Thelma Plum is an artist who has worked really hard to claim her spot in the industry. Following her signing to Warner Music Australia, the singer-songwriter has finally released her debut album ‘Better In Blak’ into the world. Reflecting on growing up in a country where she didn’t feel represented in the media, this album is quite raw at it’s roots. But she’s polished up these storylines with a indie-pop and folk influenced production.
The record hears her being confrontational and super honest as she uses her platform to speak her mind and tell her truth. From start to finish this is a captivating album with a whole lot of heart. To celebrate the release of the record, Plum will be embarking on her biggest Australian tour to date throughout August. But first is a coveted set at Splendour In The Grass next weekend.
I recently chatted to Thelma Plum about the honest storylines behind songs like ‘Nick Cave’ and ‘Woke Blokes’, collaborating with David Le’aupepe and Paul Kelly, as well as the importance of being politically aware. Check out the chat HERE;
TB: Your debut album ‘Better In Blak’ has been a long time coming. But looking at the collective in it’s entirety, what would you say is the biggest thing the record represents for you?
TP: One of the main things I discuss in this record is healing. Writing it helped me heal in so many different ways. But I also talk about my identity as an Aboriginal woman and what that felt like for me growing up in Australia and what that still feels like right now.
TB: After a first listen, ’Nick Cave’ immediately stands out to me with it’s narrative. So did this guy really bring another girl to your show and then try to message you still?
TP: That’s so funny that you mention that *laughs*. Yeah that absolutely did happen! He really did bring another girl to my show and I was absolutely devastated. We had just been on a date a week before and I thought it went really well but I guess that’s the dating game, isn’t it. It was a 100% a dick move though.
TB: I just wonder what he would’ve said to that girl. Like do you reckon he mentioned that you guys had gone on a date before?
TP: You know what though, I have been on a date with a guy before and he tried to take me to a gig of a girl he used to see. He said to me ‘we just saw each other briefly, a few months prior’. But I remember thinking that it was weird, right? I put my foot down and said we aren’t going to go, that’s very strange *laughs*
Don’t you secretly wish you could be a fly on the wall when he hears the song?
TP: *Laughs* He’s such a sweetheart now, we were teenagers at the time so he’s grown a lot. I guess I will let him off the hook now *laughs*.
TB: You worked with David Le’aupepe on the track ‘Love and War’. How did that collaboration come about because it is a big track?
TP: I wanted to write with David so badly. He’s so talented and so wonderful and he’s a good friend of mine so I’ve wanted to make this happen for a long time now. We had this session booked and the night prior we had watched a program on Four Corners about the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre boys in the Northern Territory.
I feel like there was a very sad and shameful feeling in the air the next day in Australia. I had obviously been aware of the sad injustice to Aboriginal people that are incarcerated particularly that are under the age of 18. But I think that was the first time Australia was forced to see it because the media held it up and was like ‘look what you’ve let happen’.
There was a really sad feeling in the studio the next day and it felt weird and wrong for us to write a banger. So I wanted to be respectful and we decided to write about this situation. Dave had this beautiful guitar link that he had written already and it kinda just grew from there. I think it’s a really important thing to talk about and I really wanted to do that on this record.
TB: One thing your music has always been centred around is vulnerability. So looking at ‘Better In Blak’ as a collective, what would you say is the most vulnerable moment for you as a songwriter?
TP: I would say it would have to be the songs ‘Homecoming Queen’ and ‘Thulumaay Gii’.
Thulumaay Gii means thunder and heart in my language which is Kamilaroi. And both of those songs are written about growing up and sharing that part of me publicly that I haven’t let people see before. I wanted to let people know how it felt to grow up and not have any representation in the media and how that skewed what my idea of beauty was and how that then effected me later in life.
I feel very exposed releasing these songs because I feel like I’m sharing all my darkest thoughts with strangers but I hope in doing that there is a little girl somewhere who listens to that song and goes ‘oh wow, that is how I feel’ and finds a strength within it.
It brings me a lot of joy to think that people could relate to those songs but at the same time it makes me so nervous.
TB: Doesn’t it also make you feel so empowered that you can have a platform where your signed to a major label like Warner Music Australia and release songs like this and have a impactful voice?
