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Reb Fountain Believes in the Magic of Live Music. But She Also Knows the Reality of It.

Read our interview with the singer-songwriter as she tours around New Zealand with Vera Ellen and Voom

Things are looking up for Reb Fountain.

After having to watch two album rollouts be waylaid by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US-born, Aotearoa-based singer-songwriter had to endure some trying moments in 2023, including the rescheduling of Australian shows due to her contracting the virus itself.

But 2024? 2024 is shaping up very nicely indeed for Reb.

She enjoyed a splendid set in the forest for Camp A Low Hum in February; she shared a stirring cover of OMC’s hit “How Bizarre”; tthe important documentary Escaping Utopia was released, which she worked on with composer Andrew Keoghan. (“Turns out escaping-a-cult-music is right up our wheelhouse,” she joked on social media.)

And now Reb is closing out NZ Music Month with an unmissable co-headlining tour alongside 2024 Taite Music Prize winner Vera Ellen and Auckland indie rockers Voom.

After the Christchurch date last night, the dream trio will perform in Dunedin tonight, Friday, May 31st, followed by two final shows in Wellington and Auckland this weekend (see full details below).

Read Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s fascinating conversation with Reb below, in which she discusses the highs and lows of touring, the creation of her latest solo single, “Faithless Lover” (described by us as “an alluring journey into its creator’s probing imagination”), the importance of live music venues in New Zealand, and so much more.

Reb Fountain, Voom & Vera Ellen 2024 New Zealand Tour

Tickets available from

Friday May, 31st
Errick’s, Dunedin

Saturday June, 1st
Great Hall, Wellington

Sunday, June 2nd
Powerstation, Auckland

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: What’s touring like for you? 

Reb Fountain: I think a lot of people just think you’re out partying all the time. It’s completely not that. It’s really intensive; you’re absolutely exhausted. Soundchecks take forever, you’re just sitting around, and then [you] play this intense show. There’s such a difference between yourself in everyday life, navigating transport, travel, and all that stuff, then you’re kind of in this other space of navigating soundcheck, working with all the tech and the crew, and then you’re in this performance mode. And then afterwards, you’re kind of rushing to meet and greet people and being super nice. By the end of it, you’re fucking shattered, but you still gotta drive to the next place. Maybe you have a couple of drinks or whatever, but it’s just like you’re trying to survive.

I think people don’t understand that this is really incredibly hard work. It’s very varied work and it’s a weird job, we have to embody all these different facets of what it is to be human. Being on tour, I just find it really nourishing and enriching and maybe it has that migrant spirit of, you know, travelling and connecting with other folks in different places. 

What’s it like trying to break into new scenes outside of New Zealand? What are your general ambitions in that space? 

People think that you get paid to play shows, but for the most part, particularly when you’re embarking on a new territory, it’s all about investing in a space. So it’s not like you’re making any money; you’re burning through it. So you’re kind of taking these risks, continuing to hit a place in hopes that you’ve built an audience, and you can keep coming back. That’s really what we want to do with Australia because we released the two records, (2020’s) Reb Fountain and (2021’s) Iris, during complete lockdowns, and so we had these global ambitions just before we all went into lockdown the first time.

We’ve done a lot of things in the last couple of years, but they’ve been very national. We have wanted to come into Australia and wanted to branch out to the UK and Europe and obviously North America because that’s where I’m from originally, but all of those things just take a little bit of time and a lot of money. Anyone out there that would like to host us, and we can sleep on your couch!

Did not getting to tour your album due to the pandemic annoy you at the time? 

To be honest with you, I was really grateful for anything, and I think the first record, Reb Fountain, was such a surreal time for everyone. I’m in my garage, I’ve no idea if anyone’s listening, then it turned out that a shitload of people were listening here in New Zealand, and that album did exceptionally well.

We were very lucky because of, you know, government policy, we ended up being able to function quite normally for quite a long time. So we were able to tour the album, we did a massive tour with Crowded House here. We played a lot of shows. Once our borders opened up a little bit, we got hit again. That just happened to be the time where we released the second album – that felt a little bit more depressing, I suppose. I knew that there wasn’t gonna be a lot of scope internationally, and that was challenging. I felt like both records had a lot of potential when we were really excited and ready to go as a band. But in saying that, I’ve just had to be really grateful for all the opportunities that we’ve had. 

