[sic] Magazine

Interview – Plum

Plum’s music is that rarest of beasties, a blended malt scotch that works. Somehow she mixes chilled and laid back, with a strong emotive content that really engages. The album, Different Skin threw up as many questions as answers when we reviewed a week or so ago. (link below) So I decided to tackle Plum, aka Shona Maguire over some of the issues.

What kick-started your love of music? Have you been interested in music from an early age?

Shona : I have loved music from as far back as I remember. My granda used to have a piano, and I learnt to play on that by ear from about age 3 when I learnt the song ‘You should never smile at a crocodile’ – nobody I know seems to have heard of it, so maybe my granda made it up. I remember learning the beginning part of ‘The Snowman’ which used 3 out of four keys – the key I shouldn’t press had a coffee stain on it, so it was easy to remember. I suppose it was my granda that would have kick started my love of music, but my dad had a brilliant record collection, and I grew up listening to a huge variety of records – from Pink Floyd to Kate Bush to Suzanne Vega and Mike Oldfield – I remember being particularly enchanted when my dad explained that Tubular Bells was all made by one man. My dad even introduced me to Portishead and the Chemical Brothers!

Shona Maguire

How would you describe your music Shona?

Shona : I don’t know – I never wanted to set out to make music of a specific genre, I just wanted to see what it became as the song grew, but I now seem to have made a genre for myself to fit into – my flatmate often says ‘it’s not very Plum is it?’ about new music. I suppose the closest pigeonhole would be acoustic electronica. It’s very open, vulnerable, and all of it comes from emotions, feelings and my own experiences. Someone told me after a gig that I sounded naked.

Why Plum?

Shona : My dad nicknamed me Plum when I was born – something about me being pink and round! My family have called me that ever since. When I was at Point Blank music production college, my lecturer advised us to set up a myspace profile, and I didn’t want to go under my own name, so he told me to go with a nickname. So I went with that. People seemed to like the music as well as the name, so I decided to keep it.

Guitar Plum

Listeners will understandably latch onto your voice. Your beauty and purity are notable but personally I also detect a hint of melancholy. Is that fair? In my review I mentioned Karen Carpenter. Not that you sound like her, exactly. But behind the wholesomeness and clarity there’s a forlorn ache to her voice. A tenderness maybe? A vulnerability? And I’m getting the same from you.

Forest Plum

Shona : I think it’s fair to say that there’s a hint of melancholy and vulnerability – I’d say there’s more than a hint. And there is an ache, especially in Goosebumps and You. I started writing lyrics as poetry, and most of it was only intended for my diary. But eventually I started putting it into my music, and a while after that I managed to build up the courage to sing in front of other people. When we recorded ‘Best Served Cold’ which I co-wrote with Ben Phaze (on the digital release of Different Skin) I made Ben leave the room as I was too shy to sing the lyrics in front of him. So you can probably detect some of that shyness/vulnerability in the track. I’m not sure about the Karen Carpenter comparison.

Your press release summarises you as Vocal/Electronic/Indie yet I hear a trip hop influence at various times. (Connor, You) Were you a fan of the ‘Bristol scene’? You mentioned Portishead already.

Shona Yes. I loved Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky, et al. The very personal emotive lyrics and the emptiness in some of the tracks. I could instantly empathise. The beats and production were interesting, layered and intricate, but not in your face.

Do you play live? There are keys and guitars. How many people does it take to set up a Plum gig?

Live Plum

Shona : Yes I play live. At first it was just me, my guitar, keyboard, frogs and Abelton on the laptop – a bit too much kit to carry round and too much to think about while performing – with the keyboard, guitar, laptop, loop station, mics and percussive instruments. Nowadays I take my guitar, loop pedal and frogs (percussive frogs). I work with a live drummer, and have just recruited a bassist who is going to do keys and bass guitar, which will be much better. So I guess the answer is 2, but it will be better with 3.

I was wondering about your album title, Different Skin. Does it allude to the performer acting out a role? Are you being yourself as Plum? Or someone else?

Shona : Different Skin is the title track of the album, which was about meeting a kindred spirit – someone who saw the world in the same way I did, like me in different skin. It made me think about the outer image that everyone has – that we’ll never truly know what is under the skin of another person. I think everyone wears an outer face if you like, which doesn’t show the true person or feelings. So I felt that ‘Different Skin’ worked as the album title as it shows a different side of me, and also it fits with the vulnerable nature of some of the songs. Plum is definitely me, but not all of me. I am much more bouncy on the outside, and find it hard to share my inner feelings.

I gather there is a story behind The Eagle and The Penguin? Are you able to share it with us?

Keyboard Plum

Shona : I was backpacking in Thailand and an old Thai lady called Nipa was trying to balance my chakra (Nipa’s Healing Hut on Koh Phanang). She found my heart chakra very blocked (so she said), and she asked why. I told her I felt really guilty about breaking the heart of the love of my life because he didn’t want to travel, and I couldn’t not travel, so I left him. She sat thinking this through for a while before saying ‘Nonsense. You are an eagle, and he is a penguin. The eagle has to fly in the mountains. She can not feel guilty because she is unable to fly in the ocean’. Amazing parabel – really helped me. And so the song was born…

Did your travelling experience influence this album in any other ways?

Shona Yes. In many ways. I learnt a lot of things while I was travelling. About myself, and about the world. I volunteered with North Korean refugees for 14 months – people who have suffered at the hands of other human beings. I was really upset about the corruptibility of human beings, and about the problems that stem from rules and responsibilities – people overlook right and wrong because someone else told them to do it. People justify terrible things to themselves with an ‘if I didn’t do it, someone else would have’ attitude. I think it’s impossible for external influences to influence me, and not be prevalent in the music I write. I lost hope in everything, and I wrote a lot of lyrics around that. The lyrics of my track Fairies (from my first EP The Whispering Chamber) was about wanting to believe in something good.
While I was travelling, one of my close friends, Connor, died in the Tsunami of 2004 – we didn’t find his body for 2 weeks, and I was trying to be positive. We were searching through hospital lists of names, keeping in contact with his other friends and family and believing that he would be ok. As time went on, everyone started to change their attitude gradually, until one day I got a phonecall saying they had found his body. Grief is a horrible thing, it hit me really hard, he was an amazing friend, and human being, and I still miss him.

Will you follow up Different Skin? Do you see yourself working collaboratively? What else do you wish to accomplish in music?

Shona 2

Shona : Yes I will follow up Different Skin, I am working on new music at the moment, some of it is in the live set. I will do some more collaboration with Ben Phaze – he has been working on a brilliant project which I have been lucky enough to be involved in called Tunnels – he is an engineer on the London Underground, and has created an album out of songs which sample noises from the depths of the tunnels – it’s very other worldy and dark. I love it. Check it out if you like (Tunnels link below)

What else…I would very much like to play The Big Chill Festival next year – a bigger goal would be to tour the festivals next summer. I’d love to do a tour of the states, Europe and Asia…a world tour then?? But I think the album would need to sell a lot of copies before I could do that.



[sic] Magazine thanks Shona for taking time out with us during a busy period. The album, Different Skin will get its physical release on Benbecula Records, October 19th. 2009. Pictures: Plum myspace.





Different Skin