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Erny Belle: Away From Home

Erny Belle: Away From Home

Ngāpuhi singer-songwriter Erny Belle (Aimee Renata) finds influences for her dark Kiwi sound everywhere and in everything. Most drawn to her family hometown in Maungatūroto, her recently released debut album ‘Venus Is Home’ is an ode to the old, the new, and growing up in rural Aotearoa. Renata talked with Jemilah Ross-Hayes about the album.

How did you come up with the name Erny Belle?

Two different family names. Ernest was the name of my grandfather on my father’s side and Belle comes from my younger sister.

Who are your musical influences?

I listen to a lot of different music but I find this question difficult. It feels like I’m being asked, what artists did you decide to rip off to create your sound? Making music can be a spiritual experience, I’m influenced and moved by a lot of different things. I’m not necessarily inspired by other sounds to create a certain sound, it could be an emotion, a dream, an object, lighting, words, or the time of day, sober or intoxicated. There are many people musically I look up to and respect. I love a lot of music that has come out of Aōtearoa, especially Pauly Fuemana from OMC.

You’ve woven Maoritanga into your music alongside a country music influence – a challenge?

It feels natural because country music and Maoritanga, for me, go together like butter and bread. I think I’d try to weave it wherever I can.

How did you find returning to a city space after two years back in Maungatūroto?

Strange. My heart sinks as I drive back over the harbour bridge and see that big old needle sky tower sticking out. It’s an instant adaptation. The days disappear faster. I just get on with it.

What’s been the biggest challenge in releasing your debut album?

The amount of work and money that goes into the release was quite full-on. I worked non-stop without days off for two to three months leading up. I had a lot of support and my workload was eased by my good friend Matt Hunter who shot my first two videos for me and helped organise the shoots. It felt like a mania. I think I overcame the intensity because I was riding on adrenaline and determination. It was a high, working on my own creative projects for the first time in my life, not having to work a day job at the same time.

Your father also shot a music video with you, right? How was that for you both?

Yeah. It was special and beautiful, but difficult at times. I think he took on a lot. He put a lot of pressure on himself to do the best job because his heart was in it. Sometimes that can make for a stressful dynamic. I had to hold myself together pretty well. I will always remember it and think of it as a magical experience.

How has it been navigating a release in the last two Covid years?

Bizarre and annoying, but I wouldn’t know it any other way. It just felt like it was supposed to happen now (or then), I wasn’t prepared to wait for a pandemic to blow over. Could’ve been waiting forever. In fact, the lockdowns gave me plenty of time off work to get the creative projects done and think about what I wanted for myself.

Who did you record with and where?

We recorded at my father’s recording studio up north in Maungatūroto, Northland. Colleen Brennan, the bassist from Solid Gold Hell was the sound engineer. The band members stayed for a week there and we recorded the bones. Tiare Kelly, Rewi McClay, Laszlo Reynolds, and William Jackson. Then I took it to get mixed by Morgan Allen in Auckland. Then I went back up months later and re-recorded Burning Heaven and Sorry Not Sorry alone at the studio with Jackson on percussion. It was a bit of a to and fro situation getting to the point of it being finished.

Anyone else involved behind the scenes?

Some friends and family helped cook meals for the band when we were recording up north, which lent a hand on the video clips. My father. Friends that let me ramble endlessly about my visions and doubts and dreams. People who gave me wanted advice and had me stay at their homes to write or work, and listen to demos.

What was the first song you wrote for ‘Venus Is Home’? 

The first song I wrote was Venus Is Home, so it’s quite old I think I was about 20. I had no idea that it would end up being on the album. It was originally called Maungatūroto, which is where the album is recorded and where Venus lived.

You said that this album is for your nana Venus, how has her presence in your life inspired you musically?

It’s for her, myself, and anyone. It’s more of a salute and a kiss blown to her in the wind, an acknowledgment to the end of an era. Her presence has inspired my entire being so I think the fact that she passed around the time I released the album meant it sort of just worked out that way. It wasn’t planned.

A lot of your lyrics speak to rather familiar small-town NZ things, like popping down to the Four Square and having your nana live up the road. 

Growing up in Aotearoa has significantly shaped my music because I’m a part of it. I think I feel nostalgia for old-school rural NZ like I do for buying 5c lollies at the dairy! There’s something comforting for instance, about the fact that there has been a Four Square in Maungatūroto since I was born, like with my nana having lived up the road from it and never selling. Sometimes that feeling feels like a sickness, maybe I need the consistency.

What’s the metaphor behind Hell Hole?

A place of suffering.

One big project done and dusted, what’s coming next?

I don’t know if it will ever be done and dusted. I think this will continue into the next body of music, and it will all just feel like a never-ending project that hopefully goes on forever.