Interview with Plumb
By Dave Draeger and Ed Rock
Some bands spend years looking for that "big break," and even then it rarely materializes. Then there's Plumb, whose album brought the band into existence. Poised to follow in the footsteps of friends Jars of Clay and others who have blazed a trail into the mainstream marketplace, Plumb is looking to be "salt and light" to the world of pop music.
The band played an impressive, crowd-pleasing set at the Cornerstone Festival's Label Showcase stage in 1997. Mixing a terrific cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" with a batch of songs from their self-titled debut disc, lead singer Tiffany Arbuckle commanded the stage in front of the tight cast of players she's assembled into Plumb. Former Sixpence bassist J.J. Plasencio handled his six-string with his usual amazing skill and a wide, satisfied grin; drummer Joe Porter kept muscular time; and keyboardist Matt Stanfield bounced gleefully behind his rack of instruments.
We caught up with Tiffany and the guys in the Cornerstone mud after the show.
Tollbooth: The album was done before the current band lineup. What's the story with that?
Joe: Well, the story is that Tiffany was the original person that started Plumb. The label saw the talent that she had and wanted to find out if she was interested in getting signed. Well, she didn't want to be a solo artist, she wanted to do a band thing. But at that time, she was the only one around, so they went ahead and signed her and she started writing songs. She co-wrote most of the songs with one of the producers, Matt Bronleewe (Jars of Clay).
Tiffany: It was during the recording that I knew I was gonna have a band that was committed to this and that would be in the photo shoots and videos. They would be just as committed as I was, but they wouldn't actually be signed to the label. Initially they'd just be signed with me, but we are Plumb.
It kinda worked out backwards because usually in Nashville, which is Music City, you see people pitching themselves and singing on street corners and doing demos, and da da da da da. It worked out where I was just a backup singer in a band, in the right place at the right time. Essential heard me and came to me and said you should do something on your own, and from there I signed and said, "I want a band. I don't want to do tracks. I don't want to be just another chick that's out there. I want something that's gonna be different." So I started looking for the players while I was writing.
Matt: J.J. came on right after the album was done. Tiff and Joe hadn't found a bass player they wanted, and J.J. became "available"; and they asked him and he liked what it was about.
Tollbooth: So how did you snag J.J.?
Tiffany: How did I snag J.J.? We get asked that a lot because [J.J.'s former group] Sixpence is such a reputable group. He wanted a change--he's a great writer and he wants to write, and so I was like "Man, write with me."
[Coincidentally, J.J. walked in at this very moment]
Tiffany: They just asked
me how we snagged you, and I said it was more of a band atmosphere.
J.J.: It was more me snagging them, though, too. I'm still really close to the guys in Sixpence, and we're still tight. But I find my personality fits a lot more with the Plumb personality than it does with Sixpence.
Tollbooth: Now that you're a band, do you plan on writing together?
Matt: Yeah, we haven't started because we haven't had time, being on the road. But it's definitely a band.
Joe: Absolutely. The next record we plan to write together and record together and do the whole thing. Hopefully, by that time as well, we'll all be signed on with the label as a whole, as a unit.Tiffany realized she needed other people, so she was willing to give up a little of the ownership to have those people come in, so it's working out really well. It really is.
Tiffany: On this project it was all me. I co-wrote one tune with Eric Champion, and one with a friend of mine named Chris, and the rest of them were with Matt Bronleewe, the producer, and Dan Haseltine. Matt actually introduced me to some of the band members by having them play on the record.
Tollbooth: Have you gotten any feedback on the mainstream push?
Matt: Yeah, the feedback is great. We're doing a bunch of in-stores as well as at cbs, at Tower Records, and those kinds of chains, too.
Joe: We went to New York to make a video for the first single, our first mainstream single. Just hanging out with the crew, it was really cool to see how much impact you can have on someone on a one-to-one basis--just by being yourself, just by living a Christ-like life. We try to pattern everything we do along with those lines, not necessarily preaching at people or shoving things down their throat, but living a life that states that you're a Christian just by the way you are. It instigates a lot of curiosity among non-believers if you just focus yourself on the face of God.
Tiffany: All of our songs don't necessarily say the name of Christ, but yet there is a hope in them about a real life situation that maybe people can relate to.
Tollbooth: So what's in your CD changer right now?
Joe: I listen to mostly rock 'n roll. That's what I was brought up with and grew up on. I probably have Led Zeppelin in there.But at the same time, in our CD player in the van, it's so diverse because Matt is a big R&B fan, so he'll have Blackstreet in there or something; and J.J. is a big jazz freak, so he'll have Miles Davis.
Matt: Yeah, it is eclectic. It starts off with Bach, and then it goes through Blackstreet, then it'll end up Beatles or King's X. Bach to Blackstreet to Beatles and everything else in between.
Joe: Except country.
Tollbooth: No country? No BR5-49, no Mavericks?
Joe: No country. Don't listen to a lot of country.
Matt: I don't listen to country, but everything else is fair game.
Tollbooth: But you guys are in Nashville?
Tiffany: There are several U2 CDs, I will tell you that. There are always several U2 CDs.
Tollbooth: What's your favorite?
Tiffany: My favorite one has got to be Joshua Tree, Zooropa, or Achtung Baby. Pop? I like Pop, but I don't think it's my favorite. Of course, they're all good. Let me think...what else is in there? Suzanne Vega is in there right now but only because I was just listening to her CD the other day. I'm trying to think of the latest CD I just bought...Garbage, All Star United is in there. We're really good friends with them and love them to death, so we have theirs in there. When we want to feel all happy, we put in All Star United. There's somebody else I have in there...CeCe Winans, I have a lot of respect for her.
Actually, the musician I respect the most is Amy Grant. As a 22-year-old, that's my role model. She went out there first and paved the way for me to do what I'm doing now--as far as doing the "secular" and "Christian" end of it and not changing her message or her lifestyle, but just saying it's o.k. to be a positive influence out there and to do stuff that not everybody else is doing. I had the opportunity to meet her once. She was one of the only people that caused me to be star-struck because I respect her so much, and she's just as beautiful without her makeup on. I thought that was kind of cool.
Tollbooth: Speaking of artists you respect, is there anybody you'd like to work with?
Tiffany: I'd love to write with Suzanne Vega. She's an amazing writer, and she inspired the name of our band. She has a song on her new record called "My Favorite Plum," and it's just a gorgeous song about love. I was like, "That'd be such a cool name for a band" so add a 'B' on it, add some character, and here we are.
[Editorís note: J.J. has since left the band.]