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Musical Mondaze

Tiny Ruins

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The latest Tiny Ruins album, “Olympic Girls” (set to drop this Friday from Ba Da Bing), is bigger and bolder according to Hollie Fullbrook, pack leader of the New Zealand-based quartet. Originally intended as a solo project, much of the critical praise following their previous recordings, including 2014’s “Brightly Painted One,” was deservedly heaped on the singer/songwriter, though she is quick to point out the band’s creative and personal significance.

The band motivates me, encourages me, cajoles me, teaches me, keeps me sane, keeps me active, makes me laugh, gives me a sense of camaraderie,” she told TrunkSpace in a recent interview. “My bandmates are hugely important to me, and they really made the record what it is.”

In other words, they are all Tiny Ruins.

We recently sat down with Fullbrook to discuss the roller coaster ride in bringing “Olympic Girls” to life, wrangling herself in and out of songs, and why she aspires to tell stories with her songwriting.

TrunkSpace: Were just a few days away from the release of your latest album “Olympic Girls.” As you gear up to share new music with the masses, what emotions do you juggle with? Does it vary album to album?
Fullbrook: Mainly a sense of lightness, like a weight is lifting from my shoulders. Release is definitely the right word. Weve been holding on to these songs for a while now. I feel some apprehension, nervous energy toofocusing on what we need to do to tour this thing over the coming months.

It’s an understatement to say this one’s been a roller coaster ride. With this one, I’m acutely aware of all the things that have aligned and all the people who have helped myself and the band get to this point. It feels great to be finally sharing it.

TrunkSpace: This is the third album by Tiny Ruins. No one is closer to the music than you. As you listen back to the earliest creative iterations of the band and compare it to what is on “Olympic Girls,” where do you hear the biggest differences? Were those changes by design or a natural progression?
Fullbrook: The band fully came into its own on this album. In that all our personalities are expressed more in the music. It has a more extreme palette of sonics, is bigger and bolder… both a natural progression and conscious decision. We discussed using broader strokes, more electric guitars, heavier drums – the songs really called out for those things, and I wrote with the full band in mind. But I also wanted to stay true to where we’d come from. I didn’t want it to be a departure into something we’re not. It was about being more ourselves than about a reinvention.

I do hear some difference in my vocal delivery. I pushed outwards in my singing and guitar playing on this album, tried to get better at both, and in many ways both the lyrics and delivery are the most ‘me’ they’ve ever been. Im older, my voice feels deeper, stronger – all that stuff. And maybe I’ve dropped my guard down a bit further.

TrunkSpace: The album was recorded over the course of a year. Did that allow for time to
tinker and perfect the tracks in ways that you didnt have the luxury of doing with your previous studio recordings?
Fullbrook: We recorded it in the same space as last time… in our practice space, actually, at (electric guitar player) Tom Healy’s studio at The Lab – an underground warren of small independent recording rooms. Tom’s a music producer by trade; he recorded and mixed this one and the last album too. With “Brightly Painted One” we blocked out two weeks and tracked everything quickly. We used a big studio room at The Lab for some songs, so there was more of a feeling of time pressure. We were greener – Tom’s kit set room was newly put together. I was in the throes of heartbreak, absolute heartbreak, so recording those songs was painful, but compounded in time.

Tom has since joined the band. This time ‘round, and with all of us juggling other jobs, touring, life’s ups and downs, these recording sessions were spaced out weeks apart. I was writing songs throughout. We didnt start out with the full track list ready and waiting – it was a sort of gradual workshopping process that felt very relaxed and methodical. For me personally, the recording sessions were little islands of joy, with my friends, when I got to make music and pour all this energy out. The sessions weren’t painful, they were the thing I looked forward to most.

We’d record in these beautiful little capsules of time, perhaps on a weekend or a public holiday, or a day that everyone was free… and things took a while for us to build. And it was like sole dedication to each song over the course of maybe two or three days, recording every part, and then we’d leave it and move on to the next song two or three weeks later. We didn’t listen to what we’d done until fairly far along – maybe five songs deep. I didn’t get weighed down with the details of it all. It felt like we worked very seamlessly, easily, on this record. It just took time to get there.

TrunkSpace: We found that you cant just listen to “Olympic Girls” you feel it as well, which is not something that many artists can achieve. The emotions weaved into the various tracks are multilayered, which makes each song a journey. Was that something you set out to achieve in the studio to prompt empathetic response from the listener?
Fullbrook: I wouldn’t say that’s something we were thinking about. You have to be careful about manipulating emotion for an audience’s sake, both with recording or performing, as it can really backfire.

