Tiny dynamite

ON TOUR: Tiny Ruins play Wellington's Puppies tomorrow and Saturday.
ON TOUR: Tiny Ruins play Wellington's Puppies tomorrow and Saturday.

Hollie Fullbrook is still wearing the coat she bought for her first tour three years ago. But life has altered drastically since then for Fullbrook, who performs as Tiny Ruins. Two weeks ago she opened for Neil Finn on his European tour.

"I found myself on stage thinking, 'Wow - this is great; I'm playing Four Seasons in One Day with Neil Finn to a sold-out beautiful crowd in Glasgow,' " she says.

This month she is racing around New Zealand, touring her own album, Brightly Painted One.

The second album from Tiny Ruins is their first since signing with British indie record label Bella Union, after label founder Simon Raymonde, himself a well- known musician from the band Cocteau Twins, witnessed a performance in Auckland last September.

Bella Union is home to indie music royalty Beach House, Fleet Foxes and The Flaming Lips.

"We had finished the album and we were planning on releasing it in New Zealand last November," Fullbrook recalls. "But in September, before we went on the United States tour with Calexico, we played a show in Auckland. Simon was in the audience. He was impressed and said he'd like to work with us."

When Fullbrook performed at the CMJ Festival in New York, Raymonde was in the audience again.

"That cemented the deal, I guess. He's been a really genuine person to work with.

"He has definitely helped our profile over in Europe a lot."

Back when Fullbrook bought that coat, it was 2011 and she was about to tour her debut album, Some Were Meant for Sea. Formed as a solo project in 2009 by Fullbrook, the band now includes bassist Cass Basil and drummer Alexander Freer. While continuing to be based in New Zealand, Tiny Ruins has spent much of the past three years touring throughout Australia, Europe and the US, opening for artists such as Beach House, Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, The Handsome Family and Calexico.

Touring so much has often thrown her into strange places with strange people, she says. A lot of touring is banal. It is tiring and musicians generally do not get to have the magical experiences offered to tourists.

"You're not free to run loose on the town wherever you go. I always tell people that it's like The Amazing Race but you're not on TV and there's no prize."

But she finds enjoyment in the performance. It's the 5 per cent of the day where magic can happen.

Brightly Painted One was recorded with engineer Tom Healy over several months in the underground warren of passageways and small rooms at Auckland studios The Lab.

This time around she took the approach of taking her time and embracing complete freedom to record how she wanted.

"I knew I wanted to record at home with a group of friends I've been playing music with for a while, so it felt a little bit more up to us. We did it really locally, close to where we live, at The Lab.

"I wanted to tell the stories of the songs as much as possible. I think it's a slow grower like the first album. When people first listen to it it's a bit hard to get under its skin . . . but it opens itself up to you over time."

Songs collect, she says, and suddenly, almost accidentally, there is a group of them.

"With this album it suddenly seemed there was an overarching story. The songs connected to each other in a way my first album didn't."

Fullbrook writes with a point in mind. "It's important not to waste any words. I think songwriting should be about something."

Landing in the middle of this album, she describes her songs She'll Be Coming 'Round and Straw into Gold as "hinges" from which songs Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens, Carriages and Reasonable Man hang.

"To me, those two songs are what the album is about, finding strength and perseverance through some kind of challenge or journey. Straw into Gold is about that in all kinds of context, trying to make the best of what you have."

The songs roughly follow in the traditions of folk and blues that Fullbrook has drawn on in the past, but Brightly Painted One follows a journey and is shaped with layers of percussion, brass and strings.

Her music has been used to accompany the dramatised TV series Hope & Wire, about the Christchurch earthquakes, to screen next month, and there's a project with Hamish Kilgour, of The Clean, in the mix, too.

"My hope would be to start working on another album as soon as possible. I have a funny collection of songs which may well end up on an EP.

"I recorded a couple of songs with Hamish Kilgour in New York when I was over there. I'd quite like to do some more with him and release that as a special little project."

But that coat has life in it still.

"I think with this album I'll be touring until at least the end of the year.

"Often, I don't know what life holds for me in the near future, I just go along with what opens up."

The Dominion Post