“Writing a song is like building a chair,” says Mike Plume. “You can build one in about 5 minutes, and you can sit on it, but you might get splinters. I can write a song in 5 minutes, but by the time I think it’s done it could be a year and a half. I just keep running my hand over it, to see where I get the splinters.”
Produced by 6 time Grammy winner, Brent Maher, who has produced numerous multiplatinum artists ranging from The Judds to Johnny Reid (with Elvis, Ike and Tina, Kenny Rogers and more in between) and Grammy winning engineer, Charles Yingling in Nashville’s Blue Room Studios, “8:30 Newfoundland” is the Moncton born, Bonnyville bred songwriter’s first record with the Mike Plume Band since 2001. Equal parts down home folk and raw country stomp, “8:30 Newfoundland” cover a lot of years and a lot of miles: from ‘Norman Wells to The Rock’ on the title track and lead single; from late winter games of shinny in a frozen Alberta pond, where ‘the season never ended’ on “More Than a Game”; from the highways out of town where dreams begin, on “Free”, to back roads leading nowhere, where people who’s dreams have died go to heal in peace, on “Junior”.
But no matter how far “8:30 Newfoundland” takes you, Plume’s unrelenting optimism and forthright delivery tie it all together with an authenticity that comes from the kind of hard won truths and lyrical details you’d never be able to remember – let alone put on paper – if you hadn’t been there, in the flesh, living every word of every line. Even still, for Plume to come to some of those truths in his own mind, it took distance and time.
“It took a year and a half to write most of these songs.” Like “This is our Home (8:30 Newfoundland)”, he says, co-written with Road Hammer, Jason McCoy. “I couldn’t have written that song if I was living in Canada. I had to be homesick. I had to get away from everything to realize just how great our home is.”
“We wrote the first verse and chorus in 10 minutes, in 2006. For 16 months, every time I was walking my dogs, I’d visit that melody and come up with more lyrics. I could’ve finished it in an hour, but I’m not sure it would have ended up being the song that it turned into.”
Truth be told, he didn’t know if it would turn into anything. Then again, when he first formed the Mike Plume Band in the mid ‘90’s he couldn’t be sure that would turn into anything either. In fact, up to that point, he had every reason to think exactly the opposite. “I was fired from every band I’ve ever been in except this one, and if this wasn’t called The Mike Plume Band, I would have been canned years ago.”
In 1994, on the heels of his debut, “Songs from a Northern Town”, Plume and his band hit the road hard, playing 200-250 one-nighters a year, and releasing two records in one year, in 1997, “Song and Dance, Man” and “Simplify”.
In the end, though, it was Plume, not his band, who pulled the plug. Unlike a song, the road’s rough patches don’t get any smoother, no matter how often you go over them, and Plume has gone over them more often than most. Eventually, inevitably, some of those rough edges began to wear on him
The beginning of the end, Plume says, came four years later, after the release of the band’s last record, “Fools for the Radio”. “It was originally supposed to come out May 1st. Then we had a big ‘meeting of the minds’ and they said, ‘You know what, May 1, 2001 isn’t a good release date – how about September 11, 2001’.”
The day of their release the band listened to 9/11 unfold on the BBC while driving to a gig in Bournemouth, UK. Rather than pack it in they kept right on driving. But fifteen months later Plume hopped out of the van in Boston to check into their rooms for the night, heard the screech of the tires and realized two things simultaneously. First, that he’d left the van in drive, and second, that it was time he put himself in park for a while. After six records, eight years, and over 1200 shows across Canada, The United States and Europe, Plume decided to put down roots and find out what it was like to live in a town for more than 12 hours at a time.
“It’s a grass is always greener thing,” he says. “After every gig I’d get behind the wheel at 2 AM and drive ‘til 10. At sunrise, when you’re driving through a town, you start seeing the lights in houses coming on. In your head, you picture the guy shuffling around the kitchen, making a pot of coffee, kissing his wife and heading the kids off to school. And I would just think I would give anything to be that guy right now. So now I’m that guy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Music is what I do, but being married and being a father is who I am. It took me a long time to figure that out.”
While the band continued to tour and record under the name The Populars, Plume, newly married and living in Nashville, put down his guitar for good, or so he thought, in 2003, and moved back to Canada.
Three years later, during a visit to Tennessee, Plume picked up right where he’d left off. “It seemed that everyone I’d ever written with had written number 1 songs while I was gone, and I thought, ‘Jesus, maybe I shouldn’t have left town when I did’.” After hooking up with some old friends to pen a few songs while he was in town he landed a publishing deal with Moraine Music and got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, he was missing something.
Relocating to Nashville once again in 2006, Plume soon made up for lost time: writing with the likes of country legend Guy Clark, landing a gig as the voice of the Chevy Silverado.
Along the way he discovered that he can put down his guitar whenever he needs to, and pick it right back up again whenever he wants. And that the good old days, far from being hollow echoes of past glories and fading memories, happen all the time. As he sings on “Like a Bullet From a Gun”, when you’re ‘looking back at the good old days, ten years from now that’ll be today’. “That’s my favourite line on the record,” Plume says. “When you turn 50, you’re gonna wish that you were turning 40, so why not be envious of your position right now?”
With that spirit in mind, when a European agent called to float the idea of reuniting Plume and his old band for a tour, one thing led to another. Though the tour never happened, once Plume started writing songs again he couldn’t stop. “Before we went in to record “8:30 Newfoundland” the guys and I hadn’t played together in four years. They all came to Nashville, we rolled tape, I counted in the first song, and just like that we fell into it.”
“Somehow we’d all found our own definition of happiness and making music together again was the common denominator.”
“It’s how you go about your day in the face of the inevitable, you know? It’s all about making a decision in how you want to live your life” Plume says. “To quote “Shawshank Redemption”… “(you gotta) get busy living or get busy dying.””
“Or another lyric from “Like A Bullet From A Gun”. “These good old days happen all the time.”
And you know what? They do happen all the time, we just have to remind ourselves that they are and that the cup is half full and It always is.”