Wrong place, wrong time?
Musically a lot was happening in 1981 when Calgary punks Plan Nine released their four song EP.
It was the dawn of MTV and even though new wave weirdos Devo had topped the charts a year earlier with “Whip It“, the punk heydays of 1977-1979 must have seemed worlds away. Punk was transitioning with releases from American hardcore bands like the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and Minor Threat plus Canadian legends DOA. That year also saw the sloppy debut from a band called The Replacements.
Still, when the three King brothers moved out to Alberta from Toronto in the fall of 1980 and formed Plan Nine, they became one of Calgary’s earliest in the wave of new groups on the scene. Combining elements of punk, new wave, power-pop and melodic hard rock, their 1981 EP was released on Aura Records and original copies are scarce.
Plan Nine kept a close eye on sociopolitical issues and “I Ain’t No Robot” clearly illustrates that with its look at societal conformity. The song begins with a thick and meaty Sabbbath-like riff before a monotone voice declares “I Ain’t No Robot“, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
“I take my place in line
I join the masses
Defend my church and state
down to my last breath,
but I Ain’t No Robot”
In November, Victoria, BC label Supreme Echo will be re-releasing Plan Nine’s rare classic four song 7” EP with two unreleased demo tracks from 1982, replica labels & sleeve, plus a booklet with flyers, photographs and the band’s story. Limited to 500 copies.
Chris Czech (guitar/vocals) was kind enough to answer a few questions.
When did Plan Nine form and what inspired you all to get together?
It was probably 1978 when I first met Jim King and we started jamming. Soon after, Jim introduced me to his brothers Bob and Mike. Bob played a number of instruments and wrote music, as I was told, but Bob “didn’t jam” so it was a while before I got to hear Bob play. Mike, on the other hand, was a killer rock/blues guitarist and I jammed quite a bit with him and Jim and we gelled nicely. The King brothers had been a band of sorts back in Toronto before I met any of them and eventually Bob, Jim and Mike and myself started to work on some of Bob’s music. I took to it immediately because Bob, who was a keen observer of the human condition, was writing music that pointed out, and often mocked the hypocrisy of politics, social movements and relationships. I was a huge fan of the Sex Pistols and saw parallels with their writing in many of Bob’s tunes. We hooked up with Gerry who played bass and started playing house parties and the odd gig in and around Calgary. As the band developed, I spent a lot of time working with Bob on punk arrangements of many of his tunes which were originally in a folk format. We toyed with a number of names as we planned to do some recording but it wasn’t until Mike and I were on a trip to Hawaii and we saw the movie, “Plan Nine from Outer Space” that we got the band name. After the movie, Mike said, “When we get back I want to name the band Plan Nine”. So there you have it.
“Hypocrisy was a favorite subject for Bob and he liked to point this out to audiences with the hope that they would take a more serious look at their lives and choose to think for themselves.”
Tell us about the track “I Ain’t No Robot.”
“I Ain’t No Robot” is a great tune that pokes a stick in the eye of social conformity. Many people engage in behaviour that complies with the expected norm and at the same time vehemently declare themselves to be original; doing their own thing. This tune HAD to be the 1st song we sprung on the world. Bob wrote many other tunes that reinforced that theme and we peppered them throughout our sets. Hypocrisy was a favorite subject for Bob and he liked to point this out to audiences with the hope that they would take a more serious look at their lives and choose to think for themselves. He wasn’t about mocking or scoffing, he truly wanted to see change in people and shaking them up with his lyrics was how he chose to do that.
What impact do you think your music has had on Calgary’s music scene?
I think “Plan Nine” may have made a slight dent in the punk scene at the time because Bob’s lyrics were not just clever; if you really listened, they forced you to confront your own prejudice towards many issues. I think that other bands that played with us at festivals or heard us play at parties and gigs may have felt challenged to join the fight, as it were, to write music that made you think as well as made you dance.
What are your thoughts on the reissue?
I am very grateful that this opportunity has come to re-engage listeners with a taste of the passion and desire for change that Bob wrote about. Mike also wrote some great lyrics and it’s fantastic that two of his tunes have made it onto the re-issue. It’s always been my opinion that punk music’s job is to force you to confront social issues and to form your own opinions and make change happen in your own life. The energy of this genre captivates and motivates. There’s a ton of tunes in the vault that Bob wrote, many of which we did record but sadly, those original recordings have been lost. It’s my hope that people rediscover Plan Nine and perhaps it will bring some joy to listeners and even kindle something in them.