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INTERVIEW: Planningtorock
Patrick Clarke , September 25th, 2019 09:13

Planningtorock talks to Patrick Clarke about deconstructing their brilliant 2018 LP 'Powerhouse' to create a bold new live show, to be premiered at ACCA Digital in partnership with Brighton Digital Festival

Photos by Goodyn Green

Planningtorock’s last album Powerhouse was one of 2018’s very best. An intimate and open record about Jam Rostron’s life as a non-binary artist, and about their family. Their mother Janet is the titular Powerhouse, their sister Beulah is the subject of the record’s most tender moment ‘Beulah Loves Dancing’ – about the hours they spent dancing in her bedroom to mixtapes made from local rave radio stations. Nevertheless, with their performance at ACCA Digital in partnership with Brighton Digital Festival on 11 October, Powerhouse will become more intimate still.

While touring the record, Rostron started to include segments speaking directly to the audience, expanding on the stories that went in to the material, and from there began to experiment for the first time with acoustic music with guitarist Simonne Jones, stripping away the electronics and 90s house production that underpins their material. They found that Rostron’s songs do not just stand up on their own, but take on a kind of added power when stripped to their barest emotional core, and soon expanded their vision to an entirely acoustic reimagining of Powerhouse.

The results will be presented in their show at ACCA Digital, which also boasts support from multi-disciplinary artist, witch and healer YaYa Bones. It will then morph into their Genderqueer Dance Party, which takes in an electronic Planningtorock show and a set from S/HE of Milan queer club collective Tomboys Don’t Cry. “I’m so happy that also I got the chance to invite people,” says Rostron as we talk further about their decision to go acoustic. “I love it when festivals are that sensitive to ask who I’d like to be part of the night. The whole night is about communicating queerness.”

Planningtorock plays their acoustic set and subsequent Genderqueer Dance Party for ACCA Digital in partnership with Brighton Digital Festival on 11 October. For more information and tickets, click here.

Read on for our Q+A with Planningtorock, about what we can expect from their exclusive performance and more.

Tell us more about what you’re planning for the ACCA Digital performance, and how it came about.

Jam Rostron, Planningtorock: Through touring I’ve been performing some of the songs acoustically, which I’ve never done before. It gives the tracks a really new lease of life, and from a performance perspective they’re more tender and minimal. I really liked it, so when I was approached for the ACCA festival I thought I’d really want to do more. The acoustic set consists of just me and an acoustic guitar, it’s super fucking unplugged… almost!

I will pitch my vocals, and that’s always super nice, how my kind of vocal works with an acoustic guitar, I guess I’d never really thought about it. It works really well. In terms of the frequencies the acoustic guitar is higher and the vocals are deeper, I think it sounds super nice together.

What made you want to revisit the whole of Powerhouse through an acoustic lens?

PTR: In the Powerhouse show there’s parts where I’m really talking with the audience, sort of elaborating on some of the personal stories that are in the songs, so for the first time there were these quite intimate moments. On earlier tours I could never talk between songs, I didn’t know what to say, but with this album there was so much I wanted to share, it felt right, so I wrote the text and learnt what it is I wanted to say.

I started to think how to bridge out of those intimate moments musically, I was talking to Simonne Jones about it, the guitarist who was performing with me anyhow, and we just tried it. The first track we tried was ‘Human Drama’ and it just sounded so good. I just thought this is really nice, it brings a different kind of attentiveness with the audience, they go really quiet and get really sucked in.

Powerhouse is such a personal album, is that why you found it easier to start talking onstage?

PTR: Definitely, and the reaction to it was amazing. I was a mixture of very, very proud very, very terrified before I released it. I felt vulnerable sharing so much, but the way people have reacted is phenomenal. People saying things like ‘thank you so much for sharing these stories because I went through something similar’. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one going through difficult stuff. It gave me a lot of confidence to continue that sharing on stage. My mum and my sister came to see my show and she’d never seen me play live before. It ended up like ‘A night with Jam, her mum and her sister’, it was really funny, there was lots of laughing as well, which is so nice! As a performer on stage if you can find you can make people laugh!

There’s something so wholesome about families at gigs.

PTR: And also nerve-wracking! I was so nervous! I’m 48 and I was still absolutely terrified that my mum would be like ‘nice show but it’s not my cuppa tea’. She really loved it, and also she’s in it; the song ‘Powerhouse’ is about her. I was waiting backstage after the show and the whole audience completely flooded my sister and my mum, they wanted to meet Beulah because she’s a bit of a star now! I was eclipsed by them, which was wonderful.

Did you have discussions with your family about the shape Powerhouse would take before you released the album?

I’d spent time with them, and talked about finding a way to put the right things into the songs. put in the songs. There are so many stories with your family, you have to know which ones communicate what you want to communicate.

Did you find any of the songs particularly difficult to dismantle and reshape?

PTR: Actually, no. They all seem to work, even the dancey ones like ‘Somethings More Painful Than Others’ which is a proper dance track. It takes on an even cuter, funnier angle when it’s acoustic. It’s funny when you’re performing and we’re rehearsing them acoustically, the songs seem to decide for themselves what their character is. And also the lyrics become really naked when they’re not swamped in electronics, it gives it a different kind of attention, or importance.

What can we expect from the acoustic show visually?

PTR: Just me and Simonne and a bunch of lights! I hope that’s alright! There’s something really nice about the acoustic version because it really is just about the songs. Maybe that’s why I didn’t do it for so long. I really admire musicians who do that because it shows just how strong the songs are, they’ve got to be strong to be performed so stripped down like that, and I am really glad that they stand up so well.

Going forward do you think you’ll integrate acoustic work into your performances and albums?

PTR: Yeah! I’m doing a residency at the ACCA next year, and I’m going to record a full acoustic version of Powerhouse, then I’ll probably do a tour around that. It’s so nice, I totally get it now, if you just have a guitar and a voice, it’s so freeing! That’s what I’m gonna be up to next year, and I’m already writing new material. I think Powerhouse really cleaned out my cupboard… and I had a pretty big cupboard! I feel very liberated by it, and I’m pretty excited about writing new stuff.

Planningtorock plays their acoustic set and subsequent Genderqueer Dance Party for ACCA Digital in partnership with Brighton Digital Festival on 11 October. For more information and tickets, click here.

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