TINY RUINS – Interview

Foto-© Ebony Lamb

Tiny Ruins sind die erste neuseeländische „Außenstelle“ von Milk! Records und bereichern das Label um einen puren, zeitlosen (Indie)Folk-Sound, gepaart mit Dream-Pop und psychedelischen Klängen. Am 01.02. erschien ihr drittes Album Olympic Girls, aus dem Soloprojekt von Singer-Songwriterin Hollie Fullbrook ist eine Band gewachsen. Zusammen mit Cass Basil (Bass), Alexander Freer (Schlagzeug) und Tom Healy (elektrische Gitarre, Produzent) erschuf Fullbrook ein Album, das durch seinen facettenreichen Minimalismus überzeugt.

Wir haben Hollie vor Veröffentlichung von Olympic Girls in Berlin getroffen. Im Interview erzählt sie vom Luxus der Spontanität bei der Aufnahme des Albums, von den Herausforderungen des Tour-Lebens, über die Besonderheiten der neuseeländischen Musikszene und warum der Videodreh zur Single Holograms wie eine kreative Pyjamaparty ablief.

It’s been a while since your last record Brightly Painted One came out. What have you been up to since then?

When our last album came out in November 2014, I had been touring pretty solidly for the previous two years. And when I say touring, I mean it in a low level. We were tour managing ourselves, driving ourselves, booking all the accommodation, booking all the flights, it was very DIY. And when Brightly Painted One came out that kind of ramped up even more and we toured as a three-piece-band for about six months again. It was such a really busy time that when we finished touring with the album in 2015, I was just completely empty. I guess, I’ve been in a kind of hyperactive state. I manage the band as well and it had been so much work to actually getting us on a tour around the world that when I returned to New Zealand and it came the time to write the next album, it was like I had nothing to inspire me. I was just in a really numb and burnt out state. So, for most of 2015, I just tried to get back into a state of mind, where I felt inspired again. But we carried on touring, I released an EP with my friend Hamish Kilgour.

You always say “we” and “the band”, but Tiny Ruins actually started out as a solo project. How did you find each other?
My band has been with me, around me, since the very beginning. I actually met Cass, who plays the bass, when we were teenagers. She was going out with a friend of mine and we ended up recording some of my songs together when I was about 19 and she was 17. But then I moved cities and years went by and it wasn’t until I moved back to Auckland that we reconnected. I just put out Some Were Meant for Sea, my first album. I was living back with my parents, I had just finished studying and I was completely broke. Cass happened to have a room available in her flat and she said: “Why don’t you move in? It’s a flat full of other musicians. It’s cheap and we will support you in what you’re doing.” So, I basically moved in with her although I didn’t really know her that well. But when you live together, you get to know the other person very closely and we just started playing together. She and Alex, the drummer, were also friends from jazz school and when I did my album release shows, they were my backing band. And since then, they recorded on everything, I’ve done. The Haunts EP, that was Cass and Alex. With Brightly Painted One we met Tom, who’s the electric guitar player in the band, and he also produced this album, Olympic Girls, and the last one. He and Cass are a couple. We all we had really been friends and best friends.

Foto-© Si Moore

An organic growth.
Very organic, yeah. And now, it feels like we’ve been through a lot as a band, but it took a while for the rest of the world to see that they’ve always been there, because we couldn’t always afford to bring the whole band over to Europe for instance. It has been a slow evolution of Tiny Ruins as we never had a big label from day one or big publicity, it all happened very slowly. With each release, we’ve found our people, thankfully. And we’re happy playing small venues and small crowds. I love it.

I read that Tom also used to play with Jen Cloher. Is that how you ended up with Milk! Records, through that connection?
Yes, in a way. I think Jen’s parents are both from New Zealand and she has a very strong connection with the country. When her parents were ill, she came out to look after them about ten years ago. She lived in Auckland and she got to know some local musicians. One of whom was Tom and he played in her band and he moved to Melbourne for a while and yes, they’ve got a really good friendship. They understand each other. When we made this album, I had been following Milk! Records for a while and I noticed what they as a label were doing. I was kind of admiring them from the sidelines and I really admired Jen’s music and Courtney’s. So, when the album was finished, I just wanted to see what Jen and Courtney think. And Tom thought that it was a good idea to send it to them and so he did it. They loved it and it just happened really naturally, but it definitely was helpful, that Tom and Jen were friends.

