Speaking over Skype to Grok from Germany, Hollie Fullbrook, the creator of New Zealand indie folk project Tiny Ruins discussed her new album, uni life, emailing Lorde and collaborating with David Lynch.
Your third album Olympic Girls was released in early February this year. What’s it about?
It’s not really about one thing, but I would say it’s about freedom. It was written from a place of wanting to make quite a joyful album, although that might sound a bit incongruous because there’s still a heaviness to the songs … There’s a strength in the album compared to my earlier work.
Stylistically it’s a little bit more psychedelic than your previous albums. I was reading a review about the album and Stuff.co.nz said, “I felt as though someone had spiked my morning muesli with LSD”.
[Laughs]. Yeah, there is a psychedelic [feel to it]. I think mainly because we added a lot more electric guitar. Tom Heely, who produces our albums, he did the last one Brightly Painted One, he did this one too and he’s in the band now. His style of guitar is quite odd, it’s quite atmospheric and kind of influenced by the early ‘90s. So that feeling of being a bit freer musically [and everyone in the band trusting, supporting each other] was important and probably led to the feelings of it being less of a genre-specific album and a bit more experimental.
Speaking about books, I read that the album was influenced by a book of Van Gogh paintings?
Yeah, a little bit of it was. That was the kind of the kick-starter, I would say. I was feeling pretty uninspired. We’d finished touring Brightly Painted One, the last album, and it had been a grueling year of intense touring and I was really burnt out … I guess, in that state of mind trying to create something, you turn to other creators and try and see if their work gets you out of your funk. I had a book of Modern paintings that I had for years lying around and I was flipping through it. It feels kind of cliché to say Van Gogh was the one to stick out because, obviously he’s, like, the most iconic painter but I think when you strip away all the things you know about him already and all the times you’ve seen the paintings, it was actually just paintings of sunflowers and they stood out to me out of everything I saw in that book. Then, I started researching more about him, all his different phases, when he painted the sunflowers. His period in this place, his period in that place. I got quite deep into [laughs] him for a while and that really helped me write that first song One Million Flowers because it just filled me with all these visual images that were so strong and his life was so hard, like way harder than anything I’d ever experienced at that point. It was just a really good thing to turn to.
Your last release before Olympic Girls was Dream Wave in 2016. It was recorded with David Lynch and meant to go onto The Hunger Games soundtrack. Would you like to tell us about it?
I’d been discussing with a colleague of mine—I was working in a library … and we were talking about David Lynch. The next morning at about 6am, my friend texted me and said, ‘Have you seen what just happened? This is crazy!’ David Lynch had tweeted about Tiny Ruins, and it didn’t really feel real. Quite a lot of time went by … then I got an email from Lorde [who Hollie had only met in real life bumping into her at a record store] and she was putting The Hunger Games soundtrack together. She was like, ‘This would be such a cool thing, to actually make this happen. Can I try make this happen, because I have this power?’ I was like, ‘Yes please!’ She was like, ‘You need to send me this demo so that I can pass it on to David.’ I had Dream Wave that I hadn’t recorded at that point. Thankfully he loved that song … so within a few days I flew to L.A. and spent a couple of days recording with him … David didn’t know what The Hunger Games was, and the song didn’t end up getting chosen for the soundtrack because it was so different from all the other songs. It was such a special experience to spend some time with him and have the song come out of it.
Can you explain the album artwork for Olympic Girls?
It was taken on an old film camera. It was taken at our friend Dave’s flat [in Wellington] … We played a show the night before and we were just hanging out in that little dining, lounge-y area and Dave was just cooking us breakfast. It wasn’t posed or anything. It was just a photograph that Cass [Basil, bass] took that morning, and it turned out really great. We didn’t think it was going to be the album cover for quite a while but when we felt like we hadn’t found anything that felt as good as that photograph. Another friend of ours Tom Cottle, he put a lot of love and care into making the photograph look as beautiful as possible … he’s tweaked the colours to look a little more psychedelic, a little bit like the music on the album.
I couldn’t help thinking, you’ve previously said that the song Olympic Girls is about “the inner body and out outer worlds”. You can kind of see that in the photograph.
That was another part of why I wanted the cover ‘cause I’m kind of a reading book in my own little world and that’s definitely the feeling that I wanted for it. You’re able to see outside of this room, but it’s a very domestic, internal scene, and then on the back cover of the vinyl and CD it’s actually just the external scene that’s left, so everything has disappeared except for the outside.
So, you were at uni for five years. What was that like?
I did a BA in English and Theatre, and then I madly did a Law degree at the same time … I took a lot on. Those five years, I worked crazily hard to finish the Law degree … throughout that whole period I was living in this draft-y, freezing, damp little shack, but also, I was a student and having a great time, falling in love and I wrote a lot of songs during those five years with no real design for them. I didn’t plan on recording them or playing any shows; they were just fun. But then, in my final year, one of my flat mates convinced me to do an open mic night and the sound engineer offered to record some songs from me. That’s what led to me very terrifyingly putting them on Myspace. Very shortly after that they got picked up by Aaron Curnow at Spunk Records … Aaron funded my first album and it’s all really from that.
You’re coming to Australia in May and you’ve toured here before. What’s memorable about us?
We really like touring Australia. It feels familiar to us like New Zealand … we understand the culture and everyone’s humour in a way, which is important when you’re on stage. I think Australia feels bigger and more exciting to us, and we go a bit crazy for the wildlife when we’re there.
Tiny Ruins will be playing at Mojo’s, Fremantle on Saturday, May 11 as part of their Australian tour.