Interview w/ Hollie Fullbrook (of Tiny Ruins)

By: Ava Mirzadegan

Back in March, I had the privilege of speaking to one of my personal musical heroes, Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins.

At the time, Hollie was touring with Marlon Williams, when they made a stop in DC at Rock & Roll Hotel. The show itself was captivating, although I was only able to stick around for Hollie's set. 

The New Zealand artist played some newer songs, from an upcoming album, along with several favorites I know every word to by heart. (I may or may not have cried.)

The beauty of Tiny Ruins is rare and remarkable. With a natural gift for story-telling, Fullbrook is able to spin "straw into gold" with every word that glides over the thrum of deftly plucked guitar strings. Her melodies are comforting and compelling, like an old photograph that transports you back to another time or place.

I've mentioned this before, but many of my favorite artists, including Tiny Ruins, are from New Zealand: Aldous Harding, Lorde, Nadia Reid. It's a small coincidence, but I can't help but wonder if there's something in the air or water that is nourishing such immense beauty and creativity.

Either way, whether or not there's some mysterious reason for my love of Kiwi artists, I'm glad to have been able to witness Hollie's magic first-hand for the first time. Her songs got me through some difficult moments in my life and I am endlessly grateful for her willingness to share her music. 

Read my full interview with Hollie below:

A: First of all, how are you doing? I know you must be exhausted from touring. Especially being off from your time zone. How has that been?

H: Um, we're all holding up fairly well considering the late nights and a lot of driving. Yesterday was quite brutal. We had to do a 10 hour drive from - where were we - Nashville to DC. Yeah, but you know. When it comes to the actual doing the show everything fades into the background. Any kind of tiredness doesn't really matter because that's why you're there.

A: You guys are just coming off of some West Coast dates with Sharon Van Etten and then you had SXSW. How was South By? Had you been before?

H: South By was really full on. It was the first time I'd done it. We played seven shows in five days, so it's all a little bit of a blur. It was really great because I flew my bass player, Cass Basil, from New Zealand just to play South By with me. So it was really nice to see her and we had some fun experiences. And we did, we got to see some really great music as well not just play, but we saw a bunch. There were a couple of Kiwi bands there, yeah it was fun.

A: What was your favorite discovery of South By that you made?

H: Oh that's a good question. Well, I didn't actually get to see her perform but I met a young woman named Helena Deland. I bumped into her after we'd played one of our shows and she'd come along to it. It was a just a really beautiful meeting. We sat down and we had a big long chat about music and our particular journeys. You know, I hadn't heard her music or anything but I just had a feeling about her. I listened to her bandcamp in the van a few days later and it's really really beautiful. So that's probably been my favorite thing that I discovered even though I didn't really discover it there.

 
 

A: I know that music has had family roots for you. You actually play the guitar that your mom had played and it's what you learned on. Do you think you could be who you are as a musician without your family's influence? Or how else has your family inspired you art?

H: I think what my mother, in particular, did was prioritize the learning an instrument because she wasn't able to as a kid. Her parents didn't allow her to- which is kind of bizarre but I think it was just 1950's England. She was desperate to learn a number of different instruments. Like, she bought her own violin and tried to pay for her own lessons. I mean, it was obviously, you know, in her there was a drive to learn music. And she really loved music but it was always these kinds of scrappy teaching herself how to play the flute, she was in a band.

But since we- I have two younger brothers- when we were little that was kind of her thing, to really encourage us to listen to music and learn an instrument, and neither of my brothers were at all interested. We're very different. It was definitely- that gene was passed down to me. I was fascinated by music, from as early as I can remember. And I was lucky enough that I had parents that wanted to encourage that part of me.

I learned the cello growing up, so I had a classical music training background. But songwriting and guitar playing kind of came from me, I wouldn't say it really had anything to do with my family. But the foundation was laid by my mum and my grandfather, as weird as this is, since he didn't let her learn an instrument. He was the one who taught me my first guitar chords, he knew how to play the guitar.

And then I have a cousin on the other side that's a phenomenal violin player and that just kind of popped up out of nowhere. None of her parents seem to be at all musical, so it's all very weird.

