Interview | FFS 5 with Plain Mister Smith

Photo courtesy of Planetary Group

Mark Jowett is Plain Mister Smith. A purveyor of the consummately offbeat, Jowett’s “Smith” project has enabled him to develop no-holds-barred indie pop. Replete with crunching guitar tones, dithering percussion, and a collection of captivating vocal structures, ‘The Rat’ is as unconventional as it is captivating. Featuring Jordan Klassen, Smith’s ‘Rat’ is another cool stamp in the project’s growing portfolio. It takes a page from the likes of Elliott Smith or Adrianne Lenker in its sweet mystery. Its titular Rat EP releases on 14 October.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

Born in South Africa, raised in the outskirts of Liverpool, then Montreal and finally in Vancouver where I’ve lived many a year.

Many defining moments but here’s a few:

  1. Hearing Zeppelin blasting out of a house party when I was maybe 7 and being Gobsmacked
  2. Seeing Bauhaus at 4 am in some NY speakeasy and being spooked and awed

Seeing the Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense” tour and basically believing I’d gone to Heaven

  • Seeing Airbourne take the roof off of the Faces club at SXSW
  • More recently, seeing Mozart’s Requiem at the Royal Albert and balling my eyes out given the sheer power of the music and the choir

As an artist, how do you define success?

If I can move people at least a little through Plain Mister Smith’s words and music and garner some fans that want to follow along on the journey then that’s success for me.

What do you find your greatest struggle to be when it comes to the music business?

Now when you release a song it’s essentially made available by the streaming services across the globe at the same time, which is great and very different from the age of CDs, when you may have a release in the US say, but who knew when it would come out in the UK or Australia. The challenge now, is even if your music is available, how do you find fans? How do you give your music visibility in so many different territories, especially when Spotify for example, receives 40,000 to 60,000 songs a day to release?

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist and as a band? What do you hope to achieve?

My hope is if you’re patient and focus on releasing the best music you can over a good duration of time, you can build up a good fan base and have fun.  I love the idea of collaboration with other artists and writers and Plain Mister Smith gives me this opportunity.  I love the idea of exploring music of all different styles too, to try and tear down the genre walls a bit.  There is so much awesome music in Jazz and neo-classical these days for it possible to imbue a little of that in indie-pop? Just maybe…..

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

I write – (dystopian novel/stories sets in subways, etc). so I really try and exercise my imagination. 

But I also physically exercise too (cycle/swim/ride) just to try and clear my rather cluttered brain so I can focus on being really present, whether that’s in writing music, being with workmates and soulmates.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm