Australian Guitar - - Contents -

What does modern ar­chi­tec­ture and prog-rock have in com­mon? We ask Plini, a cer­ti­fied master of both, on the cusp of his breath­tak­ing new EP.

De­spite be­ing en­tirely in­stru­men­tal, the Sun­head EP is drenched in char­ac­ter. The pun­ish­ing chugs in “Salt + Char­coal” drill into the mix with a mer­ci­less anger, while the hon­eyed strums that wash over the ti­tle track revel in their lu­cid­ity. It’s a mile­stone re­lease for Plini Roessler-Hol­gate – bet­ter known sim­ply as Plini – who unashamedly looks to his idols for help in turn­ing a plain ol’ gui­tar into an in­stru­ment of in­con­ceiv­able emo­tion.

“I guess it comes down to all the mu­sic I’ve ever lis­tened to,” Plini muses on his tech­niques. “Like, ‘Stair­way To Heaven’ is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of how you can make an acous­tic gui­tar sound sad. I think there’s a lot of ideas like that, and I guess I just at­tribute dif­fer­ent sounds to dif­fer­ent things, just from lis­ten­ing to mu­sic so much. A clean gui­tar with just a lit­tle bit of re­verb – that re­minds a lot of some of the softer Opeth songs, which gives me that feel­ing of a sad, dark for­est. So if I come to a part where I want to evoke that sort of emo­tion, I’m kind of like, ‘Okay, what would Opeth do?’ Or if there’s a big melody, some­one like Joe Satriani or John Petrucci would use a shit­load of de­lay and re­verb, so if I wanted a part to sound re­ally epic, I’d play it like they would play it.”

“One thing that’s dif­fer­ent about this new EP is that there’s a lot of post-rock gui­tar lay­er­ing – just one note played as fast as pos­si­ble with a whole heap of de­lay – and I think that might’ve come from watching Sleep­makeswaves a lot, be­cause they just play with so much emo­tion and so much en­ergy, even if they’re not do­ing a lot with the gui­tar. It’s all about putting ev­ery­thing you’ve got into one note, and re­ally mak­ing that note count. It’s such an an­i­mal­is­tic way of get­ting some­thing across, and I love that.”

Any­thing but sim­ple is the cus­tom-built .strand­berg* Bo­den OS 6 that has now be­come syn­ony­mous with Plini’s im­age. Named for its re­sem­blance to rein­deer antlers, the ex­tremely rare gui­tar – head­stock-free, as is com­mon with djentle­men like Plini – is a mas­ter­stroke of col­lab­o­ra­tive ge­nius, metic­u­lously de­signed with equal fo­cus placed on aes­thetic and tone. And as Plini tells us, it took a meta­mor­phic trip abroad to find what would even­tu­ally wind up a cru­cial facet of his makeup.

“As you might know, it’s not re­ally that easy to find cool in­stru­ments in Aus­tralia,” he laughs. “So I was over­seas, and I went to a show where the band In­ter­vals were play­ing, and their gui­tarist had a .strand­berg* – I played it for about a minute back­stage, and I was like, ‘Yep, this is the sick­est thing I’ve ever played.’ So I emailed Ola Strand­berg, who started the com­pany, and I guess I got kind of lucky be­cause at the time, I was start­ing to get a lit­tle bit of at­ten­tion, and he had just started mak­ing pro­duc­tion gui­tars. Be­fore that, he was just mak­ing them by hand in his garage. We be­came re­ally good friends and I be­came a .strand­berg* artist, and even­tu­ally, it just made sense to do a sig­na­ture model.”

Mostly known for play­ing Tele­cast­ers be­fore join­ing forces with .strand­berg*, Plini ap­proached the gui­tar’s tonal body as an op­por­tu­nity to re­fine all the things he loved about his for­mer kit, with­out any of the pit­falls they came with.

“A lot of the time on­stage, I would get half­way through a song and re­alise that my tone knob had rolled off a tiny bit,” Plini ex­plains. “On a loud stage, you can’t re­ally tell, so I would have to fix that up and just feel like the big­gest id­iot. So I just told them, ‘Let’s make a gui­tar with­out a tone knob so I can play bet­ter.’ I used to have a

five-way switch, too, but I would only re­ally use each hum­bucker and then one of the split sounds, so we trimmed it down to a three-way switch – the mid­dle po­si­tion is just two in­ner coils, so we get that kind of sparkly, Strat-ish sort of sound. And the top wood on it is an Aus­tralian black­wood, which who­ever built the gui­tar just hap­pened to have a sup­ply of, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, I have to do that!’ There was no way I could use any other wood if there was an Aus­tralian wood avail­able.”

A lot of the gui­tar’s design quirks come down to Plini’s experience as a Uni-cer­ti­fied ar­chi­tect – his lit­tle beast of a Bo­den looks like a piece of high-end fur­ni­ture, and strikes the eye in such a way that fu­tur­is­tic build­ings might in a flick like Blade-Run­ner. And that “hand­made or the high­way” at­ti­tude spreads far beyond Plini’s gui­tar: the 26-year-old is fully self-man­aged, book­ing tours and drop­ping mu­sic as in­de­pen­dently as pos­si­ble, even as he climbs the prog-rock ranks.

