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‘Still in Shock’: Vera Ellen & Jujulipps Reflect on Taite Music Prize Wins

Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with the main prize winners backstage for a chat about their big wins

Vera Ellen at the 2024 Taite Music Prize

Vera Ellen

Dave Simpson

The Taite Music Prize has concluded for another year, with Vera Ellen and Jujulipps claiming the top honours.

Vera Ellen, winner of the main Taite Music Prize for her excellent second album Ideal Home Noise, gave a heartfelt acceptance speech thanking her Welsh ancestors, as well as the female artists who paved the way for her. Onstage, she celebrated with her album producer and bandmate Ben Lemi. 

Ideal Home Noise saved me from a difficult time in my life, as music continues to do so for me. I had many nights where I thought it was so rubbish… what if I haven’t given enough, what if you can’t hear in my vocal inflections that I care, cause I really bloody do.” 

“I’m a product of the beautiful music scene here in Aotearoa, but we need more venues and infrastructure and respect the mana of musicians that they are being paid. Music is important to our mental health and quality of life. Thank you so much and free Palestine,” she concluded.

Jujulipps won the Auckland Live Best Independent Debut for her EP Get That Shot, one of last year’s standout releases from Big Pop Records. “[I’m] really grateful to be standing here. I really enjoy creating art and making music. What the heck!” the rising rapper said.

The ceremony took place at Auckland’s Q Theatre, featuring a trio of performances. Last year’s winner, Princess Chelsea, kicked off the show with a searing rendition of the title track from last year’s winning album. Then Lawrence Arabia, the Taite Music Prize’s inaugural winner from 2010, took the stage to perform “I’ve Smoked Too Much” from his album Chant Darling, released the same year as his Taite win.

These two acts also joined forces to pay tribute to Independent Music NZ Classic Record winner Look Blue Go Purple with a cover of “Circumspect Penelope”, described by MC Sarah Thomson as potentially the next big Aotearoa supergroup, Princess Arabia.

Amidst the onstage excitement, Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with the winners backstage for a chat about their big win, which you can read below.

Find the full list of 2024 winners here. Find out more about the Taite Music Prize here.

Taite Music Prize

L-R: Ben Lemi and 2024 Taite Music Prize winner Vera Ellen

2024 Taite Music Prize Winner Vera Ellen 

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: Congratulations on winning the 2024 Taite Music Prize! How are you feeling?

Vera Ellen: I’m honestly still in shock. You know how you think that people will secretly know, and then they just act shocked? Like, no, I literally didn’t know. I remember just sitting there when they were announcing the nominees, just feeling so happy because I’m like, “Look at all these amazing nominees I’m with,” just chillin’. And then when it was my name called – I’m still really shocked, honestly.

RS: You mentioned in your acceptance speech how your album, Ideal Home Noise, saved you from a difficult time in your life. How do you feel about it now, since its release?

Ellen: I think I can now distance myself from the album and perform and connect to it but not feel the full devastation of some of the songs. But I think if anything, I’m just happy that it has meant something to other people. 

RS: And you’ve since taken your album on the road, performing in the States recently. How was that experience?

Ellen: That was amazing. It was really a strange experience but it was really fun. We met so many amazing people, and local venue owners and bands that are just working really hard for like no money, but just like the greatest. 

RS: [Wellington-based multi-insrumentalist] Ben Lemi was important to this album. What does he mean to you?

Ellen: Ben is the most stoic, calm, reasonable, but really intelligent producer. So if I come in feeling really emotional he grounds me and knows how to take the abstraction of what I’m talking about and put it into practice. So it was such an honour.


Auckland Live Best Independent Debut winner Jujulipps

2024 Best Independent Debut Winner Jujulipps

RS: Congratulations on winning the 2024 Best Independent Debut Award! How are you feeling?

Jujulipps: It’s insane. I didn’t expect to win being up against someone like D.C. Maxwell or an amazing band like Soft Plastics. I remember being in such awe the first time I saw D.C. Maxwell perform live. To win… that is next level, bro. And I mean that humbly. I’m not being like, “Oh, I didn’t expect it when I won.” I really thought that the people I was up against were freaking talented and deserved to win so much. So for the choice to be me… like, okay, cool. I feel that imposter syndrome and I have to tell myself to shut up.

RS: You’ve talked about taking a leap of faith with music. I’m sure that was hard and scary, but look at you now. 

Jujulipps: Thank you. I remember being at uni and sitting down, crying to God, and being like, I don’t know where my life’s gonna go next. No idea about the next steps. Just thinking I would look at the sky and not have to worry, that’s what a plan is. Clearly, I’ve got one. I shouldn’t have to worry. But I used to be so stressed about what’s next.

RS: It’s hard to back yourself when you don’t actually know what is on the other side. 

Jujulipps: Absolutely. I mean, backing yourself is the biggest thing, you know? I’m really proud of myself. Like, I truly am proud of myself right now. I dreamed of this sort of thing. And it does take a moment to realise that you’re actually living it, you know?

RS: Your EP, Get That Shot, was all about that empowerment. Are you working on anything at the moment? 

Jujulipps: Yeah, for sure. I’m really excited to be releasing new music in the next few months. I think the work that I’ll be putting out will be super indicative of where I am at the moment. This entire journey, I used to dream about just being able to go into a studio and write, you know? So to be able to do that without needing to eat noodles every day is a real blessing. And I don’t joke around about that. The fact that I get to do this for the next however many years and have my food on the table is truly amazing.

RS: It’s like feeding your soul too. Doing what you should be doing. 

Jujulipps: Exactly. Before music, I did everything from babysitting to roadworks to factory work. Now, if I can make a living making music, I’m so happy, and I’m doing that. On bad days, I need to remind myself – wait a minute, you’re living your dream.