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Song You Need to Know: Vera Ellen, ‘Carpenter’

The hopeful anthem is the lead single from the Wellington singer-songwriter’s new album, ‘Ideal Home Noise’

Vera Ellen

Nicola Sandford

The parasitic music industry has claimed many victims over the years, and none more heartbreakingly so than Karen Carpenter. The truly stunning vocalist, with a voice of a generation, was cruelly exploited by her domineering family, presenting a wholesome all-American image while internally struggling with eating disorders.

In 1983, at the age of just of 32, Carpenter died from complications relating to anorexia nervosa. While nobody’s life should be used didactically, one lesson that could be taken from Carpenter’s tragic loss was not to keep emotions bottled up inside.

Almost 40 years to the day since Carpenter’s death on February 4th, 1983, Wellington singer-songwriter Vera Ellen released “Carpenter”, the first single off her new album, Ideal Home Noise. And although she didn’t explicitly mention the late singer in press, Ellen’s description of the song’s meaning certainly seems to fit.

“We are all quietly fighting our own battles,” she said. “There is a feeling I get about having to fight them alone, keeping them close to my chest in shame. But I think we really all need to learn how to lean on each other.

“We would be more compassionate people, if we had the slightest window into someone else’s experience; their pain, their fear, their life. “Carpenter” is inspired by that. It’s a desperate cry, but there’s a triumph in being able to ask for help.”

Ellen’s “desperate cry” is a genuinely rousing anthem: sparse instrumentation allows the heavily emotional textures of her voice to command proceedings, all darkness and light, power and grace.

Where last year’s rollicking single “Homewrecker” was reminiscent of Courtney Barnett at her droll best, “Carpenter” more closely recalls a one-person powerhouse version of Chastity Belt. And it’s probably unnecessary to even compare Ellen in this way, because there haven’t been many more singularly exciting singer-songwriters to emerge from these shores in several years.

“Carpenter” features on Ideal Home Noise, which will be the follow-up to Ellen’s 2021 album It’s Your Birthday. That record earned her a nomination for the prestigious Taite Music Prize, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her achieve that feat again this year.

According to Ellen, the songs on Ideal Home Noise were gathered from intense bouts of introspection, as well as an attempt to find some lightness in an otherwise dark period. “If It’s Your Birthday was about relationships and love and strife between myself and others; then Ideal Home Noise is about love and strife between myself and myself,” she explained.

While you wait for the release of Ideal Home Noise next month (pre-save/pre-order here), you can watch the music video for “Carpenter” below. Directed by the always-interesting Sports Team, the clip is the first in a series of three from the filmmaking team.

“It’s been a total dream working with Vera Ellen and band on the visuals for their new music… We hope it leaves you confused enough to want to see what happens next, but not so confused that you feel like you’ve just watched Tenet for the first time,” Sports Team said about the collaboration.

Following the release of her new album, Ellen and her band will embark on a short national tour, beginning in Dunedin on album release day and concluding in with a hometown show the following month (see full dates below).

Vera Ellen’s “Carpenter” is out now. Ideal Home Noise is out Friday, March 31st via Flying Nun Records. 

Vera Ellen National Album Tour

Tickets available now via ticketfairy.com

Friday, March 31st
Dive, Dunedin

Saturday, April 1st
Wunderbar, Christchurch

Friday, April 14th
Whammy, Auckland

Saturday, April 15th
San Fran, Wellington