Interview: Plum Green feels intensely
She was born in a squat in Brixton, she grew up in New Zealand and she is currently creating and playing music in Melbourne. We chat to Plum Green:
Hi and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Something You Said. Firstly, congratulations on your new EP, Karma. It has been a long time in the making. Do the tracks that feature on the final cut still strongly resemble the originals or have they dramatically changed since their inception?
Thank you! My last album before Karma was ‘Rushes’. There’s also a lot of full band songs on there, but at the time I recorded it I was playing a lot of shows around Auckland, NZ by myself on acoustic guitar. So, the friends that generously played on the album were offered a bit of a blank slate to create on in some ways. In that sense, it’s a different sound and feel to the live performances that everyone who frequented my shows were used to (which I was completely fine with). However, this time around I wanted my sound to represent the closest thing to what you get at a live performance of mine as I could, so the songs on Karma are definitely very close to the original songs.
After the gentle and haunting tracks like Karma and Funeral Song you come out swinging with the gritty and rocky I Hope You Die which really showcases your musical diversity. Was there a deliberate placing in the order of tracks or they simply fell in the order they are presented?
Me and Daniel [Cross -guitarist/producer] laboured in our thoughts over the order of how the tracks should appear and had an idea of how it would best flow. In the end our mastering engineer Dav Byrne suggested the new line up, mixing our ideal and practical considerations for vinyl pressing. We were both very hesitant about it, but when we played it through it worked really well.
Were there any particular events taking place in your life at the time of writing which made their way into your lyrics?
I pieced together Funeral Song for a friend’s funeral and played it for her on the day. She always really loved the tune and feel of the song, but it wasn’t quite finished yet until I made it more about her when she died. Every single line is very heavy and purposeful for me but in its entirety it’s about burying someone unexpectedly, like a friend or someone younger than you and having to deal with a surprise death and a sudden loss.
I wrote Kind Beast after I moved to Australia. It was 40 degrees, I had no money and I didn’t know anyone and was pretty much stuck inside for a long time by myself. It’s about social awkwardness and anxiety and the feeling that you’re just totally screwed any move you take, because no matter what you do you feel like you’re just going to mess things up completely. Although, at the same time I do love people and I wish I could be smoother and less weird in presence of new company.
I was playing a game with Daniel one day while on a walk, where we had to think about if we knew of anyone we truly wished would die. It’s a fun exercise for us because we have so much love for everyone we bond with. Our friends and ties to other people are so important and we both recognise life as fleeting and once off. The walk was just before I wrote ‘I Hope you Die’ I really truly believe that there are some people that would genuinely make the world a better place if they ceased to exist. I thought of the actively cruel psychopaths and the sociopaths of the world that just do harm and no good at all for anyone else and fantasised about how great it would be if they could just all die. I think I have achieved a lot with few resources so I imagined proudly smoking a cigar on someone’s grave with very pointy high heels on (with sunglasses and a floppy hat). I’d like to think I could box my heart like that, but I’m not sure. The lyrics are from the perspective of a truly empathetic, fiercely protective person who is seeking justice, the first line is, “I became a mother”.
Which brings me to the song ‘Karma’. I think I am a really angry person and a really deeply sad, confused person. I’m constantly seeking answers as to why so many people have to suffer when so many awful people do not. The song is a challenge to the narrative we’re fed from birth that if you’re a good person all good things will come to you. It’s not true. However, at the same time I hope not to be so arrogant that I can truly claim to know when and if Karma is actually evoked. Some of the wealthiest and most physically comfortable people are horrifically depressed and throw themselves off balconies. I’m very curious about this pursuit of wealth humanity is obsessed with, and I was and am deeply depressed when I think of the situation the world is in right now. Karma is still very relevant to me. I hope Karma won’t be late and I hope a few hundred certain people die so the peace makers and the freedom fighters can have the space and time to get on with things.
Your collaborator/producer Daniel Cross features throughout your EP, what did Daniel bring to the table that really shines through on Karma?
He adds a lot of art to the EP. It was his idea to add birds at the start of ‘Beyond the Sun’ and he also adds the sound of fire through ‘I hope you die’, for a couple of examples. He has written some really excellent guitar accompaniment that really resonate with the feeling that my song is trying to get across. He’s such an amazing artist (in pretty much all ways).
Keeping the independent flame well and truly lit, you have funded tours, production and distribution costs which highly commendable. Does all this effort detract from the time you get to spend behind the guitar or harden your resolve to get the job done?
Thankfully, I’ve always had friends and loving people around me who have been happy to assist me without it costing much. My first independent EP ‘The Red’ was recorded by a good friend who had time to kill in a free studio, so I only paid him for his time, and he didn’t really charge me that much. A friend of mine did publicity for the tour very cheaply for me and we had an amazing time! The album that came after that was funded mostly from pre-sales of the album. Not much money necessary. If I had a lot of money I would definitely spend it because I hate being such a cheapskate, but I’m not going to lie. I am a total broke-ass and I spend my money on my friends when I can! But most of my friends are fellow artist broke asses so we always have a good time doing what we do and collaborating with each other. This current tour has been the most extravagant in terms of costs, and it’s been a bit uncomfortable for me in that regard, but I’m trying to just blind fold my way through it and tell myself I won’t ever spend this much money on something so self-indulgent ever again. I’m never short for time on guitar, but the one thing that prevents me from noodling away and creating more is intense self-doubt, low self-confidence and crippling anxiety but somehow I manage to make it work. I feel things very intensely and writing songs is a necessity of coping with life and connecting with people when otherwise I would have no interaction at all.
Having moved from New Zealand to Australia some time ago, the differences maybe slight but there are clear distinctions. What bearing did growing up on the island of the long white cloud have on you that came to shape your music?
Long extended painful periods of my friends being on hold to WINZ (the dole) with Dave Dobbyn and Bic Runga playing. I have nothing against Bic but I guess I had a very passionate desire to not create music like Dobbyn. Slice of Heaven is a beautiful song but all the dole songs make me want to smash my face into a brick wall. By the time that hold music is over, everyone has aged 100 years and has a beard that reaches the ground.
Your shows are often in intimate settings with only metres separating yourself and the audience. Is this a daunting prospect for you or one that is exciting as it is easier to engage with the crowd?
I love an intimate show. Every time I have a good show I fall in love with the audience because there’s so much energy shared. If they’re in tune with me and listening to my stories and songs, they know me truthfully and I know them too because I can sense their reactions and I know they’ve been through what I have too. I sing a lot about battling with the voices in my head, death and other traumatic events and sing from a place of wanting to make everything better. In saying that, I still have a great time if I can’t see my audience because I can usually hear them.
What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
I recently made a status on Facebook stating that I no longer wish to tour but I’m eating my words because I recently had an excellent drummer come on board for good. Her name is Loz and I want to take her to New Zealand with me for a show or two. We’re going to round up a bunch of friends and do some live recordings in a studio in Castlemaine, and then hopefully tour Europe. A friend of mine recently informed me that the most people who listen to my music (according to her stats findings) are from Norway so I’ll definitely have to go over there to play a show one day. Hopefully before my UK passport is completely useless.
Interview by Courtney Dabb.