Interview: Van Plating explains why she is an Orange Blossom child

How to bring a sense of Florida to a mix of indie pop, bluegrass and country.

To most Brits, Florida is viewed as a holiday destination, but it also has a respectable music tradition as it is the home state of Gram Parsons, Tom Petty, and the Allman’s Dickey Betts and Butch Trucks. Van Plating is building on that tradition, and her family roots in Bluegrass and traditional and outlaw country, with her third album, ‘Orange Blossom Child’, which celebrates her home state. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Van Plating at her Florida home over Zoom to discuss ‘Orange Blossom Child’ and why Florida is so important to her. She explains how singing Brandi Carlile songs helped her throw off the shackles that came from her classical background, and how Jeff Buckley is also a major influence on her style. While she clearly loves her home state, she also admits that remaining in Florida brings some additional career challenges. Anyone familiar with her and her music will have been struck by her image which she says is both carefully crafted and also real. Finally, she explains why she needed dobro ace Rob Ickes to play the part of the Devil while recording ‘Orange Blossom Child’.

How are you and where are you?

I’m great and at home. That’s my home studio behind me.

Apart from being a holiday destination for a lot of Brits, Florida has a subtle musical heritage including Allman Brothers Band links, Gram Parsons and Tom Petty. It is also a rural state away from the coast. What is the everyday music of Florida like?

It’s interesting, a lot of people who are from here tend to move away when they start to pursue music full-time. There aren’t many of us who have stayed, but that isn’t for a lack of talent, and I can name off probably a dozen artists right now who are emerging from here or who have recently moved to a larger market so they can make a more sustainable life on music. I’ve stayed because this is home, and I love to do things the hard way, I even have a song called ‘The Hard Way’. It’s my home so that’s where we are staying for now.

What’s your thoughts on ‘Orange Blossom Special’?

Well, if you’re a fiddle player that is one of the first songs you learn. My brother also played fiddle when we were kids and in bluegrass picking circles, the idea is you chase each other and keep going faster and faster until someone gives up. So, I have a lot of fond childhood memories of sitting in the picking circle shuffling that fiddle with my brother and of us keeping going until one of us couldn’t go any faster.

Why did you want to examine your own family’s experiences within the wider context of the Florida experience?

In no way do I want to minimise how hard it is to do what I’m doing from the place I’m doing it from if you want to look at it from a career perspective. At the same time, as things opened up after the pandemic and I started taking my songs on the road again from my second album, I couldn’t help noticing that people were assuming that I was from somewhere else, somewhere with a bigger more recognisable country music community, which is a compliment because it means I sound like I know what I’m doing, but nobody would have guessed Florida. So, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with the next batch of songs that I would put out into the world, and thinking about what authentic thing I could do and what heritage I could pull from and I just started listing it out. Who’s from here, whose music did I listen to who came from here, or just thinking about the sounds that I grew up on from here because if I was going to do something that reflected my own personal history and that of my family I wanted to take it as far as I could.

That extended to the sound and the lyrics, and the lyrics have street names and road names, and I talk about the cold spring water, and that’s from the springs right behind my house growing up. The reasons I wanted to do that are because as a listener I have found that the more honest a songwriter becomes with their audience and the more specific they are I feel it becomes more relatable. Even though I didn’t grow up in the same place and town as Bruce Springsteen when I listen to his songs there is just something there that pulls you in, and some of that has to do with the specificity of the writing. I wanted to aim high, and as brazen as it may sound to someone else, I wanted to create something that would stand up against the iconic bits of work. I wanted to see if I could do it, I didn’t know whether I could do it but I wanted to try.

How easy was it to write the songs on ‘Orange Blossom Child’?

It depends on the song. Some of them came out quite quickly, ‘The Heron’ was the last one to be written, and that one had stewed in the back of my mind the whole time I had worked on the other ten songs. I knew I wanted a song that would capture the rest of the stories into one thing so that one came out quite quickly. I had bits of ‘Jesus Saved Me On The Radio’ floating in my brain for two years. So, it just depended on the song and what the story was going to be, and the same with the sessions. I started off with every song with just the bare vocal and a guitar, and I then built it slowly layer by layer, starting with the drums and then building an architecture around it with sounds that would make you feel the lyric more, or feel the melody more. Things that would be atmospheric that would take you where I wanted you to be.