TP: 100%! I don’t want to be up myself or anything but it’s a pretty fucking cool thing being an Aboriginal woman signed to a major label in Australia. It was something that I didn’t see when I was growing up.
I remember Shakaya, who were again so integral to my growing up as they were the only two Aboriginal women that I knew who were signed to a major label and releasing pop records. Later on in my teenage years we then had Jessica Mauboy which was another great thing to happen.
So I think for me to be signed to a major label is such an important statement of growth that is made from just existing and doing what I do.
TB: You co-wrote with Paul Kelly on this record on the song ‘Made For You’. How was working with him on that track?
TP: I’ve always loved Paul Kelly, he’s my absolute favourite. I just love his songwriting and I think he’s the best songwriter in the world. So it was life changing to work with him, to say the least *laughs*. I’m really excited for people to hear it, because I honestly think it’s the best song I’ve ever written. And I reckon that has a lot to do with working with Paul Kelly *laughs*.
TB: Did you feel there to be a pressure when you wrote with him because of his icon status or did the session happen and feel naturally?
TP: *Laughs* Look, I was so nervous when I went in. I remember going to message one of my girlfriends who dropped me off and I’m going to sound like such a millennial but I wrote ‘omfg I’m going to vomit’. I sent that text to her and then I knocked on Paul’s gate and he’s like ‘you just sent me a text message’ and I’m like ‘no, I didnt?’. He then read that text out to me and he’s like ‘are you okay, do you feel sick?” *laughs*.
I couldn’t believe that I sent the text message to him instead of my girlfriend, I was mortified. He thought it was quite funny though, so I’m glad he could see the humorous side to it.
I honestly thought I was going to die. I just threw out my whole cool, calm and collected attitude I tried to project out the window *laughs*.
TB: Being politically aware and charged is something you’ve always been proud of. So why do you think it’s so important for people to stand up more than ever before and speak their truth?
TP: Like you said earlier, I have this platform I’ve worked hard to get and there are things that I want to say and i should use it to do that.
I’ve always had a lot of things that I’ve wanted to say and stand up for and I think that’s what happens when you come from a very political family. Both my parents were crazy activists growing up. So I’ve always been quite vocal about speaking up about injustices, particularly to my people. I think it’s my duty and my job to do that as its the right thing and is important to do.
TB: ’Woke Blokes’ is a bit of an aggressive and hilarious song that explores that concept even further. Are you worried how people will receive that song or try to twist the narrative?
TP: Oh for sure! I’ve thought about that with this song and a few others on the record but what can I really do, this is my truth. It’s very much one side of it but it’s my truth and my story.
With ‘Woke Blokes’, I had finally just had enough of it. I was living in the inner west of Sydney and was so fed up with the musicians that surrounded me and the men in the industry who had positioned themselves as these “woke guys. I was really tired of men profiting off this and weaponising being woke to gain status.
I was over them changing their Facebook banner every time there is a big event in the world that is sad. But they aren’t actually doing anything within their friends who have done something horrific to a woman or to an Aboriginal person. I was really sick of it.
So it was my way to call out the hypocrisy.
TB: You will be hitting the road in August for a national run of dates. So with the debut album out into the world how do you want to sonically and aesthetically elevate this into the live space?
TP: This is the first time I’m going to have the opportunity to single all the songs off the record. I’m going to start from the beginning and go right through to the end and also talk about the songs and the stories behind them. It will be a very educational experience for some people.
I will have my band on stage with me and my mum is even coming on tour to sell my merch which I’m so excited about. It’s going to be a really special experience.
‘Better In Blak’ is out NOW! Purchase a physical copy from Sanity HERE: https://www.sanity.com.au/products/2425464/Better_In_Blak
Thelma Plum Australian Tour
Friday 9 August – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast
Saturday 10 August – The Triffid, Brisbane
Thursday 15 August – Uni Bar – Wollongong
Friday 16 August – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
Saturday 17 August – The Factory Theatre, Sydney
Thursday 22 August – Sooki Lounge, Belgrave
Friday 23 August – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine
Saturday 24 August – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Friday 30 August – Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide
Saturday 31 August – Freo Social, Fremantle