PLINI Details the Inspiration for “Impulse Voices” Album: “It’s Totally Isolated From Expectations”

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Australian guitarist Plini has been making waves as one of prog’s rising stars, earning accolades from both Steve Vai and Guitar World in his steady ascent to fame. In late 2020 the instrumentalist released “Impulse Voices,” his first release with the spotlight carefully attuned to his every move, but proved unflinching under the pressure for a stunning follow-up to his prior works. The road ahead is seems studded with guest appearances on albums and an expanding discography of instrumental progressive work under his own name, following in the demand for his talents which have been established over the last two years. 

Impulse Voices” was a further demonstration of the very skills which had put Plini on the path to stardom in the first place, and follows full-length “Handmade Cities” and EP “Sunhead.” Peppered with unusual time signatures and shifting rhythms, Plini proves himself as both a songwriter and a dexterous musician as the album runs its course. This engagement is one such talent which earned him the placement as  Check out our full review of the album here. 

‘Impulse Voices” Album Artwork

          

“Impulse Voices” Album ArtworkSo you live in Sydney. I was there a few years ago and I loved the city. It is just an amazing place. It’s just so much going on culturally and just a really interesting city. How has Sydney impacted your music and playing?

I suppose it’s a really pleasant place to live and so that I’m sure that’s had an influence on me being generally just pretty chill and happy all the time, which has translated into the music thing, relatively chill and happy. In terms of the scene, it’s quite a small scene, but there are still a lot of awesome musicians who I’ve made friends with and been influenced by and jammed with and stuff like that. But then also being small it’s meant that I had to go overseas as soon as possible to support other bands. Which I don’t know if there’s anywhere in the world other than maybe New Zealand that’s as far from Europe and the States, which makes it really inconvenient, but also really special every time. Like I imagine if you’re a British guitarist, for a European tour I’m sure it would be exciting, since it’s like a one hour flight. Whereas it’s really a big deal to get five or six people flying 24 hours from Australia. Yeah, so I guess it’s a wonderful place to live and be based and makes sort of every opportunity a little bit more special and exciting. But it is more difficult.

Makes sense. Well, let’s talk about your new album “Impulse Voices” that came out on November 27th. So when “Handmade Cities” came out, you were still relatively unknown but that album made a big splash. And so the progression to now releasing “Impulse Voices,” how was that? Did you have the heightened expectations of, hey, what’s he going to do now? How did you approach the new album compared to that?

I think making the album was a very similar process – it’s totally isolated from expectations or anything like that. Just me trying to make interesting music and taking whatever I’ve been listening to and influenced by at the time and turning it into something. And then once it was finished it’s also been interesting releasing music over the last few years because when I first released an EP in 2013, people still bought CDs. And so I’ve watched CDs just go way downhill while streaming numbers have gone way up to the point where with the last album, I might have been excited by the number of CDs I sold, whereas this time I’m excited by the number of streams. So I haven’t really been able to have solid expectations like that just because the way people listen to music has changed. But I guess in terms of releasing it stuff that was getting a feature in Guitar World for the last album was unexpected and exciting. Whereas going into this album release, it was like, ‘Oh, let’s try and set up an interview with Guitar World.’ So I guess everything about it was a little bit more professional this time.Yeah. I actually, you were mentioning CDs, plummeting, but, vinyl has been on the rise. I recently got back into vinyl. And all your music has been released on vinyl as well. Is that something you’re into or do you pay attention to that at all?

I love it because I love making stuff that I think is nice. And I think vinyl does a better job of being an object than CDs because it’s not just a cheap piece of plastic. It’s quite a nice expanded artwork and all that sort of thing. And I like the idea of people buying it, actually receiving something and then making an event out of putting it on their vinyl player, and maybe that’s actually the activity itself to sitting and listening. I don’t personally use vinyl because I think it would be dangerous if I did just start collecting like crazy. But still, every time an artist I like puts out a new album I listened to from start to finish with headphones while not doing anything else. So I like the idea that the people who are into vinyl are probably kind of keeping that special listening experience going.

Let’s talk about the songs on the new album. The lead track is “I’ll Tell You Someday.” The thing that struck me initially was that it opens just like “Electric Sunrise” (the opening track from “Handmade Cities”). I don’t know if that was intentional, but it almost felt like is the tapping riff getting ready to come in here? Then all of a sudden it breaks off in a totally different direction. Was that intentional or just by chance?

I guess a bit of both. I like that idea of starting with a single note, doing a repeated rhythmic thing. It Is a device that I’ve used a couple of times and a way to sort of ambiguously start a song. Now that I think about it, having that as the first song and “Electric Sunrise” as the first song is more similar. I actually didn’t think of that. So it wasn’t intentional.

