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Plantain Brings Music From New, ‘Rocking’ Record to The Caravan

In Music
BE HAPPY: James Fenwicke crafts plodding indie rock with plenty of brass textures in Plantain.

BE HAPPY: James Fenwicke crafts plodding indie rock with plenty of brass textures in Plantain.

James Fenwicke, former multi-instrumentalist for The Mumlers, is coming home for the holidays—and he is bringing the gift of new music with him.
Fenwicke—or JF, as he prefers to be called—is returning to his native San Jose from New Orleans, where he recently moved to pursue a degree in the field of audiology at Louisiana State University.

In the wake of The Mumlers’ disbandment, JF started his own project, which he dubbed Plantain. It is an appropriate moniker. Similar to the island climes where his band’s namesake grows, JF’s tunes are plodding and breezy, like a day at the beach—a super bummed-out beach, that is.

His debut LP, released in 2012, is titled Fall of a Candy Empire, and it sounds at times very much like the soundtrack to a gloomy day spent at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Album opener, “Pale Shade Of Blue,” mixes sad horns, a seasick and churning organ, and washes of reverberant guitar strokes into a melancholic base for a tale about a relationship that just isn’t working out.

“So, let’s pick our battles and not pick our wounds,” he sings in his yearning, reedy voice. It’s easy to imagine the scene: a pair of disenchanted lovers, sitting on a cold bench, the biting ocean breeze weaving in and out of the words as a rickety merry-go-round whirls.

One can hear that JF was taking notes during his time with the Mumlers. That band’s frontman, Will Sprott, was—and remains today, as a solo artist—a master of spinning tales of woeful resignation over wind-and-brass-accented indie rock.

JF was in the group from its formation, around 2005, until its dissolution around 2011, and he will be the first to admit that Sprott and The Mumlers have had a lasting impact on his music.

“Being in that band inspired the way I write songs,” he says. “I’ve always liked Will’s songwriting.”

The Plantain frontman and songwriter also credits the time he spent in The Mumlers for sharpening his abilities as an arranger—a skill that can be heard quite clearly on Candy Empire, as various wind and brass instruments weave in and out of the compositions effortlessly.

But JF and the music of Plantain is much more than a continuation of The Mumlers. For starters, the time JF has spent in New Orleans has rubbed off on him.

“It’s great to be in that city,” he says. “There are just so many interesting places to go. There is a whole lot going on, both musically and culturally.” In particular, he’s been inspired by the city’s rich history of brass music.

“It’s opened my eyes to what it would sound like if you had a really big brass band,” JF says, referring to the large brass ensembles he’s encountered walking around the French Quarter. “And if everybody is just playing super loud.”

When he and the rest of Plantain take the stage at The Caravan on Dec. 23, they’ll be playing music from their forthcoming album, which JF says is basically finished—“I’m just waiting on mastering and pressing.” The new record will be more boisterous than anything Plantain has done in the past, he says.
“This one, I think, sounds more rocking,” JF says. “I enjoy listening to this album. I think it’s a fun album. It’s more leisurely.”

However, JF is hesitant to say there is a direct line to be traced between his move to New Orleans and his new record’s energy level. After all, much of the material was written before he left for The South. And besides, he says, “I grew up [in San Jose]. There are lots of memories.”

Fenwicke’s band will be joined at The Caravan by another Big Easy band, Hawn, as well as San Jose doom folk duo, Oddly Even.

Plantain plays on Dec 23, 10pm, Free at The Caravan Lounge, San Jose.

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