Fears and overcoming: a moment with NZ musician you need to know, Reb Fountain

For Reb Fountain, music has been innate to her since childhood.

“My parents emigrated to New Zealand (from Southern California) and we’d always have music in the family,” the enigmatic performer explains.

“Music was the way that we connected to other migrant families, particularly ….My dad would make up a songbook and we’d sing along. The reason why I went from singing in my own bedroom to singing on stage was because it felt absolutely necessary”.

At the start of her career, Fountain released two albums in 2006 and 2008, before becoming a background vocalist for Christchurch band The Eastern and singer Finn Andrews.

She broke out on her own with an EP and album release in 2017 but it was her 2020 self-titled album that found critical and commercial acclaim. The album went on to win New Zealand’s prestigious Taite Music Prize, whose previous recipients include luminaries such as Lorde and Aldous Harding.

Onstage, Reb Fountain is a formidable presence. Prowling the crowd with her bewitching manner. Someone who seems intent on capturing everyone’s attention and maining that focus. She is a performer who appears comfortable onstage.

But it’s taken a long time for her to reach this point. A few hours before her show, she confides about her long battle with nerves.

“I used to be scared. Smoke a cigarette and stand still. I was so afraid of being myself. It has taken me a long time to learn how to be self-accepting and to be in my own body. To be in front of people. Let alone, the thing that felt most vulnerable and most important to me. That’s taken time.

When I released (the 2017 EP) Hopeful and Hopeless and later in that year, we did a Nick Cave (tribute) show, that really helped me embody music in a different way. To think beyond myself. From there, I just kept exploring. After so many years of dealing with my own lack of self-confidence … it started becoming exponential how fast I could embrace myself, in a different way. I’m still nervous”.

It is striking to note that Fountain found her showmanship feet by performing somebody else’s songs, embodying the characters of songs describing red right hands and execution. Cave himself is a songwriter who is drawn to the malevolent darkness of the human psyche, a lyrical quality that Fountain often shares. The song, “Foxbright”, from her album, Iris, namechecks the cult classic thriller film, Donnie Darko.

“In that film, he goes through this whole journey when he doesn’t get hit by the plane. But then, at the end of it you realise that he did get hit by the plane. In the blink of a moment … you go through this whole journey of ‘what could’ve been’ … This other path. Maybe you wouldn’t have gone down that path, if you were confronted by this experience. This impending experience.”

“We are always faced with really challenging circumstances. That’s what being human is all about. We are fortunate to be alive, (though) we come across these things that are really hard. We really suffer. We grieve and we hurt. Through those things, we have opportunities for growth, with a potential to shift energy. Let go and learn … Sometimes you have to face the hardest thing to evolve”.

Fountain is no stranger to the merging of film and music. Last year, she sang on the soundtrack for the comedy film, ‘Nude Tuesday’, starring Jemaine Clement and Jackie Van Beek. All of the film’s dialogue is spoken in an entirely fictional language, so naturally the soundtrack had to follow suit.

“It was really fun. I went down to Wellington and recorded with my friends Sam (Scott) and Luke (Buda), from The Phoenix Foundation, who were doing the music for it. We did  “Sea of Love”, “Road To Nowhere“, and a couple of songs that we made up with Jemaine (Clement). It was super fun. I actually quite like the versions of them. It was cool to sing another language, albeit completely fabricated. It felt real to me”.

Reb Fountain first came across my musical radar in March 2021, when she opened for Crowded House on their New Zealand arena tour. The show took place in-between lockdowns, as the pandemic slowly ebbed away. Before that tour, Fountain’s friendship with Crowdie’s frontman Neil Finn had been firm for a while.

“A couple years earlier, I got a phone call from Neil Finn which is insane because he’s like a supergod. He said, ‘Hey, I’ve just been listening to your little EP Hopeful & Hopeless. Been wondering if you wanna come sing on this album that I’m making’. So he made this album called ‘Out Of Silence’. It was done live and he streamed it (on YouTube). We sang in the choir. Then I went on to also perform in the shows here in Australia and New Zealand with that. We worked together really well. That’s kind of how that came about. We knew me & he knew the band. Of course, it was also during that time in lockdown when no-one else could play anywhere. So we were literally going out and playing a show and he (Finn) could genuinely say “This is the biggest show in the world at the moment”…We had such a good time on that tour. I think for us to be able to play those large … more stadium type gigs really elevated us as a band”.

In the past year, Fountain’s career has gone from strength to strength. Her album, ‘Iris’ went to number 1 on the NZ charts upon release & a vinyl copy of it was later gifted to Anthony Albanese by Jacinda Adern in a Trans-Tasman exchange. She released a new stand-alone song, ‘Faithless Lover’ in April and will begin recording a new album imminently.

“We have a new album that will reveal itself as we record it. We are recording at Roundhead (Neil Finn’s recording studio) in Auckland. My friend, Simon Gooding (who produced Reb’s past two albums) is coming over from New York and he and Dave Khan will be producing it. We are just gonna hole up there for a couple of weeks and go hard”.

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This feature has been published as part of The Music Writer’s Lab initiative, developed between MusicNT and Australia Council for The Arts. For more information, visit www.themusicwriterslab.com.

Header image credit: Tom Grut