Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins On Her New Album, Olympic Girls
For Hollie Fullbrook, it’s already tomorrow. When I call the New Zealand singer-songwriter in the late afternoon (which is morning the next day for her), she’s in the back room of the Auckland office where she works a few days a week, and it takes us a few failed Skype attempts before we finally connect over FaceTime audio. She is, after all, half a world away.
Fullbrook’s third full-length release as Tiny Ruins, Olympic Girls, was released the week before, after a five-year gap. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it took you so long to record this album,’ but a lot was happening in our lives,” she says of herself and her three bandmates.
While Fullbrook recorded a debut EP and following full-length album, Some Were Meant for Sea, largely solo, her follow-up, 2014’s Brightly Painted One, found her teaming up with musicians Cass Basil and Alexander Freer. In addition, that album’s producer, Tom Healy, has since become a permanent member of the band. Fullbrook laughingly says that the four of them would choose to hang out with each other even if they didn’t make music together, and this closeness results in a shared sensibility about what direction each new musical endeavor should take.
“We all felt that this album had the potential to break out of the kind of minimalist folk that we had built around ourselves,” she says. “There’s a lot more electric guitar, a lot more drums.”
It’s true that the sparse sketches that Fullbrook created on Some Were Meant For Sea and Brightly Painted One are more fully realized on Olympic Girls, an album that the band funded themselves and recorded on weekends and holidays over the course of a year. “In the freedom of a microphone, there’s a show I can’t shake,” she sings on the album’s titular track, and the heaviness of this shadow weaves in and out of the album’s eleven songs, making the singular imagery of Fullbrook’s lyrics pop out all the more brightly in contrast: lines of silver in deep water; kids lost in backseat dreams; empty schools left behind while its students are on holiday.
“Often when you record an album, everything else comes to a standstill,” Fullbrook says. “It felt like [this] album was made without a lot of fanfare—we just sort of chipped away at it, and it was a very not-distressing process.”
Fullbrook says that during the recording of Olympic Girls, her sessions with the band allowed her a respite from other heavy things she was dealing with—one of which she’s still holding close to her chest at the moment. She does feel comfortable talking about the fact that three of her grandparents passed away over the course of 18 months, requiring Fullbrook and her family to make long trips back to England, where they had relocated from when she was 10. “When that older generation pass on, there is a sudden feeling of growing mortality, and ideas of cyclical change—death and rebirth. I think it all influenced the album somewhat,” she says.
“Holograms,” in particular, is a song that Fullbrook says was inspired by an article she read about the increasing prevalence of holographic rock stars at concerts and music festivals, all of them dead; a strange new kind of immortality. It was also inspired by an eerie vacation experience; Fullbrook fell off a scooter and was knocked unconscious while on a trip to Zanzibar with a partner she would later end up breaking up with while on the trip. When she came to there were children standing above her, one of them inexplicably wearing a Darth Vader helmet. She went to the hospital, discovering that her leg was broken in several places, as well as her shoulder and her hand. Although the experience seems harrowing, she recalls it as being a uniquely funny and ridiculous situation. Of “Holograms,” she says, “The idea of immortality, or of having technology save us somehow—all that stuff kind of coalesced and became the song, and I wrote it really quickly.” Of the song’s first person perspective and her lived experience of the accident, she says, “A song is really precious in that way, because it kind of distills the experience and takes on another life.”
Fullbrook also has the distinction of being a musician who has worked with filmmaker David Lynch. After the release of Brightly Painted One, she had the opportunity to record a song with him for the Lorde-curated Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. (Half-joking, I ask Fullbrook if all the musicians in New Zealand know each other. She responds earnestly: “For the most part, I think everybody has met each other, yeah.” Fullbrook met Lorde through a mutual friend at a cafe several years ago, around the time of the latter artist’s first EP release.)
Although the song that Fullbrook worked on with Lynch, the haunting and beautiful “Dream Wave,” didn’t make the soundtrack’s final cut, Fullbrook says that the experience of working with him at his studio in the Hollywood Hills was a powerful one. She says that even though she was nervous, he instantly put her at ease. “Even just to be in that space was incredibly powerful for me, because I was a fan of his work,” she says. “He has a way of drawing out the stories and drawing out the truth from people.”
Fullbrook and the band have a string of tour dates planned in support of Olympic Girls around New Zealand, Australia and Europe, but are also hoping to tour in the U.S.—dates TBD. Olympic Girls is out now on Ba Da Bing! Records.