Tell me a little about some of the collaborators on the album. I know Simon Grove help produce and, and plays bass on it. Can you tell me a little about some of the other people involved?

Yeah. So I guess starting with Chris, who played drums on it, I met him probably four or five years ago and the drummer I was playing with that time, Troy, had joined another band and couldn’t do a tour. So I was looking for someone to fill in and I went to see Chris play with a band he has with Simon called Instrumental Objective. And so I was sort of auditioning him by watching him. And that’s a pretty insane band, time signatures all over the place and improvising within them as well. So I got to see a pretty good selection of things he could do. And afterwards I was talking to him and I asked him if he could play double kick bass drum, like the heavy metal stuff. And I think he knew as soon as I asked that I was preparing to ask him to play with me. Then we did a couple of shows later that year and then toured together and did one EP together. But this is the first time that I’ve properly written with him in mind for the songs. I’d send him the demos of every song as I pretty much finished the whole arrangement. And he would work on them for a few days and send back sometimes like three or four different ideas with different grooves. And then we’d pick the best line and then he’d practice it. And then when we finally went to record it properly in a studio, he was like absolutely on fire. It was just like watching a clinic. So that was really fun.

Simon‘s played bass with me the whole time I’ve played live. I sent him all the songs totally finished with no bass and my instructions, but pretty much every song for the bass was just, ‘please add bass’. And he did that and I didn’t ask for a single change of any kind, he just knows exactly what to do. And then Dave McKay, who played keys on a few of the songs, I’d met in the Czech Republic. We were both teaching at a summer music camp there. And I didn’t really hear him play. We just hung out a lot cause we were teaching different classes, but we’d have lunch and dinner and that sort of thing, and we jammed one night after very many beers. I was sitting next to him with a keyboard, trying to improvise jazz keyboard and I can’t play at all. But it was really fun. And basically just from that, I asked him to come on tour with me the next year. Just from knowing that he’s a really good musician and a really good guy. So he did that too and then we got to jam a lot, so I knew that I would want to have him on the album. And then as I was finishing different songs, wherever there was space to have keys, I just sent it to him and sort of the same thing, like just understanding that he would do what’s best for the song and he did.

That was the similar thing with John who played sax and Amy who played harp. Just two different people I’ve come across from making music and the internet. I sent them a blank space and they sent back amazing solos. So it was really just like people who I like a lot as people and also really trust musically to just give them free reign, to do whatever they want.

Cool, all right. So the, the next song is “Papelillo.” First of all, how do you come up with the names of some of the songs?

Well that one is the name of a flower. I was just looking on Wikipedia, just like you do some kind of keep clicking, you just end up somewhere by accident. And I just came across that and I just thought it was a nice looking word and nice sounding.

Did you build a song off of that or was the song there? And you thought, oh, this will make a good title.

I think I came across the title and then saved it for possible future use. And then as the song was coming together, I was sort of imagining that if it were maybe an animated music video, it would have sort of the jungle, flowery sort of vibe and just paired them together based on that.

It’s a cool song. To me it has kind of like a Texas feel to it. I hear some Satriani influence, but also there’s some Eric Johnson. I don’t know if that’s a guy you’ve listened to much in the past, but it had that kind of feel to me as well.

Oh, that’s cool. Yeah. I love his playing. I think I was taking a bit of Mark Lettieri. He plays with Snarky Puppy. I don’t know if it’s so obvious, but I mean he’s from Texas and maybe it is.

“Perfume” is up next. I was picking up my daughter from school and, and she’s a big Stranger Things fan. And so I had it on she’s asked, why are you listening to Stranger Things? Because it has that kind of dark, sinister kind of undertone to it. What can you tell me about that song?

That’s the one that I started working on first, and I wrote about the first minute of it and just, I half really liked it and half really disliked it. So I sent what I was working on to Chris to see if he could sort of make me like it more by writing an interesting drum part, because originally what I had was more of a straight ahead groove. And so he came up with all these different ideas and the one we eventually kept was what’s on there with the high hat sort of in the wrong place the whole time. Like it’s just a 16th note too early, or late, depending how you think about it. And that kind of saved it for me I think it made it a little bit more jarring to listen to, which I think fits with the spooky chords. And then, once I started feeling more positive about it as a song then it was more of a simple process to finish. Yeah, I guess it almost might’ve been thrown away and it turned out to be one of my favorites.

Yeah. I’m glad you kept it. So the title track has a pretty nice groove to it. I love a lot of the muted stuff you’re doing on the guitar. What about that song stood out to you?

