dance‪,‬ party, sing along probably. It’s a great privilege. I feel like somebody suggested the idea to me and we said “Yes.” That’s how it may have come about.

Someone asked you and you said "yes".

Reb: Well straight away. What a good idea and what a fun time. It’s a rare thing that you get invited to come and play a show with your peers like this. I think the last time we did something like this was probably the Flying Nun anniversary show which we were all a part of‪...‬ such a good time. In that case, I didn’t get to see these guys play ‪—‬ I think I managed to push the crowd to catch a little bit of Voom at the end. But this gig means we also get to enjoy each other, in a different way.

Buzz:‬ And we’re all on the same label. I think the original idea was ‪Brent Eccles‪, I think he came up with the original idea of having a threeway headline rolling tour through the country‪. H‬e asked me who I thought and I had a very short list‪... ‬Reb and Vera‪! ‬And they agreed!.

‬V‪era‬: Where is this list? [laughs] …‪ ‬having three acts on the same bill for four nights or whatever is just so cool and exciting‪. W‬hen we were talking earlier about what we feel like connects all of our music‪, ‬I definitely feel there's kind of a rock and roll spirit that goes through all of our three bands‪. I think we all also really value live performance and love performing live. I’m excited for that‪,‬ I feel like we all have a strong energy onstage, which ‪I think will m‬ake the show interesting‪.

‬R‪eb‬: ‪W‬hen I first saw you Vera, you played with us at San Fran maybe in Wellington, just that spark onstage and how much you enjoyed the performance of live music. It’s one thing to go, “I love a recorded song,” but it’s another thing to bring that to life onstage as an artist and excite the audience. That’s the same with Voom. I feel like with Voom I lose my mind when you guys play live. Something magical happens!‪

That's something you all share in common, you‬ all have fans wh‪o‬ would be very excited to see you play. To have you all playing together is a really special thing.‪

‬B‪uzz‬: ‪T‬here's ‬a good amount of difference between the three of us, to make that interesting over a couple of hours, you know? I’ll be at the front, watching those guys. I wanna learn, I find that a complete honour that you enjoy our band live Reb, because you’re amazing live and‪ s‬ame with you Vera‪.‬ I saw you sing ‪'‬The Carpenter‪'‬ at Whammy Bar‪. Completely blew me away‪, I was like “woah, where’d that song come from?” I went back and listened to it.

‬V‪era‬: Aw thank you‪. O‬bviously, absolute mega fan of both of you guys and again, I think two of my favourite New Zealand acts to see live for sure for that same reason.

‬B‪uzz:‬ The first time ‪I‬ met you Vera, you were standing in the front row of one of our gigs‪. ‬I gave you the microphone and you started singing. I was like, “Ah! You can join the band if you like.”‪

‬V‪era‬: ‪Please, Absolutely‪.

‬ ‪

‬ ‪

Buzz y‬ou’ve got a new song‪,‬ that’s named after and is about Mar‪t‬in Phillip‪p‬s from The Chills. Reb and Vera‪ —‬ if you were each to write a song about a NZ songwriter‪... ‬who would it be about and why? And Vera, I’m hoping that you’ll say Terry Shore‪, but it’s not compulsory.‬ ‪

‬V‪era‬: Oh wow‪. ‬I feel like Terry Shore is an absolute legend that's extremely under appreciate‪d. But also not really, I feel like the Terry Shore fanbase is very hardcore. Terry has such a strong spirit and has such an unbridled confidence and sincerity, that I feel comes through in all of his music and is extremely admirable and something I'd love to see more of. And then maybe Bic Runga honestly. Just ‪an ‬incredible songwriter and vocalist and instrumentalist. I love songs and songwriting, there’s so many‪ ‬amazing New Zealand songwriters! Maybe ‬Chris Knox as well. I could go on. ‪A‬lso obviously, present company excluded‪ because y'know.

Buzz‬: Because they’ll just write one back at ya.

‬R‪eb‬: Depends if it’s about a person or it’s got the person’s name in it I suppose‪. ‬I actually just did write a song for Tami Neilson recently‪ — ‬not for her to sing, but a song about her, for her. But far out, there’s just too many New Zealand songwriters‪.

‬ ‪

‬Would you have written songs in tribute to songwriters in the past?‪

‬R‪eb‬: I definitely wrote songs that were reactionary. [laughs] If I didn’t like something somebody was doing, then I might put a little jab in there somewhere in the tune. I definitely have done that and I won't name any names. But this one came out of some conversations and experience. It's just one of those turns that just came out one day and shared itself. I think that was probably through the connection that you have with people that really makes the difference‪,‬ so they become part of that living breathing sort of cycle that is writing lyrics to a song. I can only imagine that for you Buzz, with ‪'‬Martin'‬, they start being part of your life. It’s those lived experiences that end up in my lyrics, I suppose‪, so maybe that's why.

