Annabel Kean / Photo Credit: Frances Carter / Friday 1st May, 2020 9:04AM
Auckland songwriter Reb Fountain shares her self-titled album today via Flying Nun after more than a month of adjusting to lockdown life, writing a song a day, and rescheduling her extensive international touring that had to be axed. Reb Fountain is bold and self-assured, and the former member of The Eastern and Reb Fountain & The Bandits and says this album “felt like a line in the sand” – a collection born from a readiness to shine a light on her own experiences, feeling it was “time for me to step out and say here I am”. Lead single ‘Samson’ let slip the LP’s gritty folk sounds to come, somewhere between Lou Reed and Angel Olsen. It builds an image of Fountain as this commanding, insightful songwriter who shouldn’t be messed with. With each single release I had a new favourite, and listening to Reb Fountain in full now it’s the same deal – ‘Samson’ was my top pick until I heard ‘It’s a Bird (It’s a Plane)’, until I heard ‘Faster’, until I heard ‘Quiet Like The Rain’ and so on. Enjoy Fountain’s excellent new record, check where you can catch her live, and make the most of another fee-waiving day from Bandcamp…
UnderTheRadar proudly presents…
Reb Fountain 2020 New Zealand Tour
Friday 23rd October – Yot Club, Raglan
Saturday 24th October – Jam Factory, Tauranga
Sunday 25th October – The Dome, Gisborne
Friday 30th October – Opera House, Hastings
Saturday 31st October – Meow, Wellington
Sunday 1st November – Cannon Heath, Wairarapa
Friday 6th November – Cassels Blue Smoke, Christchurch
Saturday 7th November – Port Chalmers Town Hall, Dunedin
Sunday 8th November – Sherwood, Queenstown
Friday 13th November – Wine Cellar, Auckland
Saturday 14 November – Wine Cellar, Auckland
Saturday 21st November – Leigh Sawmill, Leigh
Tickets available via Banished Music
Annabel Kean: Whereabouts are you in your bubble?
Reb Fountain: I live in GI and I have a house and I live out the back of the house in a garage, and I’ve got my dog and my family, my kids here. So I feel really lucky. I’ve got lots of space. I’m super privileged to be in a house at all. All the changes happen so fast eh? It’s hard to adjust. Well, it takes time to adjust.
Oh yeah, I’ve been telling my friends and my flatmates to be easy on themselves, because everything’s so strange and everything takes a really long time at the moment.
Yep. It is. It’s hard to go easy because some days it feels alright and that there’s hopefulness, and other days it feels like you’ve just been hit by a truck and everything sucks and it’s hard not to take complete responsibility for that because it’s so new, it’s like we’re having to literally build the neural pathways in our head to process this pandemic. So bizarre.
How’ve you been spending your lockdown? I feel like there’s quite a lot of pressure to be productive and busy.
I feel like at this stage I should be a supermodel, really fit and have cleaned everything and created all this new stuff. It’s so hard not to feel like I should be doing more, I mean we all feel that way. I guess for me, when this happened it sort of came at the same time as losing some really big opportunities. We were going to SXSW and we were going to be touring. We’d played at WOMAD and were about to fly out, and that didn’t happen. So even though SXSW wasn’t happening, we were still planning on this big US / Canada tour. So I was feeling like being hit by a truck and quite despondent and my friend Dave who I play music with, he said, “Why don’t you try writing a song a day?”, do a Woody Guthrie, and I sort of took it away and went home and thought about it and two days before lockdown I started writing a song a day. And that’s not the only thing I’ve done at all, but it’s actually helped me feel like I’m being productive and grounded, and really helped my mental health, even though most of the time I leave it ‘til 10 o’clock at night to start, and I’m up too late and I have no idea what I’ve written and I’ve probably written a whole bunch of duds.
How many songs have you written?
I actually have no idea, because some days I’ll write a few and sometimes they’re parts of, and sometimes they’re whole. I just started yesterday going back from the top to try and write them down. They’re literally scribbled, because I’ll record something and then I’ll record the whole song, but there’s no time to really know it, and then I move onto the next day. And then there’s all these other things I do in a day, like hustling, trying to get some work, doing stuff for the album release, or walking the dogs and doing some exercise, and food and whatever it is, talking to family, and then it’s back to the next song again. I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect, so I’m just starting that process now, because I want to know what I’ve written [Laughs], and so it’s going to be a nice process of discovery. It’s exciting.
I imagine quite a lot of artists will leave the lockdown with a whole new collection of work. It’s pretty amazing how this has become an opportunity for a lot of people.
I think so yeah, there’s going to be an absolute massive explosion of art after this, it’s just whether or not we’re going to have the spaces and places to actually be able to share them with people. That’s one of my main concerns and why I wanted to spearhead the Boosted campaign for Wine Cellar and Whammy. To be able to support them as a space for us to come and play at and actually share things and one of my concerns particularly over the last week has been hearing this kind of rhetoric about the viability of businesses and kind of leaving it up to this neo liberal, market led outcome which is based upon whether something has this optimum cash flow and the reality is with creative spaces like venues, they’re not cash cows. They’re barely breaking even, they’re run for the love of it and the point is we need vibrant cultural, creative spaces for us as audiences and artists to grow together in. Those places may not seem like Spark Arena, but they’re the places that have grown artists like Nadia Reid, Aldous Harding, Marlon Williams, The Beths, myself. We wouldn’t be anywhere without them and it’s just felt like we’ve gotta do something, artists, we’ve got to stand up and show solidarity and start just letting people know these places are in danger.