Yeah, it’s, it’s palm muted and picked really hard as well. That was quite fun. So “Perfume” was one that I started working on first, but “Impulse Voices” was the one that I finished first. And I remember the demo that I had for it was quite repetitive, like that muted clean part was more like a melody that just repeated rather than having all the little, extra fast bits and details. And then I remember when I started recording it properly and adding all that stuff, I just had this moment where I was like, oh, this is really fun. Like making this album is going to be really fun. I just get to add all these different, weird little things wherever I want. And that, I think that’s sort of set the mood for finishing the rest of the songs. I went in and treated every single bar as though it might have something new and interesting about it, even if it’s just like a background detail that sort of became the way that I approached making the whole album.

Is that, why it’s the title track of the album?

Bit of both. I thought that was something not necessarily ironic, but kind of nice about the shorter song being the title track.

Next up is “Pan” and, to me, that was the most prog metal-ish of the album, at least to that point. And, what’s cool about your music is the changing directions. Eventually this sax comes out of nowhere and takes over the song and it just goes in a different direction. Was that what you intended with the song or does it kinda just end there for you?

I guess it was a bit of a coincidence, so I’d written the song pretty much. It kind of starts off heavy and then comes back into the more spacious bit, which was quite empty and just basically a section to build back into being heavy. But I happened to be chatting to John, the sax player, just generally talking about life as I’d finished the song, and then I had a thought. “Oh, I should get you to play on this song I just finished, like, that’d be really interesting.” It’s one of the heaviest songs I’ve ever written, so I should have a sax solo on it. And I sent it to him and he did his thing. And I think that made it a little bit more special than if I just played a guitar solo.

Photo by Lucas Laronga

I kept expecting the shredding guitar solo to come flying in. And then all of a sudden the sax solo ends up there and that’s what makes it unique and special. So, the last song, “The Glass Bead Game,” clocks in at over nine minutes and is like the Plini epic. What can you tell me about that song?

That whole thing is in 15/8, which I guess is weird-ish as a starting point. And then what’s fun about 15 is you can divide it into three or five or you can kind of overlay a four on it so that it doesn’t repeat itself. So I do like bits of all those things throughout it. And there’s one part of the song towards the end. I don’t know how nerdy you want to get, but this is probably my proudest moment in terms of nerdiness is that I was playing triplets on the guitar for two bars and where the triplets crossed the bar of 15, it calculates to an irrational number. So when we were making the guitar tabs, it’s impossible to do using guitar tabs software. The only way to do it is to write it by hand because you are sort of splitting a note by some irrational decimal. So I was kind of happy to just have done something like that.

You broke the software!

Yeah. Aside from that, I had started writing for the “Sunhead” EP and I wrote about two minutes but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. So I left it and then came back to it and it took quite a long time to figure out what to do, but once I sort of realized that I wanted to make it quite a complex thing, I just kinda threw everything at it that I could think of.

Yeah, it was a great way to end the album. So obviously this has been a weird year as far as touring and all that. But, I’m assuming you’ll be trying to tour this album next year. Are you already working on plans for that?

Started looking at touring in Australia towards the end of next year, and then the rest of the world, hopefully in 2022, a lot of bands are starting to announce stuff for next year. But so much stuff has been postponed already. I just want to wait to see evidence that it is happening before I commit to anything. Cause I guess, like I was saying at the beginning, it’s a lot to take a bunch of Australians overseas and it’s interesting because a couple of years ago we would announce a tour like nine months in advance. And then, the day it’s announced, I would book all the flights and put a deposit on a bus and all the back line gear and everything. And luckily when everything shut down, I didn’t have anything booked. But it easily could have been the case that we had a whole world tool prepaid that would suddenly be canceled. So it’s going to be interesting sort of picking when it is actually safe to commit to paying for things in advance of the tour. But yeah, as soon as it’s seemingly back to normal. We got a lot of music to play in a lot of places.

There’s so much good music coming out of Australia nowadays. I would love see an Australian tour of the US with Caligula’s Horse, love their new album, and Voyager. I am a big fan of that band. Get you and all those guys together to play. I don’t know if it’s something that financially works for the bands, but there is a lot of cool music in that lineup.

Do you know if Caligula’s Horse have played in the States before?

Unfortunately, they had a US tour lined up right before the pandemic. They were set to play in Atlanta, where I live.

I wanted to ask you about some of your collaborations. You do a lot of guests solos for different people. Most recently you did one on Dan Tompkin’s new album “Ruins” on song called, “Wounded Wings.” How do you approach that differently than, say, your solo work? When somebody comes to you and says, hey, I want you to put a solo down here.

