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  • Annette Dawm

Available for Adventure with Mike Plume

Mike Plume is a singer-songwriter who has lived and toured across North America. Mike recently turned 55 and he wanted people to know that he’s been around for a long time. As he explained, “That’s the first thing that I’d want them to know. This is not my first rodeo or my first barbecue. I’ve been around…. I’ve done 14 albums and 3000 shows. If they were to discover me today… they wouldn’t be able to plough through my catalogue (or devour or absorb my catalogue) in a timely manner. It would take some time to sort of go through everything.”

Always on the move, Mike and his wife are starting a new chapter in Ontario where they will be working at Camp Manitou in Parry Sound.

“….My wife is already there so I’m on my way, catching up to her. She left a couple months ago. I stayed here in Edmonton just to sort of wrap things up. Now we’re making that move! It’ll be fun! I’m excited! My wife and I are working at a summer camp up in Parry Sound. So that’s what we’re doing for the next 20 years of our lives. This is our job. We’re just going to work with kids at a summer camp. I’m going to camp right now.”

“So I’ll be at camp from May Long Weekend pretty much until Thanksgiving every year. Then we’re going to spend the winters in Toronto. In the summer, we’ll be living on a lake in Parry Sound. It’s a great camp! I’ve been working there every summer for the last 17 years already! I’ve been running the music program for this camp. After 17 years, I’ve been made a yearly staff member and I’m very, very happy because now we don’t have to rely on touring to make ends meet. It’s not an easy way to make a living, touring. So I’m quite happy to just be out there at camp.”

In September, Mike and his original band from the ‘90s “are doing a little reunion tour”.

“That will be fun! Five shows in five nights! In all honesty, that will probably be the last tour for a long time. I don’t see me doing it beyond that. It’s taken a lot of work. I don’t have a manager. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have anything. It’s just myself. So the amount of work it has taken to get this tour together has been a lot.” He thought he might also like to do some acoustic shows in Ontario once he settles into his new home.

“After Thanksgiving, I will have October open, so that’s when I’ll do my cross Canada tours every year…. We’re just going to enjoy life!”

Although Mike hopes to spend the next 20 years at camp, he said he is usually not the type to make plans: “…I’ve never planned anything. So I’ve always been open for anything. If something pops up, shit! Yeah! I’ll go live in Mississippi for a summer and catch snakes, because I did that too! I’ve always been available for adventure…. You’re not going to be in the right place at the right time if you’re scared to step out there…. I’ve certainly lived and have got crazy stories. Maybe everybody does. They’ve just got to be able to figure out how to tell them, I guess.”

Over the years, Mike has been known for his random acts of kindness that have allowed for others to have their own crazy stories. For example, Mike recalled a fan that he met by chance in Edmonton.

“I was playing a show in Edmonton with Los Lobos. I had to leave right after my show. I didn’t even stick around for their set. I was walking out and there was a guy with an 8x10 photo of me and an 8x10 of Los Lobos, standing in the rain to get them signed. I signed the 8x10 for him. I said, ‘You’ve got to get in there! Go see Los Lobos! They’re going on stage right now!’"

"He said, ‘I don’t have a ticket.’"

"I was like, ‘Fuck! Here! Go take my pass!’ So I gave him my back stage pass and he sat on the side of the stage and watched the show! ….I wasn’t doing that for any sort of praise. The guy was in the pouring rain! It was October so if it was two degrees colder, it would have turned into snow!”

He added, “When you’re on the road travelling, the stuff you see every day would not happen to you at home. A dozen times a day, I think, ‘I never thought I’d see something like that.’ You’re just travelling from one person’s situation to the next. It’s almost like you’re watching TV through the windshield of your car….”

Early on in his career, Mike realized that he wasn’t going to be the next Eddie Van Halen or Robert Plant, so he turned to artists like John Mellencamp and Gord Downie for inspiration.