‬B‪uzz: ‬That ‘Martin Phillipps’ one, that was just me singing at a party. We were goofing around and that’s fully improvised, that song. I added some layers onto it afterwards, but it sat in my computer for 25 years and then people kept prodding me saying, “Oh you gotta send that to him, you gotta send that to him”‪.‬ ‪S‬o then I did and he was like “Aw!” I was worried that it was gonna offend him, because ‪it's‬ a bit cheeky at the beginning. My cousin Artie said, “No, no. He’ll love it because it’s about him.” So I sent it to him, and he did love it and he wanted to put it in his movie and stuff. ‪T‬hat wasn’t any intentional effort to write a song about someone, but ‪a‬ bit of an accident. ‪H‬e gave us his blessings, said "‬put it out, put it out‪"‬ so we did. ‪I‬t’s got lots of harmonies in it and he’s gonna come to our gig down in Dunedin‪. I was saying to (Reb and Vera) they should come on and help me sing the multi-harmony bit in the middle.

Reb: ‬Imagine Martin Phillip‪p‬s singing along to ‪'M‬artin Phillip‪ps'‬.‪

‬V‪era‬: That’d be great‪.

Reb: ‬Can we write a song about that? It just gets more and more meta.‪

‬ ‪

‬Any of you had songs written about you, that you know of?‪

Buzz:‬ Yeah. My friend Greta. She wrote a song called 'Buzz Is Getting Some Z's'‪. About me sleeping all the time.

‬V‪era‬: I feel like I’m usually the one writing songs about other people‪.

‬B‪uzz‬: I wasn’t sure if it was complimentary or not‪.

Vera: I think so.

‬You mentioned Buzz, that you wrote that song 25 years ago originally. Was that the original vocal take that you did‪?

‬B‪uzz: ‬Yeah‪. ‬Which was fully improvised. It was just a thing that I found in my computer the next day and it was so badly recorded. It’s a terrible recording, it’s a shocker. I’ve tried playing it on the piano a few times and it’s actually really beautiful. It's got really nice chords and everything‪,‬ but it doesn’t sound like it in that tune. I didn't wan‪t‬ to redo it.‪ Too lazy.

‬ ‪

‬I found it quite inspiring that you could have such a great song‪ ‬in backup from 25 years ago and just whip it out and be like, “here you go.”‪

Buzz: ‬Yep, I've got hundreds of those‪.

‬ ‪

‬ ‪

‬I guess there’s no use-by date on a great tune. W‬hen you’re playing a live show‪,‬ you can only play so many songs at one time and you‪'d‬ all have so much excellent material to work from‪. ‬How do you decide when a song that you really like‪,‬ ‪it'‬s time for it to move along from the setlist and make space for new stuff that you want to be playing live? ‪

‬V‪era‬: I’m terrible with this because I play a song like once live and then I’m like, “Done. Everybody’s heard it, no one wants to hear it again‪."‬ I get really anxious that everybody’s just sick of hearing me play the same material. Even my band gets so annoyed with me. Because we’ll learn a song, then I’m like‪,‬ ‪"R‬ight‪ i‬t’s out of the window‪.‬” I have to kind of be hustled into "Play your recorded material. Don’t make us learn entirely new songs in one week‪."‬ So I'm probably the worst person to ask that question. If I’m doing anything solo, I don't know what I'm playing until day of. Then I'll often play material that I’ve just written‪,‬ because I really like testing out material when it’s not ready.‪ That's my favourite moment to exercise it and then it will solidify live, which I like to do. I'm really terrible with playing things, yes. But I will be playing things. 

R‪eb‬: Bruce Springsteen when he came here, I think it was in Auckland, he was playing the whole of Born In The USA‪. Y‬ou’d have to think, “‪h‬ow many fucking times has he played that album?” We're all just loving it, right? It’s like the dream, you get to hear that whole record. And he’s playing them with as much heart and passion as ever and that was such a good lesson for me about that. You’d think in your mind that “Oh people have heard these songs so they’re old‪."‬ ‪M‬aybe they are to you. But to your audience, most of them may never have heard it before‪. Or they're just so excited because that's the one that they wanna hear‪.

‬V‪era‬: Exactly‪.

