By Dan Barry
6:23 PM EDT, April 26, 2011
By all standard measures, Plume Giant is doing great. In the three months since their debut E.P. came out, the retro-folk trio sold 1,000 copies out of their trunk, and pulled in half that number over again in downloads. Their band is financially self-sustaining. And they gig hard and broadly. Travelling up and down the eastern seaboard, they average about two shows a week, divvied across their native New Haven, hip Williamsburg bars, and much further reaches (Virginia, North Carolina). In today’s oversaturated music market, that’s a fantastic start.
So, OK, get ready, because here comes the additional piece of info that’s gonna make you want to stab your eyes out with jealousy. Ready? All three members are juniors in college. Yale. Milestones that take most groups much longer, these guys achieve in between their classes. Please excuse me while I pull an Oedipus Rex. Goodbye, eyes! Vision was sweet!
I would be tempted to think of the trio as overachievers if they weren’t so down-to-earth, in both their conversation and their music. (Proof positive: Their E.P. kicks off with the words “I’m on drugs,” set to the most lovely three-piece harmony.) I spoke to Nolan Green, Oliver Hill and Eliza Bagg, who are spending their winter break on an “unofficial Plume retreat” in Pleasantville, NY. According to Nolan, they’re “taking over half the house Oliver grew up in.” “We’ve been playing a lot of shows lately,” he says, “and we haven’t had a lot of time to do creative work.”
“Especially with school,” adds Eliza.
“We rehearse a lot in the car,” Oliver says.
When I asked if the acoustics in the car were as bad as I suspected, all three laughed. “We always have to be careful of blowing out our voices in the car. I’m in the back seat with my guitar, and I have to kind of lean up close to them,” says Nolan.
“One time this cop was passing us and I was like, ‘Put the guitar away!’” jokes Eliza, who usually drives.
The three members of Plume Giant share vocal duties equally while juggling string instrument responsibilities: Oliver and Eliza mainly play viola while Nolan plays guitar. “[Oliver and I] actually met in a string quartet,” says Eliza. The two are music majors, “But it’s not really a performance degree, it’s more an academic degree. It’s only sort of obliquely relevant” to their work in Plume Giant, according to Oliver.
“I’m an economics major,” Nolan adds after a deadpan pause.
“He gets made fun of a lot for that,” chirps Oliver.
Of course, having an Econ major in your band has its perks. “We have a nice Google Docs spreadsheet going with all of our expenses. It sort of pays for itself at this point,” says Nolan. “Obviously there are investments like buying a new PA which is gonna bring one of us down a little. But with album sales and getting paid for gigs, we’re pretty much even. I think we’re gonna print round two of the albums, so that will be another dip into our funds. The one nice thing is that in terms of gear, [Plume Giant] is pretty minimal. We all just share my guitar. Oliver and Eliza already had their violas. Sound guys really like us because we don’t even mic the violas.”
“It’s three vocal mics, and they’re all even,” laughs Eliza.
“And that makes it easier to just wanna play more shows, because it’s not a hassle,” Nolan explains.
It’s quickly apparent that the trio is sweet, enthusiastic and wildly dedicated to their music. Their songwriting retreat includes a self-imposed schedule. While I race to type up their quotes, I can hear one of them gently strumming a guitar in the background. So why not follow in the footsteps of ex-Yaley Larkin Grimm, who ditched school for a successful music career? “We’re definitely graduating, unless something disastrous happens,” says Oliver. And after school? “It’s still pretty far away, graduating. We’ve been able to do [the band] really hard, still in school. This sort of busy structure also kind of makes it high-energy, too.”
Oh, and their band name? According to Nolan, “This is not too glorious a story.”
“I think it’s a great story!” says Oliver.
“We did the typical band thing,” explains Nolan. “We went to a nearby library and flipped through a bunch of books looking for words that we liked. ‘Plume’ and ‘Giant’ actually came from different parts of a Walt Whitman poem called ‘Song of Myself,’ which we’re happy about, because he’s a favorite.”
Plume Giant will be playing on the 19th as part of the free Wednesday-night music series at BAR, which Oliver co-books with Manic Productions mogul Mark Nussbaum. Oliver typically matches New Haven-area talent to Nussbaum’s regional/national acts. You can also download their debut E.P. for free on their Bandcamp site.
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