It’s always a pleasure to meet up with bands from outside of Columbus. Sometimes I feel like we take for granted what we have here, especially in terms of how different things are in other cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati. I always relish the opportunity to catch a show from someone who I’ve never seen before and a few weeks ago I was treated to two excellent Cleveland-area acts, one of whom was touting a new record titled “Don’t Yell At Me.”
As you can imagine, that title immediately piqued my interest. They may have been the opener for two more seasoned bands, but Grumpy Plum definitely resonated the most among the sparse crowd inside of the Big Room Bar that evening. I knew I had to catch up with this eclectic trio who featured matching shoes and purple hair.
“It was so exciting playing in Columbus!” exclaimed singer and guitarist Tallulah Swasey. “We had always wanted to play here; I just love the vibe.”
The group are relative newcomers to the scene, having started practicing together last December and playing their debut show in January. Swasey initially played solo, focusing on open mic nights in and around the Lakewood area.
“Eventually I got tired of playing alone,” she admitted. “I was writing my songs to have a band around them, but it was just me.”
Enter bassist Griffin Pereksta. The two got together at local venue Mahall’s 20 Lanes (yes, it’s a bowling alley, too), and Swasey says he learned all of her songs within two days. The first time the duo played together they had a chance encounter with drummer Lip Jaworski, who was playing in another band at the time.
“I really liked their sound as a duo, so I figured I would introduce myself,” explains Jaworski. “I was like, hey, if you guys ever wanted a drummer to come in and mess things up, let me know!”
The line may have been partly in jest, but six months later the three linked back up and liked what they had enough to give it a go. The only thing left was to choose a name.
“We went through at least ten names that first session, each one progressively worse than the one before,” admits Jaworski.
“We literally had no idea what to call ourselves,” says Pereksta. “We started with Fun Uncle, and as much as I liked that one, it was eventually vetoed.
“The one thing we agreed on is that we liked the idea of a plum… but as a band that name was already taken,” he continued, referencing CCM singer Tiffany Arbuckle Lee, aka Plumb.
“I figured since all of our songs were kind of sad, we could be a Grumpy Plum. It just kind of stuck like that,” added Swasey. “They like to joke that it’s because my hair is purple, but I’ve had this color since I was 14.”
“It’s kind of been a running joke at our shows,” mused Pereksta. “When we first played, Tallulah would say ‘we’re Grumpy Plum, but I’m not grumpy today’, so I had to throw in that I wasn’t grumpy either.”
“It kind of made people think that I was the grumpy one! I needed a mic to defend myself!” laughed Jaworski. “We might switch off from day to day, but Grumpy Plum is usually a collective state.”
Within three months they were in studio with esteemed rock producer Jim Wirt, whose previous clients included the likes of Hoobastank, Fiona Apple and Incubus. All three of them smiled thinking back to the recording process.
“Honestly, it’s crazy how far we’ve come as a band,” reflected Jaworski. “We’ve gotten so much better at our craft because we work together so well. I had never recorded anything before this EP.”
“It’s wild to think how far we’ve come as people. I never could have imagined it then, but these guys are my best friends now,” revealed Swasey.
“Although… musically, I can remember the bumps. I remember when Griffin started singing harmonies,” all of them laughed as they looked at their bassist. “But I love it now! I usually feel like my voice is pretty soft, so it’s nice having someone to play off of.”
Speaking of harmonies, one of the things that really stuck out for me when I saw them live was their cover of Dreams by The Cranberries. It feels like everyone has jumped on the cover wagon since Dolores O’Riordan’s passing, but the Cleveland trio did it one better. Rather than sticking to the letter of the law, they let Pereksta do the post-verse vocalizing, and it made for the most interesting sound.
Now, I’m not saying he’s a great singer, or even a whiff of what O’Riordan was, but it’s refreshing to see a band do their own thing rather than just jumping on the same wagon as everyone else. It was equally refreshing to see a young band overcome their nerves for their first ever show in the capital city. As it happens, the band had just finished a “mini tour” in Chicago and Detroit playing with fellow Clevelanders Mopi Dykk.
While the band’s EP “Don’t Yell At Me” has only been out for the few months, they are looking forward to having more studio time with Wirt at the beginning of next year. They currently have a few songs ready to record, and even have a possible single in mind. For the trio, the thrill of writing together pushes them forward.
“The interesting thing is that I’m always unsure when I bring lyrics to them,” noted Swasey, pointing to her bandmates. “But they always find a way to make it much more awesome than where it began!”
“I really enjoy writing songs, and I definitely don’t want to shelve anything,” explained Pereksta, “but we have so many ideas and they can’t all go on the record.”
Even with ten months of performances under their belt, the band still doesn’t have a specific sound that they attribute themselves towards. In fact, they find that it is more fun to just make up genre’s to describe themselves.
“Well, let’s see… there’s party punk, slop pop, happy punk,” listed Jaworski, “…nerdy pop, experimental post-grunge; actually I think we all like toddler punk because we’re just a bunch of little kids deep down.”
“We’re not really looking to sound like something specific,” reasoned Swasey. “Our sound is just so much more mature than we started that it’s hard to categorize.”
“It feels to me like we write well together, and at the end of the day it’s more about the songs than the sound they have,” finished Pereksta.
The band may seem a little silly in their convictions, but their music is earnest and every song they’ve released so far has had a definite somber tone to it. And even though it was all laughter and smiles at our table, I could feel the passion and emotional connection between the three of them. This was a band that is absolutely serious about where they want to go and what they wish to do.
Along with writing and recording new material, the band is hoping to latch on with a few festivals in 2020. They already played Creation Fest 2.0 this spring and are setting their sights for bigger and better things in the future.
“We’d love to go out west, I mean all the way out to Oregon and Washington,” said Swasey.
“It would be really cool to do a short tour covering the major cities near here,” explained Pereksta. “Boston, Detroit, Nashville… scheduling and money hold us back right now. We’re just a baby band”.
“We have to play New Hampshire too, because they also have Barrio Tacos (a Cleveland establishment similar to Condado in Columbus) and we love those tacos!” chuckled Jawroski.
It’s fascinating to see how far and how fast this band has evolved, and I personally am excited to see how they grow in the next few months. If you see them coming to your town, you should definitely invite them out for tacos. I assure you it would be worth your while.
Grumpy Plum – Kia Soul