MusicMusic Features

Evan Plante Returns to Music as True Optimist

'Mental Health' set to release on June 25

cover art for True Optmist's upcoming single "Mental Health"
Evan Plante graces the cover of ‘Mental Health’ (Cover art by Susan and Evan Plante)

Longtime lovers of the Charlotte music scene know the name Evan Plante from his time playing with a number of punk bands locally and elsewhere — Quad, Pleather, Light the Fuse and Run, Escapists, and others. 

Some years ago, he found himself detaching from the music scene, worn out by a lifetime of gigging and indifferent about creating new music. He threw himself into his day job as founder of Dockland Designs, work that scratched his creative itch while also paying the bills. 

He thought he had left music, or at least the creation of it, in the past. He found over time, however, that it wasn’t that easy. Music was a release for Plante, a form of therapy that played an important role in his everyday psyche, a role that couldn’t be replaced. 

Now, after a years-long hiatus, Plante has begun making music again, recording at home with his wife Susan Plante (of indie-rock trio Faye) under the name True Optimist. Their new single “Mental Health” is set to release on June 25, with an album of the same name scheduled to drop on Aug. 2. 

The title comes from Evan’s realization that making music was his way of leveling off his anxiety about what was happening in the world around him. 

“I tried to quit music and eventually realized music was needed in my life for my mental health,” he told Queen City Nerve. 

Those familiar with Plante’s former ventures in music will be surprised by Mental Health, which sounds like nothing he has ever been a part of. It defies genres, gamboling between Latin jazz, post-disco and any number of other sounds and inspirations. Evan is also singing on the project — another first for him. 

In the lead-up to the release of True Optimist’s first single, we talked to Plante about what got him back into making music and the processes behind Mental Health.   

Queen City Nerve: What made you decide to start making music again? 

Evan Plante: I got pretty bored with rock bands after a lifetime of playing in them, and I always liked to put on jazz and bossa nova in the background while I work, so I tried to learn how to think about music in a new and freer way. I also decided that I would spend two months listening to music chronologically. I would put on music from, say, 1961 all day and work, and never skip a song. 1962 the next day. 

Even if I didn’t love every song, I tried to listen for something that made that song special; a hit song. I’d get intrigued by a new rhythm, or a new language of music, or a nostalgic sound from a time past. I discovered that my favorite years for music (currently) are 1980-1983. It was the birth of synthesizers in pop music, and punk and disco were both entering their “post” phase. All of this added up to a new spark of creativity. 

a photo of Evan Plante holding a coffee cup while looking out the window
Evan Plante of True Optimist (Courtesy of Evan Plante)

What’s the process like working solely with Susan on this project? Do you find it easier, harder, etc.? 

Music never feels hard to me. I’m a creative person, and writing music is just something that I have always done. But I was not impressed with my music anymore until I opened my mind up a bit more. Susan studied music theory and classical piano in college, so we’d just play around on drums and piano and explore new paths together. 

It’s actually very easy for us to play music because we are a good team at most things, we come from the same music scene, we understand each other’s tendencies. What we’re doing right now is really effortless to me. It just happens, and it’s very fresh feeling. 

This is a departure from the sounds in any of your earlier outfits. What inspired that and how do you feel about the finished product?

I wanted to reinvent myself musically. I can change, and I should change as I get older. I should get better, in all things. True Optimist is not meant to be a band or to play gigs. It’s really a solitary expression and experimentation in rhythm and style. I don’t really know how it’s happening, because every song I finish, I shake my head in disbelief that I created it. 

I don’t know how it happens, and it’s not influenced by anything other than me and what I want music to be. The Mental Health album is full of genres of music and ideas that I have never attempted to write or play before, and I still just can’t believe that I made this record.

Do you feel like your work in design with Docklands has in any way changed the way you approach making music? 

They’re the same to me. I’m very lucky that I get to express myself creatively all day for work and for play. I do sometimes need to compartmentalize my creative brain between visual art and music. Docklands Design had a bit of a lull to start 2024 and I embraced that time to get really deep in making Mental Health. I ignored a lot of other things except for True Optimist for about four months to finish up the record, but I also knew I needed to pay my bills and make money, and music will never do that. 

The same week that I finished Mental Health, I got a huge opportunity to design and fill the new Sullenberger Aviation Museum’s gift shop and I had to flip the switch to the other creative in me. It’s been a wild ride of a year, and I’m a little worried that True Optimist could demand more time than I have, but that’s not really a problem to be upset about. 

True Optimist singles are scheduled for release on June 25 and July 9, with the full Mental Health album set to drop on Aug. 2. 

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