Ten Questions with PLUMTREE

February 2, 2017 in features

As you probably will have noticed by now, the big news over here at Label Obscura HQ these days is that we will soon be releasing the first ever vinyl editions of all three full length albums by 90s Halifax quartet Plumtree. The group was an important part of the Halifax indie music scene, alongside bands such as Sloan, Thrush Hermit and more. Plumtree had an original, distinctive sound that was as influenced by 80s metal and punk as it was by classic pop tunes. It’s a shame that these albums have never seen a proper LP release yet, but we are happy to be doing just that.

On the eve of their release, I thought I’d sit down and ask one-half of Plumtree, members Lynette Gillis (drums) and Carla Gillis (guitar, vocals), ten questions about their former act. Here are said questions, and the responses that they provided for me about vinyl, the history of the band and the Scott Pilgrim phenomenon that was inspired by their song.

None of Plumtree’s three soon-to-be reissued albums have previously been available on vinyl, since at the time not many records were released that way. What are your thoughts of seeing these albums now being released in a LP format?

Carla: I really love vinyl and am happy about its resurgence. I only ever buy vinyl these days, and there something so satisfying about seeing the complete Plumtree set coming out that way. Over the years, we’ve gotten so many requests for these albums to be reissued, especially post-Scott Pilgrim, and we’ve never found the energy or resources to do it. So having Label Obscura step in and do it has been really welcome and perfect.

Lynette: I’m excited about it. The original CD format did the job but isn’t as rewarding as holding vinyl copies in your hand. Jewel cases are no fun. The re-issues have had a lot of love put into the artwork also (thank you, Yo Rodeo) which makes them even more satisfying.

When Plumtree was originally a band, it was common for bands to release 7″ singles, but most albums were released primarily on CD. What do you think of the re-emergence of vinyl over the past half-dozen years?

Lynette:I’m into it. I enjoy the sound of vinyl and love good album art/design, which is more satisfying in vinyl format than CD.

Are either of you a vinyl record collector? Do you have a stash of records at home by your favourite artists that you cherish? If you are, what record would be the crown jewel of your record collection and why?

Lynette: I wouldn’t call myself a collector but I enjoy and buy vinyl. I save my vinyl purchases for favourite albums and records that were made to be played on vinyl. Some of my most cherished records are Queen – II and Music of My Mind by Stevie Wonder (purchased two days ago at Soundscapes in Toronto). Listening to either through headphones is extra special.

Carla: I have a decent collection. Not gigantic, but getting there. One of my most prized records is Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s UZU on gorgeous limited-edition red vinyl.

The Halifax music scene in the 1990s was a truly magical place. There were a bunch of excellent bands, a good support system in place for those groups and some of the best Canadian indie rock records ever made emerged from that scene. Did you realize at the time how special it was to be a band during that period? What are your thoughts today about the Halifax music scene that you were a part of, nearly two decades later?

Lynette: I’ve never been a part of another music scene like it. At the time it felt special – walking into Murderecords to visit Colin MacKenzie, or the Cinnamon Toast Records office in the back of DioMio gelato where we had band meetings, getting asked to go on tour with bands I loved, going to the Marquee and Cafe Ole and seeing great local bands, witnessing and being part of the Pop Explosion festivals. There was a feeling of high activity and DIY motivation. I met so many people (strictly outside of my high school!) who were making stuff happen and who influenced me – Walter Forsyth, Colin MacKenzie, Peter Rowan, Le Ann Gillan, Chris Murphy, CKDU folks, Julie Dorion, Jay Ferguson, the Thrush Hermit folks, Condon MacLeod… and there’s so many more. Since moving to larger cities (Vancouver and Toronto), at times I’ve longed for the intimate, unpretentious, music scene that existed in Halifax during my youth. Another amazing thing about that time: we didn’t have to promote our shows on Facebook! No social media, no “likes.” In fact, we didn’t even have a website until really late in the game. We phoned people, put up posters, and used mail order.

Carla: We never realized how good we had it at the time, though the scene’s popularity definitely started dawning on us once we started touring. So many people would ask us if we were really from Halifax. Like, right from Halifax, and not some outlying town. I’d grown up thinking I had to leave Halifax in order to become an active musician, so it took a while to sink in. Looking back on it, I feel really grateful. It was just bands doing cool stuff, but the larger music scene in general. Lots of homegrown businesses being ambitious, a long-running all-ages club that gave so many of us our first shows, great musicians being supportive and always willing to share gear at shows and bring you on tour. Stuff like that matters so much.

In 1997, you wrote and recorded a song called “Scott Pilgrim”, which was adapted by a fan, Bryan Lee O’Malley, to become a comic book character. Bryan’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series has been very successful, spawning the motion picture film “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” and subsequent spin-off videogames. How surprised was the band when you first found out about the comic and how do you feel about what has happened with the Scott Pilgrim character over the years? How do you feel that the Scott Pilgrim phenomenon has affected the ongoing popularity of Plumtree as a musical entity?

