Interview with Plum/Shona Maguire

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.

When did you first have the urge to make your own music, was this before or during your time undertaking work experience at Split-Level Studios?

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.

We now come to the reason we really wanted to talk to you haha, your brand new album The Seed. How are you feeling in its early days of being in the ears of the public?

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 Seedhttp://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/plum-the-seed/

The Ringmaster Review 09/04/2012

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Hard Riot: Living on a Fast Lane

If you are looking for some good and honest hard rock with a strength and appeal that refuses to be ignored then you can do a lot worse than taking a listen to the debut album from German band Hard Riot. Released via Pitch Black Records Living on a Fast Lane offers up eleven slices of very satisfying rock ‘n’ roll that hits the spot without venturing into distinctly new realms. The release though carries an exuberance and vitality that the more one gives it attention the more infectious it becomes.

Formed in 2006 in Heilbronn the quartet of vocalist Michael Gildner, guitarist Andreas Rockrohr, bassist Mario Kleindienst, and Carmine Jaucci on drums, are open with their influences proudly using them to flavour their own ideas and creativity. The album offers up large doses of the likes of AC/DC, Def Leppard, Scorpions and at times Van Halen but there are also other spices that peer out from within their sounds, varied rock elements that bring thoughts of Metallica, Aerosmith, and Staind. This goes to make an album that consistently engages and welcomes the ear even if it offers no real surprises or startling originality. For impressive and enjoyable rock music though Living on a Fast Lane fits the bill easily.

2009 saw the band release their self-financed 5-track EP The Hidden Truth to good acclaim and last year the band ventured into the studio to record their debut album with producer Vagelis Maranis. With the band signing to Pitch Black at the beginning of this year and the release of this fine album coming this week  there is a feeling and promise that the band should gather up a much stronger deeper response and fan base than ever before.

The album offers a good variety within its walls, the band at ease and skilled whether bringing a power ballad like Tears In The Rain or dragging the senses to their feet to rock out with the likes of the southern rock tinged opener Get Ready. The production ensures that each element of the band is heard to its fullest ability but also seamlessly fits side by side to makes songs that eagerly connect. It is fair to say that hard rock  is not the favoured genre of choice here at the RR, but there has to be a full admission that Living on a Fast Lane had voices loud and limbs air playing on more than one occasion.

Standout tracks include the great stomp fest Hellfire Rock where drums and riffs light up the inner rocker from the very first note and the excellent No Surrender. The first is infectiously anthemic and one of the songs where an avoidance of joining in is impossible. It scoops one up with an irresistible explosion of power riffs and melodic invention around compulsive gang choruses and pulse racing energy. The second of the two though with a fuller classic metal intention is similar in triggering a full response from the listener. The song is hungry and eager to provide a feast of hard rock elements and sounds that though expected are brought with a skill and urgency that can only please.

The album has a strong flow and consistency making sure there is never a moment one is looking to move on early. The likes of the slow and well crafted Nothing But You and the impressive metal veined Hard Way Down providing more highlights whilst the bluesy Black Widow is a supreme piece of rock music. It as elsewhere does not break down doors into new pastures but is simply siren like even for those that leave hard rock as a choice low down their preference list.

Living on a Fast Lane is a great release offering all the elements that makes a good and easily returnable to rock album. No it is not startlingly unpredictable or inventive but it is one of the most satisfying and eagerly digestible releases so far this year and makes Hard Riot a band to investigate.

RingMaster 08/03/2012

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A Vision Grotesque: Metaphysical Hypnosis

It does not seem to matter which style or genre of music you wish to pick North Carolina has one if not more stunning examples and bands to offer. In this case extreme/melodic metal has been blessed by the emergence of A Vision Grotesque over the past eight years, a band that rifles the senses with deliberate aggressive violations whilst inspiring them with darkened melodic creativity underlined with menace and eager corruption. Combining a death metal intensity and sound with a searching progressive ingenuity the band offers something vibrant and very satisfying as their latest album Metaphysical Hypnosis proves.

Though formed in 2004 under the name of Art of Dying, the band had its seeds as early as 1995 when vocalist Joseph Grotesque, guitarist Jeremy Bennett, and drummer Steve Beaver began jamming together. 2004 also saw the first demo from the band to be succeeded the following year by Homicide Utopia and the band becoming a quintet. The subsequent six years saw the band recruiting more enthused fans through their dynamic live shows and the releases King of the Massacre and Waking Up To Hell (both 2007), the latter produced by Jamie King (Between the Buried and Me, Human Abstract) as was Metaphysical Hypnosis. This period also saw the name changed due to legal action brought by a Canadian band of the same name, not that this stopped the continued rise and acclaim of the band.

2011 saw the current line-up in place with second guitarist Ron Dalton (Nephilim/Beneath the Shadows) and bassist Daniel Quinn (Beneath the Shadows) joining the original trio. Metaphysical Hypnosis was recorded before the addition of the pair and with such an impressive basis there is strong anticipation for future releases with the new line-up.

It is fair to say Metaphysical Hypnosis does not stretch extreme metal boundaries preferring to bring a formidable and very accomplished skill and sound from within existing limits but the band delivers these sounds and consume the bodies of its recipients with a full and fresh inventive style of songwriting and music. This ensures that though the music comes with seeming influences from the likes of In Flames, Between the Buried and Me (another mighty N.C. band) , and At The Gates, they install them into their own strong and well crafted intent and results.

From the opening might of Prophets Of Infinity, through the excellent Genocide Politics and on to the manipulative and stunning closer Whisper The Serpent, the album places a firm and enticing grip around the senses, littering it with intimidating riffs, a consuming intensity and melodic intervention that inflames and inspires equally. These three songs alone scorch the ear and pummel feelings with skilled invention and even deeper success. The guitars wind around and squeeze the senses into willing submission, their acute melodies and flesh stripping abrasive fingerings insatiable and often irresistible whilst the bestial rhythms stomp and trample without of mercy.

Metaphysical Hypnosis is not the heaviest or hardest album you are likely to come across but it is one of the most resourceful and engaging extreme metal releases in the past couple of years. When it sounds this good the missing ambition to strike down new doors is not an issue and there is more than enough ideas and as mentioned freshness that lifts it above most other similar veined offerings, songs like the blistering melodic rock powered Sacred Geometry and the unrelenting To Taste The Living with its Swedish death metal spicery leaving nothing but pure enjoyment in their wake.

The album offers eight tracks that all hit the mark and keep the high level constant though Behind The Walls Of The Wicked takes things even higher with its addictive hungry groove and bullying rhythms, the vocals spewing unbridled bile and venom upon every syllable wonderfully, though that applies to each and every track. Infectious and impactful the track tells you all you need to know about A Vision Grotesque, a band with a hand and ability as mighty as the sounds they unleash.

Metaphysical Hypnosis may not top anyone’s favourite list though it will feature highly in most, but it is a release that will find a constant place in the playlist of any extreme metal fan once its high quality infection has taken hold and as it is now free to download from http://www.reverbnation.com/avisiongrotesque an introduction to A Vision Grotesque is a must.

RingMaster 08/04/2012.

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