Belle Plaine, a.k.a. Melanie Hankewich, will perform at the Vic Juba Community Theatre on Feb. 2. - Photo Submitted
By Katie Ryan
If you’re looking for Saskatchewan singer-songwriter Belle Plaine while she’s on tour and she can’t be found on stage or in the van, it’s quite likely Plaine is searching for a place to grab a bite. But not just any place – Plaine knows a thing or two about restaurants and good service.
“When I am on tour, if you want to know where I am eating, it’s in a booth at the diner that’s been there for 50 years,” said Plaine, who took her stage moniker from the Saskatchewan village of Belle Plaine.
A born performer, Plaine, a.ka. Melanie Hankewich, began classical voice lessons at a young age, studied music at Grant MacEwan College and worked at a recording studio, however, with her itch to travel, she eventually found herself waiting tables in Sydney, Australia.
“It wasn’t the career track that I wanted to follow,” she said. “I ended up quitting that job at 21 and going off to be a waitress because that seemed more alluring at that time. It was more fitting to my personality and that got me off on the track of travelling.
“With a certain amount of waitressing, there’s a real romanticism about it and old diners, that kind of stuff,” Plaine added. “I hope I won’t be waitressing again, but I will certainly be frequenting them and tipping the waitresses quite well.”
This week marks the official release of Plaine’s first full-length album, Notes From A Waitress, the title track of which blossomed from her stint in Sydney. The songstress will be criss-crossing Western Canada throughout February promoting her work, including a stop in the Border City on Feb. 2 at the Vic Juba Community Theatre.
Touring can be a challenge, but Plaine said she takes a few lessons she learned while waitressing to heart, such as “how to have grace under fire,” when she travels from show to show.
“I really enjoyed working with people and having to deal with the public. If you want to get tipped you have to learn how to treat people well, even if your day is going terribly and I think that really applies to being a musician as well,” she said.
“It’s not easy to be on the road and sometimes you wake up a few hours after you went to bed and you get on the road, drive to the next show and they have been looking forward to you turning up. I think you really have an obligation to treat fans well and honour what you’ve chosen to do, which is go there and play, put on a good show and put on your best face.”
Several of the songs on Notes From A Waitress, including Port Angeles, Vegas and Waikiki, read like a travelogue, and according to Plaine, are also a throwback to the vocal jazz of the 1940s to 1960s.
“I just think they were so ahead of their time. They were in front of all-male bands, for the most part and they carried their own, and I love that,” said Plaine, listing Peggy Lee and Julie London as examples. “That’s what really drives me to it, that really upfront femininity in a way that also meant being sure of yourself and having a lot of confidence on stage.
“I tried to be clever, like those writers of that era, in the songs. Some of them come across more clever than others,” she added with a laugh. “Some of them are more love songs. One of my favourites, it’s one of the last tracks, it’s called Legendary. It’s just a very shimmery waltz that I think really captures that small town love story.”
For anyone interested in listening to Plaine’s acoustic, storytelling music, she promises the “musician’s musician” is still out there.
“You just have to dig for it a little bit,” she said. “I think there is certainly an audience I found through touring over the last year and a half that is interested in quiet shows that are focused on connecting with the audience, rather than watching musicians on stage that are sort of disconnected from the people in the crowd. Especially on tour, I want people to see that I recognize their presence.”