“When I started out, it was just a bit of a chal­lenge to see how far I could get with­out do­ing things ‘tra­di­tion­ally’, so to speak,” Plini says. “But also, I haven’t re­ally met any­one where I’ve felt like what they were of­fer­ing me was worth it, fi­nan­cially speak­ing. I’ve re­alised that I can fig­ure most things out my­self, and if I can’t fig­ure them out this year, maybe I can fig­ure them out next year. This is the kind of thing that I want to do for – hope­fully – my whole life, so I’m not re­ally in a rush to be all like, ‘I need to play to 100,000 peo­ple this year!’ Or, ‘I need to sign to the big­gest la­bel pos­si­ble and get the best man­ager!’ It’s so fun and rewarding to be fig­ur­ing out how the in­dus­try works on my own terms.”

Cau­tious to ru­mi­nate on his goals, Plini is tak­ing life de­cid­edly day-by-day. What­ever hap­pens is what hap­pens, and he notes an im­por­tance to keep heads from get­ting stuck in the clouds. Such is what al­lows the Syd­ney na­tive to re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­ni­ties that do come his way. Though, if he’s be­ing hon­est, there is one par­tic­u­lar tro­phy that Plini is keen to score.

“I’d love to play the Syd­ney Opera House,” he beams. “That’s a to­tal bucket list thing for me. I guess the re­al­ity of that is that I’d need to ac­cu­mu­late, like, 2,500 peo­ple who would be in Syd­ney, or would come to Syd­ney to watch some­one play the gui­tar. And you’re go­ing to help me make that hap­pen, right? That’s why I’m in Aus­tralian-Gui­tar right now! [Laughs].” For now, pun­ters will be able to catch Plini when he hits the road through­out Septem­ber, play­ing with a full band in some of Aus­tralia’s most revered the­atres. And there’s a rea­son he’ll be call­ing such venues home on the Sun­head tour – Plini’s live show is cap­ti­vat­ing ca­coph­ony of lights, sounds and at­mos­phere. The­atri­cal­ity lies at its core, and im­pro­vi­sa­tion is beyond es­sen­tial.

“All of the songs have changes in some way,” he teases, “Whether it’s added solo sec­tions or parts that we just play com­pletely dif­fer­ently. I think that’s a big part of what makes the live show in­ter­est­ing – es­pe­cially for this sort of mu­sic, be­cause it can get so tech­ni­cal and so clin­i­cal feel­ing; you might just be go­ing to see a band that spends the whole show con­cen­trat­ing on their in­stru­ments to re­pro­duce some­thing they al­ready played in the stu­dio. So I think that im­pro­vised el­e­ment, or throw­ing in a few sur­prises – even just play­ing stuff wrong for the sake of a laugh – that makes it re­ally fun.”

In ad­di­tion to the hour-plus headline sets, all shows on the run will be ac­com­pa­nied by a hands-on gui­tar work­shop and Q&A ses­sion with Plini and his tour­mates, Javier Reyes (who may might recog­nise from An­i­mals As Lead­ers) and David Maxim Mi­cic. The clin­ics are an im­mer­sive al­ter­na­tive to the re­cent (and dreaded) trend of the ‘VIP meet-and-greet’, which Plini as­sures us he is staunchly against.

“I did my first clinic a few years ago, not re­ally know­ing what the idea of a clinic even was,” he chuck­les. “But it was a lot of fun, be­cause it’s just a lot of re­ally like­minded peo­ple learn­ing about the things that they love, and ask­ing about things that they can’t nec­es­sar­ily find out just from go­ing on­line.

“I’ve no­ticed that a lot of bands are do­ing the whole ‘VIP meet and greet’ thing th­ese days, just be­cause it’s a huge fi­nan­cial help. I don’t think I would ever want to charge some­one purely to shake my hand awk­wardly and then take a photo – do­ing it this way is re­ally fun, be­cause hope­fully, it’s in­spir­ing to peo­ple who want to learn some­thing about what I do, or what David and Javier do. And all the clin­ics I’ve done so far have been su­per chill. We get to­gether and hang out, talk about all this shit we love, and then watch the show!”

Though you’ll need to fork over some dough to cop Plini’s full spate of lessons, the young vir­tu­oso is happy to of­fer Aus­tralian Gui­tar some vi­tal ad­vice for wannabe gui­tar he­roes: “Fig­ure out what sort of mu­sic it is that you want to make, and then fig­ure out how you can make it.”

And again, there’s no shame in look­ing up to other, al­ready es­tab­lished mas­ters of the riff. “One thing that can be re­ally help­ful is if you think about all the things your favourite bands do that you love,” Plini con­tin­ues, “And then all of the things your favourite bands do that you don’t re­ally like, be­cause then you might be able to form an idea of what your per­fect style of mu­sic would be. Like, if you re­ally like AC/DC but you hate 4/4, then maybe your whole thing could be writ­ing dad rock in odd time sig­na­tures!”

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