December 11, 2015 Interview – Joe Sumner of Fiction Plane
Life, and life in music, is without a question unpredictable. Just when an artist thinks they are making moves in the right direction, boom, life happens, and everything changes. Thankfully, the creative flame still burns for England’s Fiction Plane, who, for nearly fifteen years, have been a part of a roller coaster ride. Garnering success early on with two well-received records, 2003’s Everything Will Never Be OK and 2007’s Left Side of the Brain, the Rock band has toured stages small, as well as big, along their journey. Releasing their third album entitled Sparks in 2010, the record only hit shelves in Europe, and still has never seen a North American release. Therefore, in a world where one’s attention span is microscopic, it could be said in the eyes of an American, Fiction Plane was no longer. Proving that to be inaccurate, the three musicians gathered once again to write and record their first studio album in five years, Mondo Lumina. Marking their first US release in eight years, Fiction Plane look to win over fans once more with their new and exciting sound. Recently we caught up with Lead Vocalist/Bassist Joe Sumner on the resurrection of Fiction Plane, their new music, being the son of Sting, family, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been surrounded by music essentially your entire life. Fiction Plane came together almost fifteen years ago now. In that time, the band has had its share of international success. First, tell us, what has this ride been like a part of Fiction Plane?
Joe Sumner – It has been very strange; quite turbulent at times. I think the engine went a few times; just completely blew up, and we stuck a new engine on with duct tape, it is just a miracle. Now we have refueled and we are feeling good. It has been just not what I expected. Right now, I am really enjoying it.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that the band is still here. Obviously the band had a layoff between records, and 2010’s Sparks was only released in Europe and not in the United States as well.
Joe Sumner – Yes, that was lame. Some people have asked us if that was intentional, it was just terrible management I think. Interesting times; we have seen that stuff and we have seen how low it can go. Now, we are just really happy that we are still alive, it is nice. That is the state that we should live our lives in a little bit. The state of, “Wow, it’s great that we get to be alive, even if terrible things are happening.”
CrypticRock.com – Right, exactly. With Fiction Plane, the band’s sound has morphed and grown through the years like any band does. That is part of being a musician. What would you say the inspiration for the band’s progression from record to record has been for you?
Joe Sumner – With each record, there is just less and less fear of anything. Back in 2001, when we got signed, it was the old days of the big music box with Jimmy Iovine at the top of some castle saying something like, “Well I produced U2 so I know everything.” At that point, you believed the guy. You feel like, “Oh ok, so you know everything and we know nothing, so we will do what you say.” Then slowly, you are just like, “Actually, fuck you.” Almost no music was made by just being referral to someone else. You have to just make something that you enjoy. Maybe nine times out of ten, no one else enjoys it, but that one time out of ten, or maybe one out of hundred people connect with it, love it, cause you love it too. Therefore this new record, Mondo Lumina, has totally very little fear going into it. That has been the main thing.
CrypticRock.com – Right, you have to be sincere in music, that is the most important thing. People will see through music that is not sincere.
Joe Sumner – Yes, totally. People often buy music that is not sincere, but I do not enjoy playing music that is not sincere, and I do not enjoy listening to it. For me, that is super important; integrity and having an attention on just the commercial side of it is really important to me.
CrypticRock.com – Of course, that makes perfect sense. Mondo Lumina was released last month. It is very atmospheric and it has a lot of texture to it this album. What was the writing and recording process behind this new record?
Joe Sumner – The big change we did, we kind of had our families around when we were writing. We did not lock ourselves away in a dark room to get everything done, we would go to each other’s houses. We all live far away from each other so we would be staying there and we would bring all our kids, our families, and our wives. We would play in the living room, just jam around for hours, and write songs that way. It was very relaxed. If you have experienced it writing a song, you spend six months writing it. Then when you play it for someone for the first time, it is the most agonizing thing in the world, and they are kind of like, “Eh it’s alright.” So we went the whole other way, which was, “Look, we are just going to jam around. Everyone is going hear the song the way we start writing it, maybe they won’t put their two cents, but they will be there and appreciate it.” That really helped us nail down nice melodic songs. If your family starts humming the tune at the end of the day, then you kind of throw one for a winner.
