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Due south

4 February 2022
Photo of singer Reb Fountain posing on a lakeside rock

Ready and waiting to tour her latest album, former Lyttelton local Reb Fountain is amped to perform her authentic, genre-bending songs live again. Words Anna Wallace

Reb Fountain has been swimming in Auckland’s Tāmaki Inlet with her dog. Quintessential summer activities like these aren’t taken for granted by the singer-songwriter, who fractured her toe and suffered a bad concussion in spring.

For Reb, lockdowns have had a silver lining. Her self-titled album was released during the first one in 2020, and the seeds of her latest record were planted then. Iris came out in October last year, during Auckland’s second major stint.

“It felt very full circle,” the award-winning artist admits.


Iris was the product of a daily wellbeing challenge Reb set herself – to write a song a day during lockdown. The daily practice of doing something, of following a process, helped, she says, “but I didn’t think an album would come out of it! Some days were painful, while others I could set out the bones of six different songs from six different genres!”

Transcending genres comes naturally to Reb – her sound has been described as combining alt-pop elements with noir folk-punk.

Laid bare in her music, you can detect the multi-faceted, personal experiences of a woman figuring life out through songwriting. Reb was inspired by having time to listen, read, watch and talk, but she couldn’t escape the social issues being played out on the world stage.

“A lot was happening globally – Black Lives Matter, the xenophobia in Europe – the external, macro issues were being mirrored in our daily lives,” she recalls.

The band, consisting of Dave Khan, Karin Canzek and Earl Robertson, headed south in August 2020 to record Iris at Sublime Studios in Waitaki Valley. Helmed by Steve Harrop and Fenella Barry, Reb believes the North Otago studio pays homage to Steve’s distinct ‘Dunedin sound’.

“The studio is amazing; it really shaped the sound of the record. Coming together, we created something that wouldn’t have happened if we’d stayed in Auckland. We would feed the chickens, walk the dogs, then head into the studio for as long as we wanted.”

Photo of Reb Fountain sitting on a chair. Photo by Marissa Findlay.
Photo: Marissa Findlay


While it sometimes feels like she’s just in her “garage making music”, the American-born musician has been making waves for years now. In 2018, Reb received the Recorded Music New Zealand’s Best Country Music Artist Tūī, and her song ‘Hopeful and Hopeless’, off her third album Little Arrows, won an APRA Award for Best Country Music Song. Two years later she signed with Flying Nun and, following the release of Reb Fountain in 2020, played a sold-out tour. Last year, Reb won the Taite Music Prize and was shortlisted for the Silver Scroll Award at the New Zealand Music Awards, where her self-titled album was nominated for five awards. Not bad for someone whose main goal as an aspiring musician was to record an album.

In October, Iris debuted at number one on the New Zealand Albums Chart. It’s garnered international reviews and feedback from fans that the record has helped them through tough times.

The orchestra and piano on Iris match the singer’s stunningly pure vocals, her words cutting straight to the listener’s core. After a “heavy, tiring” Auckland lockdown, the thought of a live performance turns up the volume for Reb and her band.


Live performance is “everything” to Reb. “It’s the golden ticket – all our writing and recording is geared towards that moment of playing on stage. It’s a moment we share together and helps us connect with our community,” she muses.

“It’s hard not to take the album on the road. Instead, we’ve been at home, feeling disconnected from folks.”

Hoping to tour Iris during the tail-end of summer [with new dates yet to be set at the time of print, with the country back in red light], Reb and her band want to play in venues that do justice to the sound they’ve created and the journey they want to take people on.

“When you walk into an old theatre – you know something magical is going to happen. We want to step up to that,” Reb says.

Isaac Theatre Royal, where Reb will perform her Christchurch gig, holds personal memories too. Having lived in the area between the ages of 6 and 16 (and again while studying a Bachelor of Arts at Canterbury University), she performed there as a budding musician and young dancer.


