ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 26, 1996
Ian Jones gets right to the point. The second question the Pluto singer-guitarist asks when calling from a roadside Saskatchewan pay phone—directly following “How are you?”—is “Is this for the cover?” I sheepishly explain that, since I’m not the editor, it’s not my call which story goes on the cover, and he accepts that. Grudgingly.
“I always tell the people at Virgin that they’ve gotta get us on the cover of the Georgia Straight,” he says, “because you haven’t put a band on there for four years.”
If you exclude solo musicians, Jones could be right about that, but it’s still pretty sassy of him to seek page-one placing, since his band—while admittedly off to a promising start with a CD released continent-wide by Virgin Records—hasn’t exactly earned cover status yet. He shouldn’t really be soliciting favours from the Straight anyway, since he still owes this publication big-time for bringing his band together in the first place.
Three years ago, Jones and guitarist Rolf Hetherington placed a free musician’s ad in the Straight, and Pluto was created when it was answered by drummer Justin Leigh and bassist-vocalist John Ounpuu, from the local trio Movieland.
The first time the four rockers met they immediately hit it off; they even wrote two songs at their first practice session—“Rock Candy” and “Pretty Little Jacket”—that became their debut seven-inch single. After a couple more singles the band recorded the full-length Cool Way to Feel CD for Vancouver’s Mint Records, which—after selling out all its 2,500 copies—attracted the attention of Virgin. And the rest is, if not history, perhaps the start of some.
“They’re the smallest of the big labels,” says Jones, when asked why Pluto chose to relinquish its indie status to Virgin. “And they’re not really a horse-bidding label—they don’t sign like a hundred bands and throw them all up against the wall and see which one does well. They’re more of a developing label, and that’s what we needed, so that’s why we did it.”
Jones also admits that Virgin’s offer of “lots of money” helped entice the band to sign on the dotted line, as did the agreement to get Mint Records in on the deal. (The Pluto CD is actually part of a separate licensing deal between the band, Mint, and Virgin.) “The guys in Pluto were insistent that we get what they felt we deserved,” Mint co-owner Bill Baker told Billboard magazine recently. “They’ve been true gentlemen.”
Now the loyal quartet—currently managed by heavyweight Bill Graham Management out of San Francisco—is making ungentlemanly waves on both sides of the 49th parallel with Pluto, which cribs fully half of its material from Cool Way.
“Originally, they were gonna rerelease the whole record,” explains Jones, “but we thought that’d be kinda boring. We had some new songs we wanted to record, so we put them on, and basically just picked our favourite songs from Cool Way to Feel to make it more solid, more of the pop record that we wanted to make.”
Six self-produced tracks from Cool Way—“It’s Over”, “Thirsty”, “Details”, “Expelled”, “Locked ’n’ Loaded” (Jones’s personal fave), and “Paste” (the debut video-single)—were held over for the Pluto CD, which was mixed by the famed Butcher Brothers. It was the Butchers’ work with Urge Overkill that made them a contender for the project in Pluto’s eyes.
“The Butcher Brothers were totally the right people to do it because they have a bare-bones sort of style,” says Jones, “and they don’t put anything in that shouldn’t be there. It’s a pretty true sound, which is why we asked for them.”
When it came to finding a producer for the new tunes, the band members were basically given free rein to pick whomever they wanted, and they went with Neill King, who recorded them at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.
“We knew he had done Green Day and Jawbreaker,” says Jones, “but then we went out with him one night and he started talking about all the other stuff he did. And he’d done so many bands that we love—like the Undertones and Elvis Costello and stuff—that we definitely knew he was the right one.”
Local Plutonians can experience the band’s live take on its tunes when it performs a free half-hour show at the CBC Plaza on Saturday (September 28)—and any shut-ins out there in newspaperland can tune in to a live broadcast of the concert on CBC Radio’s RealTime. The road-weary group returns to town for just two days to play that gig, then begins another U.S. tour in Rhode Island. But Jones says he and his mates have no complaints about the serious mileage that’s required for the band to take full advantage of the buzz surrounding it.
“We like touring, this is it. I don’t even have an apartment any more. How’s that—I’m living in the van, what a harsh reality. It’s kind of odd, but we just treat touring like a fun thing. Even though it’s kinda hectic, we try and treat it like we’re going to places we want to go as well. I don’t know if we really worry if people like us or not…but it’s good they do!”
Born in Port Alberni and raised in Sydney, B.C., Jones—the oldest band member, at 27—has been around music most of his life, beginning with piano at the age of four. He moved here after high school and started recording bands at Vancouver Studios, developing friendships with—and an appreciation for—the city’s burgeoning alternative units. When asked to name his three fave local rock acts, he comes up with Ten Days Late, Sparkmarker, and Cub, then later on requests that Superconductor be added to the list as an afterthought.
The fact that Pluto is Jones’s first band could cause some of those players endlessly toiling away in the local scene to feel envious of his rapid success, but he says there’s no reason for anyone to yell “sellout” or begrudge Pluto its current status in the major leagues.
“We’re not really doing anything different than we did before,” he claims, “so I don’t see why anyone should really care. We just do our thing, try to put on a good show, and write songs that we like. I mean, it’s not like we started wearing spandex and changed our songs or anything. Although we’re working towards it, the spandex thing.”
Flesh-hugging stretch duds or not, Pluto has definitely worked its way into the mainstream rock race with admirable aplomb. But if the current power-pop fad were to fade tomorrow, could the band still compete in the music marketplace?
“It’s funny for us,” ponders Jones, “because people put on the album and try to label it as something, but I don’t really think we’re power pop. We’re more like a rock band with melodies, and we don’t really sound like anyone, so I think we’ll be alright. I mean, it’s really just us making an album that we wanted to listen to, that we thought wasn’t available for us to buy.”