It was a rainy tuesday evening when I sat down with the enigmatic gents of Fiction Plane at their rehearsal studio in Amsterdam. Fiction Plane released critically acclaimed albums like “Everything Will Never Be OK”, “Left Side of the Brain” & “Sparks”, spawning popular songs like Hate, Anyone, Two Sisters, Drink, It’s A Lie, Push Me Around and Humanoid. Currently, after a relatively quiet period, the band is playing a number of showcases in The Netherlands to premiere songs off their upcoming album “Mondo Lumina”. So I figured it would be a great time to catch up with the band.
Because the band name Fiction Plane has always intrigued me, I had to ask them about the origins of this name. Pete, half-jokingly, came up with “a fictional place where we can let our imagination roam free..” but Joe explained to me the band name originated in a song title in a school band he was a part of. The name had just stuck and indeed came to represent the kind of place Pete was talking about. The band (name) represents a safe place where these musicians come together and create their magic.
While we were enjoying our drinks, the guys ordered some food and we started talking about the new album. Throughout everything Seton, Joe and Pete were saying, you could hear they are really excited about the new songs and are very proud of what they made. I asked them how it stacks up against their previous releases. The first answer provided a round of laughter as Seton said he’d describe it as “our most recent one”. But then they got serious. The new album, which was recorded in Brendon O’Brien’s Henson Studios in Los Angeles under the watching eye of producer extraordinaire Tom Syrowski. All three kept repeating how lucky and honored they felt to have had the chance to work in that studio with those people.
“We were so lucky we got to record in our absolute favourite studio in the world with the best producer we ever worked with. Tom Syrowski is [totally] amazing. He’s been Brendan O’Brien’s (who also played a little bit on the record) apprentice for years.”
They explained how Tom Syrowski was very open to listening to their ideas but also pushed them to make choices and go certain directions, which made the band really happy to have him on the job. If you take a look at Fiction Plane’s twitter feed, you will find a solid number of tweets that show their appreciation for their time at Henson Studios and Syrowski’s input.
When we talked about the sound of the new album, they all agreed it was the best record they have ever made. Pete said: “Sometimes I sit down and listen to the songs and I’m like: Who is this band?” And Seton added: “I hope it’s not, but if this would be our last album, I would be very glad it is this album.” The sound is different from the band’s previous releases as it is more melodic with a lot more texture. Joe, Seton and Pete live in different places and have families of their own so it wasn’t always easy to match up their schedules to write and record. So they often only had a couple of days to have a writing session, which made the experience feel very focused. Joe explained the songs have a more fragile component to them. Where Fiction Plane would previously just turn up the amps and make a kickass rock song, the new material is more focused on atmospheric sentiment with a hopeful, positive feel to it. Seton also said that Joe might have been singing in a different way compared to before that makes the songs come out even better.
Making this record was really rewarding for the band. Because they all have their own lives with their own families now and have had the time to focus on other things than Fiction Plane, the music has really become an escape for them. While it may have been a challenge to get together sometimes it was always rewarding and focused and the time away from the band had given them a new perspective and new energy that was needed to make this record. When I asked them if they would’ve been able to make this record a few years ago they all agreed they needed to be at this point in their lives with their current experiences. Even a few years ago, they wouldn’t have been able to write and record this record, which shows you how personal and unique expressions of music (or art in general) can be.
This week, the band has been rehearsing the new songs because they have yet to play most of the songs live which is a whole different ballgame compared to playing and recording in the studio. They enlisted the help of some friends and are really excited to debut the new songs in 4 venues across The Netherlands. Initially, the band had planned a European tour that would’ve taken them to France, Belgium and Germany as well, but the tour was postponed when the decision was made to release the new record in 2015 instead of this year. When I asked them why they kept the Dutch dates, they explained that it would only be right to showcase the new songs in The Netherlands because this is where it all started for them. Also, the shows in The Netherlands had sold out quickly.
In the meantime, the guys were almost done eating and we chatted a little more. We talked about how they got started in music and if they had ever thought about doing something other than playing music. Both Pete and Seton started playing music when they were really young and Joe mentioned he knew he wanted to be a musician ever since he heard Nirvana. None of them really entertained doing something else. They had some odd jobs to earn some money but their focus was always on music. Seton said: “If you want to make it in music you can’t really have a fall back plan. If you have one, you will use it.” I saw Joe and Pete nod when he said that and it does make sense. As the band explained, it is not an easy life to make it in and there are a lot of people who want to profit from what you do. So you really need to be in it for the entire 100% if you want to have a chance of making it as a professional musician.
