The Repository #17: Francis Plagne

I’ve been revisiting the excellent collaboration between crys cole and Francis Plagne on Black Truffle in the past week and thought it’d be fun to dig up this interview I did with Francis back in early 2006 right around when his first album came out. He’s done so much incredible work since (speaking of collaborations, the album with Andrew Chalk is obviously wonderful). Anyway. Francis is great and I can’t recommend digging into his bandcamp enough because there’s so many unique, interesting gems to be found. Enjoy. – BR

When I think of Australian music, I generally think of some fucked-up mix of Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood and The Lost Domain along with Men at Work and Rolf Harris. So when Francis Plagne made his debut in 2005 with the brilliant “Idle Bones,” it was good to find a cohesive mix of all four. Plagne’s songs are alternately simple and complex. It’s all about balance. As he takes his show on the road in 2006, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about this young Aussie. He’s the best Melbourne has to offer. This interview was conducted through email in late 2005 and early 2006.

When did you first get interested in making music? And what was it that inspired you to start playing?

I’ve been ‘making’ music since I was about 11/12… I tried to play the acoustic guitar because I wanted to be Kurt Cobain or John Lennon, I knew absolutely nothing about ‘music’ and then when that didn’t work I got an electric guitar…me primary school friend and I both bought electric guitars at the same time and tried to play Metallica (I failed! he succeeded, now he’s in a band that sound like Frenzhal Rhomb (you know that oz band?))…Ah, sorry I’m sure that wasn’t what you were after… ill try again; in a way, what I do now is the same as what I’ve been doing since I started messing around with a four-track when I was 13… so I have been ‘playing’ for a while (which makes it sort of hard to say what inspired me to start playing in the first place) but I would say that what I do now is only directly related to what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years, recording songs alone… because, I have been in bands (and am now in one again) but I always kept the ‘introspective’ stuff for home, what a cliché! Kept things that wouldn’t make sense to show to bandmates as songs for myself.

But anyway, my Beatles and Brian Wilson obsession has always centered around the studio: I love the idea of how multitrack recording can sort fake everything; I would say that my interest in recording songs increasingly in the last year or so especially hasn’t been about creating real band arrangements, fake bands, etc but is more about using the studio (what a ridiculous way to talk about my 8 track with only 7 working tracks!) in an obviously constructed way. I’ve never really been inspired by ‘lo-fi’ as a concept, I’ve just recorded at home because it was easier (if anyone wants to fund me to go into a studio I am perfectly willing to accept!). Recording at home also means there’s no barrier between messing around and doing things professionally; that’s one of the reasons why I don’t really know where to start answering this question because I couldn’t really define where I stopped screwing around and started getting serious or what inspired me to make that change if I ever did…ah!

What music did you listen to when you were younger?

I suppose I just went into that before but I can probably run through what I’ve been into pretty easily: when I was 12-13 I was mainly into the Beatles/The Stones etc and death metal/grindcore etc, I never really connected the two! And then I sort grew out of metal (I always liked Darkthrone though!) and got into rocky music… went through a teen Lester Bangs, Television (just mention the words ‘Marquee Moon’ to my friends and they run screaming from the room), Stooges and drunkenness phase which ended when I bought Pet Sounds (funnily enough at Mark’s recommendation) and for a while, I listened to nothing but Pet Sounds, Sergeant Pepper’s and For Her Satanick Majesty’s request or whatever its called… at some point I spent a lot of getting stoned with my friends and listening to the Grateful Dead, all that stuff… Concurrently with most of this I always listened to ‘experimental’ music, starting with John Zorn, then Cage, when I was fifteen I went through a big cage and improv/free jazz phase… my point is that only in the last couple of years have I really started to actually see some sort of relationship between all the stuff I listen to and the result, ridiculously enough is ‘Idle Bones’ which is basically Brian Wilson + White album + Xenakis + too many euro art films + Pateras/Baxter/Brown (buy their CD today!) + Marc Bolan + Andre Almuro (as above!) + literary patheticism = unicycle-riding ducks…in influence that is, not quality…maybe I’m really not good at this… 

You’ve been playing some live shows recently… how’s it going? Do you hope to do any shows outside Australia soon?

Live shows have gradually become a joy! Although we are not playing for a while now we just finished the most regular gigging yet, four shows in a month or something. I’m happy to be able to say that the live show has taken on its own character away from trying to reproduce the record Smile-style, which we attempted to do but failed…all in good humor, I assure you…Anyway, the live band is me singing, playing guitar, feeding back, clicking head; Mark Harwood singing, doing electronics, goblets, fire, glockenspiel and increasingly confident percussion; Connal Parsley on bass, guitar, singing, inside bongo drum and musical glue and Pia Borg, definitely not singing, on drums, Nosferatu Casio, and scrub brush and everyone on ‘and more…’. Um, the live shows have started to take on a punchy, almost tight structure, with sloppy improv and then songs and then improv (the improvised stuff is quite structured anyway though). Foreign shows are a distant dream but we did go to Adelaide! That was quite a shock, as we are used to cozy international supports with audiences full of our friends and then we found ourselves playing on the floor in a pub with a PA that only worked in one channel… Someone had the good sense to ask halfway through our set: “Are they tuning up or what?”

