Plum’s the word: Exclusive interview with Thelma Plum
With her debut album Better in Blak sitting pretty at the pointy end of the charts, earning six ARIA nominations and a spot on triple j’s Australian albums of the year list, 2019 was a great year for Gamilaraay artist Thelma Plum.
Following a sold out tour that stretched from London’s Courtyard Theatre and The Factory in Sydney, Plum brings her trademark blend of acoustic pop, soulful blues and articulate storytelling through song to City of Wanneroo’s fan-favourite event, Global Beats & Eats on Saturday 21 March.
City of Wanneroo caught up with Thelma just after Christmas to reflect on both the year that was and the influences that went into the breakout debut record.
It’s been less than 12 months since your debut record Better in Blak hit the ARIA charts – how has your life changed since then?
I’m still singing and playing, just seems to be to a lot more people, which I absolutely love.
It’s wonderful what people have said about my music but I would hope that it doesn’t change anything too much as I am really enjoying getting to know everyone.
In an interview with triple j last year, you spoke about how Better in Blak is an album about “transforming trauma into triumph”. Was writing the record a therapeutic process?
Entirely, but music is therapeutic to me regardless of who hears me singing or playing, it helps me process my life I guess!
The record features some noteworthy collaborations, from Gang of Youths frontman Dave Le’Aupepe and Paul Kelly to The Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney on the closing track ‘Made for You’. Can you tell us a little bit about how these collaborations come together?
I’ve known David for a while and we had planned to work together on something which I sort of assumed was going to be really triumphant and upbeat, but the night before we’d separately watched the Four Corners ‘Australia’s Shame’ about Don Dale Detention Centre and, well, ‘Love and War’ came from our collective horror, shock and sadness.
I was lucky enough to write with Paul Kelly, who is my all-time song writing hero, a strange dream of a day considering how many times I had seen him play, and to have Paul McCartney play on that song when he dropped into the studio in New York, well, I still don’t know if that’s true. It is true, but, well, I can’t believe it happened to me!
On the track ‘Not Angry Anymore’, you sing ‘I’m not perfect, I’m still learning’. What was the most important thing you learned while writing and recording Better in Blak?
That song is actually about learning within relationships and knowing who and when to give yourself to – something I do with my music entirely.
Last year you played two sold-out shows at Freo Social in Fremantle. What can locals with a ticket to Global Beats and Eats 2020 expect from a Thelma Plum performance?
Those shows were such fun. If anyone finds my coat, can I have it back please?
For Global Beats & Eats, I’m going to be playing a lot of music off my album, plus a few of the songs that came out before it and maybe even a new one or a cover or two.
Do you have a favourite song to play live?
‘The Captain’ by Kasey Chambers is always fun to do, not sure I can really pick one of my own.
Growing up in Brisbane, who were your musical icons and inspirations?
Paul Kelly, Kasey Chambers. A band called Isis – they were 90’s icons in Brisbane and also my mum’s friends so I’d always get to go watch them play.
What would you say to up-and-coming artists like yourself who are looking to get a foot in the door?
Write, never settle for what you have musically and make sure you surround yourself with good people.
You first uploaded music to triple j Unearthed in in 2012. How has your sound evolved since then?
Well, those recordings were acoustic, simple, sparse and constrained by what I had to work with. Now I am lucky enough to work with a lot more on the technical and human side, hopefully the songs reflect that growth.
From performing at Splendour in the Grass to being nominated alongside the likes of Hilltop Hoods and Matt Corby for triple j’s Australian Album of the Year, it’s been an incredible 12 months. What’s next for Thelma Plum?
Well, I’m coming to Western Australia for Global Beats & Eats! I have a lot of touring coming up, some overseas shows and just lots and lots of writing for my second album.
Global Beats & Eats is a free family-friendly event, but tickets are essential.
City of Wanneroo residents can book tickets to Global Beats & Eats from 9am Monday 17 February. If not sold out prior, the remaining tickets will be be released to the general public at 9am Monday 2 March 2020.