Being in a band during one’s formative years is considered by many to be a classic American coming-of-age trope. All-night jam sessions in a garage, performing at restaurants and bars, balancing band practice with school work—these are all commonly associated with this cliché, but for junior elementary education major Jessi Plourde, these experiences or similar ones are very much a reality.
Plourde plays piano and provides backing vocals for Pushing Daisy’s, a “jam rock” band formed by Indiana University sophomores Max Heyob and Chris Willsey. She first got involved with Pushing Daisy’s during her senior year of high school, but Heyob and Willsey formed the band when they were in sixth grade. They did not settle on the name for the band until they got to high school.
“‘Pushing Daisies’ was also a TV show back in the day, so they just did ‘Daisy’s’ [to distinguish themselves]. It [the spelling] only bothers me a lot,” Plourde said, laughing. “But it is a good name, I would say.”
According to Plourde, Pushing Daisy’s is influenced by the Grateful Dead and Phish, as well as several 1960s and 1970s funk and rock bands. Heyob also gave his take on the band’s influences.
“Our style very much pulls from classic rock, 90s rock, and rock-funk,” Heyob said. “We take the classic rock sounds and themes and incorporate improvisational techniques to create funky rock jams.”
The band currently consists of Plourde on piano and vocals, Heyob on lead guitar and vocals, Willsey on auxiliary drums and vocals, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis juniors Tony and Mark Stinnett on drums and bass, respectively, and IU senior Chuck Wilson on rhythm guitar and vocals.
“Five of us graduated from Perry Meridian High School, and the newest member, Chuck, is from IU,” Plourde said. “Max, Chris and I were in the jazz band in high school together, and then Tony and Max were doing baseball together… Mark is Tony’s twin brother. I connected with Tony and Mark through the band, but Max kind of knew all of us.”
Although being in a band was not something Plourde thought about much while growing up, she said she was excited by the opportunity when it came to her.
“It’s probably the best way I have to express myself through music because I get to jump around and be ridiculous while I perform,” Plourde said. “I was also in wind ensemble with Chris. He came up to me one day and said, ‘Hey, Max is going to talk to you later,’ and then three days later, Max was like, ‘Hey do you want to be in a band, on piano?’ and I was like, ‘Yup.’ So it just kind of happened like that. It was super cool.”
According to Plourde, the writing process in Pushing Daisy’s is a fairly open group effort. Despite Heyob and Tony Stinnett doing most of the preliminary writing, all the members are able to contribute to the final product. Though describing herself as too much of a “perfectionist” to write music for the band herself, Plourde said she and the other members manage to contribute creatively by essentially writing their own parts on top of the music that Heyob provides them.
“Stylistically, [Plourde] brings influences outside of traditional rock’n roll to our songs, adding a very unique sound,” Heyob said. “In the band we always preach the idea of listening to each other and playing off of each other. Jessi’s training and style gives her the skills to do so in a way that balances the style of the lead guitar and rhythm guitar. And now she’s getting into jazz which is adding more and more interesting sounds and comping skills.”
Practicing as a group also requires a hefty amount of dedication for all members, according to Plourde. Pushing Daisy’s often puts in their heaviest workload the week prior to a performance.
“If there’s a gig, we’ll practice that week before it,” Plourde said. “We just had a show last weekend, up in LaPorte, Ind., which was a Grateful Dead tribute show. So we had to learn all Grateful Dead covers, and we only had an hour of Grateful Dead music, maybe. The show was on a Friday night from 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m., so we had to meet twice throughout that week to learn an hour more of stuff, so we learned a bunch of songs all day on Sunday, the week before … We met for another four-hour practice on Wednesday night and got done at 1:00 in the morning. There’s a level of commitment to it.”
But the preparation is worth it to experience the performance, according to Plourde, who credits that as the most rewarding quality of being in a band.
