UTG INTERVIEW: Dave Plaehn Discusses ‘Radio Sister’

dave plaehn

Dave Plaehn has been on the scene for many years — stemming from a love for pop music at a young age, and venturing into band life in high school, Plaehn has been writing and recording for decades. His most recent effort is the genre-bending, late-2014 release, Radio Sister.

We had the chance to speak with Plaehn about his background in music and his most recent release, and we also discussed his local scene in Oregon and what he’s been working on since Radio Sister came out in December.

Read through below and get familiar with the ever-expanding career of Dave Plaehn.

I know you played in various bands starting around high school, but what led to that for you?

From an early age I remember loving to sing. Also, I think I took a cue from my parents: they both played piano (we had an old upright) and both sang. And they would play records.

As a family we watched Ozzie and Harriet. At the end (beginning?) of a show, their son, Ricky Nelson, would perform one of his songs. I recall going outside one night and singing one of Ricky’s songs to some of the neighborhood girls. Later I was very into pop music (Beatles, Stones, etc.).

Who else did your parents introduce you to that you recall helping shape your musical interests early on?

My mother was into artists such as Sarah Vaughn while my father had more of an operatic bent, liking Mario Lanza, for example. They also played classical music. I enjoyed pop music. Liked the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Donovan, Cream, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, among others.

Radio Sister is very expansive genre-wise. Beyond those mentioned, who are some artists you feel had a heavy influence on you leading into your career as a musician and maybe had an effect on the styles in sound you’ve taken on.

Near the end of high school and into college I got more and more into blues. In college I played in a jug band. While we did some blues we also did some early jazz/swing. We did a number of pieces from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. At this time I started performing field hollers and work songs I’d heard from Leadbelly and Dave “Snaker” Ray. I was also listening to Buffy St. Marie. One of early favorite records from college was Johnny Winter’s first Columbia release. At this point I’d say my main vocal influences were the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Joni Mitchell. Harmonica influences included Sonny Terry and Paul Butterfield.

How would you say this album differs from your previous works like Amos Got Soul and CrazyMan?

In the mid-70s I played in a couple reggae-inspired bands in Madison, WI. Most of Radio Sister was recorded in the early 80s and I think a number of the songs show a strong reggae influence. I didn’t start working on another solo project until about 2003 (CrazyMan). By then I had been playing mostly blues, which I think shows in CrazyMan. Amos Got Soul is pretty diverse like Radio Sister but probably sounds more “modern.” A number of reviewers seem to recognize that Radio Sister is from a different era, at least in part.

The cover art is really interesting. Who created that and how do you see it in relation to the material on the record?

The cover is a collaboration between myself and the designer, Darrell Newsom. I wanted the “scene” to relate to the title song “Radio Sister.” At first Darrell and I were miles apart, which forced me to try to understand what the song was about. The lyrics had come to me fairly quickly. It wasn’t one of my best efforts but was interesting, esoteric sounding. The song has a darkness to it, apocalyptic overtones. Radio sister as a savior, a superposition of woman (romantic love) and radio (music). I’d send Darrell pictures of floating women, etc., radio towers and war scenes I’d find on the web. Then he came up with this great image. I liked it but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. It kept growing on me though and we went with it.

Concerning the cover’s relation to the material on the record, I was a bit worried in that the album is diverse and the cover mostly related to just one of the songs. I thought it was so cool though and I couldn’t come up with an alternative.

The album’s been out since December, so what have you been focusing on since its release? Any new material on the way?

I started working on a new album in January. Again, all or mostly originals, and, again, diverse. Some blues, some pop, some “other.”

Are you currently involved with any other bands while you’re not working on your solo material?

I continue to perform with slide guitarist, Jeff Hino, and I still play in a group with guitarist, Creighton Lindsay.

Do you have any touring plans for this project lined up this year?

No, just playing locally.

Corvallis, Oregon isn’t a name you see pop up a lot in the music industry. What’s the music scene like in your area? Is it an ideal place for you to progress in this field?

There are a lot of talented musicians in the area. The club scene is disappointing, at least for “older” players such as myself. Average club pay has gone down. There are lots of players willing to play for little or nothing.

I enjoy living in Corvallis and, due to all the talent in the area (and elsewhere, such as Portland or Eugene), I don’t have much trouble finding players to record with. Also, I’m not a big city boy. The scene here isn’t as stimulating as Portland or Eugene but they’re not that far away. So overall it’s fairly ideal for me.

As far as your next release, you mentioned it being similarly diverse to Radio Sister. Are there areas you’d like to expand on with your sound at all? Anything in particular you’ve always wanted to explore musically that you haven’t had the chance to yet?

My next album will sound different from Radio Sister, in part, because of different players and different sensibilities. As mentioned earlier, this album will have a few of what I would call pop songs and more blues.

I have wanted to record some jazz standards or write more in a jazz vein. Also, I have some interest in rap but that’s more of a long shot.

Overall, do you have any big plans for the remainder of the year? Anything we didn’t talk about that you can reveal?

Aside from the album project mentioned above, Jeff Hino and I are thinking of recording a third album together. I may be playing some harp for Creighton Lindsay’s next release. I was recently offered a publishing contract for some of my songs. I’m not sure how that will pan out…

Brian Leak

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