You can always wish about what something might have been like, but actually, we’re in a great space now. The band is amazing; we’ve had these solid years of just building a fantastic kind of network and an audience here in New Zealand. And so we’re in a good space to be taking it overseas, and we’re not trying to compete with, you know, young pop stars, so it doesn’t really matter, right? We’re just doing what we do – we just like to go to work.  

You’ve been involved with the local initiate Save Our Venues. What do you think about the state of music venues in New Zealand, and what do you think needs to be done to support and sustain them?

So many other venues have gone and the ones that are [still here] are hanging by a thread. The people that run venues, they’re not doing it for the money, they’re doing it for the love of it. And they love music; they’re fostering talent. They’re not necessarily exceptional business people either. You’ve got this space, and you’re trying to create this environment where people can commune and listen and appreciate music. And so that was a really interesting facet of getting involved in Save Our Venues and just reaching out to those folks who are out there. 

We desperately need more. We’re lacking a sort of KCRW or Jools Holland kind of vibe or something here, where you’ve got a really great space, and someone’s holding it to showcase music in that way. 

New Zealand deserves that.

Oh, absolutely. I think it’s been a long time coming, you know. There’s been so much history in New Zealand music, and in particular, the transformation even in the past like 15 years, from that really major label-dominated culture, very competitive, to a more sort of community/collaborative model, which I think, in many ways, we’ve worked towards and has kind of started from the bottom up. It certainly hasn’t trickled down. It’s been the artists and the local venues, from the bottom up, shifting that kind of culture.

Do you have any favourite local venues?

There’s this amazing man called Jamie Macphail down in Hawke’s Bay – he runs The Small Hall Sessions. It started off as The Sitting Room Sessions where it basically was having house concerts. These house concerts were visited by myself, Nadia Reid, Tiny Ruins, Tami Neilson, all these musicians coming through because there wasn’t really a venue space so much in the area that fostered that kind of more folk vibe.

And so Jamie has been instrumental in changing the landscape in Hawke’s Bay and Napier. He does these Small Hall Sessions now: the idea is that you’ll have an artist come and do like five nights in different small halls and his tiny little halls, some of them, you know, an hour out of town, so you get a lot of the community to come along who wouldn’t necessarily get to have a concert in the area. And then you get other folks driving out to those venues to experience what that’s like. It’s a really special, really magical kind of experience because you’re playing in some beautiful church or hall somewhere and it’s more intimate. 

What did you find most rewarding about connecting with smaller communities and bringing music to places that weren’t typical stops for most bands?

Before I made these records, I was doing more folk music. I’d been touring a lot with a band, doing ridiculous, like 24-date shows in New Zealand. It was kind of based on a model of my friends in The Eastern who were playing all these rural places, no one was really doing that 15 years ago. So you’d go to places like the Wairarapa Town Hall and Oamaru, just trying to connect with smaller communities and bring much-needed music and joy and celebration to those spaces, and they really valued it and appreciated it. So I guess I learned a lot of my work ethic through touring with The Eastern.

Aldous Harding played in The Eastern, too. They’re such a classic Kiwi folk band, still going. Adam [McGrath]’s worked a lot with Barry Saunders… Marlon [Williams] and Delaney [Davidson] met through touring with  The Eastern. It also taught me what it is to work and to appreciate and value audiences.

There’s a difference between having expectations that the audience will be quiet and listen to you in a certain way, or thinking actually, they’ve made a huge effort to come out there, to get a babysitter, or pay some money. I’m here to entertain them, and they can do what they like. It’s my job to make them quiet; that’s on me if they’re not listening.

That’s really helped me a lot. It helped me in times when I felt despondent about being in the music industry and didn’t know what I was doing or how to compete. Music is meaningful – it helps me make sense of the world. I’m going to do it anyway, and anything on top of it is a bonus. That mindset helped me move forward.

When I did (2017’s) Hopeful and Hopeless, which was a folk-country album, I had no expectations. It was recorded live at The Wine Cellar, and that album went on to win Country Music Album of the Year, which was insane to me. I literally had no expectations at all. It’s always a psychological balance of hustling and pushing forward but also not losing yourself in the possibilities of being a superstar and the disappointment in that.