When I’m recording I’m not thinking about how a listener might respond. I’m just responding, and choosing. Thousands of decisions based on our immediate responses. We always choose the take that personally makes us feel something. There might be imperfections in a take, but something about it just has the feeling. It’s strange that you can sing the same song a bunch of times, but one of those times, it clinches it. It affects you differently. Cass’s bass line goes somewhere weird which she just can’t replicate or make any better. Or Alex’s drum fill that makes you surge with adrenaline. You’re always chasing this magic phantom sound. And when you do find it – holy shit it’s the greatest feeling! So it’s just our own gut instincts we’re always checking in with. And then hopefully, that translates somehow, to the listeners, in the end.

Photo By: Si Moore

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with “Olympic Girls” as you prepare to share it with listeners?
Fullbrook: Some of my favorite songs on the album are ones that have not been released as singles. A track called “Sparklers” is one that I’m pretty proud of. And the second half of the album is kind of wild. Tom went next level on the mixing, getting all these big expansive soundscapes to really open up, and I think for listeners who’ve been waiting for the next Tiny Ruins, it’s going to be really exciting for them, listening in the dark with headphones or whatever. I love imagining that. Of them hearing the songs they don’t know yet.

TrunkSpace: As a songwriter someone who is expressing themselves through their art in various ways do you ever second-guess yourself as to if youre putting too much of yourself into a lyric or overall performance, and in the process, leaving yourself too exposed?
Fullbrook: Hmm, maybe yes, occasionally. Some writing is too raw, and it doesn’t actually get across what you want to say in a coherent way. Not that everything always needs to be coherent. (Laughter) But…I guess you can splurge a whole lot of writing when you’re in a distressed or exuberant state, and when you come back to it a day or so later, it feels overwrought, or full of pretense, or it’s just way too general. So it’s about channeling the truth of that experience or emotion in a way that still feels like you’re honoring it, but honing it into something that has more a life of its own, more specificity. I feel exposed with every song I’ve ever written – when I play one to the band, for instance, for the first time, it’s excruciating. I feel so nervous giving songs their live debut… it’s always going to feel intensely personal – that’s the nature of the beast. But in terms of the craft of writing, yes, I do try and wrangle myself in and out of songs sometimes.

TrunkSpace: A novelist will take thousands of words hundreds of pages in an attempt to perfect a beginning, middle and end of a story. Meanwhile, a songwriter does the same thing in just a few lines. When done right, its magic. Do you see yourself as a storyteller, and if so, what is the greatest story youve ever told?
Fullbrook: I have always loved being read to, and I love reading stories aloud. I have worked as a nanny at certain points of my life, and I enjoy kids, because they drink up stories. For me, there aren’t many songs that can really compete with a powerful story told to an enraptured audience. I was a lucky kid that got told many stories by various adults in my life. Stories are so important to us humans that they were made into songs, to make them even more memorable.

I think I do aspire to tell stories; certainly it’s an important part of how I make sense of a song to myself.

TrunkSpace: What do you get writing and performing within a band, and this band in particular, that you cant access from a solo mindset? What are the benefits for you personally in having a group of people fighting the fight alongside of you?
Fullbrook: This is such a good question and doesn’t get asked enough. My band mean everything to me. They’ve basically been there with me from the beginning – we could just never afford to tour as a full band in the early days. We are all old friends now, and have been playing music together for eight or so years.

I’m the leader of the pack, but it’s a pack. My writing is a solo activity and something I do alone, but getting those songs to their best version – that’s as a group, and we all listen to each other, it’s pretty democratic. I trust them. They are all incredible musicians. They all come up with their own parts. The band motivates me, encourages me, cajoles me, teaches me, keeps me sane, keeps me active, makes me laugh, gives me a sense of camaraderie. Music would not be nearly as fun without Cass, Alex and Tom. It’s not easy making a band sustainable, especially when you’re based in New Zealand. So we’ve had to be flexible. I’ve toured a lot solo. I’ve collaborated with others. We manage ourselves. We tour manage ourselves. My bandmates are hugely important to me, and they really made the record what it is.

Photo By: Georgie Craw

TrunkSpace: Can you envision a day when music is not a part of your life?
Fullbrook: No.

TrunkSpace: Outside of another artist, was there someone in your life who inspired or supported your creative endeavors that you feel was important to you getting where you are today with your music?
Fullbrook: Early on it was a couple of friends who encouraged me to do an open mic night and record some demos. Aaron Curnow at Spunk Records really believed in me and got my career going. Then my band came along. Simon Raymonde at Bella Union also instilled a lot of confidence in me. And now the great people at Milk! Records, Ba Da Bing Records and Marathon Artists. A solid team is really vital.