Reb wasn’t always comfortable inhabiting the space on stage. For much of her early career, she was extremely nervous before performing, nullifying the anxiety with Jim Beam and smokes.

“I had to overcome that and be present. I try really hard to embody the songs, and it’s a reciprocal relationship as people who’re at the gig are totally present too. That sort of moment doesn’t happen very often in life so it’s awesome to experience that.”

She’s open about her mental wellness journey, and the amount of inner work required to transform from a shy, nervous performer to one who “is accepting of myself” over many years.

As a teen, Reb was “pretty melancholic” and didn’t know how to talk about her feelings. Picking up a guitar, writing songs and singing was her antidote.

“Feeling like I belong is very important. I think music can create a space where we’re all the same, it can reassure us. Singing helps me to express myself and make sense of the world.”

As a songwriter in between albums, Reb realises that a bit of personal growth might be needed before the words come. “We’re not machines – to create is an extension of me, so if I don’t care for myself, things don’t flow.”

Self-care takes many forms but reuniting for band practice after four months certainly helped. “It’s absolutely the best thing,” Reb buzzes warmly.

Band is whānau for her. When asked about her formative years in Christchurch, she still counts herself as part of ‘The Eastern’ family, the band she joined as a young woman. When touring the garden city, she’ll stay with former band members and head for the hills.

reb fountain festoons photo credit marissa findlay not graded
Photo: Marissa Findlay


The powerful transformational effect music has is not lost on Reb. After the pandemic hit the event scene, she was compelled to back the Save Our Venues campaign.

“With venues on the brink of closing, we wondered if they would be open when we toured. It started with the Wine Cellar in Auckland and grew nationwide. The Dark Room, Blue Smoke in Christchurch – they’re important venues. We helped change the national conversation to get people to see how valuable our creative ecosystem is to our health and wellbeing – we can’t live without it.”

For Reb, who’s been on a journey – of mental wellbeing, travel, love and motherhood – music is the place where she can strive to be the best version of herself. Doing that is all about micro steps, she says.

“I’ve taught myself that the small seeds we plant grow and make a difference in our life and those of others. To help others, and entertain at the same time – that’s transformative.”

Reb believes the album is moody, wide-ranging and prompts listeners to feel. Writing the song ‘Psyche’, she pictured being out on a boat with the fog all around. “You’re not going anywhere but it’s the beginning of something – you’re ready to explore,” she explains. “Whereas ‘Foxbright’ is brighter, ‘Invisible Man’ is more poppy, ‘Fisherman’ more moody, and ‘Intermission’ is a stoner’s anthem.”


Reb was born in San Francisco and immigrated with her family from North America to Lyttelton – the quiet port town out of Christchurch that’s been fundamental to New Zealand’s alt-folk scene, raising artists like Marlon Williams, Aldous Harding and Delaney Davidson.

The city of her youth brings back happy memories of biking the hills in Banks Peninsula (her dad was a keen cyclist), ballet recitals at the Arts Centre, jazz dance at Cashel Street Mall, and coming second in the local Battle of the Bands competition at The Carlton (16-year-old Reb’s first band was Immaculate Sun – “we did quite well,” she recalls).

However, there are darker recollections too. The sort that come from growing up a bit different from the ‘norm’.

“On one level there has been a beautiful transformation since the earthquakes. In the past, Christchurch was quite a quiet, conservative, aggressive place – it didn’t always feel safe for people who didn’t fit in. Now, people have more of a sense of community and connection, it feels a very different town.”

Her speech is like her songs – authentic and meaningful. “I can’t wait to connect with people on this tour. We’re chomping at the bit, particularly playing Iris in theatres like Isaac Theatre Royal – it’s such an honour.”

“I’ve taught myself that the small seeds we plant grow and make a difference... To help others, and entertain at the same time – that’s transformative.”

Read about Reb's favourite things to do in Christchurch.

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