Then the recording process, we work for this guy Tom Syrowski, he is Brendan O’Brien’s prodigy, and he let us just explore sonically anything. He has got such a great range of knowledge about sounds and how to make things sound good that we can kind of throw anything at the wall and he would turn it into what it needed to be. He just had great advice. We would tell him, “We kind of wanted a horn section with a mellotron and a hammer cord going at the same time. We would try it and he would just help put it into the right place. That is where a lot of the atmosphere comes from.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it works really well. The record is very diverse from beginning to end. You start with a song like “Where Do We Go From Here” and then the final song, which is very catchy, “Blind Pilot,” is excellent track as well. It has everything in between there and it is very diverse.
Joe Sumner – We get bored really quickly, so things change (laughs). If we spend three minutes playing a song that sounds a little bit like Coldplay, we have to play some Metal right after. We like stuff that goes through the whole gamut.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that certainly seems to be true. Would you say this record is your most mellow record to date?
Joe Sumner – Yes, it is definitely the most mellow. It is also the most consistent as well. Like you said, we go through quite a lot of different styles, even on this record. It is pretty consistent, you can kind of sit there and it is not as if you are listening to a totally different record each song. It is definitely the mellowest, because of that, we have let some of the melody side of things actually happen a little bit more. It is more powerful in one sense and mellower. We are not trying to punch everybody in the face with our guitar chords.
CrypticRock.com – You can tell it is all the same record even though the songs are diverse; it is a cohesive piece. As we mentioned earlier, this will be actually your first release in The States in over eight years. Are you at all nervous kind of reintroducing yourself to North America, or are you kind of just taking it and seeing where it goes?
Joe Sumner – We are just taking it and seeing where it goes. North America, although maybe people do not think it is, it is a huge place with so many people that are very often different from each other. We have been there, we know we have traveled the country, we have driven 3,000 miles a week as long as I can remember through the 2000’s. We know the size of the place and the size of the challenge, we are pretty chill. People are liking it, the record is being played on the radio. We are playing gigs, people are excited about the songs genuinely. We do not really have a set goal. We are just going to see it through and see how many people we can get to love it by the end of next year. Meanwhile, we will be writing new music at the same time.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good outlook. Obviously, as you said, each band member lives in a different corner of the country. You have your families, so it must be difficult to get together and write music. What really inspired you to say, “Let’s get together and make this new record?”
Joe Sumner – We went to John’s to do a demo for an A&R guy about two years ago. I wrote a song called “Refuse,” which is right in the middle of the record there. We were just like, “Alright, let’s try it.” We did the song and felt, “You know what, we can’t not do this, we have to make it happen.” We took our time, we did not push it too hard, we did not punish ourselves schedule wise. We approached it, we got a week here and a week there, we can chill out, we can write a little bit, and then we can go a week recording. We really just allowed it to happen like that. Also, because we are living far away from each other, when we get together, we just have to do the work. You cannot screw around for three weeks getting drum sounds, you just bang it together, and because we have been playing together for so long actually, that sounds fine. We did not overthink it too much, we just let it happen. It gives you that discipline to have limited time together. At times, our approach was, “We we have four days to record five songs, let’s do it.” Good stuff happens from that.
CrypticRock.com – That is good that the creative juices were flowing that quickly like that. That is really a testament to the band’s chemistry.
Joe Sumner – I think it is kind of counterintuitive, but discipline is really good for creativity. We actually did a few days of writing where we put rules in place, such as you have 30 minutes to write an entire song and you have to do it ten times in one night. Lots of good songs came out of that. If you put a little discipline in, that lets you do the magic. It sounds crazy, but it totally works for us.
CrypticRock.com – Different things work for different people. Every artist has a different way of putting together music. You had mentioned that you had been playing shows and showcasing the music for the past year. Are there plans for perhaps a full blown North American tour in the coming months?
Joe Sumner – No plans, but definitely hopes. We are going to figure it out. We are not gonna drive around Wyoming if nobody cares about us there. We are going to try and grow a fanbase that spreads across the country so we can really have great experiences everywhere. No solid plans yet, it is going to be organic.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, that will be something to look forward to. One can imagine, as a musician, you obviously love music. Is there an act that you would really love to tour with?
