Solo duo

Nadia Reid and Hollie Fullbrook perform tomorrow at the Regent Theatre. PHOTO: EBONY LAMB
Nadia Reid and Hollie Fullbrook perform tomorrow at the Regent Theatre. PHOTO: EBONY LAMB
Hollie Fullbrook and Nadia Reid brought forward plans to tour together, by several decades, writes Tom McKinlay.

The poster for the Reid and Ruins tour features the disembodied heads of the eponymous pair, staring moai-like from the bush.

And, fair enough, these are giants of New Zealand’s music ecosystem.

But, it seems, at least on the occasion that Hollie Fullbrook picks up the phone to chat, it might be a bit more literal than that. Fullbrook, aka the artistic force behind band Tiny Ruins, is indeed out in the wops.

"Basically in the bush," she confirms.

She’s parked in Laingholm, West Auckland, paused between the North Island part of the Reid and Ruins tour and the South Island part — the latter having been pushed back after one of the Auckland lockdowns.

In the days following the interview, she and Nadia Reid will have progressed down the island gladdening hearts and pleasing ears with their sets of accomplished indie-folk-pop.

It’s a tour of impossibly perfect design, two of the queens of New Zealand songwriting, each utterly distinctive, sympatically aligned. Inevitable, surely. Fullbrook confirms as much, except perhaps for the timing.

"We always talked about doing a tour together, we lived together for about a year and a-half back in 2017," she says.

Then when Reid was touring the world that year, she used Fullbrook’s flat to flop whenever she was home. There was, then, talk of touring together — when they were in their 50s or 60s, in a bus.

"But this year came along and it felt like, right, maybe we need to fast-track that idea because there is such limited time now for everyone to be on tour. Because once things are open it is like go, go, go," she says with a chuckle.

The tour comes complete with Reid and Ruins matching socks merch.

The pair were at diametrically different points in the record-tour cycle when pandemic upset the planet’s plans. Fullbrook was back in New Zealand after a frenetic 2019 touring Tiny Ruins’ latest disc Olympic Girls and then a solo version of the same, happy to have some quiet time. Reid, on the other hand, released her latest, Out of My Province, just as the pandemic’s first wave was breaking, scuppering scheduled globe-trotting.

"I was like, let’s do these dates together and upgrade to bigger venues and make it a really special tour of two friends," Fullbrook says.

The decision was to keep things simple, close to the way both women write their songs; usually just with guitar.

"For me personally, with musicians I love, I love hearing their stuff pared back. In its most simple state it can be really powerful."

And anyway, both of them had started out doing shows that way, Fullbrook says, with just a guitar and some stories, connecting with an audience.

"It is a conversation with the audience rather than the other musicians on stage with you. So it has its own intensity.

"It kind of demands a lot more from you as well. As a performer you have to deliver enough to keep that room in absolute silence, to hold the attention and tell the stories."

And make it all sound great, with just a voice and the six guitar strings.

But that is just the half of it. Because on the Reid and Ruins tour you get both on stage together, too.

"It is like a duo-solo tour. So, there is that overlapping of harmonies — the audience gets a kick out of hearing each of us sing on each other’s songs.

"Nadia’s voice is so distinctively Nadia Reid’s voice. Quite a lot of people have commented, ‘I didn’t realise that your voices were so different until seeing you both sing together’."

They both knew which of the other’s songs they wanted to get in on.

"Nadia had favourites of mine and I had ones where I felt like I could draw something out with a second guitar part and some harmonies on hers. And then we both suggested a couple of cover songs each, which may be one of the favourite parts of the set for me, because the artists we cover are close to both of our hearts."

Fullbrook’s not giving too much away about the cover songs; except to say there’s one by a very well known New Zealand songwriter, another by alt-country trailblazer Lucinda Williams and a third by a "very well known classic folk-country duo".

And there’s new music, as they’re both testing out a new song.

Away from the stage, Fullbrook’s been busy too. With her band, Tiny Ruins, she’s recorded eight songs towards a new album — between lockdowns. It’s not as "epic" as Olympic Girls, she says. The songs are all quite short.

"I am excited to be working on new songs. It is always kind of a relief when you realise you have actually written something new and you are still finding things to say."

It’s also been a pretty handy release valve in a year with plenty of cause for anxiety.

"Not just with the pandemic but with Black Lives Matter, the bush fires in Australia — it kind of started out with the bushfires — and then the feeling of the US election. A lot of big dramatic, quite heavy things going on in the world and that stuff affects me and the way that I approach my writing — not in a super direct way but it is definitely in the background the whole time.

"It has been useful having this outlet, funnelling some of those feelings into song."

The plan is to have the new album finished this summer.

"And then, in terms of releasing it, who knows? Because I am not sure what the world will look like next year."

For the time being though, there are shows for people happier than ever to have a show to go to.

"There’s a real feeling of palpable nervous energy in the room, everyone is a little bit not used to being in a big crowd but just really hungry for it as well, which is so nice," Fullbrook says.

"For both audience and the performers on the stage, you almost can’t believe that you are allowed to do it."

The show

Nadia Reid and Hollie Fullbrook (Reid and Ruins) play The Regent Theatre, Dunedin, tomorrow night (Sunday, November 29) at 7.45pm. Tickets are general admission.

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