December/January 2023

by Silke Hartung

Ex-Pat Files: Blue Ruin

by Silke Hartung

Ex-Pat Files: Blue Ruin

Originating as an Auckland band back in 2015, Blue Ruin have since expanded both membership and horizons to tour throughout the UK and Europe, where the now half-Kiwi / half-Euro pop punk band all live. Late November saw the release of their debut album, ‘Hooligans Happy Hour’, with the promise that ‘fans can expect songs reflective of Blue Ruin’s playfully dark sound, with more face-melting guitar solos, moody baselines, heart pumping drum beats and gritty vocals than ever before’. Replying from Munich and Nottingham respectively, Kiwis Anna Monteith and Charlotte Tybalt, generously answered NZM’s questions about life for their ex-pat Kiwi act.

Can you catch us up on where in NZ you guys are from and some basics like that?

Hello! Anna is originally from Palmerston North, where she grew up listening to pop/punk artists such as Green Day and Blink 182. As a very enthusiastic and passionate teenager, Anna took it upon herself to learn guitar, bass and drums. From the age of 12 she absorbed herself in music culture, street teaming for NZ icons The Bleeders, and frequently attending shows in her area of local punk band The Rabble.

Anna studied music at UCOL in Palmerston North, and then after graduating moved up to Auckland where she studied Audio Engineering at SAE and Business at AUT. Anna got her start in the music scene with bands Penny Dreadfuls and the Electric Era.

Not long after turning 13, Anna met Charlotte, Blue Ruin’s current lead singer. The two of them vowed in their youth that they would start a band one day.

Charlotte grew up in Devonport, Auckland, singing and writing poetry at a young age. Inspired by the dark moody vibes of the Emo culture, she fell in love with bands like My Chemical Romance and The Used. She also frequently attended local bands, owing a lot of her inspiration to start a band to NZ artists such as False Start and These Four Walls.

At 12, Charlotte began singing lessons with Kiwi legend Debbie Harwood. She credits much of her vocal confidence to the support and encouragement received from Debbie at that young age. Shortly after she learned guitar and eventually picked up the lead guitar position during the early days of Blue Ruin.

And the non-Kiwis in the band right now, where are they from?

We have the badass Elettra Pizzale on bass guitar – who hails from Pamanova, Italy. Her father was a lover of rock music, so rock n’ roll was the soundtrack of her childhood. She began playing bass at the age of 14 and first fell in love with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. She now draws inspiration from bands like Joy Division and Tool.

Louisa Baker, the newest addition to the Blue Ruin family, is our guitarist and comes from Camden in London. She started playing the guitar at 13, and also fell in love with pop/punk music, taking inspiration from bands such as the Offspring, Green Day and AFI.

blue ruin gene simmons kissYou’re not in NZ anymore, where exactly are you now and how did you end up there?

So, we are everywhere! Anna is the band member who currently lives in Munich, and how Anna came to live in Germany is an entertaining story. Back in 2016 when Blue Ruin opened for Cherie Currie in NZ she met Alex Michaels, who was playing bass for Cherie on that tour. The two hit it off and eventually got married. Anna moved across to Munich to be with Alex.

Anna actually has a bit of a personal connection with Germany, with her parents both having lived there before she was born, and also embarking on a tour through Germany with her previous band the Electric Era.

Blue Ruin was already working towards focusing their career outside of NZ, so we decided to base the band that way too! Two birds, one stone kind of thing. Charlotte still lived in Auckland up until this month, having since moved to Nottingham, UK.

You’re still Blue Ruin but there have obviously been several changes in the line up since 2015…

Anna: Like a lot of bands, members set out on different musical journeys! So we found Elettra our bassist through a recommendation from our previous Italian guitarist, Eliana. We jammed with her, and she has been part of the Blue Ruin family ever since.

On our first tour of the UK, we were supported by Louisa’s other band, Louisa Maria. We became great friends on the road, and when a space opened up in the band for a new guitarist, Louisa jumped on board!

Charlotte: I definitely found it to be an adjustment moving onto lead vocals after being the guitarist for so long. It was funny because I suddenly felt so exposed, like I didn’t realise how much of an almost security blanket having my guitar strapped to me was.

I had to learn how to move on stage again, and also get used to the idea that when I talked to the crowd, in certain areas, they would very likely not understand what I was saying, haha. But it has been such an amazing experience and has opened up parts of my personality and degrees of confidence I didn’t know I had!

What would you say is your biggest professional achievement in music since relocating?

Really everything we have managed to do in Europe has been incredible. Back when we were in NZ we were still very new and there was so much we were yet to experience. Having moved across to Europe we recorded our first EP, filmed our first ever professional music video and embarked on our first headlining tour. So everything we have had the opportunity to do has just been mind-blowing.

How did you initially find your musical footing in the established Euro scene?

