Hollie Fullbrook, of Tiny Ruins fame, spent the first 10 years of her life in England with her extended family, before heading to New Zealand with her mum and dad. After her mother’s failed attempts at her own folk band (and maybe wanting to continue the musical line through her daughter), music became quite a key element in Fullbrook’s life after taking lessons; cello at 7 years old, guitar lessons from her grandfather in England from an early age. Listening to artists like Lindisfarne, Christy Moore and The Beatles, she started to find her feet in music and in life, transitioning into a visionary musician. For her, music was a way of finding some common ground between where she was and who she was becoming.
At such a formative time in anybody’s life, it was particularly difficult for Fullbrook to adjust to the kiwi lifestyle and take her first steps into adolescence, so she held the memories of England close to her her chest. After taking a quite a liking to The Beatles, she would record cassette mix-tapes of herself, singing and playing guitar to Abbey Road hits, and send them back to the mother land for her grandfather and longing friends. From the extroverted, confident little girl that she was, over the course of relocating and adjusting, Fullbrook had began retreating into herself and refining the kind of person she was. Music was her safe space, without judgement or discomfort, she could express herself freely and start to pave the way for her future.
Listening to Jazz was a big part of Fullbrook’s early-adult life, always wanting to be a famous jazz musician but “settling” for folk. By the time she got to University, moving from her hometown of Auckland down to Wellington, her musical ventures exploded into real possibilities instead of pipe dreams. Like so many other musical projects, it started in her bedroom after turning a corner in songwriting, after a lot of upheaval going on in her personal life. She started expanding the type of music she was writing and they started to seem more interesting, to herself anyway. Recording these songs all by herself, Fullbrook would upload them on MySpace and get a great response from the general public and recording companies alike, so much so that she was signed, almost instantly, by Spunk Records.
The real work begun when she moved back home to Auckland and formed a garage/eclectic-lounge-room band. After finding some connections through friends of friends, a group quickly came together with Cass Basil (housemate and double bass player – playing a duo for some time, including a 5 month tour of Europe together) and then enlisting another friend, Alex Freer (drums) to form a folky 3-piece band. Her simple demos back in her teenage years inspired Fullbrook to have reactionary musicians on her new tracks, layering sounds and using the talent around her to create something beautiful, something for everybody to enjoy making and performing. So in the bushes of Waipu, the three-piece recorded Haunts, their bluesy EP.
Not long after, Fullbrook’s first album, Somewhere Meant For Sea, was released back in 2011 from South Gippsland, Australia. Receiving global acclaim (BBC’s Album of the Year & a finalist for New Zealand’s Taite Prize in 2012). After forming what became the “original” act – either as the three-piece band or Fullbrook playing solo – Tiny Ruins supported artists like Calexico, Beach House, Father John Misty, Neil Finn, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Adams and Leon Bridges, just to name a few. Gathering inspiration from travelling, the bands she performed with and from life unfolding around her, Fullbrook kept to her indie-folk roots. Of course, there is always experimentation with Tiny Ruins’ music, finding some psychedelic grooves, moving from the whimsical feminine folk to more grungy indie tunes, Fullbrook promised to never stop exploring.
In between touring the world with international acts and having some downtime to relax, Fullbrook partnered up again with Basil, Freer and new found foe Tom Healy (well renowned producer from New Zealand, known for The Lab Recording Studio) . Together, they spent hours upon hours recording Tiny Ruins second album, Brightly Painted One. Rocking up to the studio everyday was tough, it was summer and the full-blown heat was painful but The Lab was an oasis, freshly painted walls (inspiration for the album title maybe) and silky pillows and mixing boards full of history, the studio was a well deserved haven for Tiny Ruins to rest their feet and write the next chapter.
Often times, Fullbrook would be told that she sounds like someone else, with fans of hers noting the similarities with her voice and her style to other musicians. Nick Drake is a common one, with both Tiny Ruins and Drake being finger-picking geniuses and they share a love or morose lyricism. But Fullbrook has been most influenced from classical music and classic artists, from Beethoven to the Beatles. They provided the bedrock of the way she writes songs, explaining that chords just appear, an intuition of what sounds good instead of the mathematics and science of songwriting. When creating a new masterpiece, she often relies on inspiration from writers and poets and movies and personal relationships, finding aspects which strike a chord. Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Nina Simone or Billie Holiday, Fullbrook always finds that when the greatest singer-songwriters are performing, you really pay attention to what they’re saying, a storytelling presence instead of just an instrumental set. There’s something magic about artists who can captivate an audience like that, something that Tiny Ruins often look to mimic.
A high for Tiny Ruins over these last few years was working for David Lynch, famous director/actor/artist/author/producer. From a series of very fortunate events. Lynch got in touch with Fullbrook (perhaps through Lorde, another New Zealander musician who was privy to Tiny Ruins) so both Lynch and Tiny Ruins ended up in Los Angeles for a few days, working on Dream Wave, which Lynch produced himself in his own personal recording studio. After Fullbrook had the chance to ask, it turns out that Lynch had known about them for some time after seeing them perform an acoustic cover of one of their songs via YouTube. And to add to the madness, Lynch also heard them on a local Californian radio station the morning on which they were to record, a wild coincidence or maybe a sign of fate? So all together, they crafted one perfect song and released it into the world, for everybody to enjoy. Fullbrook thinks it was one of the most formative and influential times of Tiny Ruins so far and we can’t help but agree.
Last year, Fullbrook teamed up with Hamish Kilgour (musician in his own right and current drummer for the Tiny Ruins-duo) to release an EP called Hurtling Through which they’ll be touring heavily on the next venture. With the constantly altering and updating Tiny Ruins project, there’s a huge European tour which they’re currently embarking on, from England to Norway to Scotland to The Netherlands and beyond. Fullbrook will be hopefully visiting her grandparents for a cup of tea and Kilgour will be experimenting with crazy new drum sounds, with both members of the fresh Tiny Ruins having a fabulous run of shows before heading back home for a few days (to do some intensive workshops where Fullbrook will reconvene with the whole band and practise like a man woman) before heading down under for a headline show during Vivid Sydney.
Fullbrook thinks the show in Sydney will be quite a triumphant moment for everyone, with a brand new set, trialling some fresh tunes and sounds, with some new members along for the ride and a whole new world of music to discover. Covering all their bases with music new and old, Tiny Ruins’ show is set to be one of the best performances of Vivid, so if you have he chance, find a friend and buy yourselves a ticket to watch this dynamic, prodigious group of souls absolutely perform their socks off.