Throughout her decade+ career as both a songwriter and recording artist, Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (a.k.a. PLUMB) has established a highly respected voice in both Christian and mainstream circles. Beginning with chart-topping singles (Stranded, Boys Don’t Cry, God-Shaped Hole), Lee soon developed into a successful writer for others as well (such as Mandy Moore and Michelle Branch).
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This fall sees the premier of new single “Drifting” (feat. Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay), the first single from forthcoming album #7 due out in early 2012.
Every Plumb record is an immersion into one of music's headiest streams. Each is unique, tied to the emotions and circumstances that inspired it, and yet each is timeless, identifiable as the outpouring of a singular artistic vision. That vision took hold as Plumb began songwriting, after her first record label told her they expected her to. She poured her soul into the craft as she learned it.
"After I had been writing for a while," she says, "I began tapping into what was intimate and vulnerable in my heart, something that's not as easy as it may sound. And since that time I've tried to make my records almost journal entries, my diary, if you will, put to music. Those albums have communicated where I was at, at the time--almost a day, or even a year, in the life of me."
These days, she says, her cup "overflows, with such sweetness added." In her life now are children--two boys, Solomon Fury and Oliver Canon, born 19 months apart--and her latest record, "Blink", logs the awe and trepidation attendant to that sometimes underappreciated miracle. At the same time--this is a woman for whom there is seldom just one level--it explores a profound new appreciation for the depth and breadth of God's love, spurred by the indwelling of motherly love.
"This album, like the others, is where I was...it's also where I still am," she says, "knee-deep in motherhood. Two tiny children, neither one planned and both a beautiful surprise" were the real catalyst behind the muses and the songs.
The physical realities of her second pregnancy were as important to the process as the mental, emotional and spiritual.
"I became so jolly round, my nice term for huge, that I couldn't tour my rock records, and so my husband suggested I make a sort oflullaby-type record that we'd actually talked about in the past because of a close friends initial suggestion years ago--in an effort to make the best use of my time off the road. So that's kind of where it started."
"Blink" became another extraordinary rite of passage, a Plumb reflection on a life-changing phase of the journey, this time with a fittingly delicate, largely programmed musical embroidery replacing the normal rock setting. Her longtime programmer and occasional co-writer, Jeremy Bose, handled production and co-wrote three songs. Longtime producer Matt Bronlewee co-wrote three as well.
The album's ten songs include two covers--an ethereal take on the centuries-old "God Will Take Care Of You," and the lovely "Children of the Heavenly Father." The originals may rank among the purest expressions of the tender joys of motherhood ever recorded, reflecting the rapture of a woman rooted in and yet transported by the experience of new life. Songs like "My Sweet, My Lovely," "Me" and "Solomon's Song" reflect the intense intimacy and joy of motherhood. And yet, it wouldn't be Plumb without the trepidation, the acknowledgement that in the world every child enters, sorrow is as real as joy, and pain as persistent as pleasure. Songs like "In My Arms," the album's first single, and "Always" carry within their beauty a recognition of the limits of maternal love.
She came to the parallel with God's love as she was being wheeled toward her second emergency Caesarian.
"I was conscious of this rush of emotion," she says. "Fear for my life, fear for my child's life, and somewhere in me thinking, 'I want to love this baby as much as I love Solomon,' afraid I wouldn't. Then, when I heard Oliver cry and they showed him to me...I went from, 'Is it possible to love that great again?' to 'It's impossible not to love that great' in less
than one second. And I began to really understand how He loves us all the same, all unique, even when we think he has some kind of partiality. He doesn't. It was an overwhelming, life-altering moment of conviction. And when the record had been mixed and mastered, I sat and listened in the car in my driveway and wept. "That's how you love me,' I said. 'Knowing how much I love these little boys, knowing you love me more than that.' It's incredibly humbling."
"Blink" is the fifth CD of new material by a woman whose career is, she says, "not something I planned. It found me. It seems to be a pattern that happens in my life, I've been blessed with a series of opportunities, one after the other, and have continued to try and be faithful with each of them."
