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  • Tara Crutchfield

Van Plating

Whether underfoot as her mother played hymns and gospel piano, making a beeline towards the music anytime her rock-nroll father picked up a guitar, or sitting in on the bluegrass picking and singing of her grandad and his band of eight brothers – Van Plating has always been ‘home’ within a song. “My mom would say that I sang before I used coherent sentences,” Plating said. “It was just in my DNA, I think.”


Plating has been touring on the heels of the release of her second solo album last fall. The Lakeland-based artist is already writing her third solo album, working toward completing three albums in three years. Radiant and effortless in a flowy white dress and black boots, Plating sat in her living room, overlooking her home studio as she discussed her roots, her favorite novelists, and her own storytelling.


VAN’S MUSICAL DNA

The indie-Americana solo artist has been a classically trained violinist and singer since childhood. Her instrumental repertoire now includes violin, viola, piano, keyboards, and electric guitar. In a 2021 interview during AmericanaFest in Nashville, Plating likened instruments to different colors on a song. Her favorite ‘color’ is her voice. “The voice is my obsession because that’s your vehicle for storytelling,” Plating said. Consumed with practicing, she focuses on technique and how her tone may emphasize the lyric. “If I let the vocal fall apart, I’m doing it on purpose. If I’m in falsetto, I’m doing it on purpose.”


Storytelling is chief in Plating’s music. “My lyric writing is very inspired by contemporary American writers and novelists,” she noted. Plating ‘fills her well’ with writers like Wendell Berry, a Kentucky-based novelist, poet, conservationist, and farmer. “He has that very rooted-in-location and generational language to his work, but he’s also very profound,” she said of Berry.


The works of Annie Dillard and Patti Smith also fill her bookshelves. “I’m re-reading [Smith’s] memoirs right now because I just love her. She’s gifted at taking what you would consider a mundane, everyday moment and making a book out of it.”



Though Plating’s indie-Americana sound fits her like a good pair of jeans, her musical identity has been a journey. The path there wasn’t the same beeline she’d make for the sound of her dad’s guitar or her grandad’s bluegrass. At first, she hightailed away from that.


“When I was younger, and I feel like a lot of us do this when you’re in your teens and twenties, you’re trying to do anything but what you grew up with. You want to get as far away from that as you can,” she said. “I wanted to run as far away as I could from bluegrass and folk music and anything my parents listened to.”


She dug her heels into indie rock for a time, even playing bass for an emo band in the 90s and spending a few years of her twenties listening only to Scandinavian rock. It’s funny to think about now, she says. A relatable sentiment, Plating said her earlier music felt a bit like “forcing an identity.”


City Winery, Nashville at AmericanaFest 2021

That experimentation sticks with her. Plating’s current music forgoes rigidly following the traditional chord structure many Americana artists hold as gospel – not afraid to veer into a sound all hers. She’s made her way home. “That’s how I feel about Americana – I feel like I’ve come home. It makes sense for me to be here,” she said. “There’s so much beauty in taking a step back, examining your roots, and standing on that and pulling in other influences, but not trying to get rid of your DNA.”


ON VULNERABILITY AND FINDING YOUR DANCE

Her last record may be titled “The Way Down,” but it feels like an ascension. Plating’s vocals have an ethereal quality that makes her sound like a sort of Americana angel. Her second full solo album, “The Way Down,” was released last fall and co-produced with Bryan Elijah Smith, who played drums, electric guitar, bass and sang background vocals for the record. Plating wrote 50 songs that were paired down into a nine-track album. She and Smith recorded at his Shenandoah Valley studio over the course of a year. “He threw his heart into it,” Plating said of her co-producer, whom she called one of her dearest friends.


“It’s an album about learning how to be okay with not being okay, learning how to find your dance while you’re in a low moment, learning to celebrate through hard times,” said Plating. Her favorite lyrics on “The Way Down” belong to the bridge in the song “Dirty Frame.” “It captures that arc of being a child and then being a mother, and there’s a vulnerability to that,” she said.


A walk along the beach with her then 10-year-old daughter inspired the bridge. “She was just starting to explore those feelings […] of expectation, vulnerability, insecurity, ‘who am I?’ ‘what does it mean?’ And I was having a low day that day. She grabbed my hand while we were walking. We were having this moment of both not being okay but being together in it. That’s the whole feeling in that song.”


I called my daughter

She held my hand

white like sugar

On burning sand

started singing through crooked teeth

Found our fire

On shaky knees


“That’s my favorite lyric in the whole record because it means the most to me. You can’t grow up untouched by the world. You can’t grow up and avoid insecurity and hard things – you have to push into those things,” Plating said. “Me and my daughter, in that moment, that day, were pushing in together, both broken, both weak (her teeth aren’t as crooked as mine, but I thought it was a cool lyric), and just singing our song. I think that’s what my whole trajectory is about, just learning to sing your song because it’ll resonate if you’re being yourself. You don’t have to listen to only Norwegian metal.”


JAMMING IN THE HOME STUDIO

Plating now works out of her rose-red home studio, where she’s also begun producing for other artists. She recently wrapped up tracking on New York-based singer/songwriter liv.’s debut LP, which releases November 4, 2022, with singles preceding. The pair met through Plating’s “The Way Down” co-producer, Bryan Elijah Smith. Plating played at liv.’s outdoor COVID-safe musical festival in May of 2021. “I went up there and really hit it off with liv.,” she said.


Although Plating’s home studio wasn’t entirely set up yet, she had liv. down from New York in January to collaborate. Plating laughed and said, “I had equipment showing up days before she got here. […] It was chaotic but so good.”


Liv. traveled to Plating’s Lakeland studio twice, tracking sessions in January and May, with the producer even co-writing on the LP. “I love to co-write with people, so that was fulfilling and fun to be in it from when it was a skeleton, not even a full song. She comes in with lyrics and a melody, and then we create this whole architecture around it,” Plating said.


Plating described it as different from anything on which you’ve yet heard her. Instead of starting “from the bottom up,” Plating said, “For her record, I wanted to try something different and start with her vocals. I would give her a little scratch guitar track, start with the vocal, and then base the whole interpretation of the song around her voice. What’s resulted is something very raw and organic. It’s not stripped-down at all, it’s fully produced, but it’s certainly a little edgier and a little less polished than things I’ve done before – very intentionally.”


Lakeland’s Americana angel has been touring with stops around the south including the Gasparilla Music Festival, Gainesville, Nashville, and Austin. She’ll be playing at Seven C Music in St. Petersburg on June 8 – her last scheduled Florida performance until the fall, with dates to be announced.


Toiling away on her third solo album, which will be entirely selfproduced, Plating hopes to have it tracked before AmericanaFest in September and release it next spring. “It’ll sound kind of live, a little grittier than what I’ve done before. It’ll be me, so it’ll be raw and colorful, and hopefully people will get it – we’ll see,” she said.


Photograph by Amy Sexson


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