Life is a journey, so the saying goes, and certainly, it is a maxim well-fitted to Reb Fountain. San Fransisco-born, Christchurch-raised and now Auckland-homed – that’s journeying enough in itself – but of course, ignores the personal journey most every singer/songwriter undertakes. 2017 proved a big year for Fountain with releasing both an EP and a six-year-old album that saw her among the final three vying for the Folk Tui Award announced in January. She talked with Sam Vegar about some of her travels and travails.
“It’s just in my bones and without it I feel pretty empty and lost.”
Reb Fountain quite lovingly describes her relationship, or more so, co-existence with music.
“In terms of what the albums mean to me, I guess they’re a larger expression of that; to share things I think are important, and also to make a living. But at the heart, really it just feels like it’s who I am. We are kind of inseparable,” she finishes with a smile.
Fountain is often described as having a traveller spirit, and it is indeed quite a staple ingredient of the freedom her music takes on. Having studied jazz in Seattle and lived in multiple places around the world, constant movement is part of what makes her style so unique, her influences gathered from many people and places.
“I met a really great friend, Jessica Kenny, over there [Seattle]. I walked into the theatre and she was performing with a school band. She was the most punk I had seen and she was incredible. She could just sing anything. She had all these piercings everywhere and all her hair was sticking up, this little punk girl, and what she could do was so fabulous. I was so inspired by that, how someone could be so free with their voice.”
Now a mother of two young adults, and when not working multiple jobs at home in Auckland, Fountain’s spirit remains twirling around with the readiness to keep moving.
“I’ve always felt like a traveller. I’ve been in Auckland for so long it’s driving me crazy. Sitting in one place is quite difficult for me. I’m at the point where I would be quite happy being on the road touring all the time. That feels quite comfortable to me, I feel my best when I’m on the road.”
“It’s quite difficult to write on the road but I get lots of inspiration. Because I’m really used to being super busy, I kind of record little bits and often they get left for ages – which is kind of what I’ve been doing for the last few months. Just capturing every creative thing that comes out. Some of them have been worked on a little more and others just come out and may never be touched on again, but my plan was to collect everything together and then see what I like.”
Now with the experience of three albums and several EPs, Reb has guided herself to becoming the smart and confident artist she quite evidently is. As with most journeys, it hasn’t been without its struggles, some perhaps of her own making, others inexplicably inflicted.
Reb’s North American origins bubble in her accent every so often as she talks about her first experiences performing to an audience, something that wasn’t as easy as the songwriting side of her musicianship.
“I was totally shy. Super, super nervous. In the first band that I was in I was terrified of being on stage. So I had this ability, but the whole kind of connecting on a performance level was challenging for me.
“I’d have my whisky, bourbon or whatever horrible thing I was drinking at the time, and that was kind of the way that I got through. It wasn’t until probably a year and a half later – we were doing really well – but then I ended up going to rehab. I had to come at music again without that crutch which was the beginning of a lifelong journey, you know, allowing myself to accept myself.
“I felt like when I put myself out there I was putting me out there, not just this thing that I was doing, and it really took until after I recorded my first two albums to really unravel that stuff. Making sense of the separation between myself and what I do and how I can stay strong when I go out and play.”
Her reflective nature seems somehow to have provided her with an inspiring and motivated outlook on the future, but the almost co-incident release of both an EP and album in the second half of 2017, seemed odd at best. Tracks on the ‘Little Arrows’ album had apparently been started six years prior, and would certainly have been released much earlier but for the unexpected death by suicide of close friend and musical collaborator Sam Prebble in 2014. Fountain performed with Prebble in various music projects over the years, and he was an integral contributor to her songwriting.
‘Little Arrows’ had its beginnings in the secure comfort of music den of her grandmother’s home in Vancouver. Some of the tracks developed in collaboration with Prebble and Storey – themselves gifted songwriters. The album is full of songs about grappling with relationships and countering injustices.
“We rehearsed and performed for about a year and a half and we recorded it very live,” she explains of ‘Little Arrows’.
“’Hopeful and Hopeless’, I kind of did on the back of having taken a break for ages and it was very much again me falling into it. All the tracks have a live vocal, it’s very rustic.
“So each record has been in some respects a snapshot of time but not necessarily a snapshot of me. I think I’ve changed a lot, which is good, I wouldn’t want to be the same,” she finishes with confidence.
The quickfire EP/album release confusion was compounded further with Fountain’s key role in the makeup band celebrating Nick Cave’s 60th birthday that toured late in September under the banner of The Boy Next Door. It was evidently one of those times when she felt the need to be kept busy.
“Realistically we all have doubts and insecurities about our life and what we are doing. I think in anything you do, just in living, find a way to believe in yourself even when you’re not sure if anyone else will. And not in a cocky sort of, ‘I’m so great’, kind of way, I mean in a really caring, parental sort of way. Saying, “Hey I’ve got you, I’m going to be with you, and we might not be great but we’re going to get better.”
With the optimism that ends her every sentence, it is evident why Fountain has continued to be an iconic NZ artist over the years, with her experience growing her a feeling of ease in moments of difficulty, and installing in her a comfort of the unknown.