Tiny Ruins tell us about the influences behind new album ‘Ceremony’
New Zealand's Tiny Ruins just released their fourth album, Ceremony. Bandleader Hollie Fullbrook she says while she presented the new songs to her band "very sadly and delicately on an acoustic guitar," they took different shapes with her collaborators. "I’m glad that’s not what the album is now. The first time I played these songs to the bandmates I just felt so vulnerable." It's a lovely album and you can listen to the whole thing below.
For more on the album, Hollie gave us a list of 10 influences for Ceremony which her dogs, David Lynch, Manukau Harbour in Tāmaki Makaurau, her bandmates, the late Hamish Kilgour, loss/grief, and more. Read her list and thoughtful commentary below.
TINY RUINS - TOP 10 INFLUENCES on ‘CEREMONY’
The Manukau Harbour
A large body of water located southwest of the Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland isthmus. The name may have derived from the indigenous Māori word for ‘wading birds’, of which there are many. It’s the less-favoured port due to its dangerous harbour-mouth which has claimed many lives, most notoriously the sinking of the Orpheus in 1863. I grew up in Titirangi from the age of 10, and was a sea scout for a while in the ‘Orpheus’ troop. We used to row boats and try to sail little p-class yachts in these waters, before puberty hit and it became uncool to be a sea scout. The harbour (‘old murky’), is both an incredible ecosystem of birdlife and tidal flats and at the same time has been neglected and polluted by our city. My partner and I moved back here in late 2016 when I fell pregnant. We moved back out west to the ‘fringes’. We rented a small cottage that was walking distance from several coves and creeks, bays and bush walks. The band were finishing the recording and mixing of Olympic Girls and I enjoyed exploring the mighty Manukau again while listening to the mixes in my headphones.
Unfortunately I experienced a miscarriage halfway through pregnancy. It was a real shock. I buried myself in the work of releasing Olympic Girls and then touring it for eighteen months. And I continued to walk around the various coves and creeks around South Titirangi, and later, Laingholm, whenever I was home. One of the songs on Ceremony describes this - “I walked down Little Muddy Creek / around the rocky shore / once in the bay, liberated / I ate an apple to its core”. The lyrics to about half the album, for a long time, were just stuck in notes files on my phone, or in a notebook. I couldn’t really face turning them into songs, for a couple of years. But this earlier time, this initial period of grief, forms the lyrical bedrock of the album
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I was deeply affected by this story of the death of Lincoln’s son - the way it was structured and told, reporter-like, dipping in and out of historical fact and dizzying imagination - a part of me felt a need to read about experiences of loss greater than my own, to navigate my way somehow. And it was refreshing to read this account of grief that was juxtaposed with such a bawdy, physical, and grotesque locale for the poor boy’s soul… it had a way of speaking to me about death that I appreciated - it didn’t shy away, it grabbed the whole subject by the scruff of the neck.
David Lynch - Twin Peaks Season 3
I was transfixed by this series around this same period of time - 2017-2018, when I was just writing lyrics & avoiding picking up the guitar. I can’t say the exact ways it influenced the album, but everything that David Lynch does has a way of making you feel a certain way. Both afraid and comforted at the same time. And musically, it was a rich treasure trove. Our drummer Alex gave me the soundtrack for my birthday that year, and it’s a double album I still play a lot. The Platters’ song ‘My Prayer’ was one that particularly stuck with me.
Dogs: Wilber & Tansy
A couple of years later, my partner and I adopted two dogs. Both had ended up in rural pounds and were lucky to be saved by a woman named Lucy, who runs Aran Rescue in Auckland. Ridiculous, crazy dogs. In their puppyish days, their enthusiastic pulling of me along the pavement to our local beach, Dorothy Bay, led to a song of the same name. Their paws madly running in the air as they slept sparked the song ‘Dogs Dreaming’. It’s hard not to be inspired by them - they keep me very much in the moment & to a daily rhythm and routine I never had before.