We play again in January and if anyone wants to invite us overseas then I am sitting here waiting…

How do you feel like your environment impacts your music?

Not sure how to answer this, since I have never made music in another environment I couldn’t really say, as far as ‘environment’ in the sense of country, city, hot, cold, etc goes. The intellectual environment probably had an effect on how I think about music (I’m not isolated here, it’s a big city!). I mean, I suppose I’m lucky to be creating in this city in that the connection between academia and experimental music or whatever you want to call it isn’t too deeply entrenched… I’ve also been influenced by meeting ‘high-brow’ experimental musicians and finding that they listened to Nancy Sinatra, the element of the intellectual environment…sorry, don’t really know what to say, I suppose if I lived in the outback this question would be easier… 

What’s the worst live experience you’ve ever had?

It’s so difficult to choose… There is one that immediately springs to mind: in the first few live shows, we had this acoustic noise section that was supposed to serve the same purpose as ‘a twitch of denial’ on the CD. We reached that point in our second show and my mind just went completely blank as to what I was supposed to play in that section, so I just stood there in the middle of this storm of bang and clatter and tried to search for some instrument, and by the time I found my scrub rush or miniature guitar or whatever it was over, it was time to pick up the guitar again and I was just hoping that everyone was distracted enough by the noise to not notice the huge donkey ears growing on my head… afterward I realized it was alright because we were supporting Architecture In Helsinki and the audience just burst out laughing every time we did something ‘arty’ as if our feeble improvisation was some sort of slapstick show… 

What role does tension play in your music?

In some ways tension is very important in the way I structure my music; the idea that difficult (or ‘tense’) sections will eventually be followed by more accessible melodic material is something that lets me ‘get away’ with a lot of things. There are a lot of passages on Idle Bones that only make sense inside the whole, i.e. parts that are validated by the part they play in tension and release relationships with other material. I guess the material must have suggested the question and so no matter what I say, there must be something that suggests tension in the music…But, yeah, the answer is, on Idle Bones: a starring role! But I think maybe I rely too much on these things and I would like to get away from that, without sacrificing large structure and start making more self-sufficient tracks…what do you think?

How’d you hook up with the guys at Synaesthesia, and how’d the album come about?

I’d been going in as a customer to the shop for a fair while until I gave Mark (from Syn) a CD-R of some older tracks and was surprised when I saw him at a gig and he had positive feedback! And then I started working at the Synaesthesia shop and was exposed to a lot of great things, I made the first part of Idle Bones (really the first ‘proper’ piece of music I’d done, sequenced neatly, put together on a computer, etc), and Mark called me up on my mother’s birthday last year full of good things to say and offered to release it. I hadn’t really considered it as side one of an album or anything but then after I knew it was to be released that’s what it became and I set about making side two, as it were. The funny thing is that I had considered doing it as a burned 3” or something and had this mental list of more pop-orientated people I was going to give copies; I had this serious belief that Synaesthesia would never be the label that released my records… The artwork was a fairly long process; I was lucky to have two great artists doing it (Lauren Cantanchin, who is a sort of fantastic conceptual cartoonist/lino printer, and Pia Borg, whose name you should Google) and that’s sort of that… I mean there is more but it’s probably even less interesting than that…sorry. 

So what’s up next for you musically in 2006? What are you most looking forward to? 

Well, hopefully making another record. I have songs written, ideas, and about 10 minutes of finished stuff, some of which was on the “loose canon” compilation. I recorded those things about six months ago and so now I’m at a bit of a strange phase in making the next one, unsure about how new material (which further complicates things because I haven’t really recorded anything) will fit with the older stuff. At the minute it seems that album number two will be a bit different from “Idle Bones”, something I’m quite excited about… What I’m looking forwards to the most this year is getting deep into the making of my new record, and being able to add new material to the live show, a recently discovered pleasure. I’d love to tour more, I’m excited about devoting a lot of time to music, not sure how that will fit with my studies though… 

Do you feel like you’re part of any sort of musical community in Australia or otherwise? 

In a sense, I’m definitely a part of the Melbourne music scene through the other members of my live band who are more connected to the “scene” regularly, whereas I live in the suburbs surrounded by retirement villages. I’m more on the fringes of the community because everyone else is ten years older than me. I think that I’m lucky in that I’m more part of the ‘experimental’ community than the indie/pop people, I’d rather be playing on the same bill as Oren Ambarchi (for example) than with other bands, not that I have anything against bands (what sort of hole am I digging for myself?) but maybe its an audience issue, although I appreciated Architecture In Helsinki’s teenage audience’s raucous laughter at our set. 

What’s the best record you heard in 2005? 

As for records released in 2005, I’ll pick the Moondog compilation on Honest John’s “Viking Of Sixth Avenue”, The No Neck Blues Band CD “Quantarenius Cook and Co” and Brendan Walls/Daisuke Suzuki “Aftertaste” on Donovan’s Hands from Sydney which would be the talk of the town if it was a CD-R from New York… Other than that, Beach Boys and Tyrannosaurus Rex re-issues! 

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