“I think performing is the culmination of all the work we do outside of a performance,” Plourde said. “For that Grateful Dead show, all of those late nights and four-hour practices—or Sunday, which was an all-day practice—what keeps us going through all of those late nights that we have for any gig is knowing that we have to perform and show everybody what we’ve got, and that we’re actually pretty good.”
However, audiences are not always the most receptive, Plourde said. Pushing Daisy’s has experienced its share of both enthusiastic and apathetic crowds.
“Sometimes we get hired at parties, and they just don’t really engage with us as much, and we feel unwanted, but we just use it as a chance to practice,” Plourde said. “Sometimes we’ll try songs that we wouldn’t do if people were paying attention to us.”
Plourde said she enjoys engaging with an audience in fun ways to add to the band’s performance. She called herself the “most animated” member of the band on-stage.
Being close as a group helps make the experience a positive one, Plourde said.
“They are some of my best friends,” Plourde said. “But it’s just different—see, I’m the only girl in the band, so it is different for me than it would be for any of them—but I would say that if I have three different groups of close friends, they’re one of them.”
This sense of minority due to being the only female member of the band is noticeable, but not significant, according to Plourde. She said that initially, the men in the band would be cautious of their language and jokes around her, until they realized she didn’t mind.
Plourde is also a music minor, currently taking jazz piano and classical piano classes. She said she feels that her band experience has given her insights and benefits in her academic music pursuits as well, and vice versa.
“In Pushing Daisy’s, there’s a lot of improvising and improvisational skills that play into jazz, which is basically improv,” Plourde said. “Classical, not so much, but I guess the dexterity from that helps with getting better in Pushing Daisy’s. So it does all tie together in some shape or form.”
Professor of Music Rebecca Sorley said that she feels Plourde’s “contagious” enthusiasm also makes her a good student. Plourde took a First-Year Seminar Music Together course with Sorley, and currently takes Applied Piano lessons with her.
“She loves to learn and her inquisitive nature makes her a great student. The classical music she plays in lessons is different from other styles she has done, but she understands these differences and can adapt very well,” Sorley said. “It is great that Jessi has continued developing as a musician as she is pursuing a degree in education along with a number of minors—including music.”
Plourde tries to use her skills and ambition to find other outlets to express her music. She said she hopes to find work as a musician at Howl at the Moon, a bar in downtown Indianapolis.
Additionally, Plourde said she looks for other chances to perform, whatever they may be.
“I’m actually going on tour in December,” Plourde said. “I’m going to three nursing homes in Ohio. I like to call it a ‘tour’ because it’s hilarious. My mom works for nursing homes and she manages them and does accounting for them, so she’s going to drive me around to three different nursing homes in three days.”
Plourde said she wants Pushing Daisy’s to gather more support and a following from UIndy students, though she does not blame them for not knowing about them. The band has an active presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Pushing Daisy’s is also working on releasing a new album, which is currently untitled.
“We recorded it in July, but it should be coming out within the next month. I think it’s eight songs, but we’ve had four songs ready, so we passed out four-song albums at the Grateful Dead show. [The title] is undecided right now. [The other band members] have some bad ideas right now,” Plourde said, laughing. “They wanted to call it ‘Behind Closed Doors’—I think that’s too cheesy, but I guess we’re still debating that. I’ll probably just go with the flow on that.”
Whatever the future holds for Pushing Daisy’s, Plourde said that being in a band has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. She said she wants to encourage other students to look into finding musical outlets for themselves because it may open up new creative outlets and provide surprising social circles for them.
Plourde also said she is grateful for the opportunities she has been afforded by her involvement with the band, and that arguments and dissent within the band have been minimal.
“If anything, Pushing Daisy’s has been a blessing for me,” Plourde said. “It allows my family members more chances to get together and come see me perform, has given me opportunities to play at venues that I wouldn’t have gotten if it weren’t for my involvement with the band, has improved my piano-playing ability tenfold and has allowed me to create new and lasting friendships with some really great people.”