THELMA Plum is careful when tossing around the term "role model." Placing herself on a pedestal is not something you sense the indie singer-songwriter is comfortable with.
However, the 24-year-old understands the need for strong Indigenous personalities, particularly female ones. As a teenager growing up between Brisbane and the small town of Delungra near Inverell in northern NSW, Plum would flick through magazines, but as she sings on Homecoming Queen, "I never saw anyone quite like me."
That's changing. Plum's long-awaited debut album Better In Blak peaked at No.4 on the ARIA charts and the majority of her coming national tour is sold out.
"I ask, 'Am I a role model, am I the best role model for these girls'?," Plum tells Weekender. "At the same time I think, yeah, I think it's important.
"I'd like if a young girl heard that song [Homecoming Queen] or saw me playing a gig and was like, 'She can do it, so can I'."
Of course, being a role model carries responsibility.
"I'm a lot more conscious of it than I used to be," she says. "There's less room for me to make mistakes than other people, but that's OK as I'm not too wild these days, so there's not much I have to tame."
Plum has copped more flak than most since she broke onto the scene with her EPs Rosie (2013) and Monsters (2014). In 2016 while working on her debut album she had an infamous encounter with Dylan Frost, the frontman of Sydney rockers Sticky Fingers.
After Plum called out Frost's allegedly discriminatory behaviour, she faced an ugly public backlash on social media - much of it with a sexist or racist tone.
The trauma Plum experienced led to her scrapping her proposed debut album, much to the chagrin of her record label.
"After I finished that record I went through this big depressing stage in my life and I turned into such a different person, and I thought that if this is my first record and I didn't reflect that, then I wasn't really being true to myself," she says.
It was an inspired decision. Plum channelled her pain into an album of defiance.
On Don't Let a Good Girl Down she sounds like a young Lily Allen as she sweetly cuts down "icky" guys, while title track is an anthem for anyone who feels silenced.
The one older song to make Better In Blak, was the closing Made For You, co-written by Paul Kelly and featuring a guitar part by Paul McCartney. The Beatles great heard the song at a New York studio where producer David Kahne (The Strokes, New Order) was working on Made For You.
Unbeknownst to Plum, McCartney loved the song and laid down a guitar part. It begs the question, what would have happened if Plum hated McCartney's contribution?
"Because he's who he is and he's such a good guitarist, there's no chance of that right?" she laughs. "I'm not telling Paul McCartney his guitar part is not good. Not me."
- Thelma Plum will perform at Castlemaine's Theatre Royal on Friday night.
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