Pete told me a little more about how he discovered that he wanted to be a musician. When he was young, about 8 years old, he was playing music with a friend. They called themselves ‘The Explosives’ and the wrote their own songs. On rainy sundays they would play their songs inside for other people and after awhile they started to sing the songs back to them. The way that made him feel was special and that feeling fueled him to seriously pursue music as a career. He also said he initially wanted to be a professional baseball player but that didn’t happen, so music it is.
I also asked Pete, since he’s the only American in the band, if being among two Brits had provided for interesting moments. Little things that they did or were used to. But all of them said that they had never really experienced that. Their sense of humor is very similar and they all got along from the get-go. So recording and touring always amounts to having a good time.
Next, I talked to Joe about one of his social video startups, Vyclone. I asked him what it was and how they are using it during their show in Paradiso, Amsterdam. Joe explained that during live shows a lot of people were filming songs from different angles and there would be dozens of videos but there was no real connection between the videos and the people filming. What he was looking for was a social component, to bring all this together. Vyclone provides a social platform where different people can film a live show from different angles and connect to each other via the Vyclone app. You upload the video and the platform turns it into a multi-angle video, which you can download back to your device. The band called out to fans going to the show in Amsterdam to use this to record their songs so that they can release a video made through it.
I also talked to Joe about something I’d heard about him playing with an Austrian musician to compete at the Eurovision Song Contest. He had to smile and explained that he was in Austria once for a festival. His wife was going to come over but her flight got canceled. A promoter for Austrian musician Klimmstein contacted him and asked him to play on the record. Joe made them a deal that if they’d fly him and his wife over to Austria, he’d play on the album. So they brought him over and he went to a pumpkin farm in the middle of nowhere in Austria to record a song about Paris Hilton, which was perfect, as she hadn’t been in the news for a long time but just after the song was released, she was apprehended for something. The song went on the become a massive hit in Austria and was submitted for the Eurovision Song Contest. It came in second in the Austrian qualifiers. We talked about the Eurovision Song Contest for a little while but our conclusion was that most of what you hear there wasn’t really worth it anyway, except for Kilmmstein ft. Joe Sumner.
The rest of the band had finished their food as well and we started talking about touring and if there were places they would really like to visit one day. Pete said he’d really like to go to India and play there, Seton mentioned Fuji Rock in Japan and in the end they all agreed that headlining Glastonbury would be the ultimate success. I also asked them if they’d want to play the show with someone else and this led to a long discussion with no real conclusion. There were mentions of several bands but in the end they settled on playing with Rage Against The Machine.
A lot of bands experience interesting, weird of funny things while they are on tour, so I asked Fiction Plane about this but they couldn’t really think of any funny tour stories. They said it had to be because they are decent guys and don’t have crazy personalities. Pete mentioned a story about how the wheels literally came off the bus before they had to play the Pinkpop festival. While that was an eventful experience, they didn’t recall it as particularly funny.
As for music they were listening to recently, Joe listened to Jungle Boogie with his kid. Pete said he listened to the Star Wars music a lot. He apparently also binge watches tv shows and watched 4 seasons of Game of Thrones in a week while he was playing with another band for a little while. They actually played the Game of Thrones theme for fun, which I thought was hilarious. So after a minute of humming the theme, we continued the interview and Seton mentioned he was listening to War on Drugs’ new record, SOHN, FKA Twigs, Laura Doggett and Kate Bush lately. Also he seemed to enjoy the latest work from Lykke Li.
Since we were talking about music, I asked them what they thought a good song needs. When they consider something a good song. Seton initially said he’d like to feel something emotionally but quickly said that wasn’t always necessary. We talked about this for quite some time but couldn’t find a good way to describe it. Because it really depends on your mood or what you are looking for at a certain moment. When we reflected they way they view music to their own reasons for playing music they said it’s hard to not get cynical sometimes but that they make music for the love of music and that they want it to remain honest and that they want to remain true to themselves. I think we can safely say that Fiction Plane has done just that and that we are all excited to hear the new songs. “Mondo Lumina” is expected to hit the shelves in early 2015. The band expects it may be in February but for an official release date, keep checking Fiction Plane’s twitter and facebook pages.
I would really like to thank Joe, Pete and Seton for taking the time to talk to me and tell me about their plans for the forseeable future. I hope the showcases in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Zwolle and Heerlen were a blast and that everything in preparation of the new record will go well. Thanks again and hopefully I’ll see you again in 2015!