By Marty Gatto
In the past year, indie artist Plum Sanders has released two EPs. The releases differ in style—his first, Früt, was more electronic and mellow, yet had upbeat moments, nice hooks, and ambiguous, interpretive lyrics. His second EP, Lilac Bleeders, was released earlier this month. It features acoustic songs with slightly fewer moving parts than Früt. Lyrically, several of the songs on Lilac Bleeders seem more straightforward than those of the previous album. Some tracks however, such as “Jackson Pollock,” are similar in lyrical style to that of Früt.
In my opinion, the best song on his most recent EP is “Kunlun.” Its lyrics refer to a myth pertaining to the mountain range of Kunlun in China. In the song, Plum Sanders creates the feeling of the profound accomplishment of climbing a mountain by means of a vigorous, energetic chorus and guitar. The track has strong lyrics with sincere inspiration.
I was looking forward to discussing the track, and other aspects of his music, with the artist himself. We decided to meet at a tea shop in downtown Syracuse. As I waited, I ordered something Japanese and authentic sounding. From my chair I could see a side room in which people sat on cushions on the ground. The music was weird and mellow as he walked in and sat across from me:
When did you first start writing music?
“I first started writing music probably when I was twelve. Back then I was taking lessons with some guy in town and he suggested I try and come up with a song. It was just descending seven chords or something—super simple stuff. I started writing more involved music my sophomore or junior year of high school, but even then I was stuck in this idea of lyrics having to be ‘like song lyrics.’ … I had a musical identity early on, but it wasn’t up until recently that I had an identity lyrically”
Where does your album art come from?
“I made both of them.”
How did your moniker come about?
“It’s so shameful, it was truly just indie-band-name-generator-dot-com or something like that. I remember when I put out the first EP my mom kept asking ‘what does it mean?’ because, of all people, me shoving meaning into something like that should have been guaranteed. I wanted it to be super low stakes. If I spent too much time thinking about it, that would have killed me. And, of course, a month later I thought it sounded gross phonetically and that I didn’t like it anymore. But yeah, pretty much just random.”
The two EPs you have out on Spotify sound quite different. Are you going to continue to diversify your sound as you make music?
“Yeah absolutely. I definitely find a lot of enjoyment writing many styles of music. With the first EP, I knew that I wanted to write that because that’s music that’s been close to my heart since eighth or seventh grade. I always listened to indie rock, back then it was Little Comets, Arctic Monkeys, and all these different bands that I was really really into at a very young age. That kind of semi-British indie rock sound was always something that I loved. It was important for me to do that. But at the same time I also loved the acoustic work of people like Julian Lage, Scott James, and Amos Lee. A year and a half prior to writing the first EP, I had written the music and the melody to ‘Kunlun.’ I had never been able to come up with the lyrics for it until I finished the first EP, and, when I did, I thought, ‘well, now I gotta write a bunch of other acoustic music to go with this one acoustic song.’ Plans for the future now . . . I have a lot more electronic-influenced stuff. More akin to Tame Impala and The 1975. Stuff with more synths drawing from the electronic music I studied in college.”
You mentioned “Kunlun” from your most recent EP, could you explain some of the inspiration behind that track?
“I was living in Prague, interning, and I wrote the song on this cheap $150 traveler guitar. The intro, an open E string and scale, reminded me a little bit of Fleet Foxes’ music. The more spacious…kind of medieval droning acoustic music that I really enjoy. So I kinda sat on it for a while . . . I knew what the song was going to sound like pretty quickly but I could not think of lyrics for the life of me. A year and a half went by and . . . I cant remember how I came upon it. I was looking for inspiration to kickstart some sort of metaphorical narrative for the song to be driven by. I think I was just google searching Greek myths, Roman myths, Chinese myths, and the mountain range of Kunlun came up. It’s a mountain range in China, and the myth was that if you climbed the mountain, then you would become a god. And everyone was like ‘Sick, easy enough! I’ll just climb the mountain and become immortal!’ But, since it was so easy and all you had to do was go and do it, everyone ended up passively desiring to do it without actually following through. The parable was that, for the things in life which you seek to achieve, the only thing stopping you is starting to climb. I was really inspired by that and it all just kinda came together.”
It shows that Plum Sanders draws from his personal inspiration to create his art. The majority of his lyrics have to be pieced together and function more like poetry than simple narrative. They work like puzzle-pieces that are pieced together by the listener. While these kinds of lyrics may not be for everyone, they add an element of sincerity. The ambiguity allows an escape from surface-level thinking.
Having gone to school for music, it is clear also that Plum Sanders is quite technically proficient. He has proven this in his music, particularly Früt, which includes some rather intricate sequences of notes and complex, successful harmonies. Lyrical creativity and technical skill bode well for Plum Sanders. Hopefully, in his future releases, he will continue to develop such compelling artistic strengths.