Tell me about the guests on the album.

Well, there’s a lot of them. Everything about this album if you know me in my day-to-day life, though it might have come as a surprise to my previous listeners, but if you know me as a person, nothing about this is surprising. The fact that there are 33 people on it, there are 8 guests, and I didn’t sleep for 8  months, all that is very on brand for me. I just went song by song, and for instance, let’s talk about ‘Hole In My Chest (Big Feelings)’, with Kirby Brown, that is a very stripped-down arrangement but I knew I wanted accordion on it because I didn’t have accordion anywhere else, and I wanted to lean into that western feeling, but also slightly ‘90s feeling. I was kicking around ideas on who I could get on accordion and my publisher and I were texting back and forth and he mentioned Stefano Intelisano who ended up playing on it, and he plays with the BoDeans who were a huge ‘90s band, so I was like, just sign me up. With inviting Kirby to sing, I just wanted someone who sounded like Kirby, and Kirby said yes. Someone who is very emotive, and the way his voice wraps around mine is just the way I wanted it to feel. It is a similar idea with other songs, the Elizabeth Cook song, that one being the Florida capstone song, and she is about an hour away from where I’m sitting right now before she grew up. She also said yes, and I kept getting yeses.

When you send out a bunch of asks you may get two or three yeses, and I got eight yeses so I figured, why not? The whole point of art is collaboration, which is a big part of making something, working with other people, and it was definitely my vision from start to finish and I certainly made it harder on myself by bringing all these people in. They all contributed so beautifully and so sincerely, and not a single one of them was difficult, and it was the same with the musicians. Rob Ickes played dobro on the second track, ‘They’re Gonna Kill You Anyway’ and that is kind of my answer to growing up as a fiddle player and everybody wanting you to play ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’, that’s the other big fiddle song. All of us fiddle players definitely know the Devil has the better part, so I wanted to write a song that played against the idea of that unhinged villain origin story. I was working on the session and I wasn’t getting anywhere with the fiddle part, and then I realised it was because I didn’t have a Devil, I needed someone to be the Devil. I invited Rob to be the Devil, and he is the nicest person in the world and it’s really ironic he is playing that part in the song, but he got it and he is one of the best dobro players in the world. When I got his parts back it gave me something to work against, and the whole process was inspiring in that way. I would get something back and sit at my little desk behind me and look at all these files and the differences. I will pull stuff back here and put stuff in there, and just sit back and listen. It was a very demanding process but so worthwhile because it is telling those stories in a way that is much more lush than something I could have made by myself. It is much more complex and beautiful with all these contributors.

You are a producer as well as a performer, how do you keep both roles in sync?

I’ve been in and out of recording studios since I was about seven years old, and adding that hat is in some ways a bit lonely when there is nobody in the booth encouraging me to do my best and inspire me. I have to do that for myself,  but at the same time, this album is the first time an album with my name on it has no other co-producers or engineers on it and because of that I was able to curate the vision in a much more specific way than I’ve had the freedom to do before. For me, it was very very worth it to dig into that because it wouldn’t have sounded like this. All those rough edges you hear on my voice would’ve been polished off, all the little humanesses in different places. I obsessed over which mistakes to leave in and which ones to clean up. Unless you’ve been on both sides of that process you can’t imagine how much goes into it, but for me, there was this thrilling sense of freedom that balanced out the workload for me. I was finally free to spread my wings and try every idea that nobody would let me do before, everything people have said no to before I’ve put on one album, and it worked.

What has been the response in Florida to the album?

They love it. This is my first time writing songs about specific places that people will recognise, especially with the title track, ‘Orange Blossom Child’, because the highway I’m talking about is a very famous highway. There have been so many folks who have either texted me, come to a show or sent me a message, saying that they know exactly where I’m singing about and it takes me aback. That is really special because as an artist, the songs belong to me until they are released out into the world. Once they are released out into the world I might own the recordings, but the songs aren’t just mine anymore they become everyone’s. Anyone who latches onto a song of mine, it belongs to them too, it becomes part of their life vernacular, their story. So that’s been really cool, and some of my friends who have left have said that this place seems pretty good.

