Interview

Tiny Ruins

Tiny Ruins

Tuesday 14th June, 2011 10:12AM

Transplanted New Zealander Tiny Ruins has started to get a bit of a buzz for her beautifully spare and evocative début album Some Were Meant for Sea. It was recorded in a small ex-school hall in Morraya, Austalia, and recorded with J Walker. She's about to go on a small tour through New Zealand and she took some time to discuss the new album.

Why music?

Because…it makes me happy (laughs). Basically I kinda got back into music when I was nearing the end of my degree down in Wellington, and it just was taking off so I decided to pursue that rather than pursue a job related to my degree. It felt really good to be involved in a band and playing live again. I haven't looked back.

How long in the planning was Some Were Meant for Sea, how old are some of these songs?

The songs range from being about four years old – which I think is the oldest song – to quite recent, about six months ago. The songs have been knocking around for a while. Most of them were recorded as demos a couple of years ago, so this album is getting the demos in a more polished way I guess, doing overdubs to make it more dynamic sounding. It's been in the works for a while.

I read that you recorded live pretty much?

The vocals and the guitar parts were recorded live, and I think about half of the songs on the album, those bass tracks were laid down in a small hall. Half of them were done in a studio, a couple of songs that use the piano were done in the studio.

Was it a challenging recording process? Nerve-wracking?

It was the opposite. That's exactly how I like to do it. That's the most comfortable – playing as if you were playing live, playing as if you were in your bedroom, rather than doing it a little more unnaturally, laying down the guitar first and trying to focus on the vocals solely. I find it better for me, not thinking about what I'm singing, not thinking too hard while I'm doing it. It needs to come out quite naturally. My guitar playing is quite fluid as well. It kinda goes in and out of time; to do them both together made sense.

I imagine it hasn't been too difficult to replicate live?

My part is pretty simple to play live. I'm still working on getting some other musicians involved to flesh out the songs as they are in the album. In an upcoming gig, I've got a drummer who's adding some percussion elements in the live set.

There were no drums in the album?

There's not a drumkit as such, but toms and bells and some percussion like a tambourine. All of the overdubs were done really subtly, mainly because I'm not really a drummer. It was myself and J Walker doing all of the instruments on the album - I didn't want to make the drums too obviously amateur. They're very subtle, but I did want a little percussive element. When you listen to the album you don't notice the drums, but they're kinda in the background.

How important was J Walker in the recording process?

He was really important. He set the scene by finding this little hall. He tracked down this beautiful old piano, which we got into the session. He listened to the songs in the right way. He got where I wanted to go with them, and was really a good listener. I trusted his opinions, he's obviously got a wealth of experience having been in the music industry for a long time himself, and he came to the record with a very intuitive and sensitive ear, which was really good.

It doesn't sound overproduced – it's very spare, and as if you're really close to the mic, but it's still warm.

That's exactly what we were going for. He was hesitant to have any grand ideas in terms of the production. We just wanted to keep it quite simple. We had quite a limited time to do it in, we recorded it in about a week and mixed it in another week. We just wanted to get the performance right and vocals sounding honest and true. That was the main focus, rather than doing a lot of arrangements. We did the arrangements as we went. I had quite a few ideas before we started but it was very much ad hoc, adding 'I think it could be cool if we had a few strings here' rather than have an intricate plan before we started.

How did you find the hall to record in? Did it have a bit of character in it?

It was lovely. It was very atmospheric. We were going to record during the daytime, but it ended up being there was a bird's nest situated in the roof of the hall, and the birds were really noisy, and we had to go back in the evening when the birds had quietened down for the night. It was really good for me because I like recording at night. J Walker found that a bit problematic because he's used to getting up early. Being in this beautiful old wooden building, it had this good feel to it. It was a school that was closed in the 1970s because they only had five pupils left, and on the wall, there was a war memorial and a picture of the Queen and a picture of Ned Kelly.

It didn't feel ghostly?

It's used as a community hall, so it has been kept in quite good shape by the community of Morraya. The actual place was quite spooky, it was surrounded by trees and hills, and the weather at the time was rainy and cold even though it was December. My general feeling of my time there was a little bit spooky, but no, singing in the hall, I felt comfortable and felt nice.

How do you write the songs – music first and the lyrics follow, or vice versa?

It can be both ways. Quite a few of the earlier songs came out fully formed with the lyrics and the music coming together at the same time. Some of the songs, I had guitar parts lying around for a long time waiting to find the lyrics for – I think 'Running Through the Night' was one of those. Often a line or a phrase or one word will appeal to me, and a whole song will be based on that one line. Sometimes I write lyrics independently – I think 'Old as the Hills' was one of those where I had written quite a few verses about this character and then the music followed, the lyrics.

Some of the imagery is quite oddball – were you thinking about a general theme for the album?

No I didn't have a theme, the songs were all rattling around and like I said, I recorded a whole bunch of demos back in 2009. I think half of the songs in the album, do have a theme of singing stories about characters and half of the songs were a bit more introspective, but as a whole, the title of the album Some Were Meant for Sea, was a line from one of the songs so I felt that images of the sea, images of journeys, going on a voyage, moving and movement was a general theme. When I looked at the songs as a whole, it did seem like there were some overall themes. But I didn't write songs with that in mind.

Did the movement match your personal life a bit – it sounds like you've moved around a bit?

A wee bit, a wee bit.

You've opened for a few big names [like Joanna Newsom and Beach House], how much of an influence was playing with them?

It certainly was inspiring meeting those people, seeing the life that they live, playing musically constantly, touring constantly, seeing how much work they did. Having been a fan of them for quite some time, it was pretty nerve-wracking. Knowing I was going to be supporting those artists helped me to lift up my game a little bit and work on my performance. I practised a lot before those shows. It was like the highest of standards, to try and impress the audiences going to those shows. It definitely was jumping into the deep end.

What's the plan for the album – you're doing a little New Zealand tour, but after that?

The New Zealand tour will be four shows in the main centres, and I'm looking forward to doing that. It'd be nice to see Dunedin and Christchurch, I haven't been there for a while. Just getting a community of musicians together, finding other bands to support and talking to other people how they've done their tours. It's the first one I've organised myself. It's been good to do that. The shows in Australia that I'll be doing, I think four to promote the album and then another six or so shows supporting Seeker Lover Keeper, which is a tour supporting three well -established Australian singer-songwriters: Holly Throsby, Sally Seltmann and Sarah Blasko. That'll be for my album, and also to go on the road with some other musicians, which should be fun.

Brannavan Gnanalingam




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