Years of therapy and two stints in rehab have given Reb Fountain insights most of us don’t even glimpse – the fact that she can turn these profound thoughts into award-winning music is one of life’s nicer mysteries.
“There are long histories of music on both sides of my family – my parents were Christian hippies and moved from San Francisco to Christchurch when I was 11.
“Music started for me by being a magnet. My Dad made up a handwritten songbook and we’d get together with other North American families in Christchurch for singalongs, so from a young age I knew music was a way of becoming a part of a community and connected to a community. Music is a really wonderful way to express what’s heartfelt.”
Reb (short for Rebecca) started performing from the age of about 13 when she got a gig in a coffee bar, followed by band membership 3 years later. A stint in Seattle studying for a degree in vocal jazz was the first time, she says, she took herself seriously as a musician.
“I was always quite ready to pass over my talent and follow the dreams of others,” Reb says. “That time in Seattle let me start connecting with other musicians and built my confidence.”
As for the jazz? “It gave me more insight into what’s possible, made me a better listener and made me a better singer by focusing my attention on my main instrument – my voice.”
However, back in New Zealand, performing was another matter. “I was terrified, there was always a bottle of Jim Beam and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.”
Her therapist intervened on her behalf and Reb went into rehab, saying she feels lucky she went “pretty young”. “I awoke to myself and realised I didn’t want addiction to be the identifier of my life.”
Reb, who has also had an eating disorder and been in an abusive relationship, says intensive therapy has been key for her survival and recovery. “I’m not afraid of my past, it doesn’t control me or scare me so much any more – but if you don’t pay attention to the past it can steer you in directions you’re not conscious of.”
These days Reb finds magic in both writing and performing. “People want to see and hear music with meaning, something that matters. Therapy has taught me that I can own a space and hold it and create a connection with an audience and that’s where the magic happens.”
She’s recently been involved with some well-received collaborative projects, touring with a 60th birthday tribute to Nick Cave in 2017 and this year touring with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Neil Young’s Live Rust album.
“Touring is liberating but hard work,” she says, “and before the Nick Cave thing I hadn’t done it in a long time. I come home exhausted, but nourished. Touring is a place where I belong, I come from a long line of migrants.”
Reb had her children – now aged 20 and 19 – young and says that although her career in music didn’t happen the way she might have imagined, she’s now really ready for a serious crack at it and is thrilled with a new album coming out next year.
“Life as a single parent is a really hard road and I suspect it might take me another 20 years to process it but it’s so rewarding to be a mum and I’ve felt very lucky to stay at home with them, although I couldn’t have done it without a lot of support.”
Moving to Auckland 12 years ago saw her network of family and friends replaced by an extended family in the music world. “The kids are used to having people crash on our sofa – but if they want they’ve got places to stay all over New Zealand.”