How are you going to get ‘Orange Blossom Child’ out beyond the Florida audience?

I need to sit myself down and have a nice thorough meeting because I have opportunities but since the album has only just come out and I’ve been in Nashville for a week, I have all these things loading so I need to sit down. I definitely have to hit Texas because I have a lot of listeners in Texas who I adore so I need a Texas run, and Europe seems to be doing really well which is wonderful, and I’d love to get over there for a handful of dates sometime next year. So those are kind of like my two biggest targets, the Southeast is easy for me to do at any time. Those are my goals, but I don’t have dates yet.

You have a very strong image and brand,  where does that come from?

Thank you. It is very natural for me to put a lot of effort in. I tend to obsess over things, and this is very natural, I’m wearing clothes from my closet right now as I’m talking to you, so it is not like a whole Lady Gaga kind of thing even though I love her, this is who I am.  Having said that, there is a lot of effort that goes into it because it is so tough putting work out there in a market like ours in a music industry climate where everything is super-saturated you just want people to be able to remember you. For me, my fans are the most important part of this thing, I want them to recognise it is me and that they know they can reach out, and I’m very engaged on my social media because I care about those people, they are the reason for my work. Being recognisable is part of that, you want people to know immediately this is Van and this is where she’s going to be. So using that bright pink for all my single covers and album covers means it stands out when it pops up on your digital services provider, and that is on purpose. So I would say yes an obsessive amount of effort, but it is also very authentic. I’m a too much all the time anyway kind of person.

Who has influenced your music the most?

How much time do we have? As a singer, I can point to two specifically, Brandi Carlile is one. When I started pursuing original music again five or six years ago I had a lot of baggage and trauma related to singing and my background in classical music which is a high-pressure and high-critique field, and learning some of her songs helped me break free from some vocal habits. I’d taught myself to stay small and you can’t stay small and sing a Brandi Carlile song, it is impossible. So, she’s one and Jeff Buckley, believe it or not, is a huge influence on my singing. Most people wouldn’t guess that, but if I tell you that and you then listen to this album you’ll probably hear some of that. Jeff Buckley uses his entire voice, every note he’s got whether it is falsetto or low, or whether he is letting the vocals fall apart or soar. His album ‘Grace’ is probably one of my biggest vocal influences from a technical standpoint. Then as far as bands go Tom Petty is obviously a really, really big one, John Anderson is a big one, there are a lot of them because I just love music.

What is the current mood in Florida with all the divisions in American society?

I would say what you see on the news isn’t necessarily accurate to what it is really like here. The normal person in Florida is just trying to raise their kids and trying to love their neighbours. We have got a lot of very power-hungry folks in government right now who seem to love the limelight more than protecting the people who live here. That makes it tough, but it is a beautiful place with a lot of wonderful people who really do care about each other, and I wish that got a bit more press than it does. But, hey, that’s OK because some of us have got to stay here and hopefully make a positive change.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists, albums or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?

I am very excited about my friend Roberta Lea who has a new album out that I’ve barely scratched the surface of. She is a beautiful singer and a Black Opry artist and her album is ‘Too Much Of A Woman’ and I think she is incredibly talented., a wonderful human being. Another band I’ve come across in the last year or so,  are a kind of supergroup from Texas, called the Wilder Blue. There was a band Diamond Rio back in the ‘90s, and they are very much like that with beautiful four and five part harmonies, all of them are incredible players with tight songwriting, and I’m really enjoying them a lot. There is an artist who is pretty new to me, and I haven’t really heard many of her recordings yet, Autumn Nicholas. She is another artist I’m very excited about. I think we will see cool things from all of them coming up.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our readers?

Thank you for listening and please buy the album, it is coming up on Bandcamp very soon, and it is in all the major stores and you can stream it anywhere. Please follow me on all the socials, Twitter or X, Facebook, and Instagram and I just want to thank all the readers in the UK because so many are listening, and it is really exciting to be growing across the Atlantic, and I really hope to see you all in person.

Van Plating’s ‘Orange Blossom Child’ is out now on Singular Recordings.

About Martin Johnson 406 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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