‬R‪eb‬: It’s a lesson for me to g‬et over myself and play the things‪.‬ ‪E‬specially if there's a couple songs that they always wanna hear. You have to play them, no matter what‪.‬ ‪

‬B‪uzz‬: It's like, not only the song but the way that you sing it. You know how Bob Dylan's ‪famous‬ for singing his songs with different melodies‪. S‬ome gig‪, my ‬daughter and all her friends were there and she came up afterwards‪ ‬and said, “Dad, you’re singing different melodies than on the record, and my friends wanting to sing along and they can’t!” She told me off‪. ‬I thought that I was singing it like the record‪, it'd just been a while.‬

R‪eb‬: I think that’s cool for Buzz, the exploration that you do with the song‪. E‬specially if you're singing songs that are twenty years old, or that you have sung a hundred times, you wanna make it fresh. I don’t know, when I play a song live I feel like I am embodying it almost for the first time, because you have to be so present in that moment to perform it. So other stuff’s going to happen, that’s kind of the magic‪.‬

Vera: ‬I always find that ‪— ‬I’ll put out a song and then I'll be doing it live and I’ll come up with a better melody for it. I’m like, “dammit.” ‪B‬ut it is also fun to create a new spirit in that song or something.‪

‬ ‪

‬ ‪

‬How important is it to express your political point of view lyrically in your music?‪

‬R‪eb‬: My lyrics are an expression of me and I am a political person. Politics is everything, the personal is political. ‪I guess what I try to do is write lyrics that feel universal though‪. You’re not necessarily dictating to someone or telling them what to do or think‪,‬ but providing an opportunity for them to explore maybe their own lives, or feel that something resonates with them‪.‬ ‪To me, a love song can be a political act‪,‬ just as much as writing something political can make someone feel teary. You never know what other people are gonna think of your lyrics‪. ‬I’ve had people come up to me and say, “‪c‬an you tell me about what this song means?‪"‬ I’m like, “‪w‬hat does it mean to you?” And they tell me this whole description about how it meant‪, about some breakup or whatever it is in their lives. It’s got nothing to do with what it was in many ways‪, initially for me but it doesn’t really matter?

I feel like songs are more like an imprint, an emotion or a feeling, that you’re trying to share with others‪ and m‬aybe it resonates for them too‪. R‬eally what we’re talking about is the human condition.‪ T‬hat's the cool bit for me‪,‬ because that's badass and political and strong and vulnerable all at once. ‪E‬verything gets imbued in that imprint, impression and they take it for what it is.‪ I sing about all the things I feel strongly about.

Buzz:‬ Good answer. I would say that I’m not overly political as a person and not overly political in my lyrics‪. I think the best politics revolves around looking after people and looking after individuals. I sort of think human beings, en mass‪e‬, tend to behave worse. Something about mass ideologies or humans and groups, tend to encourage individuals to do things in the name of the flag that they’re waving, that they wouldn’t necessarily do as an individual. ‪T‬he more that we treat each other as real people, as real individuals and not ideologies or things like that, then the more I think... everybody’s personal perspective should be enabled or encouraged‪.

Vera: ‬I think that was wonderfully said. I would say that I’m really interested in poetry and how words come together to mean a whole lot of things. I like the mystery of that and I’ll just leave it there.‪

‬ ‪

‬ ‪

T‬here’s been a bit of hubbub — I think there always is every year — with the Coachella festival ‪recently ‬and who's had a terrible performance or whatever. Do you have any memories of specific shows where things felt like they were sliding away?‪

Vera: I love that segue.

Reb: ‬What is going well though? I think we have this illusion that there's sort of perfect performance, but every time ‪is different. Every time there’s some fucked up technical issue. Every time you feel nervous, there’s all these other aspects‪.‬ ‪R‬eally to me anyway, it’s being present in the moment and giving a shit about that you’re there and caring about the people that have made the massive effort to come out and see you and try not to feel super depressed when stuff goes wrong. Trying to love yourself enough that you have your own back‪,‬ so that you’ll go and do the thing that you love to do... of course stuff goes wrong because nothing’s perfect.‪

‬B‪uzz‬: I was playing a gig at The Powerstation with Shihad back in the ‪'‬90s some time and I completely lost my voice in the middle of a song‪.‬ ‪I‬t just went ‪"*‬ah‪t*" like that and Mikey ‪Havoc jumped up on stage and finished the song for me. So that was a bad and a good moment at the same time‪.

