A refreshingly warm October sun streamed in through the windows of the Chapel Street apartment. The dishwasher had just stopped running. Three half-finished mugs of tea sat on the dining room table. Eliza sat by one of them, and she gesticulated excitedly as she talked.
“I think the two songs that sort of really came together in the recording process — like the recordings just came out so amazing — are “Fool Hall” and “Honey Pie”. That’s what I think. Right? Who agrees with me?”
Nolan, who sat in an armchair to her left, murmured in agreement. Oliver was in the back corner of the room. He had just gotten up from the table, abandoning his mug and Nolan’s Martin guitar, which he had been plucking absentmindedly, to cue up a track on iPod speakers.
He agreed too, but added, “I mean, I’m really proud of how the album starts.”
His band mates concurred, and the album started over the speakers, a song called “I’m On Drugs.” The apartment was filled with the sound of the first guitar line. Boom-ba-dum Ba-boom-bum-bwa-dum. The drums and voices kick in, filling out the track with a driving beat and warm three-part harmony, setting the tone for a sumptuous debut EP.
Eliza Bagg ’12, Nolan Green ’12, and Oliver Hill ’12 are the three members of Plume Giant, a student band started last year. On Oct. 15 they released a six song, eponymous album. Green and Hill came together in the fall of 2009, their sophomore year. They started playing together at the now defunct Yale Music Scene’s open mics, some of which were held in Hill’s unjustly capacious common room in Branford H21.
“I think we dug each other’s stuff,” said Green, who was a Yale Music Scene coordinator his freshman and sophomore year, as well as the lead guitarist for Suitcase of Keys, another on campus band. “So it was like, ‘Let’s try playing —’”
“And Plume Giant was kind of like that for a couple months,” Hill interjected. They chose the name when it was still just the two of them. Hill and Green spent the day in the stacks, leafing through Whitman and looking for words they like. You know, like anyone would. They came upon both “Plume” and “Giant” in Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” in separate places, but “paired them up and it felt right.”
It was just the two guys, both on acoustic guitar and Hill occasionally on violin. But they struggled to really find their sound, and they’ll be the first to admit that the band was “a little all over the place.” It wasn’t until the beginning of 2010, once Bagg (Hill’s main squeeze) lent her effortless soprano and a second fiddle to the group, that Plume Giant really came together.
Back in the apartment, with Hill returned to the table, the three remembered what was a pivotal moment in the band’s short history. They rearranged for three voices one of Green’s songs, which had originally been sung by just him and Hill. The song, “All Of It Now,” appears in its revised form as the fourth track on the EP. They were working on the song one day in the spring near the Yale Farm, up by Edwards and Prospect.
“It was just a beautiful fucking sunny day,” recounted Hill. “And we were just feeling great, and working out these harmonies, and there was this lady who — have you seen Harold and Maude? Maude, basically.”
“Her name was Susie,” said Bagg.
“But she was like, in her seventies and in this bikini — ”
“Yeah seventies, in a bikini,” Green came in, “and just lounging and soaking up every piece of sun.”
“And she was just like, ‘That sounds so beautiful,’” said Bagg, overlapping. “‘That’s like the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.’ And we were like — wow!”
Plume Giant had found it. They began to gig around New Haven and New York fairly frequently, but according to Hill the Susie story was the “epitome” of why they wanted to record. They wanted to reach their growing number of supporters at a more personal level. Now they can hand them something physical, rather than just referring them to a Myspace page.
“We spent about $1.60 per copy,” said Hill, “and we’re selling them for two bucks, so we’re not really — ”
“It’s not a money maker,” laughed Green.
Plume Giant started recording the album as soon as they reconvened on campus in the last week of August, during any free moment they had. Opting out of the traditional recording studio route, the three did it all on their own, often duct taping a microphone to projectors and music stands in quiet rooms in WLH. They used Sudler Hall when they could, sometimes squatting there after lectures to take advantage of the room’s acoustics and a podium perfectly sized for a duct-taped mic. Except for the final mastering process, they did all the editing themselves.
“We were both being cheap, but also just wanted to learn how to record,” said Hill.
“It was interesting though,” said Green, “the professional guy that did the mastering, he came back to us and said the levels were a little weird …”
“I guess the main thing is,” Bagg explained, “he said that usually the main singer of songs, the level is way higher than everyone else, but in our music it’s not like that. All the vocal levels are sort of equal.”
“We definitely don’t have a front man,” added Hill. “And even though the seedlings of a song might be written by one person, it’s really realized with all of us in the same room.”
Like with most bands, they can write a lot of really beautiful songs, but there will always be that one track that you come back to. For this reporter, that song for Plume Giant is “Tuesday,” the last and shortest song on the EP, as well as the only one that was in fact recorded last year and was not a part of their WLH shenanigans.
But the song is the real deal. The three voices of Hill, Green and Bagg never separate for a moment, singing the opening line “Tuesday is the day I’m living free” like it was the lullaby that by serendipitous cooincidence had been passed down through each of their families for generations. The song swells and builds with violin lines and cymbal crashes over the ever-present acoustic guitar. Plume Giant weaves something in “Tuesday.” Like a tapestry, but better, tastier. Like funnel cake, maybe. But funnel cake so good that you don’t feel sick after you ride the Gravitron.
Plume Giant agreed to sing a song in the sun-dappled apartment, a new cover that they had been working on of “Sitting By The Dock of the Bay.” As the trio wove their way through Otis Redding’s tune, right after telling stories of their little family’s history, it became clear how they do what they do. Plume Giant sings like they talk: one on top of the other, jumbling up into one happy jambalaya and still able to get the point across, still able to tell the story. They are three kids, close friends who just love to make music together. And luckily for all of us, they’re fucking good at it.
The Plume Giant EP will be available as a free download this weekend only, at plumegiant.bandcamp.com, and is already up on iTunes. The band will also be hosting an album release concert at Dwight Hall on November 5.