Whilst they never got far from their native Canada - save for a 7’ release of, yep, ‘Scott Pilgrim’ on a tiny UK label - the Nova Scotian all-female four-piece Plumtree left an indelible impression on a young Bryan Lee O’Malley, who took both their song title and their knack for documenting the scenes, both musical and romantic, in their snowy home town, and put them into his ‘Scott Pilgrim’ series of graphic novels - later adapted into the fantastic-and-fantastically-underrated film ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’, starring lovable/hateable hipster, Michael Cera.
Since then, the band - originally made up of sisters Lynette and Carla Gillis (and drums and guitar/vocals, respectively), Amanda Braden (guitar/vocals) and Nina Martin (bass) - have seen their stock rise, as fans of both screen and page track down the band whose shirt the central character of their favourite series wears. With good reason, too: they’re bloomin’ fantastic. To paraphrase their biggest ‘hit’, we’ve liked them for a thousand years (a thousand years).
After forming from the remnants of an ad-hoc group that got together to play at a school concert (where they performed Iron Maiden covers), Plumtree mk.1 played constant support shows for local heroes like Thrush Hermit and the Weakerthans, put out tracks on plenty of local compilations, and in 1994 they released a six-song EP, ‘Flutterboard’, on cassette (remember them?). Things kicked up a notch the following year with their debut album proper, ‘Mass Teen Fainting’. Backed by some scratchy guitar lines and melodies reminiscent of early Undertones, Gillis and Braden sang about their romantic and social lives with all the sincerity of sixties girl groups, coupled with the vivid descriptions of hip scenes We Are Scientists pull off with aplomb.
Things got even better from there on. Nina Martin dropped out to go to university, replaced by former harmonica player Catriona Sturton - who learned to play bass on a guitar signed by Geddy Lee of Rush - and in 1997 Plumtree mk.2 recorded ‘Predicts The Future’, their magnum opus - we’re rather fond of it, anyway. Where Mass Teen Fainting was a little lo-fi, in that some of the guitar lines sounded a little frail and the drums scraped the top end of their dodgy mics’ capabilities, ‘Predicts the Future’ is a gloriously full-blooded creature, showing off all the things that make them such an excellent, overlooked group.
Similar to bands like, say, Grandaddy, the guitars are loud and often riotous but the music is pretty far away from the heavy metal that inspired them as tweens; at the same time, part of the fun is bearing witness to the virtuoso guitar lines which, rather than being simple rhythm and lead, twist in and out of each other like the images on a snakes and ladders board; and the melodies, on songs like ‘You Just Don’t Exist’, will stay in your head for days.
Things started to go a bit off when they tried to go even bigger with their third LP, 2000’s fittingly-titled ‘This Day Won’t Last At All’. It’s their most ambitious, polished, and in some ways accomplished record - but the taming of the scrapiness, and the palpable urge to grow, didn’t really fit with the Plumtree some had come to know and love. They were the proverbial local band done good - they just couldn’t get much further than the US border. They broke up amicably in 2000, reuniting only briefly to play - you guessed it - the launch party for volume six in the ‘Scott Pilgrim’ series.
Still, all was not lost; they’ve left behind three rather excellent, little-heard albums of genuinely inventive, original and catchy indie rock. They’ve influenced hundreds of thousands of nerds, whether they realise it or not. They’ve got new projects on the horizon - the Gillises in the form of SISTER, Catriona Sturton in the form of a solo career. Plumtree are huge beneficiaries of the democratisation of music afforded by the internet; they’re a lost band that you can uncover with just a click of your mouse. And we highly recommend that you do so.
The Best of Plumtree is available on Spotify. You can buy their albums from their official website.