A strange few nights in a train carriage
Fast-forward to 2020, in the winter, I headed to a yoga/wellness retreat for a few days, to try and finish the songs before taking them to the band. The reason I chose this place was they offered a long, self-contained train carriage as one of their ‘cabins’. Two dear friends had got engaged in the carriage; it seemed like it would be a peaceful place to write. I locked the doors, put on an oversized black hoody and went full goblin mode for three days straight, only leaving the carriage to microwave pizza in the communal kitchen, amidst chirpy yogis and backpackers. The weather was feral - wind and rain lashed the carriage through the night. The carriage rattled and creaked. Grim. There was no internet, and time became nebulous. I got a lot done. The sense of an impending storm, power cuts, and Mother Nature exacting her revenge in general has permeated a few songs across the album.
Bandmates: Cass Basil, Alex Freer & Tom Healy
I love my bandmates so much. And often I find that articles and interviews overlook my talking about them, like there’s only room for one story. But they are really indivisible from the existence of the album, and of the band. We’ve been playing music together for over a decade now. Cass & I met when we were teenagers, and Alex soon after. Then we met Tom at a party. It’s been a long time of being friends, touring and making albums together. I guess I just want to yell from the rooftops about them, because they inspire me to keep going and to keep writing. We all listen to a really wide variety of music. But we hone in on certain things for our albums, maybe to keep in mind the vibe or something. And for this one, it was a blurry mix of Van the man, JJ Cale, the song Cattails by Big Thief, short stories by Borges and Lenny Kravitz’s scarf, which Cass was trying to knit a version of throughout the recording sessions. We record just the four of us - Tom produces us in his studio, Paquin Studios, where we also rehearse. And Tom’s skill, both as an engineer and in his mixing, is completely mind-blowing. The reason the sonics of the album sound so beautiful is down to him.
Some musical choices
Cass’s bass parts are a big part of the album - her playing is always interesting to me, it’s always a conversation she has with other instruments. And she wanted to use an array of different sounding basses, including a fretless jazz bass, an upright bass and a Rickenbacker. The fretless especially has an emotional quality, they way she plays it sort of creates a depth, a wateriness, that is important to the album. And then Tom’s and my electric guitars were only ever DI’d, never put through amps. So there is a tenderness and a noodly quality to them that is a little 70s. And then the drums were kept fairly dry, and Alex was really inventive with all the percussion and textural stuff he used - bells and chimes and bongos - along with some drum parts that really pushed us into more groove-heavy territory than we’ve gone before. We wanted to play the whole album live, easily, just the four of us. So we didn’t go too overboard with overdubs and layers.
Paquin Studios, The Lab
The aforementioned studio where we’ve recorded our last three albums (Brightly Painted One, Olympic Girls and now Ceremony) has a rugged charm and everything you could ever need to make brilliant albums on hand. There are several dudes down there with their own studios - little sonic boltholes squirrelled away in various parts of a big underground bunker. We recorded nine of the 11 tracks there. The feel of the tracking room and the mixing room is intimate and dry. We often had Tom & I recording guitars & vocals in Tom’s mixing room while Al & Cass held down the rhythm section in his tracking room, for separation of sound. For the other 2 songs, we went to Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios - just about the polar opposite - a big, beautiful, luxurious space. We got a much roomier drum sound there, and more of a ‘live’ sound as we were all in one room. But there’s something uniquely special about recording in our familiar territory of Paquin studios. It’s a feeling of exploration and experimentation. Though pressure can be great too. Perhaps neither is better or worse, but the sound of the album is affected by that choice.
I met Hamish (drummer for The Clean, The Great Unwashed, The Mad Scene) in NYC several years ago when he accompanied me on drums for my first shows in the US. We became good friends, recording an EP, Hurtling Through together. Just in a general sense, I suppose, he influenced me with his attitude towards making art, being an artist, being spontaneous in his music making, and his overall generosity of spirit. But I think further, he was someone I could confide in, and I talked to him during the difficult times leading to this album’s material. He was also going through losing his mother and his friend Peter Gutteridge, and also one or perhaps two of his cats. And I observed him, the way he had rituals and ceremonies. He held vigils for those he lost, and collected tokens and special objects. It had an impact, a little, into the way I dealt with my own grief, and how I have dealt with losing him, too. He is much missed.