Fiction Plane frontman Joe Sumner began playing guitar when he was 10, but like many kids his age, he viewed his lessons as more of a chore than a means to a future musical career. Indeed, he might ha
Fiction Plane frontman Joe Sumner began playing guitar when he was 10, but like many kids his age, he viewed his lessons as more of a chore than a means to a future musical career. Indeed, he might have hung it up right then and there, but after Nirvana broke through in 1991, the then 14-year-old Sumner got a glimpse of what it could be like to rock -- and he liked what he saw.
"I was like, 'OK, guitar is cool!,'" he says. "So, I stopped playing little classical things and started playing power chords, and then I started writing songs." In no time, he and future Fiction Plane bassist Dan Brown were in a band, whose repertoire consisted of a "bunch of Nirvana covers and then a bunch of completely formless songs which had no lyrics."
Sumner looks back fondly on these formative experiences as he awaits the March 11 release of Fiction Plane's MCA debut, "Everything Will Never Be OK." The U.K.-based band, which also includes guitarist Seton Daunt and new drummer Pete Wilhoit, spent the better part of the last three years working on the material for the set, overcoming a series of roadblocks along the way.
The fact that Sumner is son of former Police frontman Sting has always afforded the band a built-in level of interest, but Fiction Plane has reached this point in its budding career on its own terms. After a high-profile 2001 label showcase in Los Angeles failed to turn up any suitors, Sumner and company kept plugging away in earnest, honing their sound and perfecting scores of new songs by "playing and rehearsing all day, just trying to get tight."
It all paid off last summer, when a Fiction Plane gig in L.A. so impressed producer David Kahne (Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett) that he shepherded the band into the studio less than a month later. At the time, the band was without a drummer, but it just so happened that Kahne had come to the show with session stickman extraordinaire Abe Laboriel Jr., who was enjoying an off-day from his drumming duties on McCartney's world tour.
"I was doing a little bit of filling in on drums, but mostly we played acoustically," Sumner recalls. "And Abe just stood up in the middle of the set and he was like, 'you guys need a drummer?' And we were like, 'uh, yeah!' So without having ever heard it, he came up and played the song 'Hate' with us. He picked it up without even thinking."
Laboriel Jr. stuck around just long enough to drum on "Everything Will Never Be OK," one of the most musically satisfying rock debut albums in recent memory. Although Sumner's vocal range and singing style bear unmistakable resemblances to his father, he and his bandmates demonstrate an impressive range of songwriting, from the riveting post-hardcore movements of "Silence" and "Wise" to breathless melodic rockers such as "Cigarette" and "Listen to My Babe."
The album crackles with the intensity that comes only from a band playing live together in one room. Overdubs were kept to a bare minimum, emphasizing a dynamic interplay that powers the title cut, "I Wish I Would Die," and "Soldier Machismo," one of many songs that find Sumner decrying the world's increasingly more pervasive diplomatic climate of "shoot first, ask questions later."
"Who am I to know what they'll save me from? What is there to say that if they all lay down, my home will be gone?," he asks in the cut, which rings especially pertinent with a U.S.-led war against Iraq likely. On tunes such as "Cigarette," Sumner nods to the kinds of social situations that can be muddled by virtue of his family ties.
"That song is about not knowing who to trust," he says with a chuckle. "That is the downside of my experience in that respect. It's not directed to anyone in particular, although it's kind of a general amalgam of any bad experiences I have had."
With the album complete and Laboriel Jr. having resumed work on various other projects, Fiction Plane held an audition in New York for a permanent drummer. Sumner says Bloomington, Ind., scene veteran Wilhoit "was just a thousand miles ahead of everyone else," but what really sold the band was Wilhoit's willingness to drive from Indiana to Manhattan just for a shot at the big time.
Prior to the album's release, Fiction Plane will introduce itself via a North American tour with Something Corporate, the Juliana Theory, and Vendetta Red, which runs through Feb. 16 in Washington, D.C. Afterward, the group will support Paul Weller for four dates on the East Coast.
Sumner professes that he's not too concerned with such details as which album track will be selected as the first radio single. For now, he's more than happy just to be playing his songs for new audiences.
"I like all the tracks," he says. "There isn't one that really annoys me and is cheesy, and the record company is like, 'Well, that's the one that'll be a hit!' On the road, we'll just see how people like different songs."