It really seems like you all just found each other, which brings me to another question: Living in New Zealand, do you think it is harder to become internationally recognized compared to artists working in Europe or the US? Have you experienced what Jen calls the “tyranny of distance”? Or do you think it does also have advantages to be in a relatively small local music scene compared to Europe or the US?
That’s difficult for me to comment on, because I don’t know what it would had been like if I’d grown up in Europe. But I do get the sense that in the US and in Europe the music industries are much bigger machines. And I can imagine, you’re feeling quite drowned out when you are here and you are starting a little band and you wouldn’t really know where to start. Or maybe you feel like you have to be signed in a big way to make a go of it. Whereas I feel like in Australia – and in New Zealand even more so – no one really expects that much. You just start out with a feeling of “I’m just going to do this for fun side thing.” And everyone has other jobs.

So, you think it’s less commercial?
I mean, you have commercial music in New Zealand as well and you have the major labels there. Take Lorde, for instance. But it does feel like it’s a fairly accessible community. People are quite open and there’s not a lot of feeling of competition. Generally speaking, artists seem to want to help and boost each other, which is nice.

Let’s come back to your album. Olympic Girls was recorded in the course over a year, whereas Brightly Painted One only took three weeks of recording. What were the differences in the writing and recording process and how does it reflect on the album? Have you been constantly recording bit by bit or have you had waves of productivity and distance?
I mean, we recorded it in the same place as the last one. There’s no difference other than the time structure and that we had different songs we wanted to arrange differently as well. But what happened, again, is that we came back from tour and everyone scrambled to get their other jobs back. Cass and Alex are music teachers in high schools, and Tom works in a lot of bands, and I had a part-time admin job. For us, it made sense to record this album whenever we had a free day together instead of blocking out three weeks. We just kind of chipped away at it. I had written maybe half the songs and then I slowly finished the rest of the songs as we recorded. There weren’t waves and then then long periods of not recording. It was more that every two or three weekends or a public holiday we would spend in the studio. Just whenever we were all free.

Do you think it’s a luxury to be able to have such a long time to let the songs ripe, if you will, or do you think there’s also a danger of overthinking?
When you book three weeks in a studio, what happens is that you record all of the drum parts for every song in a block. Then you got the bass parts or the bass might be recorded with the drums, but then you go home. And then the rest of us would finish the guitar parts and then I would probably have three or four days of just doing vocals. You can imagine, how different that is to actually spending three days on one song with everybody there and then you don’t listen to it for two weeks. You have this little bubble of time just fully dedicated to that one song. You’re not thinking about what else is on the album. And that means that all four of us were much more present for every part of the process of the recording, because all four of us were in the room all the time. It probably was luxurious that we didn’t have this time pressure and we also didn’t have a huge financial pressure either. Partly, because we were doing it ourselves in our band practice space. But we also had saved up from all that touring and shows. We paid for this whole record ourselves. I think Tom was very careful, not to play me any of the songs until we were quite far down the road. Maybe months and months into it. It wasn’t like I had some mixes and I was spending an entire year going over and over it. Maybe Tom was tinkering away, but for me it was really freeing and refreshing. With Brightly Painted One we had that three-week block, it was so intense. This time we didn’t have this feeling: “Oh nice, now I’ve got to listen to everything, because this is the only way we’re going to be able to change it.”

It puts so much more pressure on being perfect.
Yeah, I think it does. I feel like with this, even that it took so much longer and it was this very fragmented process, there’s more spontaneity on it, a little bit more of a feeling of being free. Certainly in my singing.

I experienced the sound of this new album as rather pure. And the songs and the lyrics are really personal. Can it be intimidating to share so much of your inner feelings and thoughts with such a big audience?
Yeah, I think I used to find that hard. Much harder than I find it now. It’s the hardest thing to go through from being a quiet and introverted person, just like I am, to say: “OK. I’m going to publicize all my inner feelings.” That was really hard in the very beginning. I struggled with stage fright. I struggled with feeling very self-conscious and I didn’t want my face on anything, not even on my album covers, I didn’t want to do interviews and all this publicity. But it doesn’t bother me so much now. Once you open up, you become comfortable opening up. When you’re open, other people are actually opening up to you. It’s a really good lesson to learn to be vulnerable.

