UTG INTERVIEW: The Plum Magnetic

plum magnetic

It’s been almost a year since New Orleans’ The Plum Magnetic released their most recent studio album, Terra Animata, but the band has hopes to release another effort before the close of 2014.

The band recently took some time to speak with us about Terra Animata, the great city in which they live, and what plans they have in store for the new year, so read through the break and get caught up with The Plum Magnetic, a genre-bending act that we look forward to seeing new material from.

Your band name is very interesting. Let’s start off with how you came to choose that. Does it have any story behind it?

Trent: I think it stuck because it’s hard to tell whether it sounds more audacious or ridiculous. It’s a lot of things at once, but essentially it’s a metaphor for our planet.

How would you describe your sound to someone that’s never heard The Plum Magnetic?

Andrew: Epic progressive folk art sound tapestries with a conscience.

Trent: Yeah.

Jon: I’ve been told by one fan that we sound “totally 90s.” I’d like to think that we are the best 90s band to break out of the 2010s.

What are some of your most inspiring influences that you feel have contributed to how you’ve shaped your sound over time?

Trent: A major influence for me over the years has been Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Their ability to amalgamate so much so cleanly is supernatural. Other big ones, John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bob Dylan, the griots and guitarists of Africa, Indian classical music, Philip Glass / ‘minimalist composers’ in general. Also the plethora of local musicians/composers, but that’s a whole other endless list.

Andrew: James Page and John Baldwin, Thomas Mapfumo, Hindustani music, The Allmans, and many of our New Orleans elders.

Jon: Paul Jackson, Paul Chambers, all the grungy weirdness of the late ’80s early ’90s, inner city construction noise. Growing up in NOLA was a huge subliminal influence. Also, rhythmically I always paid attention to environmental sounds. Whether it was birds or schoolyards or construction sounds I always enjoyed fitting together unrelated rhythms that were around me.

Oliver: Musically I am all over the map. Stylistically, on the drumset, my top five influences are Billy Martin, Billy Cobham, Jojo Mayer, Mat Cameron, Rashied Ali.

New Orleans has one of the most thriving music scenes in the country it seems. Do you feel that the city inspires you and your music at all or vice versa?

Trent: New Orleans is so much, the kind of thing you can’t reproduce in a lab. It’s almost easy to take for granted how vibrant the culture of music is here, it really runs through everything. But people here don’t take it for granted, they care, and that’s inspiring. The spirit of the place too, the history, the land, there’s a lightness and a heaviness here that is both an influence and an inspiration.

So your newest album, Terra Animata, is mostly instrumental but there are some vocals thrown in there. Why did you decide to add so few vocal parts?

Trent: We started just playing instrumentals but with the idea of adding vocals sooner or later. The two ‘songs’ on the album came together once we were starting to record. We wanted to add some lyrical content to kind of guide the music conceptually, but not to distract from the music that was already coming together.

The instrumentation is really fantastic throughout the album. Can you share with us a little about your guys’ background in music and the instruments you play?

Trent: I play a 6-string electric banjo, which is essentially a 5-string style banjo with an added low G string for a fuller range, just about the range of a guitar. I play on the sitar a little bit but haven’t been focused on it lately. Started on bass back in the day. On this record we have a few special guests; Helen Gillet on cello, Vince Mitchell on keys, Steve Maraist on steel pan drums, Matthew Thomas on baritone sax, Michael Joseph on trumpet, and Ashley Beach, Bayley Crow, and Christina Smith on backing vocals.

Oliver: My goal on this record was to craft rhythms that would enhance the groove. I wanted to give the music room to breath while building the pulse, and maybe get people to dance to some meters that would seem uncommon in another context.

Jon: On Terra Animata I play a Warwick 5-string. These days I’ve been working more with the fretless bass I’ve had since I was a kid, a modded Yamaha 5-string, named Money, for it’s green and gold color scheme and rich tone. I came up jamming to rock music in my bedroom, and I always loved to sing. I never really played with other musicians much until I got to college. That’s when I started listening to more jazz and figuring out how music actually works, how to improvise, how to sit in the pocket, how to manipulate time and space.

Andrew: Personally speaking, formative experiences in childhood choirs set the tone of treating sound-making practices as spiritually vital experiences. I grew into taking roles in music-theater and later in creative bands where composing and performing original music furthered that essentially spiritual practice (even at bars). Drawn to enthomusicology while in undergraduate studies in California, I devoured all angles of why people make music in the world including intensive studies in Amazonian and Indian musical systems. Upon returning to NOLA, I spent many years teaching and performing Indian classical music on tablas, vocals and more recently on sarode – in the style of my teacher Ali Akbar Khan. Eventually, I returned to my mother tongue to integrate my learning and impart my insights through our local style of music-making.

I really like the album art as well. Can you tell me about it and how you feel it relates to the music on Terra Animata?

Trent: Our dear friend Sean Self did the cover art for this record, with some rough concept ideas from Oliver and me. This record is meant to be a bit of a sonic journey, or a meditation, and Sean did a gorgeous job of capturing the elemental and spacy but sharp feel we wanted. There’s a lot of poetry in the image, the hand reaching for the cosmic fruit, the kind of cackling tyrannosaur-ish feminine figure in the clouds giving birth to the scene, the play of dark and light, the colors.

Andrew: Reaching out into the cosmos…you just might find an unexpected juicy plum extraordinaire.

Now that the album’s been out for about 10 months, what have you been working on in the meantime? Any new material already in the works?

Trent: We’ve been mostly focused lately on practicing and developing new material, working toward another album release by the end of 2014. We’ve got close to two records worth of material in the works at the moment

It looks like you currently only have one show lined up in the near future. Do you have any touring plans for 2014?

Trent: Working on it. We’ve all got a lot going on individually right now but hopefully we can make a few jaunts this Spring and Summer.

What plans do you have in 2014 to get your name out there more and expand your fanbase?

Trent: Just keep at it really. We’ve been on a slow but steady course so far but the momentum has been building for us as people are starting to catch on. Which has been good. It’s allowed us, the music, and our fanbase to grow organically. We will probably be most active (touring etc.) after the bulk of the next record is complete, but looking to make a few select runs in the meantime.

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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