Lynette: I remember Bryan mailing his first comic to us and opening it and thinking, ‘neat.’ Then another comic arrived and it was glossier, and then the next was even glossier, and starting to realize they were popular. I didn’t think much of it until Universal contacted us about the 85K film being made! I think it’s pretty cool that Bryan made a non-existent character (the song name was made up) into a fully realized fictional character. The books and film introduced our band to an entirely new, younger, audience from around the globe, which I’ll always be grateful for. We have Bryan to thank entirely for that.

Carla: We were definitely flattered when Bryan sent us his first book, but none of us were part of the comics world and so it took us a long time to realize how popular those books had become. Then the movie was a rumour for a long time, again something we downplayed out of cluelessness. When it actually started happening we were blown away. Bryan is someone who has been in our lives for a long time, as a fan who came out to our shows in London, Ontario when nobody else was there. I am so inspired by his journey and so happy for his success. That we got to come along for some of the ride has been such a bonus.

I’m pretty sure Plumtree has way more fans now than we did when we existed. Lynette and I have been mailing out T-shirts and albums to mostly teen boys all over the world pretty steadily in the seven years since that movie came out. I love that kids are still being inspired by the music – they send us some of the nicest letters you could ever read. Letters that make us cry! It’s all been so beautiful.

Could both of you tell me which is your favourite of the three Plumtree albums? What is it that makes said album stand out for you as the best one?

Carla: I love Mass Teen Fainting because you can hear us figuring out who we are on that record, and being conflicted about it. It’s very pure. Predicts The Future was a big step forward – the band was in full swing and you can hear it. There’s a lot of energy in the songs, and I’m still proud of those “Scott Pilgrim” riffs. This Day Won’t Last At All is the most emotional, and when I hear it, I remember the uncertainty I felt at that time in my life. Early 20s existential crisis about where our lives were heading and what they were going to look like. I think the songs on that record are the most accomplished and musical.

Lynette: My favourite is This Day Won’t Last At All. I just think we were writing better songs by then and had developed a lot as a band. The lyrics and emotion in that album still feel personal and real.

Do you have a personal favourite Plumtree song? Is there one specific song that you get the most satisfaction in hearing today?

Lynette: I rarely listen to any of our songs or albums. I’d probably say I most enjoy hearing “Regret” and “Tonight’s Not Alright.” I always enjoyed playing “Hello Again.”

Carla: I remember being pretty unsure about who we were back then, having our feet in a few different musical worlds (pop, metal, punk) and not having a clue how to make them cohesively merge. Yet now when I listen back, I’m like, “We were so good! We were so original! We were really fun!” I feel proud. You always wish you could see that at the time.

When looking back at Plumtree’s original run as a band do you feel that your band managed to accomplish what you had originally set out to do?

Carla: Way more than we’d ever planned! Lynette and I were in a much more “serious” metal band when Plumtree started, and that’s where I was keeping a lot of my focus. But that band couldn’t get out of the basement, whereas Plumtree came racing out of the gates before I even realized what was happening. Thank goodness for that.

Lynette: We originally had no plan whatsoever so yes, for sure! More than expected. A few years into the band we had goals and plans and most of it all happened but I should say the main reason we broke up was because the band wasn’t really succeeding in any way that was remotely sustainable as a living for any of us. We had spent seven years working hard and were still sleeping on floors, giving ourselves $5/day per diems, and often playing tiny shows. But in terms of life experience, relationships, and creativity, the band far exceeded anything we could’ve ever imagined.

Carla and Lynette, the two of you have remained musically active together, playing in bands and creating music together. What can you tell us about your current band together, Overnight? Have all the members of Plumtree remained active in music?

Carla: Overnight is our heavy rock band, also featuring Caitlin Dacey from Public Animal and Mike Small from the Meligrove Band, both excellent projects! Lynette and I mostly just love long and winding jam sessions, and have about two million half-finished songs. At some point we get focused and rein things in and put some finished ones on a record, which we did with 2015’s Carry Me Home. We’re planning to do that again soon.

Catriona is a full time, very active musician these days. She’s playing shows all over the place! Amanda and Nina haven’t played music for a long time. I know Amanda’s 12-string Rickenbacker is sitting in her basement and needing to be dusted off.

Lynette: I think Overnight sounds pretty different from Plumtree but no matter what we write there still seems to be strands that run through that are similar, I think just because of the nature of having half the same band members. We released our debut album in 2015, called Carry Me Home, and we’re working on new material. Carla and I just keep on playing together.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Any closing comments?

Lynette: Thank you, Tim, for making the re-issues a reality. He and his team have been a pleasure to work with and after years of having people ask us about vinyl releases, he’s made it happen. So big high-fives to you, Tim.

Carla: Can’t thank Tim Lidster enough!

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By Sean Palmerston

Sean Palmerston is a vinyl loving music nerd who also loves NHL hockey, Godzilla movies and hanging out with his kids. A former contributing writer to a number of publications, including Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs and VICE, Sean also runs the all metal webzine Hellbound.ca

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