We found it very helpful to have friends in the local scene. Having someone who already had a foot in the door was instrumental in us getting our name out there in the beginning. We have been very fortunate to have had a fairly smooth transition into the European scene.

The biggest difference is that your audience has the potential to be so much broader. With playing in Europe, you are open to audiences from the entire country, so we are not just bound to the German market if that makes sense – it’s easier to get a wider reach.

We have also found that the enthusiasm of the fans is unlike anything we experienced back at home. Followers over here are so incredibly passionate. If they love your stuff, they’ll want it all; the CD, the vinyl, the t-shirt, and they will share your stuff everywhere! It is incredibly mind-blowing the level of support and passion we have received from our followers. They are also the most incredibly kind humans on the planet! We have been very fortunate in that sense.

How readily do you fit in musically in Germany?

Since we were living in separate countries for so long, Germany, Italy and NZ, Blue Ruin is really a touring band. So when we play shows we don’t often just play in one country, we hit many countries in Europe and multiple cities in the UK.

The rock scene in Europe is amazing, we have played with many wonderful bands. When we played the Swissrock Cruise in 2021 – a festival ON the water – we had the pleasure of playing alongside bands like Hardcore Superstar and Hellcats. There are also a lot of amazing female-fronted artists in Europe which is incredibly inspiring and awesome to see.

We have a few booking agents but have also booked many shows ourselves. You just need to put yourself out there and contact venues you want to play at. Networking is so key. The more people you talk to and get to know, the more doors you can open for yourself.

Out of everywhere we have toured one of our favourite venues is MCP Apache in Belgium. It has such an old-school punk vibe, that brings you back to your teenage years where you would go to gigs and check out a new band every weekend. The energy of the place is contagious, everyone is there just to have fun and let loose. It is cool because there is always such a variety of ages that attend the shows there, everyone just comes together to have a good time. It is amazing. There’s also a motorcycle attached to one of the walls – so that’s pretty rad.

How do you get by in regards to the language, within the band too?

Most people in the industry can speak English which is very helpful, but we also have a lot of people in our team and in the band who can speak different languages, so that certainly makes things easier. Our manager is German. Anna can speak German, Elettra can speak Italian and Louisa can speak Spanish – so we get on okay in that regard. Charlotte is the only band member who isn’t bilingual, she has also been told she has the heaviest and most difficult accent to understand, haha.

You’re all in Europe now, but not the same city. How do you manage the band to make it work, i.e. to rehearse, record and tour?

Yes, for the longest time, we were all in different countries! How we would make it work was have everyone rehearse their own instruments at home independently, leading up to us going on tour. Then we would all meet up a few weeks before we go on the road and rehearse the set altogether. It all works out fine, you just need to make sure you know your part.

In terms of recording, we would generally record in our different countries and then send everything over to Dave Rhodes in NZ and have him work his magic, mixing and mastering the tracks. At times a couple of us have come together and recorded in Munich, but mostly it has all been done completely separate. Now that Charlotte is living in the UK, moving forward we will likely all record in one place, which will make things easier.

Tell us all about your brand-new album! Where is your sound headed?

‘Hooligans Happy Hour’ is our baby! This release perfectly illustrates where we are at now as a band, and shows how much we have grown. The album consists of our classic horror punk tracks – as we have a love for the dark and macabre – but also has some brighter pop-punk tracks that speak to our musical influences, and contain more comedic lyrical content which gives listeners an insight into our silly side.

The vibe of the album is very much fearless self-expression. Charlotte recorded the bulk of her parts of the album with Dave Rhodes in Whitianga. We have always loved working with Dave so it was amazing to be able to work with him again on this album. Other parts of the album were recorded in Munich with Bobby Altvater, and Elettra recorded with Francesco Marzona in Italy.

What’s your approach to social media across the platforms you use?

People respond well to visual content, so across our social media platforms we strive to post as much visually pleasing content as possible. When we’re on the road we like to collect as many photos as possible as the behind-the-scenes images of the band seem to perform well. We also strive to put out content that illustrates our personalities. We really don’t take ourselves seriously and part of Blue Ruin’s charm is our immature silliness – so we try to get that vibe across in our posts too. People like it when you are authentic – so we try to appeal to people in that way.

Got any fun ‘horror punk’ tale you’d love to tell us all about?

Charlotte: One of our favourite stories is one time when we were playing in Holland. We showed up at the venue for soundcheck where we had been told there would be a drum kit provided. Turns out there was miscommunication and there was no drum kit. The venue owner then told us that maybe up in the attic there was an old kit we could use.

So Anna is climbing up this rickety-looking ladder up into the ceiling of this venue. It does not look stable at all and I’m saying to her, ‘Bro be careful for god’s sake’, and she’s passing down this kit which is in pieces, and missing hardware. A guy from one of the other bands gets some gaffer tape from his bag and Anna and him sit there on the stage literally taping this drum kit together. Somehow it managed to last for both bands. I have no idea how.