I guess winning an award like that, it’s not what you were doing it for but it’s confirmation that you were right to follow your heart and instincts.

I think so. In saying that, I’m always wary of attributing too much to it because I feel like there are so many unsung heroes who are working so hard to make amazing music but don’t necessarily get credit. Although I totally hear what you’re saying.

[At] the Taite Music Prize (Reb won in 2021 for her self-titled album), I was late. David said to me the night before, “Maybe you should write something like ‘Thank you.'” I’m like, “There’s no way I’m gonna win… Okay, I’ll write something down.” But my computer broke and I didn’t have anything. So I sat there and then all of a sudden, I was like, “What if they did call me? That’ll be weird, you know, shit.” And then they caledl my name, it was so surreal. I said to myself, “I think they must have said ‘Tami Neilson’ and [they’ve] got my name wrong.” 

I do feel very honoured by those things. But it’s also really important to take them with a grain of salt because I think they are very arbitrary awards. How do you choose the best of anything?

Princess Chelsea said the exact same thing. She was in New York when she got the Taite Music Prize last year and wasn’t expecting it at all. 

That’s very endearing. I think you have to be careful that you don’t have a sense of entitlement as an artist, that there isn’t an expectation that you should be loved or appreciated, because that can set you up for a terrible fall. 

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A post shared by Reb Fountain (@rebfountain)

You have a Powerstation show coming up. What’s  your history with the venue?  

I think the first time that I played there was with The Eastern. We were opening for this Louisiana band called The Little Band of Gold, and I remember walking in there and saying to Adam McGrath, “I can’t fucking do this.” I was so scared. He was like, “Yes, you fucking can do it up there.” And I did it. That was a particularly interesting, transformative moment for me, going on stage not knowing any of the songs and having to learn them so that by the second chorus, I was singing a harmony.

It’s quite an intimidating venue when you first walk in there.

Yeah, it is. But it’s so iconic. And I think it’s a great rock ‘n’ roll venue. Great sound. It’s different for us because we’ve performed at theatres over the years, which is lovely and beautiful, and it’s always nice to sit down. I think in a lot of ways, our music supports that. But it’s really fun to do a rock ‘n’ roll show where people are up close and you can dance and move your body and connect in quite a different way. Both are great, but it’s refreshing for us to be able to do this on a larger scale.

I wanted to ask about your latest original release, “Faithless Lover”. It really is a beautiful, powerful song.

It felt really nice to bring something else into the world after a long time, something that was quite different as well. I can’t rest everything on what other people are going to think about it, but I was really happy. It’s quite a different song to be a part of. It’s quite intimate and vulnerable, but also kind of transformative and big.

It does feel very physical as a song – it must be really good to play live because of that. 

I mean, every song is unique to embody on stage. I’m finding with “Faithless Lover” that what I really want to do is explore that transition from vulnerability to strength. Not in a way that you have to become somebody else, but more revealing who you are in the first place or coming to make sense of who you are in a new light. [It’s] interesting to go on that journey when I play it live, and hopefully bring that to the audience so that they feel that that’s possible for them as well.

It also feels spiritual, even philosophical. 

I do like using personal stories, often relationships, to talk on a universal level, or to communicate something that’s more macro. It feels like a good way to connect with folks about what’s meaningful in their lives. But that also can be transformational for us as a human race, right?

I feel like “Faithless Lover” is a reflection of that: it’s this intimate space where you’re wanting something from someone that they’re never going to give you, or you’ve told yourself a story because you really want to believe it, but it’s not true. Or you’re buying into a narrative because it benefits you. Those things we can make sense of in terms of our intimate relationships, but it’s harder to see them on more social or political levels. 

Was your daughter the director of the “Faithless Lover” music video?

That’s right, Lola. She’s done a bunch of music videos for me. I think the first one she did was when she was about 15 or 16. That one we shot on film, on 16mm footage. Some of it was expired stock. So it was a really interesting process which reflected the song in a lot of ways, kind of using this medium, not really sure how it’s gonna turn out, quite a vulnerable space. 

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