Veil Of The Artist
Interview by Jack Gold-Molina
Uta Plotkin is undisputedly one of the Pacific Northwestís great rock vocalists, writing and singing for Portlandís internationally acclaimed heavy metal band Witch Mountain from 2009 until her departure at the end of 2014. Intelligent and articulate, her live performances are powerful and moving, her musicality true and refined. The following interview took place after her final tour with Witch Mountain for their release Mobile Of Angels, a tour that took them through Europe and across the United States.
Perfect Sound Forever: What motivated you to start playing music?
Uta Plotkin: My parents started me on piano early and I dutifully slogged through that until I switched to viola around 10. But it wasnít until I started singing on a stage, around age 13, that I found something I truly loved and wanted to do regardless of any outside pressure. The act of singing physically feels so good and I love words, which only a voice gets to form. Iíve also found that Iím especially drawn to melodies and harmonies. If you want to get good at harmonies, play an instrument like viola. All those years being the middle instrument trained my ear for harmonies like nothing else could.
PSF: How old were you when you started playing?
UP: About 6.
PSF: Can you talk about some of your early musical projects?
UP: My first real band was at U of O (University of Oregon). We were called Olympus Mons and were really rhythmic and tranced out; highly influenced by TchKung and Sky Cries Mary. I played viola, sang and helped with some of the writing. Following that I played solo with a loop station, guitar and viola for a few years. That music was mellow and layered and had a dreamy quality.
PSF: Who are some of your musical influences, and how have they influenced what you are doing now?
UP: Bob Dylan influenced my lyrical sensibilities a lot. His songs were the first ones where I really started appreciating lyrics because every time I listened, even if the songs were repetitive and simple, I never got tired of them. There was too much going on in the lyrics to get bored. Billie Holiday and PJ Harvey have really influenced my interest in raw emotion and honesty in music. And then there are weirdos like Diamanda Galas and Bjork whoíve made me appreciate divergence in music. Heavier influences would be bands like Candlemass, Danzig, Sabbath, obviously bands with a lot of singing!
PSF: How would you describe your approach to music?
UP: There are so many ways to approach music and thatís one of the things that keeps it interesting. It can be serious and ritualistic or funny and satirical, it can tell a story or set an atmosphere, it can be artistic and mind-bending or follow a strict form. I like to experiment with all these aspects of music. I especially love the creative part of music and have never been too interested in becoming a virtuoso at any one instrument. When I started writing, it was to get something out of myself and as soon as I had the basic abilities to do that, I ran with it.
PSF: How has that changed over time?
UP: As I began performing more and wanting to play heavier music, I needed to improve my vocal abilities and learn to project and growl. Iíve spent more time in the last years focusing on improving my performance.
PSF: You recently left Witch Mountain after several years of recording and touring the world with them. How did you start working with that band?
UP: I had started my band Aranya in 2008 and was looking to learn more about booking and touring. I was on Myspace one day when I saw Nate Carson was looking for an assistant for his booking agency and I jumped at the opportunity. I worked for him for a few months before he and Rob found out I could sing and asked me to perform a song opening for Pentagram. After that went well, they lured me in with a show opening for Jucifer and I was on board.
PSF: What are some of your favorite memories of working with them?
UP: We had a practice space in the North industrial part of Portland that I could walk to from my house. I would grab my mic and walk along the road by the train tracks, past an old pioneer cemetery under the freeway, sometimes stepping over a bloated raccoon carcass on the way. Then Iíd get to introduce whatever new vocal parts Iíd been working on and weíd play so loud, the people down the hall probably couldnít hear themselves think. That was when we were writing Cauldron. That was great.
PSF: What motivated you to leave?
UP: I felt like Iíd done all I wanted to do with Witch Mountain and I was honestly feeling burnt out. I couldnít continue making good, real music when I was feeling that way. I donít want to feel negatively about music. I needed to take a step back, take a break, evaluate where I am in my life and start writing for myself again.
PSF: Can you talk about your band Aranya?
UP: Aranya is on hiatus right now. I put my heart and soul into Aranya for many years but I donít feel like I can give it what it needs right now. Aranya is an extension of a powerful vision I had for a musical endeavor and my vision faded leaving me feeling lost when I was supposed to be leading. Aranya was and should be a geyser or volcano of spiritual force and that volcano feels dormant right now. I hope that in the future we can come together again in a powerful way. For now, I need to find my own way.
PSF: What do you do to stay creative as an artist and musician?
UP: I donít worry too much about staying creative. If I have a project to work towards that I care about, then the flow of creativity is natural. Iím not interested in forcing myself to be creative. Iím trying to live the best way for myself and that involves making all these things.
PSF: Do you have any recommendations for other musicians who are recording and touring?
UP: There are so many ways to do this right but I would recommend if youíre just starting out to make forays out of town instead of trying to do big national tours. Hitting the same places every few months that you can get to on a weekend will be a lot more effective than playing a city far from home once a year, and playing outside your hometown will keep you getting better while not fatiguing your at-home audience. Trying to have something new to offer in the way of merch or music when you return will also keep people interested. Be respectful to the local bands and try to foster community by trading booking favors.
As far as recording, Iíve recorded by tracking each instrument out in a studio and by having an engineer set up in my practice space to record the whole band live. Both work really well. The latter is great for a band on a tight budget. But everyone will end up figuring out what works best for them. Learning as you go is part of the game.
Uta with Witch Mountain
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|