“….It takes you a long time when you first start because you’re like, ‘Wow! I really like this song by Mötley Crüe, but I can’t sing like that guy! I sing more like that guy who sings ‘Jack and Diane!’ Maybe I should try singing his stuff instead.’”

“…. You start taking away all of the things that you can’t do, and whatever’s left, you should be able to do pretty good! So that’s kind of what I did. As far as discovering my musical style that worked for me, I basically played Jenga! I started taking away all the parts and then eventually I was like, ‘Okay, this works! I can sing like this!’ ….So here we are!”

“…. John Cougar Mellencamp would have been my first, earliest influence. That was a guy that I chased. I still love his music! From there, it branched out to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and nowadays, anybody who wears Levis and strums a guitar is probably an influence of mine….”

“I’m a massive Hip fan—always will be—since 1988, when I first heard of them.” Plume continued. “Gord Downie’s another guy who probably realized pretty early on that he would never be a rock singer like the singers in the metal bands of the ‘80s. Not that he wanted to be, but he knew what kind of voice he had and he served it well. He sang using his own voice.”

John Mellencamp’s voice seemed to follow Mike throughout his career. From approximately 2006-2014, Mike was the voice of Chevy Silverado ads for both television and radio. One of the campaigns included Mellencamp’s song, “Our Country”. Mike felt that the song about American locations seemed out of place in the Canadian commercials. So he began to write what would become the first verse of “8:30 Newfoundland (This Is Our Home)” with Jason McCoy:

From the rollin’ fields of wheat,

To the busy city streets,

There’s a feeling and a spirit all our own,

True north strong and free,

Stand on guard, you and me,

From the East to the West, we roam,

This is our home,

According to Mike, “We wrote that and that was it. We thought that was kind of funny. We just left it. We never pitched it to anybody. We never did anything. We just thought we should write about all of these Canadian locations. That was in December 2006. For the next two or two and a half years, I couldn’t leave that song alone. Every time I took my dogs for a walk, I would find myself singing that melody. As I was walking around Nashville, I was trying to find other Canadian locations that I could sing about…. So I just did that for the next couple years until I was like, ‘Man, I got a song here!’ So I called up Jason McCoy and I said, ‘You probably don’t remember this, but you and I wrote this verse years ago.’”

“He goes, ‘Yeah, I think I remember that.’”

“I said, ‘Well, we finished the song.’”

“So it was all recorded… and he hadn’t heard it since that afternoon when we wrote the first verse. He had no idea what the hell I was up to.”

Mike described filming the music video for “8:30 Newfoundland” as a “complete debacle”.

“I had a camera man follow me all over the country. I flew from Nashville to Edmonton. We jumped into an RV and we drove across the country…. You name it, it happened. I’m going to have to write that story because it’s pretty funny. People cry with laughter when they hear it.”

Prior to this song, Mike had not recorded an album since 2003. It was called, Rock and Roll Recordings, Vol. 1. Until the 8:30 Newfoundland album was released in 2009, he thought his career was over. He said this is a recurring thought that still happens “almost weekly”.

In 2013, Plume was going through another lull when he heard about the passing of Stompin’ Tom Connors. “I was at a point in my career (almost four years after ‘8:30 Newfoundland’ came out) where I thought, ‘Maybe I’m done.’ ….I was still writing songs because I had a publishing deal in Nashville. So I was being paid to write songs, but I just thought, ‘Maybe I’m done recording my own songs and maybe Kenny Chesney will hear one of my songs and record it….’”

After he took his daughter to school, he sat down and began writing, “So Long, Stompin’ Tom”.

“I didn’t know what I was going to write. I just started writing a song and I realized I was writing a tribute to Stompin’ Tom. He died on a Wednesday. I wrote the song Thursday. The following Wednesday, I was singing the song at his memorial in Peterborough, ON!”

