Austin Plaine

Minneapolis, MN
For fans of:David Ramirez, Lord Huron, The Lumineers, Vance Joy, Green River Ordinance

There are songwriters. There are storytellers. And then there’s Austin Plaine.Born in the far north of Minnesota, Plaine grew up knowing the difference between these two disciplines. Better, he sensed that they could complement each other or weave together into a unique personal expression.That’s quite an insight, especially since he felt drawn to the idea even before he dreamed of ever playing music at all.First came a hint of travel’s romance. “My dad was a large animal veterinarian,” Plaine recalls. “He took me on long drives down the back roads, doing ‘cattle calls.’ Even then I wanted to see what was beyond the isolated bubble where I lived.”Eventually he discovered music, in part from the music his dad played on the road. At first it was just an idle recreation, a few chords strummed in his bedroom and then working on the fingerpicking technique he picked up from early Bob Dylan albums. That music in turn kindled an awareness of how a great lyric might be written and its similarities to what he’d already encountered in books and poems.“I grew to realize that Dylan wrote about real stuff but with room left for the listener to interpret,” Plaine says. “It’s not black-and-white.”But this remained a kind of sideline. Mostly, he was into hockey and, as the end of high school neared, the notion of studying law. His grandfather and uncle were lawyers and it was kind of expected that Plaine would follow their lead. So he enrolled in the University of Minnesota, where he earned his degree in communications and prelaw.By that time, though, his ambitions had changed. Before graduation, he accepted an invitation to visit Nashville and record a few of his tunes. “That was the 180,” he remembers. “Going into a real studio for the first time, I realized that these songs I’d been recording in my bedroom could be brought to life. Like a flash I could see my future for the next five years. It was like, am I gonna be reading a lot of textbooks and spending a lot of late hours in the library? Or could I learn the artist’s craft and have fun in the studio? It was night and day.”Still in college, Plaine made a few more trips to Nashville and completed his first album. Self-titled, it released in 2014 and quickly won attention. Several of its tracks were picked up for national TV: a MasterCard commercial, Hart of Dixie, The Biggest Loser and Monday Night Football. Aside from his understated but expressive voice — the voice of both a balladeer and a storyteller — and strong musicianship, it may have been the optimism of these songs that drew notice. They beckoned the listener into his love for going wherever imagination might beckon.Now, having followed this muse for a while, Plaine presents a different picture on his sophomore album. Many of the songs on Stratford look back rather than forward, toward things lost or left behind. With a high steel guitar keening over his acoustic guitar, he sings to an absent lover on “Something More,” “I can see it clearly now. You shot for the stars but you fell to the ground. That’s why you left this northern town.” On “Rise Above It” he admits, “I’m looking to the past for answers to questions I have about the future.” Nostalgic images permeate “What Once Was,” like old faded photos. Other songs evoke “the days when we were kids/We grew up in the howling wind” (“Honey”), or mourn time’s erosion on treasured recollections with “It’s getting harder to remember. Sometimes I don’t know my own name. But your love is still forever and no one can take that away” (“Still Forever”).“I made that first album when I just wanted so damn hard to get out of Minnesota,” Plaine says. “It was a huge rush of wanderlust. But you can take a couple of paths after your first album. You can keep going down the one you’re already on, or you can turn something new into gold. None or my heroes chose that first path. Neil Young had the same voice for decades but made each of his albums new. So Stratford is more a reflection, like, ‘I’m here for some reason. I’ve taken some kind of a path. And it’s actually kind of beautiful.’”Recorded in a studio on Stratford Avenue in Brooklyn, Stratford captures Plaine in transition. Still sturdy in traditional folk but with varied instrumentation, his songs are vivid narratives, with artful lyrics that ring true to all who have sought meaning and adventure in their own lives. These qualities are embedded into his life as an artist because they mirror his passions as a person. The mystery is, where will they lead him from here?“I’m always coming up on crossroads,” Plaine says. “I’m 27 years old. I need to make decisions right now that will curve what’s going to happen for me in the next 10 years. So I’m trying to approach every decision, every crossroads, thoughtfully. I’m trying to be a better songwriter than I was on the last record. I’ll do the same when I make my next one. That’s the beauty of this life: You always have another chance to better yourself, to learn more, observe more, talk to more people. And then keep moving on.”