Life happens in funny ways sometimes. No one is more acutely aware of this than singer-songwriter Mike Plume. After having written and released 10 critically acclaimed albums that wove their way into the conscience of roots-rock fans in Canada, the United States and beyond, Plume is no stranger to the crazy world of the music business. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t continue to be astounded by it.
We’ll get this out of the way now: Plume has not been the most prolific recording artist in the last decade. After an approximate five-year layoff between 2004’s Rock and Roll Recordings, Volume 1 and 2009’s 8:30 Newfoundland, Plume found himself intermittently writing songs that would eventually find their way onto his newest record, Red and White Blues.
Just before recording of his newest album began however, Plume found himself, along with much of the rest of his native Canada, somewhat unexpectedly mourning the loss of homegrown musical icon Stompin’ Tom Connors. As songwriters are wont to do, Plume poured his heart into a song as a tribute to Connors. He never could have dreamed of what would follow.
Within 48 hours of having posted the song and accompanying video to YouTube, “So Long Stompin’ Tom’ racked up 20,000 views. The song then hit the 30,000-view mark. Then 60,000. Then 100,000.
It is no coincidence however that “So Long Stompin’ Tom” is nowhere to be found on Red and White Blues. Although this might have been a smart business decision, there was a very human reasoning behind the song being left off Plume’s new record.
Plume was already hyper aware that people would think that he was somehow capitalizing on Connors passing. While the notoriety brought to Plume by the song was bound to be inevitable, he wanted to maintain some semblance of control over the attention that the song was bringing him. He is not disassociating himself with the song by any means; he anticipates pressing a single with the song and selling that along with a commemorative t-shirt at his live shows. But Plume has no interest in reaping any financial gains from the song. As per Connors wishes in his final letter to his fans, Plume is donating any and all proceeds from the sale of the song and t-shirt to food banks right across Canada.
“I wanted ‘So Long Stompin’ Tom’ to be its own thing,” Plume begins. “I didn’t even want to make it known that we were going into the studio to make this record because I didn’t want people thinking that I was trying to cash in on Tom’s passing. It is such a delicate situation to be in because you can’t buy the publicity that I got off that one song. People go their whole lives without that ever happening. I didn’t plan on anything ever happening.”
Plume’s last statement is significant when it comes to discussing Red and White Blues.When he began discussing the prospect of making a new record with drummer Ernie Basiliadis (with whom Plume has made music since 1985) and bassist Ben Wilson, Plume erred on the comedic side of conservative. After being asked to send the songs that he wanted Ernie and Ben to learn, Plume sent only four of a potential 40 songs.
The informal approach to the group’s live shows and the general lack of set lists for those shows had prepared Basiliadis and Wilson to enter the studio ready to wing whatever Plume threw their way.
“Ernie knows what I want to do if I raise one eyebrow when I look at him. Same basically goes for Ben who has been playing with us for the past five years. The fact is, I don’t want to play in a band with people that can’t wing it. ‘Learn it then forget it’ is what I tell the guys. If you don’t plan on anything, you don’t expect anything.”
Born on Canada’s East Coast in Moncton, New Brunswick, Plume has called Nashville home since 2006. One aspect of Red and White Blues that Plume assures he did not plan was making his new record so laden with Canadian references.
“I am not really sure how my Canadian identity became so prominent in the record. It wasn’t by design. I didn’t sit down to start writing songs about Canada,” he says. “I do think that with me living in the United States by and large since 1998, I have gotten a bit homesick.”
While opening track “Coming Home Again” might owe more to The Pogues and Shane McGowan than any musician from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the references to Canada are aplenty through the song. In an arguable display of patriotic duty though, Plume includes a second, more-traditional version of the song that could have come straight from the Cape Breton Highlands.
The Canadian references flow freely from there.
“Thunder Bay”, a track about the somewhat isolated city of the same name located in the North-Northwestern part of the Province of Ontario is ripe with references to Montreal, Toronto and Kakabeka Falls.
Plume also draws from his vast experience as a touring musician on Red and White Blues. He delivers a more than worthy 21st Century follow-up to the Bob Seger classic “Turn The Page” via the desolate-sounding “Through Another Town”.
The strength of Plume’s songs is what comes to the forefront when listening to Red and White Blues. Not bad for an album that wasn’t ever a certainty let alone that was recorded in a scant six days. See? Not planning every last detail of your life can have its benefits too.
“I have found it is way better if I don’t plan anything in my life,” Plume summarizes. “Sometimes we are just better off to roll with what life gives us and worry about the end result when you need to worry about it. It seems to have worked for me pretty well so far.”