If you want to put it in that narrative of opening up: Is the record release date a proud or a nervous one for you?
It hasn’t really felt real until this week. Having released four singles already, it feels like half of it is already out and that’s being received really well and the feedback is really encouraging. I was slightly worried that old Tiny Ruins fans would be like: “This isn’t what I’m used to.” But no, it’s been really positive and to be honest, I’m just very ready to release it. It has been finished for a while and we’ve been through so much. It feels like finally we’re here, we’ve made this body of work. I’m excited. I’m not really worried about what anyone else thinks.

Talking about the singles you’ve already released: I saw the video for your single Holograms. It was mainly shot in your flat in Auckland, right? It really looked like an intense creative group experience. Could you describe the three days of the team living and working together?
Basically, I’ve had quite a few phone conversations with Martin, the director, and his friends. He has a small group of people, he often works with. I was going overseas and we had this little window of time that we could make the video and it had to be then. We very quickly had to just bring everything together and think of an idea and commit to it. In the past with music videos it’s been very carefully thought out and you thought about each shot. This was completely different. We still didn’t really quite have our story line clear. But he arrived at the airport, I went to pick them all up, they came to my little tiny house and Martin was sleeping on the couch, Julia was sleeping in another room. We were cooking a big thing of beans for everyone and painting all the planets. It was so close. It was really nice. Like a slumber party. And my band were really quite supportive and involved. We just had a really fun time. I would describe it as like an art project in high school, where everyone pitches in and then someone goes and gets dinner for everyone. It is funny, because the video itself is about a disconnection between people and imagining a world, where you’re much more connected. For example, the scene of the band with our arms around each other: After we shot that video together, we really felt like we bonded as a band, because we have had this experience. There were so many things, which we had to problem solve. For instance, the smoke machine was going to trigger the fire alarms in the place that we originally wanted to film. We had to change spaces. There were all these things, where we had to change our plans slightly, but by the end of it, we felt really close as a band.

It does seem like the motive of your band, having these intense group experiences. It sounds almost family like.
Yes, it is. They are like my extended family.

Which also brings me back to Milk! Records, because if you follow them, they also seem like a real creative family. What do you think is special about this label? Do you feel at home there as an artist?
We’re the first band that they’ve taken on outside of their inner community in Melbourne. In a way it’s hard, because we feel like we’re over the other side of the ditch – as we call it – in New Zealand. But they’ve been so welcoming to us and we have played a couple of shows with other Milk! artists, we were making compilations and songs together. Courtney is fantastic and Jen is an incredible human to just interact with and talk to about music. After one Skype conversation with her, I just felt like that is the label for us. They care in a different way and they rightly so built up a real following of people who see that, because they see that it’s genuine and a really special thing that they’ve got going on. I’m incredibly proud to be on the label.

With your European shows coming up, what are you most excited about? What’s your favorite part of touring?
Definitely the favorite part of touring is always the shows. Have you ever seen that TV program The Amazing Race?

You’re on a team and you are given a mission for the day and you have to take a plane and a train and go to another country and pick up a clue and go to some other place etc… And you’re racing all these other teams. And often a tour feels like that. You’re jumping in a car, you’re speeding to an airport, and getting on a plane, and getting the bags, and somebody is getting the hire a car… It’s like: “go go go”. It’s quite incredible really that you go through all these little steps along the way to get to that stage. And then the audience turns up and for that hour or so you’re there, doing the thing you’re meant to be doing. But for the other 23 hours of the day, you’re just making sure you get to that place. It’s exhausting and you’re constantly overstimulated, because you’re in a new place with new people all the time. But the actual show, where you find yourself on stage and you’re connecting with that audience, it all is well worth it. We’re so lucky to be doing this, because it’s such a great feeling, when you do the show. But it’s just a shame that it’s so much effort to get to the stage in each city. We had a really fun time. The last tour that we did in Europe was the best one we’ve done so far. The four of us again tour managing ourselves, driving ourselves…

You must be really organized! There’s not much space for a real rock’n’roll tour attitude then.
It’s all about preparing in the couple of months before the tour. You just have to do so much preparation. If you have that done, you can enjoy the tour and you can get let go a little bit more. It all goes bad, if you haven’t done the preparation and then you’re floundering around, that’s when it starts to get difficult.

Tiny Ruins Tour:
08.04. Milla, München
09.04. Karlstorbahnhof, Heidelberg
10.04. Privatclub, Berlin
11.04. Feinkost Lampe, Hannover