“I make records that are honest, about the various high and low points of life and experiences that I think are worth noting in a song. But I also tackle more specifically the difficult subjects in life, because I want people to know that those hard times, like a piece of coal, can be turned into an amazing diamond.” So confesses singer/ songwriter Plumb, an artist whose provocative, intoxicating music blends the complex, feminine poignancy of Suzanne Vega with the sophisticated, modern Rock ‘n’ Roll of Garbage to create something timeless yet cutting-edge. While her voice frequently draws comparison to Amy Lee of Evanescence, Amy’s own citation of Plumb as one of her primary vocal influences is further evidence that Plumb is an artist who innovates rather than imitates. With a catalog of her songs already covered by Platinum-selling artists, featured in popular television programs and nearly a dozen major motion pictures, Plumb has put the finishing touches on her fourth album, Chaotic Resolve (Curb Records). The result is a refreshing blend of haunting melodies, edgy lyrics, piercing imagery, sublime textures and serious pop hooks. Plumb’s Chaotic Resolve marks the re-emergence of an unmistakably important voice in pop music.
In many ways, Chaotic Resolve is a career-defining album from an artist who never intended to enter the music business at all. Born in Indianapolis and raised in Atlanta, Plumb (aka Tiffany Arbuckle Lee) was nineteen and saving money to attend nursing school when she took a job as a back-up vocalist for an established artist. “I had a great passion for music,” she explains, “and I had sung in church and school choirs. My thought was that singing would be a great way to earn money for school, but I had no intention whatsoever of making music my career.” As she padded her resume with back-up singing jobs, her name began coming up in small circles around the music industry. She soon crossed over into doing studio work for various artists. “I was in studios and on tour buses and loving every minute of it,” she remembers, “but as time went by, I still wasn’t in college. Suddenly, several years had passed.”
By now, she had relocated to Nashville, where her exceptional voice caught the ear of an A&R representative at a small local label. “Out of nowhere, I got a phone call from this guy saying that he had heard my voice and wanted to sign me as an artist,” she remembers. “I was excited and surprised both at the same time, it was only weeks before my 21st birthday. So as my “right of passage” into adulthood, I signed.” Once signed, Plumb was surprised to discover her new label expected her to write all of her own material. “I thought, what have I gotten myself into? I didn’t know anything about writing songs.” It was her search for a guitar to assist her with songwriting that led to a fortuitous meeting with a neighbor who just happened to be selling a guitar. The neighbor turned out to be Matt Bronleewe, an original member of the band Jars of Clay (also signed to the same label as Lee). The two struck up a fast friendship and started writing songs together. “It was perfection,” she remembers. “His rule was that there were no rules. If I thought something sounded interesting, then that was my signature. When it was time to make a record, every song but one had my name on it. Almost all written with Matt.”
The label wanted to market Plumb in the context of a band, so she chose the name from the Suzanne Vega song “My Favorite Plum.” When the initial producer had to leave the project, Matt took over as producer of her 1997 self-titled debut album, and produced its successor, Candycoatedwaterdrops (1999) as well. “What I discovered is that the sound of Plumb is not just me,” she explains. “It’s me with Matt as my writing partner and producer. We have a creative chemistry that’s just invaluable. Matt really taught me how to be a songwriter and an artist, and I gave him the opportunity to be a producer and have his songs recorded.” Since first working with Plumb, Bronleewe has produced a roster of notable artists including Natalie Imbruglia and many others.
In 1999, Plumb parted ways with her first label and seriously considered leaving the music industry, when she received an offer from Curb Records that was “too good to resist. That time in my life was very confusing and frustrating,” she offers. “But I knew I would be stronger because of it. I wanted to live the message that I’d been trying to communicate to my fans, that when bad things happen to you, don’t let them break you, let them make you better.” Recorded in 2003, Plumb called her third album Beautiful Lumps of Coal. With a new label, newly married and a new baby son, Plumb began to write the songs that would create the story of her most accomplished album to date.
Recorded in Nashville, with sweeping, orchestral strings recorded in Prague, Chaotic Resolve is lush and luminous with the intuitive production talents of Matt Bronleewe. “It's been exciting to witness the evolution of such an impressive artist as Plumb,” says Bronleewe. “In some respects, this album goes back to the foundations of what makes Plumb unique: raw, lyrically introspective vocals floating across an epic soundscape. I hope people respond to Chaotic Resolve with the same amount of enthusiasm we had while making it.”
