Hollie Fullbrook was on her way to Boston when I dialed her up for a little pre-show interview yesterday; she and her Tiny Ruins bandmates will be hitting DC9 tonight, plus Mercury Lounge on Saturday and Baby’s All Right on Sunday, but when we spoke they were just about to make a diner pit-stop, presumably to eat pies and pancakes and (in my mind) live the American dream.
In fact, although Hollie (born and raised in Bristol until age 10) is from New Zealand, she’s probably had much more first-hand experience with the American spirit than many of you or I have; she busked and backpacked around the United States for just under six months when she was eighteen, and whether or not that extensive period traveling the good old U-S-of-A has had a conscious effect on the way her music sounds, listening to Tiny Ruins frequently evokes the same sense of pensive quietude one experiences gazing out the window on a road trip.
Perhaps it’s this sort of nostalgic, dreamlike quality that has captivated Tiny Ruins fans (whose ranks include David Lynch, by the way), but whatever the case, the DC + NYC live shows are going to be incredible, so if you haven’t purchased tickets yet, you would be wise to do so now. In the meantime, grab Tiny Ruins’ new stunner of a record Brightly Painted One (out now on Flying Nun Records), and then internet-eavesdrop on my conversation with Hollie below in which we cover books, the creative process and more:
(Photo credit Nicholas Marshall)
So how’s the touring going so far? I read somewhere you saw some bears on the road?
[Laughs] Yes, we saw two…that’s been one of the highlights. [Laughs] No, it’s been really fun, we’re really enjoying it. It’s the first time we’ve toured over here as a band, so we’re kind of hitting the ground running and discovering a whole lot of new places. Lots of driving, of course.
And when did you arrive in the US this time?
It must have been over three weeks ago, about a month.
And you were touring around NZ and Australia before that, so was it a shock at all in terms of the temperature? I just got back from a month in Argentina, so I was also doing the Southern Hemisphere winter thing, and I’m having a hard time readjusting to the heat.
Yeah, we landed in LA and it was like, “Wow!” It did take us a few days to get into the rhythm of it all, but now we’re settled in and it’s normal.
Good. And now, for YOU, who spent six-ish months traveling around the US at age 18 (I’m assuming we’re roughly the same age, so that would have been about a decade and some change ago), have you noticed any big sorts of changes this time around (either positive or negative) to the overall American vibe?
Not an awful lot of changes, actually…I had a very quick visit to the US about three years ago, and that time I noticed that (with the financial crisis) everything was a bit more grim. (The mood was a bit more…unhappy or something.) When I came as an 18-year-old, though, it was during the time leading up to the George W. Bush reelection, and so there was this huge kind of political feeling; there were lots of rallies everywhere, and the political aspect was definitely dominant. I learnt a lot on that trip, whereas this time around it’s been seeing the US from an entirely different perspective as an adult and playing music, so it’s kind of more joyous; you’re visiting venues and meeting all sorts of wonderful people. (Although it was pretty joyous when I was 18 as well, but it’s funny how you don’t realize how young you still are when you’re that age.)
Oh, completely. Well, and speaking of elapsed time, you’ve had a few years in between records, and some of the songs that are on Brightly Painted One sat with you during that interlude. Did you find it difficult to work with those songs when they were originally maybe intended to be part of the previous record? I know some people struggle to…maybe not “repurpose” songs that don’t make it onto other works, but to reconceptualize them after a considerable period of time has passed seems to prove difficult at times.
Well, the songs that are the oldest on this album did seem a bit more distant to where I’m at now, but also they were kind of the more “vague” songs; I don’t know if you know the album super well, but “Carriages” and “Night Owl” were the oldest on the album, and it was funny because they kind of ended up being linked to the other songs in lots of ways, and were able to be quite relevant because they were quite broad in terms of what they were about, if that makes sense.
Right, right. Well, and tell me a little bit about how the Tiny Ruins dynamic has changed in terms of membership; it seems you’re very flexible, but just from a live performance perspective, do you have a preference as to whether you’re on stage solo or with a backing band? Clearly you achieve different sounds when you’ve got extra members, but do you feel more comfortable one way or the other?
I definitely enjoy it more when I have the band; it’s more interesting to me musically to hear the drums come in or the bass come in, and when you play live every performance is different, so having Alex and Cass with me sort of triples the interest as opposed to how it would be if I were just on my own. But I’m pretty comfortable with being on my own, as a duo, or as a bigger band (at home in New Zealand it can expand even more to five people). It also depends on the songs that we’re playing; this album was recorded with the three of us, so it makes sense for us to all be on the road touring it.
So in terms of the three of you working together, is it still generally you who has the main idea and then you bring it to Alex and Cass afterward? Or is the formula a little more organic than that?
No, it’s pretty much that I write the songs on my own and I’ll bring them to the table, and then Cass and Alex and I will discuss them and play them different ways. I do ask for their input on small details, like, “Do you think this word is a bit weird here?” [Laughs] but generally I do all the writing on my own.
And when you’re writing, do you have a set sort of environment or time of day that works well for you? Or is it just sort of whenever you feel inspired?
[Laughs] Oh man, I wish I had the secret formula of why or when it works, but it’s very random; months can go by and I won’t have written a thing, but then I might write two songs in an afternoon. It’s very mysterious. I wish I knew. [Laughs]
I know, I sort of envy the people who (at least claim to) have a system that works well for them. I definitely don’t have that.
I do try and diligently sit down and write every day, but you feel like you’re pushing against a brick wall most of the time, and then suddenly everything will be easy. And I do find that reading actually gets my brain working quite well to be in the mood to write; reading other people’s work and novels and things gets me in a good space to begin to think about song ideas, but I don’t have any kind of secret.
Yeah, I’ve been reading this book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, and it sort of outlines the creative routines of artists and writers, so as a fun kind of experiment I’ve been testing out some of the different equations. Obviously nothing has clicked for me, but there’s one that is a total recipe for death…I don’t know how this woman (Patricia Highsmith) lived even a MONTH on this routine, but it basically involved her hitting the vodka as soon as she woke up, smoking like a pack of cigarettes a day, eating nothing but bacon, eggs and toast, and like, maintaining a collection of pet snails that she used to bring around with her in her purse to parties and things.
I love her! I need to work on some of these eccentricities! [Laughs]
Right?! Well anyway, the book talk is a nice little segue into the fact that you’ll be playing Mercury Lounge on National Book Lover’s Day, so (as someone who’s studied English literature and is clearly an avid reader) are you reading anything at the moment?
Oh, yes. I’m right in the middle of East of Eden, and I’m reading it every moment I can; we’ve just stopped at a diner and I’m about to take it out at the table. Whenever I get into a book that is the only thing I do, so everyone’s probably quite irritated with me for just reading constantly. [Laughs]
Well, there are obviously far worse things than a reading addiction, missing ANY of these shows being one of them, so be sure to grab tickets, get a copy of the record, and follow Tiny Ruins on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news.