The just released album The Seed from Scottish singer/songwriter/producer Plum is one of the most graceful and glorious collections of ideas, thoughts and songs to caress and inspire the ear so far this year. With an intriguing and provocative theme veining composing and music making of the highest and deepest quality, it is an impactful and beautifully caressing release that takes one on a personal trip with Plum and also a journey inside themselves. We had the pleasure of grabbing some of her time to ask Plum (Shona Maguire) about the album, music and herself.
Hello and a warm welcome to The RingMaster Review. Thank you for talking to us.
Would you first simply introduce yourself?
Hello, I’m Shona Maguire/Plum. I’m an Edinburgh based songwriter & producer, Aberdeen born with a love of electronic music, art, independent film & treehouses.
Why the name of Plum rather than using your real name for your music?
It’s a childhood nickname (given to me by my dad, nobody knows why). I don’t know why, but didn’t want to go by my real name (too folky sounding), so used Plum originally intended to be a stop gap until I found a better name but it stuck.
When did you first find yourself falling into the arms of music?
Age 3 I fell into the arms of my granda’s piano. I was in the youth orchestra, played oboe in High School, then picked up a guitar at 15, and that’s when the songwriting began. It grabbed me. I was in a band in high school. Our high school technician showed me the basics of studio recording & I was then hooked on learning more. Did work experience at Split level studios & kept going back for about 5 years. The short answer is probably mid to late teens.
What were the artists and songs that had the first powerful effect on you?
I was a late discoverer of electronic music. Bjork & Lamb were the gateway & I fell into that scene at age 19. Loved it with a passion – Boards of Canada, Chris Clark (now Clark), The Beta Band, Twin, PJ Harvey, Squarepusher…
And the biggest influences to this point?
I think the first are still the strongest. Add my musical friends Frogpocket, Araya, and Christ. And Kate Bush, and Joni Mitchell. But I never intended to make the same type of music as my influences. I try to write from the heart & to tell stories with it. With the lyrics as well as the instrumentation, textures, layers & moods you can build up.
Was music a feature of family life from day one up there in Aberdeenshire?
Pretty much, we had a piano in the house, though I don’t remember anyone ever playing it except me. My dad has always had a great taste in music. His records playing in the living room with the fire on is a standard memory. He introduced me to Nirvana, The Chemicals Brothers, The Blue Oyster Cult, Metallica, Howlin Wolf, Marillion, Mike Oldfield, Suzanne Vega. My mum was big into Kate Bush, Van Morrison & Joni Mitchell & I remember car journeys to those soundtracks.
Before…but it was the entire motivation behind working there. I bought a reel to reel tape machine from a back door warehouse in Leith & drove out to the studio with it on my motorbike. I made the studio blokes leave the outhouse (was kind of a practise shed) so I could record because I was too shy to sing in front of them. Was so excited to use it. Seems so old school now! Brilliant sound. Wish I still had it.
Your bio states you move to London to take a Music Production course being frustrated at being unable to communicate your ideas exactly as you wanted. Was it that much of a struggle conveying your creative thoughts and was this in terminology or interpreting what you heard inside to others?
Without the production know how I was relying on others to interpret my direction. And the people I was working with were (bless their lovely souls) far more conventional in their approach than I wanted. And I couldn’t find the right words to convey what was in my head. It wasn’t as direct as that though as I travelled for a few years, during which time I didn’t do any music. Then all of a sudden I had to get back into it. With more passion than before, and a need to take control.
You were creating your own music in tandem to learning studio production?
The course was very hands on practical & we were encouraged to write our own music as part of the course. Free studio time almost unlimited. Was a dream come true! Though I needed to work 28 hours a week to pay digs in London. Every other spare moment I was booked into a practise studio at Point Blank.
Before you had finished your course you were signed to Summer Rain Recordings, how did that come about?
As part of the course we had to set up a MySpace account & upload music. I did so & started getting some good feedback. One of them was from David at Summer Rain & he offered to put out an EP for me. To be honest I was pretty shocked, I didn’t feel ready, but was delighted to take up the opportunity.
You released two EPs though them, The Whispering Chamber (2007) and The Glory Feast (2008). How were these received and what impact did going straight into recordings during the course have on your self-belief as an aspiring artist?
Honestly, myself belief has always been a little shaky. The EPs were well received, but I was terrified to perform live so didn’t do much gigging on the back of it. The fact that a label wanted to sign me definitely helped my confidence though. It gave me the confidence to sing on my own tracks.
Next you returned to Scotland and became the first and I believe only female artist signed to Benbecula Records?