I owe a lot of my tenacity and strength to my parents. They raised us with humor, openness, emotions all out there, quite chaotic. Our childhoods were pretty free and idyllic. They’ve always really had my back, always listened and given support. They’re pretty amazing.

My partner of several years. He’s not musical, and knows me completely separately to my ‘career’. From the sidelines he’s the voice of reason and of love I often need to hear. He goes to every show he can, has tour managed us in the past across the US, and often sells our merch. He’s an absolute champion, not of my career, necessarily, but of me. He refuses to offer feedback on songs or a performance. Which can be frustrating. But in the long run I appreciate that. He doesn’t prop me up in any way. He has made me a much stronger person. It means I only listen to myself and my band, I don’t go seeking approval from anyone.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your musical journey looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Fullbrook: No… that idea just doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Olympic Girls” is available Friday from Ba Da Bing.

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Musical Mondaze

Katie Von Schleicher

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Photo By: Chris Baker

Much like her music, Katie Von Schleicher is an open book. In sharing thoughts on her songwriting process, the Maryland native offers insight into the inner workings of her soul, a place that sparks of creativity but that also has a dark, melancholy side. She isn’t sure if sadness is a direct influence on her art, but admits to going there from time to time. It is an emotion that is audibly apparent when listening to her debut full-length album “Shitty Hits.”

We recently sat down with Von Schleicher to discuss her recent European tour, performing in Manchester two days after the bombing, and how therapy has made her a more confident musician.

TrunkSpace: You recently returned from a European tour, right?
Von Schleicher: Yeah. I was opening for Aldous Harding in Europe.

TrunkSpace: What was that experience like?
Von Schleicher: Oh my God… it was such a luxury. It was so nice. We had a tour manager. I’ve never had that before.

TrunkSpace: We saw you post a picture of him on Twitter. He seemed super psyched. (Laughter)
Von Schleicher: (Laughter) He’s so funny. It was interesting. My boyfriend is my bandmate so it was me and him and then Aldous and her boyfriend are bandmates, so it was two couples and a tour manager.

TrunkSpace: Oh, man. He must have felt like the super fifth wheel.
Von Schleicher: (Laughter) Yeah. He would FaceTime his wife, so it was all good.

But, I’ve never toured in Europe before so that was a pretty incredible experience.

TrunkSpace: Did you find a particular country or region to be more drawn to your music than others?
Von Schleicher: I’d say major cities. In London the show went really well. I’ve only been there to go to the Globe Theater and mess around in whatever their Times Square is, so it was nice. Now I have a label over there in Full Time Hobby, so it didn’t feel touristy, which was really nice. That show was at Omeara and it was a sold out show. The thing about Aldous Harding audiences is that they’re there to listen, at least that was my experience. Everyone was silent, so it was pretty amazing in London. Paris was also really nice. And I’d say Hamburg was another really good show and Berlin.

I don’t know what it is about German people, but they clap a really long time after the set is over. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Europe has been going through so much lately and yet the people there seem so strong and defiant against the idea of being scared.
Von Schleicher: I definitely got a sense of a different reality that people face in Europe. Whatever we’re saying, our country is not filled with insurgents. When I was in Calais and we were crossing over to England… we were on the highway and we hit a bit of traffic and all of a sudden these guys, like ten guys, just ran out into the middle of the highway and were pulling at the backs of trucks trying to get in and smuggle their way over. It was really strange. We weren’t listening to music or anything. It was just this weird silence of when something is happening but you don’t understand really what’s happening. And then I couldn’t really get that image out of my head the whole time. I don’t deal with, in a daily life, driving down the highway where I see people fighting for their lives.

And then we played Manchester two days after the bombing.

TrunkSpace: That must have been unnerving.
Von Schleicher: I felt really somber about the show. Not tense because of safety, but just a little bit on edge.

TrunkSpace: When you’re playing in that type of atmosphere, does it change the way you deliver your songs in a live setting?
Von Schleicher: That’s a good question. I think it did, but I don’t know if it was in the right way. I think I felt a little more hesitant almost. My songs can be pretty dark lyrically and there’s something that can also be self-indulgent to that. Or maybe you feel that it’s self-indulgent when there’s an actual tragedy in a town that you’re visiting. So my songs are pretty dark and my banter can be pretty irreverent and crass and jokey in between and I didn’t feel like that was the right tone I wanted to put forth. But that may have been the wrong impression that I had. I just felt hesitant.

