Planes Mistaken for Stars Are a Mess, But ‘Clean Up Mean’
After a decade-long absence, Planes Mistaken for Stars have returned with Prey, their fourth album and first since 2006's Mercy. The dizzying new record, out October 21 via Deathwish, Inc., finds the band barreling through the heartland from which they first arose, taking leaden swings at every sound they can find, be it gritty Americana or angular math-rock. As always, they're hardly wistful, not to mention unabashedly political, as recent song "Riot Season" — a raging reflection on the sad, predictable ebb and flow of American violence — so powerfully illustrated.
In other words, they're the same Planes we all know and love, just a little older and wiser. We reached out to founder and vocalist Gared O’Donnell over the phone to get insight on the band's latest single "Clean Up Mean" — premiering today exclusively on CLRVYNT — as well as the circumstances leading to the band's return. Check out "Clean Up Mean" below, and scroll down for our interview with the frontman.
How did “Clean Up Mean” come together?
It was just a riff I had laying around for a while on and off. I fooled around with it. When we got to the studio, to the practice space — we only practiced a couple times before we went to the studio. That one was pretty immediate. I finished up the lyrics in the studio.
Planes have spent the past 10 years on hiatus, but members have also been involved in a number of side ventures, like Wovenhand and Hawks & Doves. Did any of those projects rub off on the new material?
I think that the fact that we all kept busy to various degrees made us more muscular of a band now, because we got to learn to play with other people and assess what we did with each other. I think that’s where we carry over. As far as influence, Hawks & Doves is me writing all the songs; I just got to take my training wheels off and come back.
I understand that a lot of this record was shaped by your experiences in the Midwest — more specifically, Illinois.
Oh yeah. That’s always been a big theme through a lot of our work — drawing off experiences of our surroundings … that dirge-y Midwestern thing. [Laughs]
Not to project my own interpretations of the record on you or anything, but considering those themes, I find the album’s timing uncanny — after all, the Midwest is huge in this election, and one of the ways Trump attained power was by pandering to the same skeletons you hint at on the album. Did you find that coincidence weird at all?
It’s all topical. Every generation has its time of turmoil. It’s a scary time; it’s a time where we’re on the cusp of, "holy shit, this could go tits up any second," you know? That’s where we are right now. I wasn’t shying away. “Riot Season” is called “Riot Season” for a reason. That’s not coded.
It’ll be your 20th anniversary next year. Do you plan on doing anything special to mark the occasion? Playing all the old records cover-to-cover, maybe?
Nah. It seems like every record there are four or five songs that work live; we just play what works. In that sense, we’ve never become nostalgic. We just played what we wanted and what felt good, and that’s what we’ll keep doing: playing what feels right.
What made you decide to get Planes back together? Whose idea was it?
It was all of our idea[s]. I called Jake [Bannon, Converge frontman] from Deathwish and was like, “Hey, would you be interested in a reissue of Mercy, since it never got a fair shake the first time around and we’re going to be back together?” And he basically said, “Yep. We’ll just look at Mercy as an extensive advertisement for the next record.” [Laughs]
We had to buy back our rights from the old label [Abacus], even though they weren’t doing anything with it. Abacus had essentially buried it when they went under, and it felt very sad, because we were really proud of Mercy. I think the label folded the month Mercy came out, and we were on a label that had major label distribution, and it sold not even half of what we were selling on No Idea. It was depressing.
We missed writing with each other. It seemed stupid that we were playing shows and not letting out that creative side, not releasing those juices.
Speaking of labels, what’s your take on the whole streaming debate? The industry’s changed so much since you were previously active.
This probably sounds like a cheap answer, but once I write the song and record it, that’s that for me. I don’t pay any attention to how records are sold anymore, because my hands are tied. I can’t control it — all I can control are the people I choose to deal with, who I think have integrity, and I choose to align myself to people that I trust, and then I leave it to them. At this point in the game, just point me to the stage a half hour before we’re supposed to play. I’ll be there, I’ll play a 45-minute set, and then I’ll go home.
You don’t go out and rage?
Well, maybe. It’s not quite the same. [Laughs] [Author's note: Understandably so; O'Donnell is the proud father of two boys, ages 8 and 13.]
Planes Mistaken for Stars' Prey is out October 21 via Deathwish, Inc.