As with her previous albums, Plumb chose a title that would communicate a thematic feel of the album as a whole. “The title Chaotic Resolve comes from the resolve in much of the discord in my life,” Plumb explains. “To me, ‘resolve’ does not always mean ‘fix.’ It may mean that I’ve resolved to accept a somewhat chaotic situation as it is, or I have resolved to change my expectations of a person. I wrote the song “Manic” about someone in my life whose behavior I wished would change. There was so much chaos in our relationship before I resolved to just love them for who they are. Every song on the album relates to that philosophy. My objective was to communicate the message of chaos and resolve together.”
The songs of Chaotic Resolve move effortlessly between genres, capturing varied moods and moments – from the panicked Industrial undertones of “I Can’t Do This” to the modern metal juggernaut of “Good Behavior” through the New Romantic dance vibe of “Motion,” all while maintaining a cohesive feel. Staying authentic to the sound fans know as Plumb, she conveys a range of nuanced emotions by foregoing superficial emoting. “I think my music does that because that’s really how I am,” says the singer. “I’m not always sad, happy, confused or frustrated, but I am all of that at different times – and sometimes all in one day! Obviously every song addresses different topics, but there is a common thread running through them that is resonant of where I was when I wrote the song.” In this way, Plumb refers to Chaotic Resolve as “an everyday ” album.
Perhaps the album’s most compelling, intimate song is “Cut,” which strikes tender chords while speaking to the serious and topical subject of a form of self- abuse known as cutting. Inspired by a young female fan’s post on Plumb’s website, “Cut” also ties in thematically to songs on her previous albums such as “Unforgivable” (addressing verbal and emotional abuse), “Damaged” (about sexual abuse) and “Nice, Naïve and Beautiful (on physical abuse). Says Plumb, “Those songs opened the floodgates for abuse victims to have conversations about what they were going through, and helped to define my mission as an artist. I decided to dedicate one song on each album to people who are intimately hurting, because these songs have let them know they’re not alone, which is an important step to healing. “Cut” was born for that very reason.”
Consistent with her message of moving from darkness into the light, Chaotic Resolve also has an upbeat, celebratory side, embodied by irresistible pop love songs like the hook-sharp “Real Life Fairytale” and the album’s buoyant lead track, “Blush.” “I don’t want to put ten love songs on an album,” Plumb laughs. “But I am madly in love with my husband, and to me, there’s so much romance in the familiar. When I wrote “Blush” I was really feeling that lyric, ‘I want to be in love with only you.’ The days that are grey are so much easier to endure because I know blue skies will come again and we can appreciate them together. In the moments of total chaos there is resolve that our relationship is forever. That’s reassuring and beautiful. That’s romantic.”
Plumb has found an extension of her voice by writing songs with and for other artists, including Michelle Branch and Mandy Moore. Jennifer Page has also covered “Stranded” and “Here With Me” from Candycoated Water Drops, and Plumb has written songs recorded by Kimberly Locke and James Ingram. A techno-dance remix of Plumb’s song “Damaged” – recorded by the UK band Plummet (who named themselves after Plumb) – held the number one chart position in the UK for thirteen weeks. And Plumb’s version of “Damaged” was also featured in the 1999 film Brokedown Palace. Additionally, Plumb's music has been included in films such as Bruce Almighty, Just Married, The Story of Us, Loser, View from the Top, Drive Me Crazy and The Perfect Man, as well as many popular television series such as Felicity and Dawson’s Creek. She has performed both nationally and internationally, including tours of Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands and the Philippines.
With the release of Chaotic Resolve, Plumb feels deeply grateful for what she has accomplished in her brief career. “Fame and fortune are fleeting,” she offers, “but making a difference in people’s lives lasts for eternity. I was signed so young that I had to figure out who I was as an artist in front of everyone. But I was lucky because it forced me to be real. It means everything to have a fan approach me after a show and say, ‘I bought your first album in 1997 and I’ve bought every one of them since. I’m proud of the direction you’ve taken with your sound.’ When you wonder if you’re doing something worthwhile, there’s a bit of validation just to make eye contact with someone who says, “Yeah, you are.”
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