Joel Plaskett: Past, present, future
September 22, 2011 10:07 PM
XW: Everyone wants to know what’s next for you after the big Three album.
JP: Well, we’re working our way towards a new band record in the new year. We’re going to start recording, and it’ll be out probably in March or April. But, I think we’ll start releasing stuff in January. We’re going to release a song a week for ten weeks, almost like a series of singles, and then put it out as an album. So, it’ll be an interesting experience. The pressure will be on. I just wanted to try something the opposite of Three, which was so sprawling you know, so this will be cool.
XW: You just released a compilation album of stuff you’ve done throughout your career, like demos, and B-sides. (EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations). So, why did you decide to release that now?
JP: I just thought it was the time to help me revisit some old stuff to clean out the closet for the new record. On previous records, I’ve always gone back to older material that maybe didn’t get used on records and thought should I re-record this. Songs that I’ve always liked but couldn’t find a home on an album. Didn’t want to do that with the next record. [I] just wanted it to be totally fresh. So, I put out anything that I thought was worthy from the back catalogue of recordings or B-sides and rarities. Also revisiting some of the demos we did of songs. I thought the demos had a spark to them that even the finished recordings didn’t. There’s of a version of Extraordinary on it that was like our first crack at that song, which I thought was pretty cool. Also having created a Thrush Hermit box set last year that was going through cassettes for months. Getting this collection together was a much smaller task. This was all the stuff I thought was worthy from the last ten years, so now I have a clean house again. If all the old reels and tapes get lost in a fire, it’s out there (laughs).
XW: The title of this album is quite long. How did you come up with it?
JP: Well I was just kind of riffing. It was stuff that I had done by myself and stuff that I had done with the Emergency so I couldn’t really call it one or the other. Then I was thinking Emergencys because it was different band incarnations on the recording. Then, I just tried to make it long and rambling and make a title that reflected the collective nature of the material because, it comes from a lot of different sources.
XW: It was released on vinyl with the CD as well. Are you an avid supporter of vinyl records?
JP: Yeah, big time, yeah! Like right now I’ve got most of my catalogue pressed on vinyl. The last two records are being pressed. They should arrive later this week. Right now La De Da and Medical Attention are being shipped, but everything else is available on vinyl. For me, it’s kind of like much more of a collector’s item and it sounds better as well. For me, in my own personal record collection I feel like I haven’t made a record until I can file it amongst my own record collection. Now that they’re all pressed on vinyl, it’s kind of impressive looking. I just think the format is really timeless. The artwork’s amazing. CDs are just like glorified cassettes, you know. They scratch up. They’re not even as robust as cassettes. They’re okay, but I still think vinyl’s the way to go.
XW: So let’s talk about your new label New Scotland Records. What kind of privileges and responsibilities do you have with that now that you’re supporting local talent?
JP: I sort of started the label to put out singles and stuff that I put out with friends and as well have a home for the vinyl. My label Maple is really great, but they’re not big on vinyl because the profit margin isn’t good; it doesn’t sell a lot. So, if I start this label, it was initially to put out the vinyl and these singles that I started recording in my studio, and Dave Marsh’s record, my drummer Dave. Awesome drummer and made a great record because he’s a great songwriter, so I wanted to have a home for that record. It’s kind of like a labour of love. It’s not like a label that’s turned a great profit; it’s more like a place to kind of get a cool collection of recordings and friends and to build a story. I feel like that’s a thing that’s missing a lot now as labels start dying off and the internet’s changed access to everything all the time. The idea of something being curated is a really important thing, because if you create this place that people then want to go to check out. That’s what’s neat about Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, for example. Like, they’re releasing old 7 inches and new stuff. To me, that’s the cool thing about the States, where it’s a little easier to create that because there’s so many more people to tap into these little niches. It’s a little bit harder in Canada because the number of people drawn to any given niche is smaller. So, it’s a challenge but I think worthy; building a story with a label, connecting the dots between myself and other artists. Slowly more and more people are talking about it. There’s still some work to be done, but I have some really great people helping organize it.
XW: Would you say that [the label] is probably one of your proudest accomplishments so far?
