The former Waltons frontman Jason Plumb has figured out the key to sustaining a career in the Canadian music industry — write engaging pop songs, accumulate a stellar list of musician friends, and remain dedicated to your craft.
With 25 years under his belt, the Regina, Saskatchewan-based singer and songwriter has amassed an impressive body of work that has taken him across Canada and around the world. Winning a Juno, gold-selling records, and doing major tours with the Barenaked Ladies and Blue Rodeo have all contributed to his longevity.
Plumb has consistently created music that is accessible and unique, identifiable, and pop-friendly with edgy honesty. He engages his listener and rewards them for their faithfulness by keeping audiences spellbound with soulful performances. It’s not surprising that he has been embraced by Canadian audiences and acclaimed by the industry and his peers.
His latest album with his band, The Willing, All Is More Than Both, is about coming full circle, recognizing the power of getting back to basics, and letting the repetitive nature of life just do its thing. “Whatever is, once was, and will always be.” He’s not talking Buddhism, but more of the rite of passage journey he’s been on in the past few years. With the end of a marriage, the beginning of a new relationship, and the birth of his son, Henry, he’s content with letting life decide where it will take him.
“Living the same lives over and over again and being comfortable about that. We can’t really do much about the hands that we’re dealt. Play them the best that you can and in the end everything works out the only way that it can.
Having written in three separate phases, there’s a cyclical arc to the album. Beginning with the 10 days he spent in a hotel room in Amsterdam, running away from reality. Then after the breakup, he spent a summer at the lake healing and writing. And ending with a newfound relationship and a newborn son back home. “There’s a real optimism in the songs,” he explained. “It’s a pretty mature record with playful rock songs.”
“My son’s arrival while we were recording had a positive influence on my state of mind and my performance,” he explained. “It’s such a big change in life. I began the album a different person than when it was done because of him.”
Plumb wanted to make an album that was upbeat, accessible, and easy to perform live. “I really wanted to have songs that would go over in a smaller venues. The attitude of these songs was about having a more upbeat record without a string section. Sort of the antithesis of my last studio record, [Beauty In This World] which was really ballad-heavy and lovey-dovey. I went into this one wanting it to be upbeat.”
Plumb assembled an impressive guest list that includes Steven Page and Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies), Alex Lifeson (Rush), Serena Ryder, Chic Gamine, Ian LeFeuvre (Starling, The Hundreds and Thousands), Todd Lumley (Mr. Lonely, Waltons), and Richard Underhill (Shuffle Demons). And of course, his homeboys, the exceptionally tight and talented band, appropriately dubbed, The Willing. Plumb says, “It’s probably more a Jason Plumb and The Willing record than anything I’ve put out.
Plumb brought back Michael Phillip Wojewoda, whom he had worked with on two Walton’s albums (including Cocks Crow). Wojewoda has produced some of Canada’s most successful albums including Barenaked Ladies’ Gordon, Great Big Sea’s Something Beautiful, Ashley MacIsaac’s Hi How Are You Today?, and Rheostatics’ Whale Music.
The band was first to use Toronto’s newly opened Revolution Recordings studios. Modeled after Abbey Road, it’s an anachronistic throwback to analog’s heydays. Plumb says that the room and the microphones that they were able to use “helped shape the sound of the record.” They used the same console and analogue equipment he recalled working with on the early Waltons records. “Another full circle for me,” he noted. “Everything that’s old is new again.”
However, he doesn’t want to live in the past. “I don’t want to be one of those artists who is always reminiscing about the 90s,” he said. “I recall guys talking to us in studio about who they toured with in the 70s. I remember thinking that was a lifetime ago when you’re 25. And now I find myself talking about the 90s exactly the same as those guys.”
Although the Waltons never officially broke up, the band members each started doing their own thing. After his experience on a major label with the Waltons, Plumb realized it would be easier to just put out his own records, which led to the beginning of SoccerMom Records.
There are a few things that come to mind when you think about Saskatchewan. The wide-open spaces, harvest-yellow wheat fields, the Roughriders, and a burgeoning music scene. Not exactly grey enough to illicit the idea of being a godfather to that movement, Plumb is more like a scene enthusiast who discovers talent, connects the dots, and collaborates.
When wearing his label hat, he said that it made sense that he would look within his own community for new talent. “We were looking for artists and I just looked in my own band.” Three members of The Willing are signed to SoccerMom and have albums coming out the same day.
“We’re lucky to have such great artists to put out all of their debut records with us. I’m lucky to be in a band with three other lead singers who have their own projects and are releasing their own records. All these guys are in my band. We all live in Regina. And we’re all on SoccerMom.”
As Plumb rides his own personal Möbius strip, he is going with the flow and is humble about still being able to do this gig. “I consider myself lucky for a number of reasons. That I’ve been able to survive this long is something I don’t take for granted.”