Are you planning on doing any live streams?
There’s a lot of stuff on the air waves at the moment, so it does feel quite full and I’ve got some things I’ve been wanting to do in terms of the album release, but a lot of my focus of late has been, I’ve got this record coming out [laughs] in the middle of a global pandemic, and what does that mean? Since the time this started happening we’ve just been running on a treadmill, scrambling to make sense of what this means for us in terms of the international stuff we’re doing, in terms of the PR, in terms of the choices that we’ve made, changing tour dates. It’s been pretty weird and it hasn’t felt like there’s been a lot of space, and to be honest with you it’s been hard. The first couple of weeks I felt low, like, ‘how do I reconnect with people?’ and I just completely changed my trajectory, and I know I’m not alone in that. But I am at that point- like I’ve just had an offer from an international live stream that wants me to do stuff, and I’m quite keen to hook up with other people that are putting on artists and their content, and share in that community building spirit. For me, I love live performance and I want to work and I want to connect with people.
I love the spoken verses in ‘Samson’ and was wondering, was that influenced by spoken word poetry, or more the likes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits?
I don’t know where things come from, and I feel like there’s a plethora of influences in whatever you do, and none of us are outside of all of those influences, we’re always creating from that place of those different references that you have. Samson was created during the making of the record, and I came home from the studio and just sat down at the piano and felt this real sense of urgency of wanting to express things I hadn’t been able to, or that I felt were repressed, and they needed to come out right at that moment. I like the freedom to express yourself in whatever way you need to at the time, in fact it’s so liberating to release those limitations that you have upon yourself and whatever happened at that moment writing Samson was what needed to emerge, and the spoken word just came out. I love that song, I love performing it, I love the way that it came out on the record and I’m super proud of it. Particularly the intent behind it, which is just really honest and driving.
Is ‘Samson’ a real person?
[Literal crickets] Um, everything’s real [laughs]. But often it’s more complex, for me anyway. There’s ideas that come together – hang on, my dog’s just trying to catch a wasp, or a hornet, and I feel like that’s a bad idea. Oh I see, it’s stuck in a spider web, I’m just going to free it so that my dog doesn’t eat it. There we go, saved a life or two. I’m sure the spider’s unhappy about it, someone’s always unhappy.
Yeah, some musicians write songs that are total fiction, but with real feelings and experiences behind them, or some people are very raw and personal and specific.
I was never really good at fiction, and my friend Sam Prebble who does feature in part in the song Samson, he was amazing at shaping other people’s stories and creating a story, like The Explorers Club. I sort of marvelled at that, because for me I’ve always written from very personal places, but what I realised, particularly with my work with The Eastern, is how important it is to tap into that universal mainframe and connect on that level and see your stories as beyond yourself, and when you do that then you can really connect better with your audience.
That can be a way to help people project themselves onto songs, by making them just vague enough or just specific enough that they can mean anything.
Yeah it’s so hard, because at the same time you don’t wanna create vaguery, and I think sometimes we can do that to mask what we’re really trying to say. For me it’s about finding that balance between being really fucking clear about what I’m trying to express, but then I love that feeling of when you’ve been singing the wrong words to a song you’re whole life and you discover that it wasn’t at all what you imagined, and that’s the beauty, that we have our own impression or interpretation of a song, and that’s so powerful. I want people to have that, I don’t want to give them everything.
I was wondering about the cover art, that gorgeous photo. What do you see as the relationship between the cover art for the new album, and the album itself?
For me this album really felt like a line in the sand. I’ve been a single parent and a music maker for a long time, but music was always second or tenth place, you know? With this record from the beginning it was very considered and self driven in a way that felt really new for me and that was why I embraced having a self titled album because it felt like it was time for me to step out and say here I am. Not because anyone else needed me to, but because I was ready to and wanted to. In terms of the artwork, to be honest, we tried a bunch of different things. I’d wanted to be on the album cover because it felt important to represent who I was along with the album, but I was really struggling with it. How do you do that? How do you encapsulate who you are in an image? It took quite a lot of hard work and many tries to find the right thing, and I was so grateful to Frances Carter for this photoshoot.
Last year I sent you a few questions over email, and one of them was asking you about the strangest show you’ve done, and you just casually mentioned performing at a Smurfs convention. I’d really like to hear more about that.
Oh lord. It’s very difficult to answer that question without jumping down a rabbit hole. Maybe it’s good to keep the mystery around that particular Smurf incident.
Smurfcident, yeah let’s call it a Smurfcident. But yeah, I was always a Smurfs fan, just to be clear. I was always a Smurfs fan. But I’ll leave it at that, otherwise I’ll break the magic.
Reb Fountain’s self-titled album is out now via Flying Nun Records.