On Septmeber 3rd, the FYF Festival in Los Angeles will feature some big bands such as Broken Social Scene, the Descendents and Guided by Voices, as well as some relative up-and-comers such as indie-pop band Mister Heavenly.
The trio consists of the Nick Thorburn (Islands, The Unicorns), Ryan
Kattner (Man Man), and Joe Plummer (drummer for Modest Mouse and The Shins). We
caught up with Plummer in between cab rides before his next show to discuss the rise of Mister Heavenly, how he juggles three bands and
why he is just slightly annoyed by Michael Cera.
Explain how Mister Heavenly came about?
The band came about starting with Ryan and Nick working on tunes together in New York. Previous to that, Ryan and I toured a lot together with Modest Mouse and we always thought about playing music together. A year later, Nick and Ryan were working on stuff that they then sent me, and I recorded some drums over it. I decided just to go out to NY and practice with them for a week, we put a couple of mics in the room and recorded some songs, we got a demo and got some vocals over it. We sent them to Sub Pop and they really liked it.
When did this all start?
Back in April of 2010.
You have been playing for Modest Mouse since 2004, how did you end up playing for them?
I don't remember, Isaac just asked me. I've been friends with all those guys for a long time, there isn't anything fantastic about how I got in that band.
No back story?
No, we were just friends.
Do you still play with Modest Mouse?
Yeah, when I can. I play the kit sometimes and percussion most of the time.
You also play with The Shins?
I'm starting to do that more, we just did four shows. I started playing a couple of years ago and I did a tour with them and we haven't gone on tours since then just done some records.
What is the biggest difference between playing with big bands such as Modest Mouse and The Shins as opposed to Mister Heavenly? How would you classify your experiences with both?
Naturally playing with Mister Heavenly is just a little bit lighter so it's just a little bit more open. Not that either The Shins or Modest Mouse is restricted, by any means, but [Mister Heavenly] is just open because it's new to all of us. The songs are simpler than the other bands, so it's kind of got that general lighter feel to it. I love playing in both The Shins and Modest Mouse and it's really great, and playing for Mister Heavenly is just as great, it's just a little bit different, I feel a little bit freer.
I guess you can develop a new voice and start over, in a way?
Yeah that's a good way to put it. I think when you do something for a long time, you become better at it, you know what works and what doesn't work with bands that you've worked with for a long time. But with Mister Heavenly we're not sure what works and what doesn't work right now so there is that openness.
Speaking of a new voice, Mister Heavenly is a self-proclaimed "Doom Wop" group. Can you expand on that concept?
Well it's just kind of a funny term we came up with. I guess, a catch phrase if you will. We are using the "doo wop" structure of certain '50s pop music, that's the sort of "doo wop" part of "doom wop", and then the "doom" part is just dark lyrics. They are not happy teenagery love stories, they are love stories but they are gloomier and darker. So it's just a combination of that.
Mister Heavenly's first album, Out of Love, was released on August 16th. What are some concepts, themes and experiences that inspired the tracks in this album?
You know, I didn't write the lyrics, I like the lyrics quite a bit and I really think that specifically "Pineapple Girl", that story, is great. It was first featured on Ira Glass' This American Life, and I think Nick and Ryan beautifully put that story to song and I think that it is really interesting and a good song and they did a really good job.
Just in general, what is the trajectory of writing songs for Mister Heavenly?
Well, for this album, Nick and Ryan kind of started with some stuff and then when we got together and worked on some arrangements, but I don't really sing, I just work on structure of the songs and maybe arranging and changing stuff. They wrote "Pineapple Girl" in my house in Portland when they were waiting for me to come back from tour with Modest Mouse. I came up with the beat after some conversation about it. So all the lyrics and words are their thing, but we basically got together as a band and put the songs together.
How long did that process take?
They started a little bit early and I went to NY and in about seven days we got some stuff together and made it happen. Then, we decided to record or go on tour, I can't remember what happened first. We kind of honed those songs. There was some time inbetween. We worked a few weeks on it and kind of got it together and worked on it a little bit in the studio, we recorded the album in two weeks.
Yeah, on tape.
Most people associate you guys with "the band that Michael Cera sometimes plays with". Is this annoying?
It's not terribly annoying, it's a little bit annoying but it's fun playing with Michael. His celebrity is one thing and I don't want to say his celebrity is annoying but I get a little bit tired of answering the question 'where is Michael?' all the time. But it doesn't happen that much any more.
I know I'm just perpetuating the cycle here, but how did this collaboration come about?
Nick and Michael are friends and I think, at one point, Nick thought to himself and said 'what do you guys think of me asking Michael to play bass?' and we said 'I don't know, sure' and that's how he started playing with us.
Do you think he helped put Mister Heavenly on the musical map?
I don't know. No idea.
Will he be playing on this tour?
He is not playing with us right now.
Mister Heavenly has been on tour for a couple of days now, which city are you most looking forward to playing in?
I would have to say, Seattle or San Francisco. Austin is always fun. It's just fun to play in Seattle because we have a lot of friends and family and labels which I think we consider family here. San Francisco is a good crowd and Austin is a great, fun crowd, great place.
What can fans expect at the FYF festival? What are you guys going to play?
We are going to play all of our songs and some spectacular, very surprising, exciting covers of bands and songs that we like.
Any particular cover?
Well we are doing a Cody Chestnut cover, we are doing a cover of a song in a movie called Eraserhead and we may do the Misfits, we aren't sure and I think there's some other stuff I can't remember.
Is there a music video in the works for any of the songs?
I believe there is a video in the works for "Bronx Sniper."
Will it be a narrative type thing or more of you guys just playing?
I'm not sure, they are working on it now, I haven't had time to see how that is going.
How do you balance being a drummer for so many bands?
For Mister Heavenly, we don't get together unless we are practicing or getting ready for a tour or getting ready to record. I have to have some sort of plan but I also can't really dictate what is going on, so I cross my fingers, spread myself thin, make my girlfriend hate me and um...yeah. You know I just try to do as much as I can because this is what I want to do and I am an able bodied person so I might as well do it while I am.
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