“We really feel like we dodged a bullet, if you know what I mean,” says musician Mike Plume.
Yes. Yes, we do.
He’s talking about the fact that after spending almost two decades in Nashville he and his family moved back to Edmonton almost exactly two years ago when his wife, who is a music therapist, was head hunted by the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Political climate aside, it’s still probably for the best for Plume.
He admits that as a songwriter with a publishing deal down south there were frustrations trying to chase the new country sound and write for radio.
But he also admits that his own inherent, shall we say Canuckleness, was also holding him back.
“I found that the longer that I lived in the U.S. the more Canadian my songs became, which is really weird. Suddenly these Canadian references started bubbling out of my songs for no real reason,” says the veteran artist.
“I’m trying to have these songs recorded in Nashville by the country crowd and I’m writing songs with Sault Ste. Marie in it.”
You can hear that on many of the albums and songs he’s recorded over the past 30 years, including the 2009 hit This Is Our Home (8:30 Newfoundland) and even the 2013 tune So Long Stompin’ Tom, which was written immediately after the passing of the great hoser bard. That tune, with the help of a video, went viral and earned Plume an invitation by the Connors family to perform it in Peterborough at the memorial service for the icon.
And you can also hear it on Plume’s tidy, tasty and terrific just released album Born By the Radio, with loving and even just casual references to his homeland “peppered throughout.”
In fact, the opening line on the album’s first track, the wistfully sweet strummer My Old Friend, is: “You came back again/On a wayward whim/From out Alberta way.”
“I don’t consciously sit down and say, ‘OK, I need to come up with a rhyme for Regina,’ ” he laughs. “Though I think I have one.
“It’s not by committee or by design, it just is what it is. You know, I think the longer I’ve been writing songs the more I understand ‘write what you know’ — I’m not going to write about standing on a corner in Kansas City.”
And the longer he’s been at it, the better he’s admittedly become at his craft, with Plume acknowledging he’s become a much more patient songwriter, waiting for it to be just right, not right enough or rightish.
One of the tunes, actually, was just a song title he’d had in his back pocket since 2000. Western Wind was inspired by Levon Helm, when Plume and his band were rehearsing at the the home of the legendary Band member, Helm commenting, “I sure can hear that western wind in y’all’s music.” It took him well over 10 years to find the perfect, prairie Steve Earle-ian growler deserving of the moniker.
The highlight of the album, the grinding, country-blues rocker Monroe’s Mandolin, is another one he sat on for awhile, despite the fact that had he continued lazily down the natural Nashville path you’d probably be hearing it on heavy rotation on every mainstream C&W station in North America, albeit sung by someone else.
“I knew that if I wanted to I could probably really write a bro country song with that,” he says. “And I thought, ‘I can’t do it.’ … The chorus goes, ‘Turn it up, there ain’t nothing kickin’ like a kick drum kickin’ in,’ and it would have been so easy to go, ‘Turn it up, we’re going to go down to the river bed, drink beer and crush beer cans on our foreheads.’ It would have been so easy to do that, and I just thought, ‘I’m just going to sit on this song, I’m going to take my dog for a walk three times a day, and I’m going to work on it until I find lyrics I like.’ ”
He did. And it still should be playing 14 or 15 times a day on the airwaves, as should several of the other tracks on the easygoing, nine-song, appropriately titled Born By the Radio — an album that couldn’t sound more comfortable and cozy were it to come with a free pair of Acorn slippers.
And Plume couldn’t sound more comfortable in them, making you understand why he was so selfish and kept these ones for himself and didn’t shop them around.
He quickly, self-deprecatingly dispels the notion that was even an option.
“You’re not going to talk to somebody who had a publishing deal in Nashville for the better part of 18 years who had less success,” he says. “So I would write these songs and I just didn’t have a whole lot of luck.
“Maybe they were a little too specific or too much a song that I would do and not a song that Tim McGraw would hear and go, ‘Yeah, I could hear me doing that.’ I think — I actually don’t think, I know for a fact that I failed miserably at trying to get other people to record my songs. So I didn’t keep them.
He continues. “I didn’t even know that these were going to be the nine songs that were going to go on this record. I knew that I had this song called My Old Friend that I wanted to open the record with and then I just treated it like I would a live show — I don’t write a setlist, I finish a song and try to feel what should come next. I have that feeling in my gut.
“And I said, ‘OK, what songs do I have that I haven’t recorded yet that will follow nicely behind this one … So I think the record has a nice flow to it. It doesn’t feel like it was hammered together or ramrodded together, I think it has a nice little flow.”
Mike Plume opens for Blue Rodeo Sunday, July 8 at the Calgary Stampede’s Big Four Roadhouse.