This is true :)
The album Different Skin in 2009 was met with a mass of critical acclaim as well as finding further love from your expanding fan base. This was maybe a pivotal point in your career to date and has given you more freedom to expand and explore your ideas?
Absolutely. Signing to Benbecula was a dream come true. I sent Steven about 6 demos over 2 years & finally he felt I was good enough. It brought a lot of UK press & gigs & was a fantastic experience. It was great to be part of such a forward thinking music scene & definitely helped push me creatively.
I’m excited. I’m really pleased with the release & the feedback so far has been amazing.
Tell us about its theme and where the inspiration for it came from.
It’s very private but essentially it’s about the power of suggestion. Something said to me in childhood had had a profound effect on my personality & fears & aspirations. It’s about the seed of an idea & how it can grow beyond your control. Finding the root of things is one massive task, but digging it up & planting alternatives is equally difficult. I just find the whole concept fascinating.
The way the album and songs are beautifully crafted and placed, let alone sounding around this concept suggests The Seed was a labour of love and intensive in time.
Yes it was a hell of a journey. Very personal. Very difficult. I was really ill for a month as I tried to conclude the album, but the sense of relief when I did was incredible. I’m really proud of it.
The album as you said was a journey, so did you write the songs separately and fit them along the album’s quest or wrote them to fit each aspect of the theme?
Lol. I may have just answered this one. I wrote to the concept loosely but wanted it to flow as an album, so there’s definitely a process behind the order. The journey was about working myself out for me, and the order of the tracks reflects that chronologically.
How have you evolved as a composer/songwriter o you feel and how has your music too from Different Skin to your new album?
Definitely. It was my first concept album, it took 2 years to write & produce. I got a lot of help from Keir MacCulloch, and I learnt a lot from him.
The Seed has an organic flow, a feel that is inspired by Nature and I believe you put yourself in the heart of it when writing the album?
Yes I moved to a cottage near Jedburgh in the Scottish borders to write it. I wish I could have stayed there. It was magical, overgrown, wild & beautifully peaceful. Was the perfect setting.
How do you approach your songwriting?
The songs write themselves. Sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes I’m playing the guitar & it all falls into place, sometimes I’ll build a song around a sample. I never write the beats first though which is I think more common.
The album is wonderfully unpredictable and surprising, your blending of caressing melodies and a calm ambience to striking and often discordant tones, beats and samples is majestic. How much is simply organic for you and how much do you have to really stretch even your ideas to achieve this?
I don’t have a strict idea of where I’ll end up when I start. I play about with layers & effects until I like what’s there. Until I feel it fits with the point of the song…which is usually driven by the emotions or mood.
Alongside the warmth and beauty to your music on the album there is a darker thoughtful vein bringing a striking balance? What do you hope we see that contrast as within the concept, as it does neatly open up many trains of thought at times?
I haven’t really thought about it. Contrast is human. I think it’s part of nature.
You have self-released The Seed. Was this always the intention or has been forced upon you?
It was always the intention. I wanted to write it exactly as I wanted without feeling pushed to go with an overall genre or style. I wanted the freedom to explore. That and Benbecula had closed, and I wanted to write rather than knock on the doors of all the other labels.
You helped to finance the album through sponsume.com. How did that work out and in a time when many bands are looking at this aspect why did you choose that site?
I actually tried We Fund first but they took ages to approve my video so I cancelled & gave Sponsume a go. Found it to be an excellent source of encouragement & a great way to engage with fans. Benbecula promoted it to their mailing list too which was very helpful.
Did the response you got surprise you?
Absolutely! I never thought I’d reach the total it was a stab in the dark, a total “may as well try” approach. I was really amazed at the support.
Is there any part of the album that you are most proud of?
Myriad. I knew I had to tie together all the pieces, I knew I wanted to finish on Meadow of Weeds, but was struggling to connect the struggles and the growth & the climbing with the hope & fresh start of meadow of weeds. It really took a lot out of me, but I’m very happy with the result.
Please tell us about the excellent video for the title track off the album.
It was the collective ideas of moi, Jim Wolff, Michael Kinlan, Jordan Laird (Leith FM) and the super talented Greg Hoyna who is proficient in both cardboard use and stop frame animation. Was fun to make, though I cricked my neck lying still for two long days.
What is next in the world of Shona /Plum?
Hopefully more gigs, & more opportunities to be creative.
Once more many thanks for sparing time to share your thoughts and in answering our questions.
Would you like to end with any last words?
Thanks so much for your support of an independent muso like myself. It’s much appreciated!
Read the review of The Seed @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/plum-the-seed/
The Ringmaster Review 09/04/2012