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Thelma Plum talks about style and the emotive nostalgia of childhood

 

Thelma Plum New EP

Thelma Plum’s stunning new single When It Rains It Pours from her forthcoming EP Meanjin (Warner) is a heartfelt tribute to love and the lore of the land that speaks to her musical inheritance.

Gamilaraay artist Thelma Plum is back with the new EP Meanjin (the traditional name of Brisbane) is slated for release on August 12th. 

Thelma wrote her latest single on a balcony at home during the last Covid lockdown, inspired by watching her neighbours set up a lavish dinner party during a classic Brisbane downpour. 

To celebrate the release, Thelma is set to embark on the Meanjin tour, travelling the country through August and September with special guests GRAACE and Jem Cassar. We caught up with Thelma on her recent visit to Sydney, to talk about her beloved hometown, the process of writing, and the ‘feet’ thing.

Happy: Congratulations on your new EP. 

Thelma: Thank you.

Happy: We love the cover art as well.

Thelma: Thank you. That’s the house that I grew up in. 

Happy: Amazing. Okay. How old are you in that photo?

Thelma: Oh, that photo is so funny. That photo was actually taken was taken in my driveway. My mom took that photo. I feel like I need to get this right. I actually don’t know. You know, when you’re a kid, you’re like, I was just a kid. I guess maybe I was, like, eight or nine. Okay. Yeah. But I love, like, that, like, outfit. Like, I had a shell belt and the skirt, the denim skirt over the denim jeans, was ike a huge vibe for me. 

But then when I was looking at that photo, I was like, this is so funny because this is how the kids are dressing now. And I was like, whose this cool fashionable kid on Thelmas Album cover.

Happy: That’s exactly the point I was going to make. It’s like the perfect fit for right now. It’s awesome. I actually grew up in Brisbane as well. It’s a lovely little time. The EP really brings you right back there. I guess I want to know if that’s why you wrote it. Did you want to kind of go home a little? 

Thelma: I did. I wrote it on my balcony. I won’t say that, but I wrote it on my balcony, like, overlooking the river, which is how I wrote the first track on my EP called The Brown Snake, which yeah, this sounds a bit lame saying this sometimes, to me sometimes, but it happens very organically. And it wasn’t something like I didn’t sit down and say, I’m going to sit down and Rodney Pee.

I was at home for a long time. Covid was happening, lockdown. I had been working on a record to release that was going to be like, I thought what I was going to release After Better in Black, but I had done that pre-Covid, like, just before Covid. When Covid happened, I had to fly back home. And I don’t know, last year I was like, those songs are so old, they feel like they’re from 2020. The start of that. So much has happened in the world since then.

I was like, it feels weird into like, I don’t know, I was just like, this is weird. I don’t want to sing about my heart being broken. I feel like it’s silly to sing about this when so much has happened. I don’t know. Not that I’m going to sing about Covid. Just felt like I had changed a lot. There were other things that I wanted to say, I guess when I had these songs, I was kind of like, I know that they belong together.

They’re definitely all one body of work and yeah. I don’t know, I wanted to keep it quite organic and not have this, like, I just wanted to be like, here are these songs that I wrote. They all happen to be about Brisbane. I fucking love Brisbane, here they are.

Happy: I love that. That’s very cool.

Thelma: Yeah. I love Brizee. And the pandemic, for me, was like it was the first time that I had stopped in, like, ten years. The first time I wasn’t traveling, going away, and for me, I don’t know, it really I feel like showing me like I don’t know, it reminded me what is very important to me, what do I value, which is my family and my friends and being happy, which is living in Brisi at the moment. Anyway. Yeah. It just makes me so yeah, it was nice. Very low-key as well. It’s just great.

Happy: Obviously, you have left Brisbane. How old were you the first time you left Brisbane to live somewhere else? 

Thelma:  I was 19 years old. It was like a couple of days after my 19th birthday and I moved to Sydney. The big smoke.

Happy:  It’s obviously a pretty common thing for people, especially with Brisbane. People leave to go chase their dreams. Do you have any advice for people in that first, like, especially the first year? It’s so tough, right?

