By Paul Sambla
I’d like to break two stereotypes here, if I could. First off, the East Coast music scene isn’t dead, despite never achieving the “New Seattle” status that Sub-Pop and Geffen tried to force upon it five years ago. And secondly, Plumtree is a four-piece all-girl band whose ages range from 19 to 21. It shouldn’t matter that they’re all girls, but it does, since a stigma is automatically attached to them — girls=cute.
And they hate being called cute, as I found out last Thursday when Plumtree’s cross-Canada tour brought them to Toronto.
“It’s something that everyone brings up,” say an exasperated Carla Gillis, the band’s guitarist and vocalist. “We’re pretty young, we’re girls, we’re a bit of a freakshow for those reasons, and everybody gets hung up on it.”
“We’re a guitar-oriented band too, much more than vocals, and that’s sort of a new thing for girl bands,” Carla adds. “Usually girl bands are thought of as very vocally oriented. We play shows, and the sounds people tend to put the vocals very loud, and we’re like, ‘Please don’t do that.’”
“Whenever we get compared to something it has to be girls. It’s like we can’t get past that stage,” he sister Lynette adds. “‘Cute’ is a term that makes you defensive. It doesn’t seem to mean anything, and minimizes all the work you’re doing. It puts the focus on image rather than music.”
But let’s go back to the music. Predict the Future, Plumtree’s second album, it rife with melodic guitar songs.
“We used to make really disjointed songs that had a million parts, that were really long, to try and impress people. But then we just went ‘This is stupid!’ Now we try to keep our ideas apart, instead of throwing them all into one song.”
For Plumtree, songwriting is a collaborative effort, although usually Carla or guitarist Amanda Braden come up with ideas for the band.
“Lynette and I have a really heavy-metal background. Amanda’s really into ‘50s and ‘60s pop songs, lots of harmonies, and the two mix,” Carla explains.
“If I wrote a song, solely me, it would just be way too heavy for Plumtree, and if Amanda did, it would be so ‘la la la’ it would be sick.”
The “awe” factor of touring across Canada isn’t lost on the band yet. During their set at the El Mocambo, drummer Lynette told the audience she was thrilled to be on the same stage where Elvis Costello played and recorded a seminal live album back in 1979.
And after their well-received set was done, they spent their time videotaping co-headliners Thrush Hermit and The Inbreds rather than drinking themselves stupid in some corner of the room.
As I get ready to take their pictures, the two smile, and I tell them not to look cute. I take the picture, and Carla turns to Lynette, “See, you smile and you’re called cute.”
“But see then you say ‘Oh no we’re not,’ and you’re called riot grrls,” Lynette replies.
They agree not to do anything for the last shot, and Lynette laughs. “That was so boring! I just looked stoned!”
Plumtree might not want to be called cute, but sometimes they just can’t help it.