Austin Plaine wasn’t looking to become the next great singer-songwriter. Sure, the 20 odd-year old Minneapolis native loved music. Played guitar since he was 13. Revered Ryan Adams and Bob Dylan. Idled his teenage days writing songs in his bedroom.
But… “Being a musician full-time was the last thing I thought I would do,” Plaine remembers, on the eve of his album release, a folksy, immensely satisfying self-titled debut on Washington Square/Razor & Tie. “I mean, at one point, I was studying for my LSATs to be a lawyer. But as I was writing more songs, I realized I could see myself doing this.”
On his debut, you can hear why Plaine’s plaintive lyrics and calming rasp have earned early praise. His music, at times both unsettling and a comfort, has been hailed as “the soundtrack for nostalgia-drunk road trips.” And his voice: “Like worn flannel and faded jeans.”
His influences are varied: the storytelling of Dylan, of course (“Coming from Minnesota, it’s hard not to be influenced by him….“Boots of Spanish Leather” is one of the first songs I really felt a connection with.”). You’ll be reminded of the breadth and genius of Conor Oberst. Listen closely, and you’ll hear bits of his other childhood heroes: Kurt Cobain, Springsteen, Ryan Adams.
Plaine’s journey from unknown to rising talent started innocuously. He was invited down to Nashville to record a few tunes. No pressure, no expectations. Just him and producer Jordan Schmidt (Quietdrive, Motion City Soundtrack), out to try a few songs.
Somebody caught on early. MasterCard starting featuring his track “Your Love” in a national commercial. Song appearances on the CW shows Hart of Dixie and NBC’s The Biggest Loser followed. Remembers Plaine: “It’s about that time I was like, hey, maybe this is something I should pursue.”
New songs were written. Others took new shapes. Album closer “Beautiful,” for example, is almost orchestral in its reach. “Some songs started differently in my head,” says Plaine. “And that song ended up being a really unique, bigger production when we started working on it.”
Plaine’s debut is certainly diverse: the thumping “Hard Days” is an uptempo, handclapping anthem, while “The Hell If I Go Home” and “Never Come Back Again” embrace beautiful pop harmonies. “Houston” has the breadth of an Arcade Fire song, while “Your Love” is a folksy foot-stomper.
Lyrically, Plaine teeters on the autobiographical, with the singer’s personal life mixing seamlessly with his knack for colorful storytelling. Take “Houston,” for example. “We just started with a chord progression I was working on and two lines: ‘Losing don’t mean nothing when there’s nothing to lose/living isn’t living when I’m missing you,” he explains. He later adds, laughing, “No idea why I chose Houston for that song, except I love Texas”.
When Plaine tours later this year, expect a more stripped-down affair, just a man, his guitar and some stories. “It’s definitely more folky, more Dylan-esque,” he explains. “Sometimes there’s a band, but sometimes it’s just me, my guitar and my harmonica.”
In the end, Plaine is happy with his unexpected new path.
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