“People were like, ‘When did you write that song?’ I didn’t write it five years before. I don’t have a list of Canadian singers that I’ve written tribute songs to that when they shuffle off, I’ll just release it. If that was the case, I would have had the Gordon Lightfoot song ready to go. I just found that to be quite funny, but it was a crazy week in my life!”

Mike’s current single, “Dance Ruby Dance” is a song about his daughter. He began writing it in 2005:

“Well, I guess I wrote that right around her first birthday. She was just learning to move around our apartment. We were living in Toronto at the time. She was just starting to crawl and she would stand and hold herself up at the coffee table. Every time I would play that chord progression that became ‘Dance Ruby Dance’, she would just bounce up and down like a crazy person. When I would stop, she would stop. Then I would start playing it again and she did that for weeks!”

“Any song I start, I assume it’s important to come back to because I don’t start writing a song going, ‘That’s awful! I’m going to keep writing it!’ Every song I start, I like it. It has something. I’m going to keep working on that. That’s what I do. I don’t just give up on it. Right now, I’m working on about 80 songs. Some of them have been around 15-20 years. Some of them finish quick, some of them don’t, you know? I don’t worry about it. I used to, but I don’t anymore.”

“I finished that song pretty quick but I didn’t like the first verse…. There have been five albums that I’ve recorded since I wrote that song. I knew in my gut that it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t convinced the first verse was good. Then about two or three months ago, I sat down and put the work into it. For years I would do that. I would go visit it, just for a couple minutes. Not for hours on end, just a couple minutes and I would go, ‘Nope. Not there yet, onto the next song.’ So when I say I’m working on 80 songs, I only work on them for a minute. I just sort of go and see if there is something happening. ‘No, not today. Next song.’ ….Eventually they’ll all get finished. I believe that.” He added that he was very happy with the final version of “Dance Ruby Dance”.

Now 18 years old, Ruby is attending music school to become a songwriter like both of her parents. Plume cautioned her and other new artists not to jump on a “musical bandwagon” when it comes to their work.

“….Say there’s a number one song out there today and you’re like, ‘Man, I want to write a song like that!’ Well, that song was probably written a year and a half ago. So you’re already a year and a half behind. Figure something else out. By the time you write a song that’s inspired by that song… it might take you a year and a half to release it. So, suddenly, when your song comes out, people will be like, ‘That was so three years ago!’ You’ve just got to do your own thing!”

“This is advice I got from Steve Earle. He said, ‘Get your ticket, get going and never get out of line.’ He’s right. He’s totally right.”

As Mike Plume put it, “The only people who should be in the entertainment business are those who need to be in the entertainment business.” This idea was based on a quote by Jerry Seinfeld.

“That’s their only option. They can’t have a plan b, plan c, or plan d. This has got to be your end all. Whether you’re a huge star like Seinfeld or you’re like me, driving around, playing to 50-60 people a night. Get your ticket, get in line and never get out of the line! If you get out of the line, and you want to get back into music again, you’re at the back of the line. People who were behind you when you got out of line are now ahead of you. I am living proof of that. I’ve gotten out of line a couple of times. Things happened and they will be part of my various stories on my website at some point in the future. Some of them are just absolutely catastrophic, heartbreaking stories that happened to me and my band. It happens to a lot of people….”

“I do have a bit of notoriety, but everyone has a different definition of success. My opinion changed drastically. When I was a kid, I thought, ‘If I’m not selling out stadiums, I don’t want to do it.’ I can remember saying I would rather pump gas for a living and work at a gas station than play country music. Well, the joke’s on me, isn’t it?”

“…. I am the last person I would point to and say, ‘He’s made it in music!’ You know, it’s tough, but eventually you settle in and it’s okay. What can you tolerate? What are you comfortable with? As long as you’re comfortable with yourself, then you’ve got it beat! It takes time…. You’ve got to figure out how to be yourself and hope that you strike a chord (pardon the pun) with the audience.”

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Photo by Michael Anderson.

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