By RUBEN MITA

 

The Bandcamp page for Wellingtonian band Maple Syrup’s debut album, Who Is Maple Syrup, features a Patti Smith quote in the description: “Rock’n’Roll is dream soup, what’s your brand?” When I rebound this question to lead singer, guitarist, and self-proclaimed “huge Patti Smith fan” Vera Ellen, she lays her group’s specific brand out in full. “Gentle garage melodies with a cut-throat rock ’n’ roll twist for your mum to dance to when she can’t sleep at 2 AM.”

Ellen is answering my questions from LA, where she is currently playing in two other bands, Sweater and Girl Friday. She also played her first solo shows the week before our interview, one in Hollywood and one in Indio, California. “They were both pretty strange but I always love performing, so I had a groovy time. The show in Indio kept getting delayed so I ended up playing at like 1 AM to a room of hippies.”

Ellen, fellow guitarist/vocalist Jerry Ramirez, bassist Lukas Jury, and drummer Tarquin Smith, make up Maple Syrup and they released Who Is Maple Syrup in March this year. As Ellen recounts, the band recorded the album in a bunch of live takes, give-or-take a few vocal and guitar overdubs, over the span of a single weekend. It came to life under the production of Oliver Devlin, of fellow Wellingtonian band Hans Pucket, someone Ellen describes as the “perfect man to help us get the live sound we wanted. We basically chose the songs that we had been playing live that felt the most like the sound we wanted as a band.”

The album was released on Spotify and on Bandcamp as a free/pay-what-you-want download; as Ellen explains “at this point it’s more important for us that people hear and get something out of our music than anything else.” However, she thinks that in the long run paying for music is crucial. “We are in an awkward interim period where there isn’t really a sufficient model in place to ensure that artists get paid. It’s insane that you can have people all over the world love your music and be totally broke working at a corner store for 10 bucks an hour. If you are trying to make any sort of living, I don’t think Spotify is the way to go.”

Photo of Maple Syrup by Tamara Jones.

Maple Syrup. Photo by Tamara Jones.

Maple Syrup began life as the folk-influenced project of Ellen and Ramirez, before expanding to a four-piece and developing the grungier garage-rock sound they boast today. “I think as we develop as songwriters and musicians, what we listen to and enjoy slowly starts to align with what we play. We never particularly listened to much folk, we were just using what we had: acoustic guitars, limited guitar knowledge and plenty of lyrics.”

Indeed, the art of songwriting occupies a large portion of our discussion. On the album track Keep Me Sane, Ellen sings “my guitar is the very thing that keeps me sane,” and when I highlight this she confirms that she finds songwriting cathartic in that way.

“The older I get the more I realise how important music is to me and my daily existence. There are so many things about the world that make me uncomfortable and miserable and if I didn’t have music as an outlet I think I would go absolutely crazy.” Another track, album highlight Isla-Mae was written for and named after her “darling niece,” who she wrote it for before having met for the first time. “I hope to play it to her when she is older. It’s my ode to her so she knows I would do anything for her.”

As for her and the band’s home city, Ellen holds an optimistic view of the music scene, a view that has only been clarified by her time in the US. “What kills me about Wellington is that there is such an abundance of talent. I have been to so many shows here in LA and it really makes me appreciate the density of raw talent in Wellington.”

However, as far as careers are concerned, she says there is little opportunity if you want to move beyond the local scene. “I wouldn’t move to Wellington to pursue music, I would move to Wellington to get an education about music. And see some kickass bands.” (The particular list of “kickass bands” she mentions includes Hans Pucket, Mermaidens, Fuzz Queen, Draghound, ONONO, Aura, and Benny’s Videos. “So many!”)

 

Check out Ruben’s review of Who Is Maple Syrup right here!

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