My dad is quite eccentric and he's the kind of person who just bursts into song. Like, about something very random. I actually think he's probably quite musical but he's never had the time to explore it. He actually just started to learn Spanish guitar, which is really sweet. I think it's really cool. He's finding it quite challenging, but it's good.

A: I still remember the feeling I got the first time I ever listened to "Me at the Museum, You in the Winter Gardens." It was this bubbling up of joy- I don't even know how to describe it or put it into words. It almost felt as though I was hearing music for the first time... I know that's a really high compliment, but I was very tired of all the music I was hearing and I thought "oh my gosh, this is beautiful." Do you remember ever having a song that affected you similarly or that inspired you?

H: Oh, many many songs. I feel like I get quite obsessed with songs. Maybe something that I've noticed that Marlon does as well, from being in the van with him. We've all been adding to this playlist and a lot of the songs I'm like "oh my god, I'm going to become obsessed with this song. I know it." There's something about listening to or hearing a song that triggers something in you. It's sort of like life-changing.

That's happened to me a lot of times in my life. I mean, it's kind of like the holy grail of music is searching . for that feeling. Making music as well, you're searching for that feeling and creating something that makes you feel that way as well. It's like excitement, or a kind of acknowledgement that there is something meaningful in life. Because I think a lot of the time it feels like there isn't. When you do hear something, or if you're lucky enough, you get to create something, that gives you that feeling. That's the whole reason I feel like I do it.

A: Is there a song that most recently you've felt that way about?

H: A song that I've heard recently that I'm kind of in love with. Well, there's a couple actually. There's one called "Heart like a Wheel" by the McGarrigle Sisters Marlon actually put it onto the playlist and we're going to try to cover it at the show tonight. But the recording of it is just- we can't even come close. The recording is just so brain-meltingly good. Just the harmonies, the lyrics, and the sentiment of the song is so heart-breaking and so beautiful.

 
 

There's another song I've been admiring I suppose, called "Sensory Memory" by Jen Cloher. Jen Cloher is an Australian, Melbourne-based musician that founded Milk! records with Courtney Barnett and is Courtney Barnett's partner. She released her sixth solo album- she's released a lot of music. But the album that she released last year, I've been really enjoying. It's just self-titled. Jen has some likeness to Patty Smith in a way, but the songwriting itself, the lyrics are really intelligent and new sounding to me.

 
 

We're listening to a lot of music in the van, so I feel really stimulated right now, in terms of my hearing. Often when I'm home I just have silence or classical music, because I almost don't know where to start. But now that I'm in the van with Marlon and his band, I'm hearing so much music and I'm itching to sit down with my guitar and write some songs, because it's really inspiring.

A: Since you're feeling inspired, do you have anything planned? Is there anything new coming for you? (for us, rather)

H: Yeah, absolutely. We finished a new album. It's all finished and just waiting to be released, really. I'll play a bunch of songs from it tonight. I can't say when it'll be released, but I'm hoping that it'll be this year. It's called Olympic Girls. I'm really excited about it. I think I'm the most excited about it that I've ever been about anything I've made.

It's quite a different sound in some ways, but I think it can be traced back to all the things I've already done. It's the same band that recorded Brightly Painted One. We recorded it in the exact same studio space, just the four of us. It was quite a long process but I'm happy with it.

So that's kind of waiting in the wings and I'm writing a lot of new material right now. Just kind of splurging at the moment. Coming out of a period where I haven't been writing a lot, and I can feel it.

A: If your music was a garment, of clothing, what would it be?

H: I wear a coat. I kind of just live in this one coat. It's been on all my tours. In fact, I've had two of them because the first one became worn out, so I got the lady to make me another one. It's olive green, heavy-canvas material, with a brown silk lining. And it's got a hood- it's kind of cape-y. It's comforting. It's warm, but at the same time it's not big, and doesn't take up too much room. I think probably my music, if I could hope for it to be something, it would be to be like that coat. That coat is very close to my heart.

You'll see it tonight. I'll be wearing it.

Here's some more of the music mentioned in this interview!