‬ ‪

‬Which song was it?‪‬ ‪

Buzz: '‬Beth’‪s‬ ‪S‬ong‪'‬. It’s got that big high thing at the end and he nailed it.‪

Vera:‬ I feel like I've had so many lessons about this‪. I tend to be such a perfectionist, only when it comes to my own impossible standard of myself as a performer and musician. I think I have some kind of mental thing of like “‪i‬f you don’t exceed in this area then who are you?” Because that's the only thing you do. I think a lot of that, as Reb was saying, comes back to actually learning how to love and take care of yourself and recognise yourself as a human outside of being a performer‪. A‬lso‪,‬ that the more incredible production and all this amazing tech world that we’re in now‪,‬ where everything is just crisp and perfect, the more I come to appreciate all the shit that goes wrong‪. A‬ll the imperfections and the out-of-tune stuff and whatever that goes wrong in a live moment is actually sometimes the most precious thing in the world.‪

‬B‪uzz: ‬The more you can do that, the more vulnerable you can be, the more open you can be, the more expressive you can be‪. It's like that need to be perfect actually stops you from being yourself a lot of the time.‪

Reb: I‬n a way it’s a self-judgement, but it’s really a fear of other people judging you‪. T‬he freedom to be yourself on stage is something that you have to actively practise in your own life‪. ‬I feel like it’s really important to do that, so that I can reflect that to the audience. It’s terrifying to step into your own light and shine in the world, it's real hard‪,. But in that moment when you’re playing on stage and you can liberate yourself from those judgments, other people can see that. They feel touched by that‪.‬ I find live music so meaningful because of that. Because I’m wanting to come there, I want to see who you are, Vera or Voom to be their best selves. Accidents, ‪s‬tuff can happen, sound can be crap, doesn't matter, but if the vibe is there…‪

‬B‪uzz: Also it’s about the audience, it’s about the group thing, it’s not particularly about you. I remember hearing someone say that, “‪i‬magine that somebody had a big telephone in the room, they were holding it up, and on the telephone was your mum or someone like that or somebody who was sitting in hospital listening to the gig,‪"‬ right? And you and the audience are both doing a live show for the person down the phone‪.‬ ‪Y‬ou're in it with them, right? ‪"‬Come on, let’s do a good show.‪"‬ ‪"‬Okay, you sing along.‪"‬ It’s a very together thing that you do with the crowd‪. I‬t's not you performing something and the‪m‬ judging you. It's the complete opposite of that.‪

Reb: T‬hat's the cool thing that's so exciting about these shows. If there's three people or three hundred people or a thousand people in the audience, we're still gonna have a really great time. Part of it is necessitated by the audience's presence. They have come to join us in this moment‪,‬ so I feel that gratitude for the folks that do come along, because we can get to play it together. I’m honoured that anyone’s going to come and see us‪ ‬play and then we can have a real fucking great time. How cool is that?‪

‬ ‪

‬ ‪

‬I should probably wrap things up‪. Do ‬any of you have any closing remarks that you’d like to share?‪ ‪

‬B‪uzz‬: Are you in Auckland?‪ Y‬ou should come along‪. ‬If you come up to the front, I’ll stage dive on you.‪ ‬Have either of you guys ever jumped ‪on‬ an audience?‪ F‬loated around?‪‬ ‪

‬R‪eb‬: I’ve never done‪. Look, to be honest, I’d be a little bit scared‪.

Vera: Yeah, fair.

Reb: It’s like that trust fall, the fear of someone catching you‪.

‬B‪uzz‬: O‪k‬ay that’s our challenge for the tour eh?‪

‬R‪eb‬: Aw shit, if I could just run through in your set while you’re playing and I’ll stage dive off somewhere. Maybe onto Martin Phillipps‪.‬

‬B‪uzz‬: You gotta be careful there’s a pit in between‪.

‬R‪eb‬: I don’t wanna hurt Martin‪.

‬ ‪

‬Where is it in Auckland?‪

‬R‪eb‬: ‪The ‬Powerstation ‪— the perfect stage to stage dive off as well Chris, you'll be great.‪

‬ ‪

‬I chipped a tooth at The Powerstation stage diving to Head Like A Hole. I chipped it on my lip ring, in the ‪'90s‬.‪

Reb: ‬Ah! That's a good rock and roll story. My whole tooth came out before an Arts Festival show with The Eastern. I had to go on stage with no front tooth ‪—‬ I just ate a carrot and then it came out. It was hard work, I was like "I don't know if I can do this." Then my friend Adam McGrath got the whole audience singing "she's not toothless / she's just ruthless". [laughs]‪

‬V‪era‬: Ruthless Reb!‪

‬R‪eb‬: Toothless Ruthless Reb.‪

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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