TrunkSpace: The people of Europe seem to be strong in that they will not lock themselves inside. They are still going out. They are still living their lives.
Von Schleicher: Yeah, and they are serious music fans. It was a complete luxury to be able to go over there and tour, especially when you play New York shows and although New York audiences are filled with great audiences and great musicians, people keep it closer to the vest here.

TrunkSpace: Well, and New York must be difficult too just because there is so much competition, not only in terms of live music but entertainment in general.
Von Schleicher: Yeah. I definitely don’t feel like I’m one of New York’s main attractions. (Laughter)

I think there’s something really humbling about it though, which can either be soul-crushingly humbling or adorably humbling. Going somewhere, having a tour manager, staying in a hotel, having a green room… if you play enough shows in New York just being you at clubs and then you experience all of that, you’re like, “Wow, this is more than I even need.” So, maybe it’s good to get humbled to the scene here.

TrunkSpace: So when it comes to music as a whole, how important is it in your life in terms of needing to get it out of you?
Von Schleicher: That’s a question that I think I only doubt the answer to when I’m feeling depressed or worried about my future or whatever sort of existential feelings. I need it, but I’m not a tortured artist or anything though either. I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that I need it, but do I need to commodify it. Is that something I also need? If I get depressed for a few days, I won’t play music for whatever reason… I’ll feel extra self-critical or maybe I’m just lazy or I’m doing other stuff and I don’t play. And I do feel that it affects me, but I don’t wake up and just go, “MUSIC!” I’m very attuned to sound and silence is one of the best ones as well.

Photo By: Nick Jost

TrunkSpace: On those days that you’re not tapping into the creative aspects of music, do you still rely on it as a listener?
Von Schleicher: I keep having to remind myself to listen to music more. At work we listen to music constantly, so I am listening to a lot, but right now I’m kind of in need of some new music. I feel like I’ve hit a point where I’ve listened to my favorite albums a ton of times and obviously that ebb and flow occurs.

TrunkSpace: For a lot of people that’s seasonal. Summer becomes autumn and suddenly you want to tap into some of your favorite music.
Von Schleicher: Yeah. Everything for me is cyclical and seasonal. Writing happens in seasons. Editing or producing or whatever it is. I think the expectation with being an artist is that you’re irrepressible. Every day you’re T.S. Eliot and you go work on poetry from 10 AM to 7 PM or something. (Laughter) But I think a lot of it is more cyclical than that… the listening and the making of it. I think you need to take time off and absorb other things too.

TrunkSpace: So in terms of songwriting, when are you at your best? What mindset do you need to be in?
Von Schleicher: The simple one is just, feeling open. There’s an openness that I need to feel to feel creative and I go through phases of feeling not open. Sometimes I feel like I keep reading the same books or doing the same things on a loop. Right now I’m thinking about another album and I feel a lot more observant than I do when I’m not thinking about a new album. Or maybe I have to be observant to even think about doing it. And I’m just reading and walking around and looking at stuff and being like, “What’s my question?” That sounds really trite, but I get onto some kind of thematic idea that propels me to create it as a body of work… as an album… not just a group of songs.

TrunkSpace: A lot of times you hear songwriters say that happiness is a creative killer. Do you feel that applies to your music?
Von Schleicher: (Laughter) No. My songs are pretty sad though. Some people write when they’re only happy. I’m in Central Park right now and I’m between therapy appointments, which is my new life right now. I’ve decided to go to therapy and I’ve been curious about the idea of anti-depressants too. And I don’t know… I pick life over the idea of me being a brilliantly tortured artist. Whatever that means. I’m 30, so I’m a little bit older, and the desperation that I felt when I was like 22 to just get the songs out there and be a legend or whatever you think when you’re listening to a lot of Lou Reed… now I feel like I just want to be happy to be myself and be around people on a daily basis. So that’s more important. I don’t know if it helps the songwriting or hurts it.

TrunkSpace: So do you mean that some people may be hesitant to take anti-depressants because they’d be worried it would turn a switch off on their creative brain?
Von Schleicher: Possibly. Yeah. Everyone has a different philosophy, but I feel like songwriters and poets tend to have a lot of philosophies about their existence. I feel hesitant to take them. I’m totally on the fence. Not because it will mess up my songwriting, but just because then I’ll be dependent on a thing. I don’t know. It’s a tough call, but I feel like I’ll always have something I’m probably complaining about in case sadness really does influence the songwriting. (Laughter)

I will say that going to therapy made me a more confident person and I think being more confident makes you better to other people and more honest. But also, it makes you able to produce music, so it’s not just the songwriting but it’s also the confidence to make an album that has more moving parts and things beyond just the sad genesis of the songs.

Shitty Hits” is due July 28 from Ba Da Bing Records.

 

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