Joe Sumner – We are not really sort of in that same genre, but I would love to tour with Muse. I think they have such a high standard of musicianship. I would just love to see that every day, and be part of that. We have gone a little away from that Hard Rock sound. It might not be the greatest fit. I would go on tour with Muse and Radiohead, and maybe the Grateful Dead at the same time; I think I would be happy.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) That would be quite an interesting tour right there. Another band which you would bill up nicely with would perhaps be England’s Editors.
Joe Sumner – Yes, that would be a fun tour. Hook it up man, let’s do that tour!
CrypticRock.com – You never know, it just may happen. You have been surrounded by music your whole life, you have had this since birth. A lot of people do not look at their parents beyond them just being parents. What age did you become aware your dad was Sting; a highly influential musician of popular music?
Joe Sumner – I pretty much ignored it until I was twenty, quite late. You think of your parents as just parents, I think everybody does, I still kind of do. I look at my parents as two people that caused me to be alive, so it is a fun introspective. I cannot fully grasp any of the reality of what they have done and in the world.
CrypticRock.com – Right, exactly. You look at your parents as parents and sometimes it is hard to look beyond that because they are your parents.
Joe Sumner – Totally, it is an interesting subject because I have my own kids now. To me, I kind of do not care about anything else that much aside from my actual kids. Anything else you can do does not feel that important to me right now. Maybe that will change when I have been doing it for twelve years being a parent, but I am pretty happy just being that. It has actually allowed me to be better at music. My perspective, I enjoy it, it is fun, I am a good parent, and I am sticking with that.
CrypticRock.com – Becoming a parent definitely changes your perspective on life. Things change, your priorities change, what is important to you changes.
Joe Sumner – Yes, you realize life is pretty good. It was pretty easy before you have a kid, right? I just had three; I have a one year old, a two year old, and a three year old. My perspective is fully altered.
CrypticRock.com – Very true. Life does change, your priorities change. When you may have wanted to go out with friends in the evening after work, now you just want to stay up and spend time with your children.
Joe Sumner – Yup, it is good stuff, it is real. You do it while you can. You do it while they want you around as well. Ten years down the line, they may say, “Fuck off dad, leave me alone, give me some money, buy me an iPhone, and then fuck off (laughs).”
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) That certainly seems to be the way it goes. I had one last question for you. CrypticRock.com covers all kinds of music as well as Horror movies. If you are a fan of Horror films, do you have any favorites.
Joe Sumner – I have been a fan of Horror movies throughout my life. I actually used to do movie marathons for my birthdays, ages nine to fifteen. We would rent twenty movies and try to stay up to watch them all. I was definitely into all of the really crappy ones in the ’80s. A film called Chopping Mall (1986), it was one of those films where if you look closely, you would see there is an explosion and you could see the back of the set with the boom mic and everything. It was so much fun. The classics are always films like The Shining (1980). That is the one that kind of sticks with me as a film with real characters, I love that shit. The two little creepy girls and the ugly woman, I am down with that.
CrypticRock.com – The Shining is a classic. It has a real creepy atmosphere to it.
Joe Sumner – Yes, one I have not seen since it came out in the cinema, but it is kind of growing on me lately in my mind, was The Blair Witch Project (1999). I have not seen it since 2000 or something like that. I remember watching it and I just thought it was a load of crap. Then I walked home on my own, I had a real fear about me. I thought things were going come out of the trees and get me. When I think about the movie, they just kind of describe the witch as a hairy weird beast. That is all you see, just the description. I still can visualize it really clearly, it is just meh! It is creepy in a way that is beyond just actually seeing the big monster slash everybody. I think that is such a difficult thing to do, because if it is just a monster that chases you and kills you, who cares. It can be fun, like all the Living Dead Movies, just pure entertainment. I kind of like the films that really shake you up and make you think someone is going to get you.
CrypticRock.com – Understood. Looking book at The Blair Witch Project, that was one of the first, first-person camera perspectives, opposed to a traditional film. They have done that so many times since.
Joe Sumner – Yes, it was pretty groundbreaking in its way. It was a movie that was being made as a movie quite explicitly. That is an interesting context of everything. Rather than super professional cameras, and everything, and big effects. It feels kind of real that way.