13 Apr 2015

Interview: Tiny Ruins

11:07 am on 13 April 2015

Taite Music Prize finalists Tiny Ruins discuss their nominated album "Brightly Painted One".


Tiny Ruins' Hollie Fullbrook.

Tiny Ruins' Hollie Fullbrook. Photo: Georgie Craw.

The winner of the Taite Music Prize, which aims to award the best album from a New Zealand artist over a calendar year, will be announced on April 15 at a media event in Auckland. Named after renowned local journalist Dylan Taite, the award comes with $10,000 in prize money for one of the 10 shortlisted nominees

Formed as a solo project by Bristol-born musician Hollie Fullbrook, Tiny Ruins recently expanded to a full-time three-piece act, showcasing their songs on an extensive tour that has seen them hit Australia, Canada, the US, UK and Europe. Three years in the making, their Taite nominated album Brightly Painted One has already scooped up the award for Best Alternative Album at last year's NZ Music Awards. Hollie chats to The Wireless about the underlying significance of the songs.


Can you tell us a little about the recording and songwriting process for the Brightly Painted One?

The writing spans three years, right up to when the last track, ‘White Sheet Lightning’, vaguely appeared to me in a dream, in the middle of recording. Not while we were actually recording – I was awake for the whole process, thankfully – but a fair way down the line.

Some songs were inspired by my first experiences touring overseas, which were full of tears and chuckles. The cities of Glasgow, Barcelona and Paris all sparked a song each. More were written in my flat in Auckland, at the kitchen table. With my friend Cass Basil on upright bass - ludicrous in hindsight - we tested them out for months on the road, demoed them in Berlin and then, joined by Alex Freer on drums, recorded an experimental EP, Haunts, in preparation for the actual album recording. I’d had quite a few literal breaks and bruises by the end of it all, and the heart had gone through the wringer.

We enlisted Thomas Healy to help us execute it all. We recorded at The Lab studios in Mt Eden. We did most of the tracking in a couple of weeks, then tinkered and added layers of this and that over the following five months, finding time around our various jobs and touring.

Did you go into the studio with a vision for how you wanted the album to sound?

We wanted to tell the stories of the songs, to build up a lush band-sound bedrock that had space and dynamics for the lyrics. I think there’s always an inexplicable feeling of how you want the songs to sound, but it’s the actual doing of it  testing and trying different arrangements and textures and going back to the roots of it all again, building it up and tearing it down again, listening to others and your own gut instinct – where you finally reach a point that is pretty close to the feeling. There were a couple of false turns, where we went back and started from scratch.

Was there a message you were trying to get across with Brightly Painted One?

A message to myself, maybe  one that keeps on giving me the wink. I wanted it to be something people got something out of. I wasn’t making words up for the hell of it. The track order is important  I wanted there to be an arc of learning, for want of a better word. Quite an inward looking beginning, focused on its own sorrow, that grows into something wider and is sprinkled with the odd epiphany. It gathers strength, I think, which is what I wanted the experience to be like for the listener.

What sort of challenges did you face when writing and recording the album?

It was my whole world for most of 2013, with room for little else. There was the usual stuff, shoestring budget, juggling several different part time jobs, technical hurdles. Peaks and troughs, as always. There was the underlying significance of the material for me. Healy, Basil, Freer and I were a good core team, and we just put in the hours, really, helped by our friends and flatmates. It wasn’t a stressful “studio” experience, you know? It was freeing and really satisfying at the end of the day.

READ: A golden moment for Tiny Ruins

What music or influences helped to shape the sound of the album?

I more or less stopped listening to other music in the lead up to and during the whole recording process. I seem to remember though, when mixing, we looked to Bill Callahan as an inspiration point. I love his production style.

We decorated the small room we recorded in with patterned blankets, old velvet cushions, paintings and meaningful objects. Quite a few of the vocal takes were recorded in the dark, or with just a little lamp on. It had a magical atmosphere. The lyrics were all written out on yellow paper on a board for everyone to see. We sort of got into the world of the songs that way  through physically decorating our environment.

Do you have a favourite song from the record?

Thinking back on it now, it’s more just moments, or particular lines that stand out to me. I really like it when Cass bows the double bass in the bridge of ‘She’ll Be Coming ‘Round’  it reminds me of a whale moving. I see it as one beast really. The songs are sort of made better by being surrounded by the other songs, if that makes sense.

LISTEN: Tiny Ruins live at The Crystal Palace