Credit: Sandra Lockwood

Q&A with the perennially peculiar Plain Mister Smith

The enigmatic Plain Mister Smith unveiled another single, ‘New Wave Sangfroid’, on 1 December via Popoganda Records. The song features vocals from Canadian singer-songwriter Jordan Klassen. Plain Mister Smith is the moniker of the multifaceted musician Mark Jowett, who conceals his own identity while carving out his own secretive space within the indie-pop world. He has received support from CLASH Mag, NOTION Mag, Under The Radar Mag, Earmilk, NOCTIS, and Atwood Mag, to name but a few. ‘New Wave Sangfroid’ sees Plain Mister Smith pairing new wave dance rhythms from his early days in the 80s dark wave group, Moev, with folky guitars and lilting vocals from Klassen. 

Stream ‘New Wave Sangfroid’ and read our interview with the mysterious musician below.

What has been the most defining moment of your musical career? 

Probably hearing Led Zeppelin II blasting out of a house party when I was riding by on my bike as a kid.  I was in a kind of ecstatic shock all evening, completely flummoxed and blown away. Up until then it had all been soft folk music.  After hearing LZ 2, there was no turning back – music was going to be an intrinsic part of life come hell or high water from there on in!

Break down your creative process for us. Do you have any rituals, or is it more of a spontaneous event?

It’s pretty spontaneous – I try to get into a semi-meditative state just dabbling about with guitar chords/progressions.  When I come across one that creates a certain pull-of-the-heart chord, a slight tingling of the spine, then I dive in further, and with any luck (and sometimes a painstaking number of hours) a song worth its salt will emerge…

What equipment or software do you enjoy writing with the most?

[My] Taylor ‘bad boy’ acoustic guitar. Small, concise, not too expensive but always sounds fantastic and inspiring, especially with Elixir strings…

What does your performance setup look like? Are there any differences between your live and studio kits?

To be honest, I haven’t figured out how to perform yet wearing the Plain Mister Smith earth’s head! I fear bumbling all the chords (‘cause I can barely see out of it) and tripping over a guitar cable on stage, turning the show into an epic farce (while possibly injuring others or me in the process)… If I can get around that (big) problem, then yes, I’ll dive into playing live…

What was the inspiration behind Plain Mister Smith’s mysterious persona?

No one really needs to see who I am.  Who cares? I thought it would be more interesting to explore a certain element of anonymity, which may also provide a little more creative freedom visually…

Moev, your darkwave outfit from the 80s, has quite a different sound to Plain Mister Smith. Give us a brief dive into the inspiration for each musical project, and your journey from darkwave to folk fusion.

Moev was inspired by iconic 80s bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Magazine and Siouxsie & the Banshees.  I still love those bands and it was a fantastic time of invention in music.   

But since then other inspiring artists have come along since – Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dressner and The National for example (to mention a few of many) that are equally inspiring.  This combined with learning the cello and playing in orchestras compelled me to explore a different pallet of sounds, textures and songs.  I am learning how to meld them into the world of Plain Mister Smith’s music, and I suspect it will continue to evolve – it’s half the fun and excitement of it all!

Do you have any non-musical hobbies? In an alternate universe where you are not a musician, what would you be?

To keep sane I cycle and swim and run a lot.  Beyond this I also write – a book of mine called ‘Tubers’, short stories set in the subways of London, Paris and New York, was published some years ago, and I’m updating with more stories set in Tokyo’s (incredible) subway shortly…

What’s next for Plain Mister Smith? Any notable events or plans for collaborations coming up?

This group of songs leads to an EP and then after that I should have a few singles leading into an album.  Yes! I love to collaborate and so I’m sure there will be further collaborations in 2024!

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