Exclusive Artist Diary with ... PLANK - Jan 12, 2009
"We weren’t used to trying to get the hook across within the first 30 seconds, let alone the first 15 seconds!"Boston-based with a blue-collar edge, heavy yet precise volume and anthem-like choruses, Plank's style is molded from the very roots of 1970’s hard rock combined with a modern, heavy edge and sound that is rapidly exploding across the nation. Plank is currently working with legendary super rock producer Beau Hill (Alice Cooper, Warrant, Europe, Ratt) for their third album. The first single, 'Standing At The Edge', exploded into mainstream rock radio across the nation.
Writing exclusively for HitQuarters' Artist Diary, guitarist Donnie Vito declares that bands should trust no one but themselves, and describes the creative breakthrough Plank achieved thanks to working with Beau Hill.
By Donnie Vito
I think it was back in 1999 when I was hanging out with my longtime friend and fellow musician, Jim Whitman, when we decided that we wanted to collaborate and play good ole straight ahead hard rock music. At the time, everyone was into rap rock or hardcore and there were not many melodic rock bands left.
Jim recruited long time friend Ara Stepanian (drums) to come down the rehearsal space and start jamming. Within the first hour, we had our first song written and many ideas to follow. This was the beginning and the core of Plank.
By the time 2000 came around, we were in search of the suitable singer that would bring in the melody and keep that hard rock edge. So when Ara’s old singer, Cameron Mackenzie (from many bands they played in together), showed a heavy interest in hearing the project, it was a no brainer that we needed to get him to come down to the rehearsal room.
We played through the material a few times and Cam started adding his flavour right away. Now the band was complete (for the time being). We began playing shows locally and recorded a six-song demo on our own simply to give to clubs for the purpose of booking shows.
The songs were receiving such a great response at the shows, we decided to hand the CDs out for free at shows to fans. At this point we knew we had to get more serious and keep writing as well as get into the studio and record professionally and that’s what we did. We recorded a six-song EP called ‘Divisional’ with producer Jim Foster. We knew he could capture our full live sound.
Between ‘Divisional’ being released and playing endless local shows, we grabbed the attention of major Boston radio station WAAF, and started receiving airplay. The shows kept rolling in and Plank began touring up and down the East Coast.
We continued to write while playing, knowing that our next CD had to be big. We compiled a catalogue of songs and headed back into the studio with Jim Foster again. The result was the full length CD ‘Symmetry’, which included four singles that received heavy airplay from Clear Channel radio stations across the Midwest.
The single ‘Patchwork’ was in the 2005 Top 10 at Z-98 in Sioux City, Indiana, and the single ‘Face Off’ was in their 2006 Top 10. ‘Patchwork’ is still bouncing between #1 and #2 under hard rock at garageband.com, and all 4 singles continue to receive airplay.
With a growing fan base and continuous airplay, Plank successfully toured to the Midwest and back two years in row. After touring extensively and opening for national and semi-national acts, we decided to take a break and start the writing process again, but this time we had a little extra help.
As I was riding on the tour bus returning home to Boston from our second run through the Midwest, I was wondering what was next. We just spent two years pushing our last CD without any label support, management or any help for that matter but just ourselves to rely on.
I was proud of the fact that we made it as far as we did without going into debt and came out of it with a whole new fan base, but at the same time was thinking, what can we do next time to attract more industry attention to the band? How are we going to top the old songs with new ones? I knew there was going to have to be some changes and I think we were all ready for them.
Shortly after returning to Boston we were offered another small tour that ran from Florida and up the East Coast with Revelation Theory (now Rev Theory). We put writing new material on hold to rehearse a new set for the tour.
Unfortunately a few days before the tour kicked off Rev Theory cancelled to get into the studio to finish songs that a major label was interested in. Shortly after that, they were signed. As for us we were back unloading gear into the rehearsal space cursing that we didn’t get to tour.
I began writing some ideas and rehearsing them with the band. From day one I knew what the songs were missing, and that was a second guitar. I was writing material that needed the power of a second guitar keeping the heavy rhythms going under the melodic guitar sections and solo spots.
That’s when we called long time friend and musician Dan Bongiorno to come down and jam. It was a sure fit from the first note. Now I was excited to keep writing with this new energy. Now I felt like we could top our old material.
While we were busy writing, I was contacted by legendary producer Beau Hill. He liked the material he had heard on our Myspace page and wanted to know if we would like to work together. Well of course I said yes. We had a conference call later that week with Beau about how we would approach and handle the new project.
Now, we are not used to anyone telling us how we should write our music or what is good and what sucks, so this was going to be a little challenging. The way it worked, because Beau is in Texas and we are in Boston was that we would email our rough demos of new material to him and he would tell us what was good and what wasn’t.
Well, I learned very quickly why he has such a good track record. He knows what it takes make a great song. We weren’t used to trying to get the hook across within the first 30 seconds, let alone the first 15 seconds!
We had to change our thought process in regards to writing and really work on melody. As a result, we have been working slower but putting out better quality songs. The first single we did with Beau, ‘Standing At The Edge’, proves that. It is already receiving airplay and caught the ear of industry reps.
‘So Wicked’ was the second single and has left the industry wanting to hear more. We have finished three more with Beau and are still going. He knows how to bring the best out of us and it shows in his final mixes.
Beau also knows the business inside out and has steered us away from some shady business deals and contacts. We didn’t have that kind of guidance before. I was doing most of the business stuff and couldn’t tell who was real and who was a fake. I’ve learned that everyone knows someone or has worked with someone’s brother or cousin and will help you out. Yeah, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that!
Here it is a year later and I feel the band is at its strongest it has ever been. We recently played a one-off show just to test the new material and the response was bigger than ever. We are booking for the new year and can’t wait to get back out there. The best part is that our fans have been patient and loyal, so we have no choice but to get back out there.
Since working with Beau we have signed a deal with Missing Link Music and have made many new contacts. This is probably one of the hardest businesses to be in but it is also the best business to be in if you meet the right people. You can’t trust anyone but yourselves.
I hope other bands realize that no one is going to hand you anything. You have to constantly keep working and making things happen on your own. Plank has been at it since 2001 and plan to keep going until we feel we have done it all and I can honestly say that we haven’t even started to do what we are capable of.
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Next week: Interview with Brandon Creed
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