Thelma Plum, singer-songwriter

I’ve learnt a lot, both musically and emotionally ...

For those who have had the pleasure of hearing Thelma Plum’s honeyed vocals dripping over beautifully crafted melodies, it’s hard to imagine the little girl who kept her musical talents secret for more than a decade. Growing up between the country town of Delungra and Brisbane City, Thelma would only allow her mum and grandad in on her gift, with the latter often accompanying her on the harmonica as she deftly navigated the keys of the family piano. After embracing her talents and welcoming the world in, the teenager has spent the last few years recording two EPs, touring the country and finding her feet as a young female musician. Thelma hasn’t yet reached her 20th birthday, but the singer-songwriter will be celebrating the release of her second EP Monsters with a massive national tour this month, stopping in regional locations and ending in Brisbane on Saturday November 29. The Weekend Edition put in a phonecall to the Melbourne-based artist last week to talk Brisbane hangouts, break-ups and Shania Twain.

When was the first time you ever performed in front of an audience?
You know it’s really funny because I actually kept my music pretty secret until I was in about grade seven. It was very strange, I’d never perform in front of my family, except for my mum and my grandad – only specific people could hear me. But then for my grade seven graduation, I performed ‘Ironic’ by Alanis Morissette … I think people were a bit surprised!

Do you still get nervous performing on-stage?
All the time, every time. I get really nervous but then it goes away as soon as I start playing, because I get lost in this little world …

Do you have any pre-gig rituals to help calm the nerves?
Yeah, we have a few. We try to make up our warm-ups and find the funniest ways to work out, just really weird noises and sounds – there are a few on my Instagram actually.

We’ve heard whispers that the first song you ever wrote was inspired by Shania Twain … What can you tell us about that?
It wasn’t ‘inspired’ by Shania Twain, it was Shania Twain! I took my diary to school and it was Shania’s song but I’d just changed some of the words … I showed it to all my friends and told them I wrote it. I actually have no idea what song it was, but my mum still has that diary so I’m going to try to find out!

Judging by those early beginnings, are we safe to say music was always going to be the path for you?
Always, yeah. Definitely my first love …

Your relationship break-ups have inspired many of the songs on your two EPs, Rosie and Monsters; you obviously find songwriting therapeutic?
Absolutely, I find it extremely therapeutic. I’ll be feeling so sad and I get really closed off and don’t talk to anyone and hide myself away. As clichéd and silly as this sounds, the only thing that makes me feel normal again is if I write about it. When I write about it, I’m making it not so much of a problem about that person or that thing anymore, it just becomes something completely separate.

You were only 16 when you self-recorded your track ‘Father Said’. Did the recording process involve a bit of trial and error?
Yeah it was actually recorded in my mate’s cupboard! I’m very tall and I was too tall for the cupboard so I had to crouch down, singing those vocals with a really hunched back.

Surely that affected the vocals?
Oh absolutely! But we just had to make do.

‘Father Said’ went on to won the Triple J Unearthed competition in 2012. What’s the learning curve been like since then?
It’s been pretty crazy! I’ve learnt a lot since then – I was 17 and I’m nearly 20 now. I’ve learnt a lot, both musically and emotionally. I guess these are the years I’m growing into a woman, as clichéd as that sounds … But I have a lot of good people around me, teaching me.

The journey has also taken you away from Brisbane, where you spent much of your childhood. What do you miss about it when you’re away?
Oh I always miss Brisbane! I miss the Queenslanders – that’s my favourite part of Brisbane.

You’ll be back in Brisbane later this month to play a gig at The Zoo, what are you most looking forward to doing while you’re here?
I have a long list of things to do! First, I want to go to my favourite coffee shop in the world, Remy’s in Paddington – I always go there for a coffee, that’s the first thing I do after I leave the airport.

What’s been one of your most memorable gigs so far?
Playing at Woodford Folk Festival last year was pretty incredible! We got to play on a big stage and lots of people came to watch me – it was really next level, it was crazy. I remember walking out on stage and seeing thousands of people. Woodford is my favourite festival by far.

Relax … my parents’ home in Sydney and my grandparents’ property in Delungra, NSW.
Catch up … anywhere in Brisbane, because all of my friends are there. Probably at my best friend Hannah Shepherd’s house, who performs as Airling.
Be inspired … my bedroom in Carlton, Melbourne. It’s tiny and in a roof – you can see the whole of Melbourne city from my window. I like to jump out and sit on the roof. It’s pretty inspiring and I do a lot of writing up there.


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