Thelma: It is so tough. I don’t know. Especially like, now post with everything going on in the world. But I don’t know. I think it’s nice for everyone. I think everyone should do whatever they want to do. That’s my advice, is, like, literally do what you want. But also, in saying that, I do think it says something about going away from your home and experiencing things and coming back.

You don’t always have to come back. But I just think it’s for me, at least, that was important for me to discover more things about myself, to move away. I think that especially places like Brisbane and can get it just can be so it’s like a big country town, like, you know, everyone it can get a bit like, I don’t know, bit clicky and things like that. So I think it’s good to kind of like, you know, it’s good for me to go away and then I couldn’t wait to come back.

Happy:  Yeah, that’s so good. Yeah. I don’t know if you found this. I’ve had people say to me, Why would you leave Brisbane?

 Thelma: It’s a crazy place.

Happy: It really is. It is so beautiful. The brown snake.

Thelma: I love the Brisbane river. It’s my favourite. I love it. I love looking at all the insane. The Barbie mansion. Do you remember all of those, like, all the mansions when you’re in Norman Park, looking across I think it must be like Norman Park. Norman Park area. Just like all of those old mansions. I just love being on the ferry, going past them.

Happy: Sitting at the powerhouse.

Thelma: looking across them, choosing which one you want. And I would pick the pink Barbie house. The gothic one. 

thelma plum ep cover

Happy: Were you getting kind of homesick then? Because the album kind of screams like homesick, right? 

Thelma: Yeah, I was feeling very homesick. So I love Brisbane. I love my friends, my family, but my parents aren’t there, which sucks. And they live here in Sydney. They moved here for work after I finished school, so they came here before me and then I followed them. I don’t know, I just think during the pandemic, I really missed them. And I was loving so much being in Brisbane. 

Happy: I guess it was more just about dealing with homesickness. Yeah. I mean, you’ve got the ability to write about it. I imagine that’s quite therapeutic.

Thelma:  It is very therapeutic. It also, though, it’s funny, I was feeling so my dad told me that he thinks some quite a nostalgic person. He’s like, I don’t know why you’re so nostalgic, but I think, like. I don’t know. How do I deal with it? Writing is very therapeutic, but also something that happened after writing those songs.

I remember getting very much in my fields and being like, I really miss my mum and dad. It almost doesn’t feel complete that they’re not up there and busy, too. And especially because I was singing about all of these and writing about these. Baby Blue Bicycle, which was on the EP. I wrote that about this old housing commission house me and my mum used to live in.

So it’s like singing about those places and yeah, it makes me miss them, but it also made me feel like that nostalgic feeling where it’s, like, so nice, but at the same time, I’m a little bit sad and beautiful. Yeah,

Happy: It’s a bit of sweetness, but Baby Blue Bicycle is just gorgeous.

Thelma: That was the house that is on the cover, too. That’s just what they’re singing about in baby blue bicycle. 

Happy:  We want to ask you about your voice. You have such a unique timbre. We want to know a bit about your journey of singing, if you’ve always sounded this way or if you kind of took time to find your sound. 

Thelma: It was a journey because I remember when I was young and I loved listening to Britney Spears and this would have been more and I was like in grade two or three and I remember I would sing quite like so yeah, it is a journey to kind of find where I feel.

And then I remember in high school, oh, my God, did I love cursive singing. I was like, yeah, I’m not going to do it now. There was definitely a bit of cursive seeing there, but then I’ve definitely like, this is me. Yeah,

Happy: Cool. We would also love to comment on your style. You have impeccable style.

Thelma: Thank you. 

Happy: You look great.  I imagine you’ve got all these big events and everything. Do you ever have a stylist? 

Thelma: I do. Okay. I love talking about Karinda Mutabazi. I’ll talk about it more. I do have a stylist. Her name is Karinda Mutabazi and she’s amazing. I was talking about her today with someone else, but she has really helped me on my style journey, my fashion journey.

I’ve always loved fashion since I was really young, as you can see from the shell belt and the denim skirt over the denim jeans. But I always loved clothes. I guess I just didn’t really know I didn’t have the means and I didn’t really know much about that world. So it’s been so fun to go to fashion week and do all of these, I don’t know, like fashion magazine shoots.

