For the 2019 season of our beloved EARS mixtape series, Assemble Papers is partnering up with Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher’s Milk! Records to bring you a year of good tunes from the indie Melbourne music scene. Opening act: Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins brings us a folkie mix titled, simply, ‘Autumn’.
The first time I saw Tiny Ruins live was at a small venue in South Gippsland, the Meeniyan Town Hall. Playing solo, Hollie was supporting Calexico. As expected, Calexico were tight and guided the mood between playable fun and introspection; but Tiny Ruins stayed with me from that night. The weight of her melodies and intimate storytelling awakened parts of me that were lying dormant. Since 2013, I have followed her career with enthusiasm, finding that each new release has a new level of sophistication and poignancy than the one before. So I was thrilled when Tiny Ruins became part of the fantastic, Melbourne-based Milk! Records label.
This year we will be diving into the creative minds of some Milk! Records artists, and Hollie is here to kick us off with her Autumn mix. Her new album Olympic Girls is also out now, for lovers of dream pop and optimism.
Olympic Girls is your third full length album. It feels like from Little Notes to Olympic Girls, there’s been quite an evolution from a real folk sound, through to something fuller with a band. More adventurous in sound, too. What changes do these reflect for you?
The form or structure of a song seems to reflect where I am in my life, I think. And how you write the song – the ‘world of the song’ – dictates where it wants to go, usually, in a recording sense.
I guess early on, I wrote from a place of isolation, introversion and simplicity. It was very private. I longed to be a musician, but logistically it felt impossible. Then the following album I wrote largely on the road; there I was, ‘really doing it’. Brightly Painted One had a feeling of a difficult journey, heartbreak and overwhelm; forging ahead but still quite delicate. It was quite a painful album to write and record. It was with my same band, though, recorded in the same space as Olympic Girls.
With this record, it comes from a place of solidarity and trust in my bandmates. We have been playing together now for about seven years, and we made this album very much together. More confidence, musically, in my own writing, and in myself. I’ve been through so much more with this one, it’s from a place of more certainty and strength.
CM You toured Brightly Painted One for many months. What do you do on the road to create that little space for yourself, that’s reassuring and comfortable? Or perhaps that doesn’t exist…
HF I take a walk around the town we’re playing, on my own, if I can. We mostly share rooms, so we do our best to give each other space. But we take a lot of comfort in each other’s company, too. It’s my bandmates that make the tour fun, and humour keeps you sane. Doing laundry is always really nice. Nothing like a clean stack of undies to make you feel reassured. We try and eat well, to keep our spirits up. I also like a spicy tea called Samahan, a great cold/flu preventative.
CM You’ve worked with some highly-esteemed artists including David Lynch, Hamish Kilgour (The Clean), toured with Calexico and Sharon Van Etten. How does having the backing/support of this caliber of artists affect your confidence, and in turn, your songwriting and composition?
HF I think all artists suffer from crushing self-doubt from time to time, regardless of who they’ve been given the thumbs up by. Because all that matters really, day to day, is what you’re currently working on, and if it feels like it’s going nowhere, that’s a horrible feeling. But sometimes I do give myself a pep talk and say, ‘look, these people believed in you’, and it does help. Confidence is a strange and slippery one, and I think it’s mainly influenced by the real relationships around you rather than sort of outside voices. I think getting your inner circle right is the key.
CM What is it that you enjoy about collaborating and working with other artists, and does that inform your Tiny Ruins song writing?
HF Songwriting is still a very personal thing for me, for the project Tiny Ruins, and something I’m unable to share with others – it would just feel so strange and not really from my own heart if I opened up that process. Maybe for a different project, but for Tiny Ruins it’s really my own voice, experiences, stories in that kind of classic songwriter sense. That said, I feel as though my bandmates are my main collaborators, in that I take a song I’ve written, usually on guitar, with chord structure, melody and lyrics often in a roughly finished form, and we workshop it together and they all work on their own musical parts, and that can influence changes I might make to it. So with them in mind, I may structure a song or take a song in a particular direction. Their feedback and superior musical knowledge is really important for me.
CM Can you tell us a bit more of what’s behind ‘School of Design’? Given that we’re an architecture/design/urbanism publication, I think our audience would be interested! Is it based on an experience you had?
HF Yes, it is based on an experience…I guess quite a literal experience of the song’s lyrics. It was a day off on tour and I was wandering around this European city, and came across a design school that was empty for re-painting (but the door was open). I don’t know if other people feel this (I assume they do), but sometimes I get an overwhelming feeling of wanting to break out of the confines of all the systems built up around us. I’m reading this book ‘Sapiens’ at the moment, which helps give me a feeling of escaping from it, much like I was trying to describe in the song.
A very warm thank you to Hollie for this exquisite mix to make this autumn less chilly. You can order Tiny Ruins’ new EP, Olympic Girls, directly from the Milk! Records website here. If you’re in Europe over summer, she is playing Deer Shed Festival in Yorkshire!