TINY RUINS began as a solo project for New Zealand-based Hollie Fullbrook almost 10 years ago. Since then, the Bristol-born singer-songwriter has accrued band members and collaborated with a variety of artists. Her stripped-back, minimalist sound has wooed critics with a duo of albums on Bella Union featuring a poetic, spacious sound that brings to mind Joni Mitchell. Tiny Ruins is this year’s Bido Lito! Presents pick for Folk On The Dock, the annual festival of folk and roots music, which takes place at Albert Dock over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Speaking from her Auckland base, Fullbrook tells Sam Turner about recording with David Lynch, the direction of her long-awaited third album, and signing to Courtney Barnett’s record label.
How are you feeling about your tour in August and how long has it been since you visited the UK and Europe?
I was there last in 2016 with rogue drummer Hamish Kilgour of The Clean. We did a three-week tour of mainly the UK, including the Scottish Highlands. I termed the tour Kilgour & I – it was just the two of us hooning about in a little car filled to bursting with an extensive – too extensive! – drum kit that I’d unwittingly bought off Gumtree. So, I’m thrilled to be returning – this time as a four-piece band. It’s about time.
You were born in Bristol before moving to New Zealand at the age of 10; does coming to the UK feel like returning home or do you very much identify as a Kiwi?
It does feel like coming home in a very simple sense, especially when I approach Bristol on the motorway – my heart rate increases, as though it’s a reunion with an estranged but much-loved friend. I usually get teary when I see the Severn Bridge or the Avon. Ten years old is quite a sentimental age and I feel like returning unleashes those childhood sentiments in some ways. It’s surprising – I suddenly have urges to get a sherbet Dip Dab from my old newsagents, for instance. Or walk along an old brick wall I used to try to avoid the cracks on. I’m a real mish-mash and don’t feel I fit in anywhere, particularly. But New Zealand is my ‘strongest’ home connection and I do identify as a Kiwi, broadly speaking. To you, I would probably come across as fully Kiwi.
What does it mean to you to be part of Courtney Barnett’s Milk! Records label?
It means a hell of a lot. I’ve admired Milk! for ages – years – and I love so much of the music they put out. We played a show recently in Melbourne with Courtney and Jen Cloher, and the energy surrounding the whole enterprise is just incredible. It’s a tight-knit community of artists at its core, and they all know first-hand the lengths we go to in order to keep working, writing, releasing and touring. For me, they feel like the future. As I see it, they represent hard work, independence, diversity and true love for their fans.
Would you describe New Zealand as a good place to produce music?
To live in NZ, you’re on the further edge of the planet, looking out at the vast Pacific Ocean – which may bring a sort of meditative calm or desperation, depending on your make-up – and low expectations for most musicians, which in turn might allow for more to happen. My hometown of Auckland has a few precious DIY spaces left where you can quietly chip away at things and experiment, and my bandmates and I seem to work well in the conditions we’re in, albeit slightly more slowly than if we were in a more competitive environment. It’s a slower pace, but we get good results.
How much do you think your music is a reflection of where you’re from, geographically?
I guess it filters through in so many ways. But things I have referenced in my songs recently – mud, silt, dirt, leaves – could be referring to the Avon as much as the mangroves down in the bay below where I live. I guess you’re always making connections between where you are, where you’ve been, and then other invented or imaginary places.
You recorded the track Dream Wave with director par excellence David Lynch; how did that collaboration come about and what was the experience like?
David sent an out-of-the-blue tweet about Tiny Ruins one day to his followers, saying he’d discovered a band he really liked. Somewhat unnervingly, I’d been talking about him the night before to a friend. It was like I woke up to him saying ‘I heard you’. The whole thing was pretty spooky. So, he was a fan, and I was a long-time admirer of his work. A bit of a universe-implosion for me, like I was in a simulation. But anyway, the following year I was on tour in the US and a young Kiwi upstart by the name of Lorde had the cojones to ask David if he’d like to record with me, and he liked the demo I sent of Dream Wave, so I headed for those Hollywood Hills right away. The experience was just how you’d imagine it: beautiful and memorable.
It’s been four years since your last LP, what can fans expect from the third album?
It is the best I’ve made, I think. Such a lot went into it. It takes things further and it’s bold – it gives a lot more, far less restrained. It’s pushing out the edges of my experiences more; it’s squelching your feet right into the silt and looking closely at the leaves rotting away and new shoots popping up. Someone even said it’s “in Technicolor”. It’s all about abundance, the bursting forth of life, but then also mortality, the seasons, memory, escape, freedom. It’s pretty big for me, and I’m all in on it, giving it my best shot to get it heard. The band play the best they’ve played – there are so many moments of theirs that I’m proud of. I’ve actually been through the wringer a bit with the entire process, it having been so long, but at every moment I’ve felt like, ‘at least the album is good’, y’know?
Including Folk On The Dock here in Liverpool, you are playing a couple of folk festivals on this tour. How do you think, as a genre, folk continues to stay relevant to new audiences?
Folk is storytelling at heart and stories, by design, are for the long haul, right? Stuff you come back to, that lingers. This album is certainly pushing the boundaries of being considered folk, but the songs have come from stories and experience, and Tiny Ruins draws from folk and blues alongside indie and pop and stuff. For me, as the lead songwriter and guitarist, folk is very close to my heart. Hopefully there won’t be a Pete Seeger [folkie who famously took umbrage to Dylan plugging in at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival] yanking any cables back of stage. But as a true music fangirl with broad tastes, I think I see things and yearn for things to be much more nuanced and more of a patchwork. I’m never going to stay sitting in one genre, and this album is certainly a little bit of a departure – in ways I feel that our current fans will embrace.
And finally, for the uninitiated, what can festival-goers expect from the Tiny Ruins performance?
Alternate tunings, fingerpicking guitar, beautiful electric guitar jangles, ladies who slay, variance, dynamics, dreaminess and stories.
Bido Lito! Presents Tiny Ruins at Folk On The Festival at Albert Dock on Saturday 26th August.