Perhaps the most famous of these came in 2001. "I had actually left the label and decided to be a full-time songwriter when a fan at one of the last shows handed me a note," she says. The fan said plumb's song "Damaged," about sexual molestation, had changed her life. "It hit me how much this wasn't about me, that I'd been given a gift to communicate, to encourage and inspire. A gift. And that it's not up to me to say, 'I won't do that anymore.' And if I think it is up to me, how much I'd be missing out on the opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself."
It's a gift she was slow to actualize. Born Tiffany Arbuckle in Indianapolis, she grew up in Atlanta, singing in church and school. At 19, she began working as a backup singer, in part to earn money to help pay for nursing school. She began doing studio work and then touring. College went by the board and she eventually moved to Nashville, where, a month before her 21st birthday, she signed with a small label. When she was urged to write, she turned to Matt Bronlewee, her next door neighbor that sold her a guitar, who turned out to be an original member of Jars of Clay...and the two hit it off.
"It was perfect for me," she says. "His rule was that there were no rules. If I thought something sounded interesting, then that was my signature." Bronlewee would later describe her unique sound as "raw, lyrically introspective vocals floating across an epic soundscape." The two wrote everything on her first record, which she recorded in 1997 with a band collectively known as Plumb, a name taken from a song by Suzanne Vega. Songs like "Unforgivable," "Crazy" and "Endure," and a tour with Jars of Clay helped push sales over the 100,000 mark. The follow-up, candycoatedwaterdrops, featuring "Late Great Planet Earth," "Here With Me" and "God-Shaped Hole," among others, won the 2000 Dove for Modern Rock Album of the year, and two other tracks were hits for other artists--"Stranded" for Jennifer Paige and "Damaged" for Plummet in the UK. Following label difficulties, the fan's pivotal note, and marriage to Jeremy Lee, she signed with Curb as a solo artist. Beautiful Lumps of Coal (2003), which she co-produced, and Chaotic Resolve (2006), produced several hits and further extended her reputation in several musical genres. She has written songs for and with Michelle Branch, Mandy Moore and Kimberley Locke, among many others, and her music has been heard in many films and on their soundtracks, including Bruce Almighty, Brokedown Palace, Just Married, The Perfect Man and Evan Almighty, among others, and on TV series including Dawson's Creek, ER,Felicity and Roswell.
Motherhood and the process of making Blink have changed to some degree the woman who has long been known as an exuberant rocker.
"My priorities have shifted," she says. "I've toned it down a little to create a little longevity for myself. I don't think trying to be a rock star allows me that opportunity. I've had many a day of running around in the hot sun at festivals, sweating my brains out and losing my voice. I've realized I'm still a valuable artist and that that lifestyle is damaging on so many levels. There's something very liberating about still being and writing what is real, and saying it even more beautifully. And still being able to rock out now and again..."
The process of being an artist, she maintains, will continue. "This is in me," she says. "I'm a wife and mother and singer and writer and so many other things... and in order for me to truly be faithful in any of those roles and relationships, I must be faithful to them all. Yes, now I am a mother, and I'm so much more than just that too. Sadly, that is something I think many women fail to realize after motherhood, and it's something their children can suffer for. I hope to inspire other women to continue to pursue their dreams and passions and be the gifts of unfathomable worth to a generation aching to respect them. The challenge is to keep them in priority... something that cannot happen on your own...so the accountability to maintain them is by far one of the most important facets to my life."
More than a decade into her recording career, she is not tied to the perks of stardom, but she is, as her reaction to the note from the fan in 2001 makes clear, aware of the power of what she participates in.
"Fame and fortune are fleeting," she says, "but real faithfulness, making a difference in a person's life, lasts for eternity.
Genre: Modern Rock, Alternative
Members: Tiffany Arbuckle Lee, Justin Carpenter, Doy Gardner, Whit Stiles, Rufus Ducote
Current Record Label: Curb Records
Albums: Candycoatedwaterdrops (1994), The Best of Plumb (2000), Beautiful Lumps of Coal (2003), Simply Plumb (2005), Chaotic Resolve (2006), Cut (The Remixes) EP (2006), In My Arms (The Remixes) (2007), Blink (2007), Hang On (The Remixes) (2009), Beautiful History (2009), Drifting (Remixes) (2011), Need You Now (2013)