Onion Talking: Psycho Delia Unplugged in New York

Last month Dee Plume made a short visit to NYC, and whilst there performed a few acoustic sets in her own inimitable pop/punk “in your face” style. Our Velvet Onion NYC correspondent, Gina R Snape, met up with her after her open mic performance at Sidewalk Cafe for a one-on-one.

© Ultimate Planet

You came to New York on holiday?

I’ve been to New York before, so I’m not that bothered to go to the Empire State Building and other touristy stuff again, and I thought I really need to be doing some music! I came here with the intention of finishing some songs off. And when I got here, I just thought – I really need to do some live performing!

How is it playing your solo material in an unfamiliar setting? 

It’s good. It’s really progressing me as a musician and a performer. I’ve been doing a lot of gigs with my drummer. I’ve been playing electric guitar, with loads of effects, so then with drums and two vocals it’s a big sound, loads more sort of rock’n’roll. So to come and play guitar and just sing, it’s hard because it’s all on me! And then I have to be good! There’s no more hiding behind a wall of sound. And what I like about playing open mic is that you’re testing out your songs. So if they don’t work in that context, you have to rewrite them.

It felt like you were doing that, testing things out, seeing how things flow…

Yeah, yeah yeah! And also, it’s really good to do things on your own. When I was with Robots in Disguise, we took turns being the front person, and we had a backing track. I didn’t really have to fully take responsibility. If I didn’t sing a note, Sue would sing the note. So there was always someone to fall back on in a really big way. So now, doing it on my own and only with an acoustic guitar – you’ve really got to be good.

And really good is what Dee was. While in NYC, she performed three acoustic sets of her new material, which included: Now I’m a Square (about giving up drink and smoke), Two Degrees of Separation (“About my ex”), Don’t Fuck Your Producer (“I wish someone had given me that advice when I was starting out!”) a cover of Physical Attraction by Madonna (“I’m a massive Madonna fan”) and Short Arms Short Legs (a comedic song – in English and French!) When played acoustically, her songs have a very personal feel to them, and they illustrate Psycho Delia’s ability to combine catchy hooks with genuine emotion and good fun.
© Taras Hnatyshyn

© Taras Hnatyshyn

It’s hard. Because when you write with someone else, we would write a verse and a chorus each, and then meet up and bash it out. But I’ve been doing bits of writing with my drummer, Paula. And on the recordings I’ve done – Two Degrees of Separation, Short Arms Short Legs and My Own Language – I had Faye from The Savages, she wrote all her own drum parts; we kind of did that together. So I think that really helps me, writing with a drummer. I need to write with someone else. You need to bounce off someone. But then that’s why open mic is good, in terms of feedback, because you can take that back and see if it works.

How does the material that you use for your solo songs differ from the material you used for RiD?

Well they’re not a million miles away, because I was half of that band. Lyrically, they’re all about me now. Whereas with Robots, even if it started on my own, it became quite shared emotionally, because both of us were putting ideas in. So this is completely about me.

A lot of my songs are kind of funny, which is what I’m interested in. I want my songs to be entertaining, and have interesting themes, and make people laugh as well. I suppose they are kind of like Robots songs because they were always really positive on purpose – even if the starting point was negative. It’s like a place to put emotion, but I want it to be entertaining and not negative.

Right. You don’t want to just be a drag!

Yeah – but for me to sing as well! Because if you’ve got to go on stage and be all torturous, you’ve got to do that every time you sing them. When I sing Short Arms, Short Legs – that always makes me laugh. So I’m getting something out of that as well.

What is it that you hope for as a solo artist, as opposed to any other projects that you’re doing?

What I hope for is that I can travel the world. That is really my basic thing – playing music and enjoying it. I love writing music, but I really love playing gigs and seeing the world. I’m not very good at relaxing. I can hang out a little bit. But I like to be doing.

Dee then went on to talk about the energy in New York. She got that feeling that “anything’s possible here” and even picked out a dress to wear (from Topshop, of course) that screamed “New York” to her. Being away from everyday life, she found her energy was different; and that attracts different things in turn, which can be very useful for an artist.
Dee explained: “Being a Brit in New York makes you exotic, even if you’re English and there are loads of English people here. You can behave a bit differently because people aren’t quite sure if that behaviour’s right or wrong for that culture. And there’s the American dream that anything’s possible.”
Of the three gigs she performed in NYC, one took place at an artist’s space.
© Elizabeth Berdann

© Elizabeth Berdann

I was on Twitter and I got here and didn’t have any gigs set up yet, so I tweeted and asked if anyone wanted me to do a gig at their house.

Recently Paula and I did some unusual gigs, like one we did at Holborn Library because my friend’s the Mayor of Camden. We played a number of gigs that were somewhat unusual; I was over playing the usual sort of venues, and I really like playing things like Tatty Devine’s shop. It’s more exciting for people and for me. And I really liked the support that I got from the fanbase.

So this girl Rosie said “Yeah, come and play at my mum Elizabeth’s studio.” In the past I might not have thought it was a proper gig, but now I’m much more open-minded to it. That’s really amazing, that someone said I can do that. “Yeah. Come and play in our house!” And it was a really cute little event.

I made some postcards, and everyone got to take a postcard after. And I printed out a thing with lyrics from the Holborn gig that was like a fanzine, so it was like a sing-along. So I’m just trying to do stuff that’s more inclusive so it’s not just me going I’M ON STAGE! It’s more about what can we do here together that’s gonna make everyone feel nice.

That was a gig that attracted friends and young fans from outside NYC. Tell us about your younger fan base.

There are all these young indie teenagers. I feel really good about all that. In Holborn, some of these kids would come from quite a far way away. Someone came from Connecticut, from Philadelphia. Someone came from a five hour bus journey. They’ve put in a massive effort and it means a lot to them.

When they came to Robots gigs, they’d often say that was the best day of their life. And they probably hadn’t been to that many gigs, so it was very exciting. That energy is really amazing, because you really want it to be a good time for them. And then having your friends as well, it’s nice having someone there to support you who you know. So that’s what I love about gigs. It’s really sociable.”

© Taras Hnatyshyn

© Taras Hnatyshyn

It’s really good, because it all ties in with the kind of Buddhism that I’m practicing. It’s all about trying to make yourself happy by connecting up with everyone. We’re all connected, so we’ve all got to help each other. I think that’s really super positive.

I think it’s good for girls to see me playing guitar, writing songs. I’m quite strong and I think that’s quite good. When I was a teenage girl, that’s what I responded to. It makes teenage girls feel good to be a girl, because you can see people do stuff, make stuff. I think making stuff is also positive.

And not overly sexual?

Yeah, well it was like that also with Robots. I mean, we weren’t walking around with paper bags on our heads. We wore tight clothes, but we were in charge. And it’s good to see that, that women can behave like that, but with a punk aesthetic like all the women from the 70s such as Siouxie Sioux.

And with that our time together was sadly over.

To date Dee has put out one single (Two Degrees of Separation), with plans to put out her other songs as singles and make videos for every track. Keen to recreate herself as a musician and visual artist, Psycho Delia fans can look forward to a long future of fantastic music and art from Dee. Peelers can also look forward to some Psycho Delia Unplugged in NY in a follow up article!

Many thanks to Dee for spending time with The Velvet Onion. It was a great treat to see her perform, and a  genuine privilege to learn about her creative process and her love of performing and sharing.

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