It’s so crazy and it’s just like what I dreamed of when I was a little girl. You know, not exactly. “I wish I’ll be on that magazine” but we got to have a song, Homecoming Queen. And I sing about not seeing anybody that looked like me in magazines. When I do this stuff, there’s like another part of me that is like the child in me that is just very much like I feel very happy for her.

Happy: That’s so good.

Thelma: It’s nice getting dolled up. 

Happy: When you were first being styled by someone else, was it kind of hard to let go of control or anything? Or are you just like, do it, you know, best? 

Thelma: The first person I worked with Karinda, she was my stylist when I was 17, but we didn’t work together consistently that whole time because I definitely was a struggling musician who would be like, this is my stylist, let’s go. Yeah, but I did work with her, I don’t know, she’s been amazing and she’s just I’m totally like I don’t know, I feel like it’s grown with her.  I’ll show her things or tell her things that I’m really loving and then she’s like, great, got it. She’s just like, I really trust her. There’s never ever a time that I’m, like, hate this.

Happy: We saw on Instagram, ‘its the foot question’, you’ve seen yourself on Wiki feet. How did you feel about that? You’ve got socks on today. 

Thelma: I just want to clarify that I was not looking up my feet. I was not looking myself up on Wikifeet. Okay. Anyway, but this is going to make me sound like such a dick head, I was in fact Googling myself, but I was looking for a very specific photo of when I was 18 when I played at this gig. And it was a photo that I needed to reference.

And I was like. I’m sure I’ll find it on Google anyway. So I was scrolling to try to find it. And then I came across first I came across this Reddit. I probably shouldn’t be saying things because then people are going to be like. Well. It was a photo of me in a bikini. And it was this weird Reddit ‘curvy celebs’ or something. And I was like, what? And then with that, there are the related images and I’m like, are they my fucking feet? And then below the related images were my feet.

And actually two of my two friends were in it, too. Their feet were in it. They have shoes on. And I just was like, what on earth is this? I did not click into I didn’t really want to. I was like, this is pretty gross, and I don’t really want to see this. But yeah, that was that. But then since then, because we were talking about it today, when I  read the question before. And we did go on the website.

My mom was actually having lunch with us, too, and she was like, what do you mean? Oh, my God. Just a website of your feet. Anyway, and then she like, yeah. So we looked it up, all of us. Yeah, it’s like 28 feet pics. I was like, power to you.  But also, like, that’s fucking weird. 

Happy: Invasive

Thelma:  I really hope it’s a Bot. Like, it’s a Bot. That just gathers, because I’m like, if there’s a fucking guy that’s sitting there just uploading another foot pic, I’d be like, what the fuck? 

Happy: We want to know a little bit more about the rest of your year, what have you got planned. Festivals are back. 

Thelma: Festivals are back. Festivals, can’t wait. And I’m going on a big tour, which will be really nice. I’m going to tour for the record. And yeah, I can’t wait to play live. I’ve really been missing it. I absolutely love performing live. I love my band. I love getting to see familiar faces in the crowd. It’s just really nice. So I’m going to do that. And it’s like, yeah, can’t wait to put some more music out too. 

Happy: That’s so exciting.

Thelma: I mean, I hope it will be a big year. Yeah, it’s already a good year.

Happy: Again, did you get down to Splendor recently? 

Thelma: No, I did not. And I have to say I am so grateful that I don’t know, I really am not good at festivals now. I don’t know. I need to get better at it. Now that Covid just happened, I feel like I’m just so out of practice. But Monica and my bass player, she was there, and I mean, I was getting photo updates and it just. The whole time. I was like, I’m really lucky I didn’t go. I feel very relieved that I chose not to go, were you there? 

Happy: No. And I think this is the first time there was next to no FOMO.

Thelma:  Because it was so awful. I would have just been so salty the whole time. I would have been like, mud no,

Happy: I heard the artist setup was a lot more manageable. 

Thelma: I did think it was really funny how you would see someone put up video’s,  I saw this video on TikTok, a girl, who was saying how funny it is that there were influencers being like, “day two, this is the fit for the day” and then there are people like, “day three, my life is over. Everything is gone” And it’s just like, yeah, it isn’t that interesting.

Happy: What a time. Thank you so much for chatting with us. 

Thelma: Awesome. Thank you.

Meanjin slated for release 12th August. Stream the album here.