Alt-Nation: Tim Davis, R.I.P.; Plan 9 Interview

I want to start with a few words about Tim Davis who recently passed away. I first got to know Tim from him doing a show on the internet radio station 990WBOB. Then he was booking shows at the Spot Underground and more recently at Alchemy (in the old Jerky’s) downtown. In addition, he wrote a jam-band column for us at Motif.

I can’t think of a stronger testament to all Tim brought to the scene than all the bands posting on social media that “nobody gave us a chance ‘til Tim.” It might be a band that had never played a show with no discernible draw, but that didn’t matter to Tim. He just loved music and was willing to give any band a chance. My goes out to Tim’s family and friends, and to all that he touched. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but every day and every note is a gift: Just play those notes a little bit louder for Tim. Godspeed, my friend.

Plan 9 – A Tonic of Puffer Fish (All About Zombies)

Plan 9 were first described to me as a South County band that started out playing garage rock that metamorphosed into this crazy psychedelic beast that by the ‘90s just kept adding guitarists. At least one blurb I read about Plan 9 called them a “traveling psychedelic commune” but that was never substantiated.

Plan 9 started big playing their first show at a Sire Records showcase in New York City and never really looked back. They released a slew of albums and EPs which are still available at www.plan9ri.com. Plan 9 toured all over North America, often traveling in a school bus, to kick out the jams. While sonically steeped in ‘60s garage and psychedelic rock, Plan 9 also mixed in the kick-in-the-ass thump of ‘70s punk to create their own weird-yet-wonderful wail.

As the ‘90s approached, like their lineup Plan 9’s sound expanded to include elements of free jazz, further tripping things out. Whether it was a concession to adulthood, or just that it was financially impossible to break even with a band that could at a given time have up to seven or eight members, Plan 9 became prone to hibernating for prolonged stretches since the end of the century. Plan 9 may only do a show every few years, but their legend continues to grow. It just so happens that Plan 9 were at work concocting a new record when the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame induction came down the pipe.

In conjunction with that induction, Plan 9 will use the occasion to celebrate the release of their new record, A Tonic of Puffer Fish (All About Zombies) available at plan9ri.bandcamp.com/releases. A Tonic of Puffer Fish is a sprawling 17-song psychedelic rock odyssey. From the first blast of “Pentagon Champagne Room,” Plan 9 weave webs that twist and turn but mostly just rock. “Dot 7” flows free in a jazz-like trance mixed with Jefferson Airplane. “Positivity” combines the swagger of Lou Reed with soul backing vocals echoing the title – which was the one thing Reed never sang about. “Gianna’s Vagina” is garage rock, buzz saw, tripped out mess. “Axe The Navigator” takes the opening beat of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” on an acid trip. “Missile” is one of my favorites that sounds like a blend of the Dictators meets The Chocolate Watchband.

Sometimes Plan 9’s jams can ramble on a little too much for my “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” tastes, but that’s psychedelic rock for you. Overall, A Tonic of Puffer Fish makes for a nice new chapter in the long and winding trip of Plan 9.

In advance of Plan 9’s induction to the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame and the release of A Tonic of Puffer Fish (All About Zombies), I spoke with guitarist/vocalist Eric Stumpo from Plan 9 about the band’s history.

Marc Clarkin (Motif): How did Plan 9 get started?

Eric Stumpo: We got started in Wakefield [RI], in South County. Deb [keyboardist Deborah D] and I had a workshop at a music store there. Some of the people that came into the store were guitarists and what not. We all just started playing together and jamming. That sort of evolved into starting a band. Deb and I had been record collectors for a while of ‘60s psychedelic stuff, so we focused on that and then it just took off from there. There were six or seven of us because there were always three or four guitar players.

MC: In the early 80’s new wave and post-punk were the big things. How did people react to Plan 9 showing up as a six- or seven-piece band?

ES: We didn’t play locally ‘til after we had done our first album. The first gig we had was in New York at the old Peppermint Lounge, and that was put on by Bomp and Sire Records. The reaction was good to that show. It was a big show. Prior to that we didn’t have any gigs in Rhode Island because we were in South County and there wasn’t really any place to play down there. We already had our record deal with Bomp, so we just worked on our recordings.

MC: How did the sound of the band evolve after you put out a couple of records and signed to Enigma? I read where one person described the band as a “traveling psychedelic commune.”

ES: Once we signed a record deal, we obviously started doing all original songs. Stylistically, I like a lot of different styles besides ‘60s stuff, so I think it was a natural thing to spread that all out in different directions. The other thing was Enigma was a pretty great label for us because they never asked us to maintain any kind of status quo. We could pretty much do what we wanted to do and they were accepting of that. What we would try do to is filter these different styles through our songs so that they would have no limits. Enigma allowed us to do that, which I know a lot of times labels do not allow you to do. Some people didn’t like those changes and were like “now they’re a rock band,” but my answer to that would be that is what we were in the first place. Most people and critics, too, were appreciative of the style change.

MC: How did you get on Enigma Records?

ES: I was looking through this magazine, Boston Rock, looking at the indie survey, and noticed that Enigma had like 10 of the top 50 albums. So I called Enigma to see what was going on and the woman that answered the phone, “Oh you are from Plan 9, we want to sign you.” We had just won College Music Journal’s Best New Artist award in whatever year that was, ‘84, with our record Dealing with the Dead getting a lot of airplay. Enigma was putting out a horror soundtrack and they wanted a track, but the guy with our label refused to give them a track. We ended up signing with Enigma, anyways, eventually.

Plan 9 will be playing a record release show for A Tonic of Puffer Fish (All About Zombies) at the Met Café on April 29 as part of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame inductions. Fellow inductees Throwing Muses and Neutral Nation will also be performing. A Tonic of Puffer Fish (All About Zombies) will be available for purchase at the show.

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com.

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