In a way it’s a lot easier because almost everything’s already constrained for me. It’s like, here’s 30 seconds. I assume most of the time they want me to play something that sounds sort of like me rather than me experiment with something that may or may not sound as good. So it’s almost like asking a chef to make their signature dish. It’s one of the easiest things for them to do. And then with that stuff, I think because when I’m playing my own music, I can justify doing anything I want. Whereas adding to a song like that, I think it’s important that for a vocal song to take a break in order to have a guitar solo, the guitar solo should be doing something meaningful to the song. I know in the past someone sent me only the solo section and I asked them to send me the whole song, because I like to take a bit of the melody from the chorus or whatever. So like that one I played with Dan‘s vocal when he comes back in at the end, because I think it should sound like something integrated. And you could imagine if we played it live, we would probably be back to back or something lame like that (laughs).

How does that work? They just email you and ask, will you help me out with this track?

Yeah. I think Dan because we toured with Tesseract in the States and in Europe in 2018. And I’m pretty sure it was on one of those tours that he said he was working on that album and asked me to play a solo and I totally forgot about it. And then two years later he was like, are you still up for this? So yeah, he just sent me the song and then I recorded the part over it and sent it back.

Photo by Roger Brooks

Speaking of that, do you ever see yourself getting into any type of collaboration with a vocalist?

That’s what I’m doing right now. I just started writing a song with the intention of having someone sing on it. And it’s been interesting because I’ve never written a song for vocals before, so I kind of have no idea what I’m doing and I’m just trying to figure out how do I make this interesting and how do I make this something that a vocalist would enjoy contributing to. Yeah, that’s kinda my next plan, to pick a few different singers and try and write songs for, or with them, to add to.

So in 2020, we had Eddie Van Halen pass somewhat unexpectedly. What kind of impact did he have on your playing? Was he someone that you look up to or modeled your playing after at all?

Yeah, when I first started it was before YouTube had began, so I was still finding out about stuff through magazines, mostly. So some of the first CDs I bought were Van Halen CD’s, and that was quite a big thing that I was exposed to in terms of what’s possible on an electric. And then I kinda moved into Steve Vai and Dream Theater, the next generation. But then, in the last couple of years, thanks to Simon who loves Van Halen. We would listen to so much Van Halen on tour and use it as the music before and after the set. And I started watching more of their old live videos and it was just like the best stage energy guitarist of all time. He was the most happy while playing the most insane stuff.

So let me ask you this. Say that some guitar publication decided to do an Eddie van Halen tribute album, and they wanted you to contribute a track to it. What track do you think you would pick? It does not have to be instrumental. It could be anything vocally and you turn it into something instrumental. What track do you think you would select?

“Running with the Devil” or “Good Enough.” “Good Enough” has this sick de-tuned riff in the middle. If I thought I could probably do it justice, that is definitely a tribute album I would love to do just cause it’s like the most fun music.Yeah. Get together some of today’s guitarist and let them have their take on it. That’s something where you wouldn’t want to necessarily hear somebody play “Eruption” note for note, you want to hear their take on the music.

Good luck to the vocalist

I wanted to talk to you about your guitar, the Strandberg. I know you have your signature model and my understanding is that you’re making some updates or changes to it. Can you tell us about what you’re doing with that?

Yeah. So a few years ago we did a limited signature guitar, which was sort of just the existing Boden model with an inlay of the moon. And then I played that for a year or so, and then started to think of things that I wanted to change. So we changed pickups and then added a whammy bar. And then that sort of upgraded again to using some different woods and different pickups and then removed the tone knob because the more I played live, the less I had any use for it. And so now the latest one that’s hopefully gonna be out next year and have a neck through the body model. So the upper access is a little better and with a signature set of pickups. Strandberg started making their own pickups and mine are based on them, but voiced just a little bit differently for me. So that’s just the tone I wanted exactly. And yeah, it’s like every year or so. It’s a new iteration of me figuring out exactly what I want out of a guitar and asking Ola (Strandberg) nicely to please make it for me.

Finally, how do you, as an artist, think about evolving from album to album to keep your audience engaged?

Depends on the artist because I look at a band like AC/DC and they’ve been going for at least 3,000 years now, and it’s sick. Like I love their latest album. I don’t know how, I think they’re all in their seventies now. And it sounds as energetic as the stuff they we’re putting out 40 years ago. So I think that’s like a totally valid way to be as an artist. For me, I love what Steve Vai has done in terms of constantly branching in different places. And then coming back to doing more guitar records and then doing orchestral stuff. And then he writes books. And like Pat Metheny is just all over the place. I can imagine that I’ll probably lose some audience and gain some new audience depending on how my own tastes shift. But I think I’ll just constantly follow whatever I think is interesting at the time. And then hopefully if I put it together, well, there’ll be an audience for it. But yeah, fingers crossed.

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