Q+A: Five Minutes with Plain Mister Smith


Based in-between Vancouver and London, enigmatic and elusive musician Plain Mister Smith returned on the 3rd of November with a new single in, ‘El Presidente’. Ever mysterious, occasionally visible, Plain Mister Smith has carved out his own niche in the indie-folk genre with his witty songwriting and incredible musicality. A former guitarist for Canadian Electronic band Moev, he also currently has his hands full playing the cello in the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra. Accelerating his momentum, the track has already premiered and received support from NOCTIS Mag. ‘El Presidente’ sees Plain Mister Smith up to his usual brilliance and absurdity. Think, Sufjan Stevens or Elliot Smith, but wittier and more atypical. We took some time out to ask him some pertinent questions on music, life and creativity.


Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

Ever since I was a wee bab I’ve had the proclivity to deal with things that made sound, more specifically paper thin out of tune guitars and rinkety-dink pianos…couldn’t help myself!


Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

The idea..I tend to noodle around on guitar until a half-interesting pattern begins to emerge. I then refine and refine and see if I can come up with something that really sings. Ideally this part leads naturally to a second part (usually the chorus), and sometimes a bridge, until there is a semblance of a song. If it all sings as one and holds together well, then I know I’ve got something worth maybe recording.


Does your material feature any collaborations?

Yes! Because I don’t sing, I’ve been blessed to work with some great singers like Jordan Klassen, Kitt and Findlay Brown. Love the collaborations! It’s always a thrill to hear their vocals on a song for the first time….


What’s on your current playlist?

Matt Maltese, George Harrison, Leisure, Ann Annie, and have recently discovered Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakkov – amazing piece of music!


What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

I love to make a cauldron of sounds, often involving baritone guitar, cello, moog synths….sometimes in blending these sounds, it’s hard to tell what’s what, but it can create a kind of analog ‘ether’ that subtly floats through the songs…..


Take us through a day in the recording studio.
Starts with recording stereo acoustic, faux drums (to guide real drums), adding bass. Once I have these , the spine of the production is there, and then I start to layer on top with strings, electric, baritone, guitar, etc. Somewhere in I begin to work on the intended vocal melody, which is something I usually refine over time….


Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

Perhaps the first time I worked in a professional studio many years ago and remembering how cool it was to be in a space dedicated to manifesting great music . It motivated me to learn how to create, write, collaborate, and appreciate anytime I can step into a studio and write or play music…..


Any emerging artists on your radar?

Worth checking out Paris Paloma, Tim Atlas, Anomalie (genius!), Otis Kane,…so many great emerging artists!


What gets your creative juices flowing?

Ironically, silence….In stillness/silence/calm, my mind starts to whir up…I can hear sounds, imagine patterns and really focus. Harder to do this when there a zillion distractions, (although I’be become better at this over the years) – like on planes for example……


Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

Cello, Fender tele (with an added humbucker pick up), Taylor and Guild acoustics, Ricky Bass, Dan Electro baritone guitar, a Nord 3 keyboard, a moog (mostly for bass), Arturia vintage and Native instrument collections; east west orchestral collection to complement real cello…oh and the occasional e-bow…


Any side projects you’re working on?

Yes, called Weaving Fractals…it’s a homage to the fantastic instrumental paths that artists like Bonobo and Il:lo traverse. Music to be released starting in January 2024….


How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I’ve become a better cellist, which has really helped. I’ve also tried to write simpler arrangements, rather than anything to proggy or convoluted….Have learnt that when writing vocal lines, sometimes a smaller melodic range is better…rather than expect vocalists to perform acrobatics to sing the very high/low melodies I used to write


Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

Really focused on releasing some singles between now and the year’s end, that will lead to an EP Release in the spring of 2024, and supporting these through having fun with a variety of visuals, which will hopefully be a pleasure to look at (and not a disaster – some of these ideas are pretty ambitious)….


Famous last words?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun. Really enjoy/love the creative process itself and don’t fixate on where you want/hope it leads. Every piece of music and every release is an opportunity to learn.



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