Four Virgins, a Baker and the Communist Backlash

the band in a car

John Ounpuu and Ian Jones of Pluto

A bedtime story by Paul 'Grimm' Watkin
Photography by Paul Clarke

40-second excerpt from "When She Was Happy" (various formats)

Once upon a time there were four musicians living in Rainsville, B.C. A togetherness formed through their common love of music, and from this bond sprouted a band named Pluto.

The band's catchy, guitar-pop style seemed to be liked by the people, so they released records on the small indie labels Shake and Popgun Records. Little did they know that one of those people who liked the band was a Baker named Bill. Bill liked them so much that he led them to a land that was Minty fresh.

This fabled land had its own record label, and said label released Cool Way to Feel. After Pluto toured the country back and forth, forth and back, the people of Canada agreed that the record suited its name. The record also received some noteworthy music industry acclaim and rustling could be heard outside the main gates of Mint Records. Major Label Reps were hiding in the shrubbery!

a live shot of Ian The Minty fresh land, still so nice, just wasn't big enough anymore, and after a tearful (speculation, okay? get over it) departure, the boys of Pluto wandered to the main gates, where they happened upon an eccentric gent and a hot-air balloon. Accounts are blurry from there; some say they went voluntarily, some say they were abducted and some are too scared to talk about it, but Pluto now have their signatures on a contract with the dreaded "Major Label." Pluto are now Virgins.

As Virgins, they wanted to tour their asses off, and so they did. This wasn't something new to the band, however, as they had toured before, but as they settle in at Café S'il Vous Plait, one had to ask singer/bassist John Ounpuu if it was different touring under the wings of a major label.

"It's definitely different touring on Virgin. [Now, in the U.S.,] our records are in the stores, and in some cities were actually being played on the radio and people knew who we are before the show. It has a whole new dimension to it, so it's different, but there are still those shows where you're playing to an empty room, the States is just too immense. It's humbling, which is good, it keeps you from being lazy... and its definitely disorienting. It's an emotional roller coaster. There was a couple of moments hauling a U-haul trailer through precarious mountain passes that had me believing in God."

Do they get a chance to write much on the road?

"You can't write on the road, or at least we can't do it., Café S'il Vous Plait isn't on the road and we write the songs here, so that's why we can't do it. I mean writing on the road, you can only go so far. You can get some rough ideas, but that's it, we have to sit down in a rehearsal space for a few hours and see if they cut the mustard."

Singer/guitarist Ian Jones jumps in: "I can't even smoke here [the café] anymore, I don't know what I'm going to do. The world is going to hell."

'Pluto' Cd cover If you look up the word "hell" in a band thesaurus, you'll find many selections, including Commercial Radio. John agrees:

"Commercial radio is horrific, it's all top 40 stuff, especially in the states, though we've actually discovered a couple stations while touring that were really cool, but most of them are really bad. College radio is good and the CBC rocks, I guess I shouldn't complain too much, they are playing Pluto."

Ah, yes, the new, self-titled record. They released their debut Virgin release with half of the songs coming from their previous record, Cool Way to Feel. It's rather bothersome, so, why did they do it? John:

"What happened there is it wasn't something we decided to do from the start. Virgin wanted to remix then re-release the record. Things being the way that they are, it took a long time and we had some new songs written and by that time the record company wanted maybe one new song on the record to be a little different, but we had written five or six and we were tired of the artwork, etc... so we decided to essentially do a new record. So it was cool, because half the songs we didn't play live anymore. So this record represented what we were playing so that's why we just called it Pluto, because that's where we were at the time. That was the logic."

So the next level of success would be the dreaded backlash?

the band on a car "I think that Pluto has been going through a constant state of backlash since we played our first show, there's always been someone putting us down, mainly the Communists though, the Reds... I think we've avoided it because we've never really been part of any scene, the main thing about us is that we've never claimed to be who we're not."

Ian: "I think the more popular you get these days anyway, the more you suck."

John: "Yah, we'll have to stop now or we'll start sucking. We used to want it all, now we just want a chance to do what we want to do."

Well, whatever they're doing, by the amount of attention Pluto is getting, they do seem to be cutting the mustard, as it were. But how do they describe Pluto?

"It's white soul with loud guitars... It's dislocated pop... it's what you need."

Well, whatever it is, for a growing number of people, it's out of this world.

And they lived happily ever after (speculation, again, get over it)...

First published in Drop-D Magazine on January 17, 1997

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