Thelma Plum’s Inspiring Homecoming
"It was really nice to be here for so long because I kind of started writing how I used to write - I wrote because I really wanted to write"
Image Credit: Georgia Wallace
Thelma Plum's new EP is a testament to accepting one's fate but never giving up. At the start of 2020, Plum was in the studio in london, recording what was supposed to be the follow-up to her acclaimed 2019 debut album Better in Blak. However, 2020 happened... and Plum found herself settled back in her hometown of Meanjin/Brisbane, in one place for the first time in a long time.
After settling in, Plum began working on a new set of songs that soon became the stunning Meanjin EP, a sonic love letter to the city that formed her, written with the perspective that can only be gleaned by returning somewhere formative after a long absence.
With the Meanjin EP out today and Plum about to jet off on a huge national tour hitting all major cities (all dates below), we jumped on the line with Thelma to find out all about it!
I want to start off by asking to hear about what it must have been like to be mid-recording your sophomore album in London during COVID to then having to head home and create what has become the Meanjin EP - tell us how all that went down?
I mean, it was pretty insane. I was in London in March 2020 when COVID hit, I was working on my record, writing my music, and then I had to come home because the world was essentially ending. And then I got COVID and then the last couple of years happened. I kind of scrapped that album, I just think that like, I don’t know, I feel like so much had changed, like so much has happened in the world in the last couple of years that those songs just didn't feel very relevant to me anymore. I don’t know, I felt silly singing about heartbreak when many things had changed. I had changed a lot. Yeah, so then I came up with the Meanjin EP, which was not intentional. It was, for lack of a better word, very organic and those songs just kind of happened.
So what came first, the decision to scrap the album or had you already started writing Meanjin when that decision was made?
I mean, I was already starting to feel, I don’t know - I didn't feel the same about the songs that I had from London. But really only because I just felt like I had changed so much with COVID. I didn’t know when the borders were shutting, it was honestly like the first time in like 10 years that I have not had to travel, like it was the first time I’ve been in one spot for a solid period of time. So yeah, I was just like , “what better place to write music than here at home”? And then the songs, I wrote them kind of like over, I don’t know, a couple of weeks, but was all in the same period of time, that’s how I came up with those.
What was that adjustment like, you know, from having never been in the same spot for more than five minutes to then writing music again?
Okay, so it felt honestly, to me, that was I think the silver lining of like the lockdown and the borders being closed. Like it was so awful, I was out of work. I missed my mom and dad, it was, you know, pretty devastating for a lot of people, but I don't know, I guess it also kind of taught me like, I had to sit with myself for a long time and think about what are the things that are important to me - what do I value, which is my family, my friends and this beautiful city that I live in, my beautiful home that I’m lucky enough to live in.
So that's how it all kind of came about, but I definitely also think something about being alone for that long and kind of like, songwriting to me now - you know, I went over to London with the intention to write a record, but when I was a teenager I used to write music just to write music. I would write it because I felt like if I didn’t write something, I physically felt that pain and I didn’t know that when doing music for a job, I feel like you can lose that for a little bit, because it’s like “okay, well, coming back over to album cycle, I better start writing for that” and yeah, it’s just a bit different when it’s so intentional and I think it was really nice to be here for so long because I kind of started writing how I used to write - I wrote because I really wanted to write.
That’s beautiful - refinding your own roots back in your hometown! Did you find you started viewing the city through a different lens, or like, refalling in love or you know, finding things you’ve never noticed before?
Yeah, I think so. I think as well, my dad reckons I’m like a very nostalgic person and I think I was getting very, very nostalgic and just thinking a lot about my childhood and I’ve always loved Brisbane and I’ve always loved the Brisbane River and I think spending that time here really like, I don’t know - moving away from Brisbane as a fresh teen I was definitely like “take me to the big smoke”, and so I think that also kind of reminded me how much I loved Brisbane, living in Melbourne and Sydney, I just was always like “Oh I just want to go back home”.
Yeah living in Perth, kind of can relate a bit!
See, Perth and Brisbane I think have very similar energy, so I really love Perth.
I’ve always said that too, Thelma! No shade on Sydney or Melbourne obviously, just different vibes. I have to ask quickly about the cover art of the EP which is kind of tied in with all the themes we’ve been discussing I’m guessing? A lovely illustrated house and a little picture of what I’m guessing is you in the bottom corner?
Very funny, that is a little picture of me at the bottom, I think I was like seven or eight, I’ve got to actually figure out how old I was. But yeah, it’s so funny, that photo. My mum took that in our driveway, so that was my house that we live in. It was a Department of Housing house that my mom made so beautiful and so nice for me, and I just spent so much of my childhood in that house so I guess it just made sense that when I was singing about my life in Brisbane that I would have that house cos that was my life in Brisbane. The song Baby Blue Bicycle on the EP is about that house and about growing up on that street and like, the stories that I got from living there.
The artwork was by a beautiful, beautiful artist Maeve Lejeune, she is just so talented. I actually went to primary school with her and she’s just incredible. I knew that I’d seen her illustrations around town before and I knew that I wanted her to draw that and that she would just do a great job.
And the fact that you guys went to primary school together just feels too appropriate for the themes you’ve just discussed! So with the EP out, you’ve got a big tour on the cards and I’m curious about how some of the new stuff is feeling live?
It feels so good! It feels really good. I’m so lucky, I have a really good band that play with me, they’re incredible, like honestly. So When It Rains It Pours, I had already finished that for the EP and signed off on it and we had a few shows that were make-up shows for when we cancelled them last year. Pete Covington, my guitarist who is incredible, for When It Rains It Pours he kind of just started playing this guitar solo at the end of it, like of his own accord, and it just sounded so good that I was like “okay, well I need you to now obviously put this on the recorded version of this”. So I wouldn’t have that sick guitar solo in When It Rains It Pours if we hadn’t played that live, so yeah, the live show has definitely been such a vibe.
Amazing, and you’re about to set off all around Australia including playing over here in Busselton!
I can’t wait! Oh my gosh, I’m with Leon Briges, what!?
Collab anyone?! Thanks so much for chatting Thelma and congrats on the new EP!
Wonderful, thank you so much, Will.
Thelma Plum's new EP Meanjin is out now via Warner Music Australia
THE MEANJIN TOUR
Thursday 25th August – Blue Mountains Theatre, Springwood, NSW / Gundungarra and Dharug Country
Friday 26th August – The Cambridge, Newcastle, NSW / Awabakal Country
Saturday 27th August – UC Refectory, Canberra, ACT / Ngunnawal
Thursday 1st September – Forum, Melbourne, VIC / Wurundjeri Country
Friday 2nd September – The Gov, Adelaide, SA / Kaurna Country
Saturday 3rd September – Spring Time Festival, Gold Coast, QLD / Yugambeh Country
Friday 9th September- The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD / Meanjin
Saturday 10th September- Nightquarter, Sunshine Coast, QLD / Kabi Kabi Country
Friday 16th September – Roundhouse, Sydney, NSW / Gadigal Country
Saturday 24th September – Good Day Sunshine Festival, Busselton, WA / Wadandi Boodja