Good Things Take Time

Erny Belle’s debut album Venus Is Home is worth the wait, says Leonard Powell.

For a truly multisensory experience, listen to Erny Belle on Spotify while reading.

The rush of discovering an artist at the start of their artistic journey is a fun one, full of intrigue and excitement. I first heard Erny Belle in lockdown last October, and immediately forwarded the song to friends. The track was ‘Burning Heaven', the first single from debut album Venus Is Home. Accompanied by an enchanting music video shot in the countryside, the song made a strong opening impression and fuelled anticipation of what was to come next. Venus Is Home was released on 11 February, and its divine folk songs have remained on steady rotation at our flat ever since.

Erny Belle is the artist persona of Aimee Renata (Ngāpuhi), a Tāmaki Makaurau-based musician whose stage name is a combination of a nickname and an old family name. Her music certainly could be described as a mixture of country and folk, with vivid storytelling at the front and centre. There is a classic feel to the sound and, in a blind listen, you would be hard pressed to identify the era it was made. The independent release feels professional and thought out, a testament to her vision for her art.

“‘Burning Heaven’ made sense as the first single, as it’s about creation and patience. A lot of people around me knew how much work I put into the album, how long it took to get to the point of release, so it made sense to open the floor with that.”

The rush of discovering an artist at the start of their artistic journey is full of intrigue and excitement

This patient approach to her musical craft stuck out to me. How did she pass up on the ‘thirst’ common among up-and-coming artists to get their work finished and heard? The refinement on display here shows no haste to seek a quenching validation. According to Aimee, the music is bigger than her ego.

“There were many times where I thought the album was complete, only to find that months later I was changing or adding something; or a year down the line, I was re-recording an entire track. I think the work decides when it’s done, and I’m just the gatekeeper that says, yes, you can come through now. My intention was to do what’s best for the music instead of releasing something out of desperation to get quick validation, or because other people were pushing me to get something out into the world. I believed in the work, so I took it seriously and took my time.”

This reminds me of the ‘Burning Heaven’ lyric “good things take time”. Aimee had attempted to record an EP back in 2016, but it didn’t work out or feel right. “There was a lot of growth and learning to be had. It was hard to accept that I had a lot of work to do, but I’m glad I was able to be honest and harsh with myself. Yeah, bad things take time too.”

The result of the painstaking recording process is nine songs that fit beautifully together. The clarity of Aimee’s ideas stays constant throughout the record, never overpowered or overdone. The minimalism and subtlety of the production let her lyricism shine. Gentle drums, upright piano and slippery guitars make Venus Is Home sound instantly nostalgic. The vocals stand strongly above the instrumentals, and make the listener engage with the worlds being painted in each song. Lap steel guitar and violin also appear, intertwining with Aimee’s effortless melodies to add a distinctive texture.

Aimee co-directed the music videos with Matt Hunter (also known as Kenny Sterling); the visual rollout of Venus Is Home is clean and striking. Also a costume designer in the film industry, Aimee made the most of her skills and connections to pull together the visuals, combining lush country scenes with an array of striking outfits and unique dances. “I like blending the worlds; I’d love to make music videos for other people one day.”

Gentle drums, upright piano and slippery guitars make Venus Is Home sound instantly nostalgic

The depth of imagery is on full unfiltered display in the track ‘Nuclear Bombs’. A gentle bed of electric and lap steel guitar is accompanied by contrasting lyrics describing just about every terrible thing you can imagine, a true worst-case scenario. Her use of such shocking storytelling is admirable, and leaves the listener unsure whether to laugh or cry.

I’m gonna go and smoke some p

And put my baby in a washing machine

And pray to god that a nuclear bomb’s gonna kill me

I’m gonna get liquored up

And drive down the road real fucked up

And probably kill some innocent life on the way

Now all the fish have been poisoned

From all of our shit running into the ocean

I’m praying for a nuclear bomb

The second single, ‘Hell Hole’,explores the reality of a Māori woman living in Tāmaki, and the suffocating feeling that can at times come with it.

“My relationship with Tāmaki is quite simple – work to pay rent – and it's just where I've lived most of my life. In terms of my Māori identity within Auckland, I guess I feel disassociated from it when I’m here. I live an individualistic way of life, I’m surrounded by a majority of non-Māori people, I lost my language within the education system, it’s very easy to lose touch.”

‘Hell Hole’,explores the reality of a Māori woman living in Tāmaki Makaurau, and the suffocating feeling that can come with it

Maungaturoto clearly has a huge place in Aimee’s life and is laid out in the title track and final song, ‘Venus Is Home’. The small-town aspect is masterfully depicted, where the news of Aimee's lover doing a runner gets around town and she is the last one to know about it. Aimee’s late nana, named Venus, is at the heart of the track, and the song brings a fitting and sombre but soothing end to the project. “I didn’t grow up in Maungaturoto, but it’s my tūrangawaewae. My grandparents have lived in the same house since the 50s.”

Aimee says spending time up in Te Tai Tokerau helps her make more sense of herself, and she tries to head north whenever she can. “It’s really easy and comfortable to slip back into keeping to yourself when you live in the city; it’s sad, and I don't want to be that way.”

“People from small rural towns, I think whether they’re Māori or not, look out for each other. They check in on each other by turning up at the house rather than calling or texting. When fish are caught, oysters are picked, chutneys are made, or cakes baked, they share food.”

An affinity for the simpler life bleeds through the bones of Venus Is Home

An affinity for the simpler life bleeds through the bones of Venus Is Home. It makes sense that the album was largely written and recorded in the shed at Aimee’s father’s farm in Maungaturoto before being gradually pieced together and mixed with Morgan Allen in Devonport.

From my first listen I found sonic comparisons between Erny Belle and local icon Aldous Harding. These come especially in ‘Burning Heaven’, through the minimal production and the quirky accompanying dance moves on display in the music video. After reading this article where Aldous speaks about slipping into the character of Aldous and never looking back, I ask Aimee if she felt a similar way with Erny Belle. She laughs, “Replace slipping with crawling! There’s a feeling that something’s caught hold, and it’s not going to let go.”


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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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