Current Issue #488

Tiny Ruins on burnout, David Lynch and visual songwriting

Tiny Ruins on burnout, David Lynch and visual songwriting

Since her last Tiny Ruins LP Hollie Fullbrook has toured the world and collaborated with David Lynch, but on new album Olympic Girls the Kiwi songwriter finds solace in the smaller, quieter moments.

An independent musician’s life is often one of ups and downs, of months on the road punctuated by idler periods of returning to a perpetually-interrupted normal life. For Fullbrook, the conclusion of touring for 2014’s Brightly Painted One meant moving back home with her parents and staving off a crisis of confidence.

“It was one of those coming back down to earth moments,” she tells The Adelaide Review. “I was pretty burnt out and numb, and didn’t really feel inspired.” Splitting time between day jobs at a library and nannying, however, made space for “a lot of contemplative, but chaotically domestic time”. “Which I think set into the songs, which come from quite a happy, content place,” she says, “but there’s definitely a kind of yearning.”

The space between Fullbrook’s musician and civilian lives grew only greater between albums, as she found herself overseas in 2016 to record a single with Twin Peaks director David Lynch. The collaboration, arranged by fellow New Zealand songwriter Lorde for a soundtrack project tied to blockbuster franchise The Hunger Games, was a long way from the Auckland Public Library.

“It was a kind of strange set of circumstances that led to us recording that song together,” she says of Dream Wave. “He was a fan of our work, he’d somehow stumbled across us – he said he found a YouTube video of me performing on an Australian radio station. For us that was really amazing as we’re big David Lynch fans. Then about a year later the opportunity came up to record with him.”

There is certainly something Lynchian in Fullbrook’s writing, and her talent for subtly-observed details and evocative place setting is on full display in Olympic Girls. Fragments of imagery like the title track’s references to a “stuccoed motel” and “frosted sheen of leotard twirls”, the “fresh white paint” of School of Design or a “smoker pink” sky on Cold Enough To Climb pull in and out of focus to give perspective to the deeper themes and emotions at play. “Someone once said to me, ‘maybe with your next album, use less words’,” she laughs. “And I don’t think it was meant to be an insult, but it’s true. For me that’s part of what makes songwriting fun.

“A song for me is often a listing or amalgamation of visual images in my mind, when I’m trying to convey an idea or a memory. Quite a lot of songs have a foundation and a memory – colour is a very easy detail as any writer will tell you. I don’t really do it consciously, it’s a way of setting a scene or making it real to myself when I’m trying to write convincing lyrics that really say something – rather than just glaze over.”

Elsewhere on How Much, Fullbrook contemplates that recurring question of how to balance a creative life with, well, life. “The song is really kind of about anyone who’s doing something creative or a little bit off-kilter, that’s outside everyone else’s ‘normal’ jobs and lives, and how uncertain and scary that can be.

“I think part of being a musician is getting your head around the highs and lows of it, and the cyclical nature of writing, releasing and touring music,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be that way, and I think a lot of musicians are trying to break out of that cycle because it isn’t the healthiest way to live a life, really.

“I think that’s why a lot of musicians end up struggling or quitting or imploding,” she says. “It’s a pretty tough thing to go from this high stimulation, highly stressful life of touring to coming back to basically the remnants of your old life you’ve had to abandon.”

But there is, at least, a new level of solidarity in the New Zealand music scene as Fullbrook’s friends and peers Aldous Harding, Nadia Reid and Chelsea Jade make an impact at home and overseas. “One thing that’s really changed is the number of incredible women making music in new Zealand,” she says. “When I put out my first record in 2011 I really felt alone,” she recalls.

“I remember feeling very much like not many people seemed to be doing singer/songwriter type stuff that I was doing. I was influenced by a number of New Zealand bands that were around at the time, like Lawrence Arabia and Phoenix Foundation, but they were all dudes really.

“It did feel a bit like I was out on my lonesome in 2010, and there weren’t a whole lot of role models,” she says. “But I feel like it’s matured – everyone’s songwriting has improved.”

Tiny Ruins
Saturday, May 4

Header image:
Si Moore

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