Interview: Tiny Ruins

by Guy Somerset / 21 April, 2012
The rise of Taite Music Prize finalist Tiny Ruins.
Hollie Fullbrook

Singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, who records as Tiny Ruins, is back from a tour of Europe. Her debut album, Some Were Meant for Sea, secured her career-enhancing performances on the BBC radio shows of Tom Ravenscroft (John Peel’s son) and Bob Harris and on the Word magazine’s website, plus a four-star review in Mojo.

In New Zealand, the album is one of seven finalists for the soon-to-be-announced Taite Music Prize, our equivalent of Britain’s Mercury Prize. The quietly sung and only slightly less quietly spoken Fullbrook is not about to get ahead of herself, though. “The radio interest especially in the UK was something I would not have imagined,” she says. But even so, despite support slots for rowdy jungle bluesman CW Stoneking (where holding the crowd’s attention was “quite challenging”) and a good turnout for her London solo show, some gigs had no more than 20 people in the audience.

“I think if I hadn’t [had the radio support] no one would have come. “From where I stand, hearing about success and things, everything’s been going really well and I’m really lucky, but you’re definitely playing small shows and you’re still touring around on your own, which is hard. I definitely don’t feel like I’ve made it in any sense of the word. I haven’t earned that feeling, either. I want to make more albums and write better songs. I definitely don’t feel I’ve reached what I want to be doing.”

From where the rest of us stand, though, what she has reached is impressive. “Lean in, friend; lean in, friend/And I’ll tell you a tale./Be good, friend; be good friend/As I tread the stage a while,” Fullbrook begins Some Were Meant for Sea, and proceeds to tread that stage with the deftest of musical and lyrical touches.

Andrew Tidball, DJ, managing director of music website Cheese on Toast and one of the Taite judges, describes the album’s 11 songs as “personal storytelling with warmth and heart; the songs prove the adage that keeping things simple can, so often, be the most effective and rewarding course for the listener. I listen to a lot of music for a job; but I found myself listening to this particular release for the simple pleasure of music.” Often, the pleasure is one of exquisite sorrow, with Ravenscroft praising the album’s “vast beauty” in a blog entitled: “Why do I listen to so many sad songs?”

Why does Fullbrook write so many sad songs? “I grew up playing the cello, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. Even playing the cello, I loved the sad, the mournful cello pieces over the happy ones. Those were the ones I chose to play. So I don’t know if it’s just something I’m drawn to. I don’t consider myself a particularly sad person.”

At this, Fullbrook laughs, as she does frequently throughout the interview. So no, not a particularly sad person. “I think everybody has both elements in their personality, to a greater or lesser degree. But when I played all of my new songs in a row the other day, I thought, ‘I need to write a couple of happy ones or the next album is going to be so dark.’”

So she’s set herself a challenge: to write a good happy song. “Sad songs are easier for me to write and maybe they’re easier for every one to write. A good happy song is incredibly difficult to write.” Fullbrook, 26, spent the first 10 years of her life in Bristol in the UK, before her family moved to Auckland. She’s of an age where she could have followed any number of musical paths, but was set off on a folk-inflected singer-songwriter one by parents who’d play Leonard Cohen, James Taylor and Lindisfarne, “and Irish music in the car when we were going on holiday”.

Her dad “was always a fan of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. He, without pressuring me, put them on my bookshelf and tried to play me things he’d thought I’d like. Things like Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch.” And then there was Tanita Tikaram. I would never be so crass as to bring her up with a young female singer-songwriter, but Fullbrook does so herself.

“It’s kind of funny, because I totally forgot about her, but when I was five I was really obsessed with her. I said I wanted to be like Tanita Tikaram when I grew up.” Fullbrook hadn’t listened to the record in question for 15 or so years when she found it in a shop a few months ago. “It was really strange hearing those songs again, because I knew them so well.”

For Fullbrook’s second album, which she hopes to record after returning from supporting the Handsome Family and playing festivals in Europe, the plan is for a bigger sound palate incorporating musician friends. The songs, she says, are more coded and impressionistic, less obviously stories.

I ask if she saw the recent Bon Iver performance at the New Zealand International Arts Festival – a consummate example of how a singer-songwriter can extend himself. “I didn’t go to that show, but it’s been made really clear to me why musicians start out in a certain vein, then expand into something totally different.
You think, ‘Oh, why did they change from the fi rst thing?’ But I think it’s just a natural human thing to want to grow, to not be put into a restrictive box or genre and to just want new sounds for yourself.”

Fullbrook’s new sounds should be available for us all this time next year. Meanwhile, the old ones are there for the relishing.

SOME WERE MEANT FOR SEA, Tiny Ruins (Spunk).
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Polina – movie review
76492 2017-07-20 00:00:00Z Movies

Polina – movie review

by Russell Baillie

A young dancer turns her back on the Bolshoi Ballet to study modern moves in Polina.

Read more
New Zealand International Film Festival: Metro's top picks of what to see
76536 2017-07-20 00:00:00Z Movies

New Zealand International Film Festival: Metro's t…

by David Larsen

Whether you plan to see just a few of the movies in the film festival or dozens, you’ve got some decisions to make and Metro is here to help.

Read more
K Road's wahine tattooists: How they made their mark
76538 2017-07-20 00:00:00Z Arts

K Road's wahine tattooists: How they made their ma…

by Courtney Sina Meredith

From a lush studio on Karangahape Road, three women practise the art of tattooing.

Read more
How artist couple Liz Maw and Andrew McLeod work and live together
76594 2017-07-20 00:00:00Z Arts

How artist couple Liz Maw and Andrew McLeod work a…

by Julie Hill

Painters Liz Maw and Andrew McLeod share their personal and professional lives and are about to exhibit together

Read more
Why the creative duo behind TUR Studio is creating garments the old way
76619 2017-07-19 15:46:53Z Style

Why the creative duo behind TUR Studio is creating…

by Bianca Zander

The creative duo behind Auckland's TÜR Studio lives life as if the industrial revolution never happened.

Read more
Five fun spots perfect for a group outing
76580 2017-07-19 14:20:28Z Auckland Eats

Five fun spots perfect for a group outing

by Paperboy

Break the monotony of winter with a party at one of these five fun Auckland spots

Read more
What to see at the NZ International Film Festival
76576 2017-07-19 13:31:34Z Movies

What to see at the NZ International Film Festival

by Paperboy

Film buffs Caroline Montague and Alexander Bisley pick apart the NZ International Film Festival programme.

Read more
Three Auckland food pop-ups you won't want to miss
76571 2017-07-19 13:04:40Z Auckland Eats

Three Auckland food pop-ups you won't want to miss…

by Paperboy

Merediths, Culprit and Orphans Kitchen take on guest chefs and unusual ingredients at three pop-up events.

Read more