Interview: Thelma Plum on her debut album Better In Blak, Paul Kelly and her six ARIA nominations.

Thelma Plum is up for six ARIA nominations off the back of her debut studio album Better In Blak. With nominations including Best Album of the Year, Best Female Artist, Breakthrough Artist and Best Pop Release, Thelma is planted firmly into Australian music’s biggest awards night.

We caught up with her to chat about her album and the big night.

How are you going, Thelma Plum?

Good. How are you?

I’m not too bad. Where are you right now?

I’m at my home in Brisbane.

Very nice. Now Thelma, I feel like I’ve known about you for years, but you’ve only released your debut album, Better in Blak, this year?

I have, yes.

That’s crazy. Congratulations on it. I hear it was a bit of a tumultuous road to get there. Is it right that four years ago you were ready to release a debut album, but you decided to hold off on it?

Yes, so yep. Four years ago I I’d make a whole record before this record was released, and it wasn’t… I was so proud of that record and the production on it and everything, but I just think the songs were not… it wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. And so, I made a very tough decision to kind of scrap that and start all over again, which was pretty wild, but I don’t regret it at all.

Yeah, that’s a major decision. So does this mean that there’s a whole album of unreleased Thelma Plum work that could maybe one day be recycled? Is that a possibility?

It does! Who knows? You know, I’d never say no to anything, but yeah, who knows? Maybe one day, I will release some of them.

Well, Better in Blak, I have to say, it’s definitely one of my favourite albums of the year. And when it was released, I walked into my workplace and people who weren’t even remotely interested in music were talking about it, so that’s definitely saying something about the quality of this debut album.

I wanted to ask you about your mentorship with the one and only Paul Kelly. You wrote “Made for You” together, but you actually first met him back when you were 18? Is that right?

Yeah. Yep. I think I was 18 when I first met him. I was very young. Maybe I was even 17, actually, when I met him.

How did that happen?

So, we have the same publishing company and I was, I’ve been very open with my adoration of him and how much I look up to him, musically and artistically. And so my label to kind of, I guess, schmoozed me, for lack of a better word; they were like, “We know you love Paul Kelly. Do you fancy meeting him?” And I had already met him before many a times because I’d gone to lots of meet-and-greets and I’d gone to go to his book tours and things like that.

But I got to meet him, I guess, as an artist, and I loved it. We went out and we spent a few hours together and got to know each other, and that was just… it was incredible for me. It was just so, so special. And then, fast forward a few years later and we’ve written a song for my debut album. It’s just wild.

That’s kind of one of those things where you’re like, “If me back then could see me now, they’d be pinching themselves.”

Oh my God. I would just be… probably, I just wouldn’t believe it. I’d be like, “Whatever.”

Speaking of things that you probably wouldn’t believe, you’re nominated for six ARIAs as well.

Yeah, that’s crazy!

Yeah, that’s insane. Did you find out about that prior to the season launch, or was it all revealed to you on the day? How does that work?

No, that was all… no, I had no insider knowledge. I wish I did because I would have maybe settled down and enjoyed it a bit more. I just was so stressed, and I try not to get too caught up in these things, but it’s the ARIAs, and I’ve grown up with the ARIAs. And it’s always been a dream to be nominated for an ARIA, so to have six nominations is, yeah, pretty crazy… but did not know anything; did not expect even one.

It was a big day. Have you attended the ARIAs before? I imagine you would have.

I have. I sure have, just twice before. Yeah, but never as someone that’s been nominated. So, that I think is probably will potentially be like a bit of a different feeling.

Potentially, yeah! I think it might be a very different feeling. Everyone will want a piece of you on that night. You’re nominated for the big ones; we’ve got Best Album, Best Female Artist, Breakthrough Artist. Is there one that you’d want to take home over the others?

I don’t really have any preferences, but obviously it’s pretty… it’s a pretty special thing to be nominated for Album of the Year, that’s just… and I’m the only woman in that category, the only black fella… So I guess that would be pretty cool definitely to be Album of the Year. But it’s also like I’m up against the best musicians, all the people that I look up to in all of these categories, so it’s just… I totally am not expecting anything at all; just to be considered alongside these names is enough.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Just being able to have a seat at that table is a phenomenal effort, but I think you have an excellent chance. I’m just going to say it, as I said before, Better in Blak is one of my favourite albums of the year.

Thank you very much.

Have you got anything else coming up in Thelma Plum horizons?

Yeah, well, I do. I’ve got this, and before the ARIAs, I’m heading over to London and playing a show there, and so, that’s going to be pretty wild. It’s a bit of a busy next months, but then the ARIAs, and then festival season; I can’t wait.

Are you playing a New Year’s festival?

I am. I’m playing Falls over New Year’s, like going to go around the country and do all of them, which will be really exciting.

Oh, that’s going to be a fun one. They’re always amazing.

I love Falls.

Well, Thelma, I’ll let you get back to it, but thank you so much for chatting to me, and hopefully I’ll catch you on the red carpet on the big night.

Yes, I’d love that. Thanks so much, darl.

Better In Blak is out now.

You can catch The 2019 ARIA Awards on the Nine Network, broadcasting from The Star Event Centre, Sydney on Wednesday, 27th November 2019.

Tait McGregor


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