JP: I haven’t had time to sit back and think about it, frankly. I’m pleased with the way it’s going, and when I looked at the website recently I saw the body of work that’s on there. I see the collection of stuff that’s by all these friends of mine who I really, really admire. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I come from a time in the Halifax scene when Sloan had Murder Records and signed Thrust Hermit my first band and gave us the opportunity to go on tour with them. The sense of community was really strong in the early 90s in Halifax. I really acknowledge the opportunity that was given. I’m not in a huge position to present people with big opportunities. It’s not like if someone puts a record on New Scotland, it suddenly sells like hot cakes. It’s made my life richer as far as my musical community of friends and stuff. I really feel like it’s adding to something and people are benefiting from it and I am too. I think that I learned a lot from the legacy that Sloan and those guys left in Halifax which is really remarkable.
XW: With our opener tonight, Tim Chaisson, you wrote a lot of songs with him on his last album. What was the writing process like for that?
JP: Gordie Johnson kind of hooked me up with Tim. Gordie said, “Hey I’m going to produce this record for Tim. It’d be great if you could produce some records for him.” So, Tim came into Halifax, into my studio, and he just showed me some songs he was working on, some ideas he had. Some were half finished, and we finished them together. Gordie worked on some of the stuff as well. It was just a collective effort to help Tim make the best record that he could, because he’s a super talented guy. Great fiddler first of all, really, really good singer, and he’s got a lot of front man qualities too, you know. You can tell he’s a lifer; he loves to play, and that’s what I like to see. When you see that spark, where that person’s in it and its not a fleeting thing. You can kind of tell that with certain people more than others. There’s a lot of people who are really talented but you can tell their drive is not to be a touring recording artist. Not to say they shouldn’t make records, but when you see someone excited and raring to go, then to me that’s part of the desire to get involved, when you see that. We’ve played a bunch of shows since then, and the record seems to have done well, and I’m really proud to have worked on it. In terms of writing the thing, it was just kind of like sitting down with guitars and saying, “Show me what you got!” A little bit of back and forth, challenging ideas, stuff that I didn’t think was working and some of my own ideas. But, I usually tried to put the ball in his court first. Some of the songs were half finished and didn’t have the perspective. I was just helping him focus it, because I’m thinking if I don’t understand it, and I’m a type of person who pays like a ton of attention to lyrics, if I’m not quite getting where its coming from, then the casual listener is really not going to get it. So, that’s where I start when I’m writing or critiquing.
XW: How do you feel playing for a university audience here at StFX for frosh week as opposed to playing at a place such as the Rebecca Cohn Theatre in Halifax?
JP: Well, the biggest plus of the frosh week shows, because they’re not without their challenges, because their loud, raucous, people are drinking. It’s a young crowd, and it’s a crowd sometimes who doesn’t know my music, so sometimes it’d be like getting up there and not knowing if people are listening. Hasn’t been the case. For the most part, it’s been really, really good. The real positive thing is it is a young crowd. There’s all these people who’ve never heard the music, and I can go out there and make a bunch of new fans. So, for me it’s really a great opportunity to get in front of a cool young audience and a new audience that hopefully will become fans. They’re challenging in a way that’s different than going out and preaching to the converted at the Rebecca Cohn, people who pay the ticket and show up because they are fans, not necessarily the case with the frosh week shows. The only thing that concerns me, I saw it a little bit at UPEI and once last night at Acadia, is fights break out. That’s the only thing that gets a little bit discouraging. I know Sloan have had challenges like that too at frosh week gigs and had beers thrown at them. There’s just a caution that I show up with. I don’t like when stuff starts getting too out of control, because I really want people to feel safe at my shows. The cool thing that’s been happening is that I have this audience, and the more I play I’ve got 10-year-olds showing up with their parents, and I’ve got 65 year olds, and I’ve got everybody in-between, teenagers and twenty-somethings. So, it’s a really wide audience, and that’s what’s making my shows really cool. Frosh week is a much more focused university event. Really cool, but I just don’t like to see any violence or disrespect. Crowd surfing can get to be a problem too, because you can just see girls who are enjoying themselves singing and then a guy comes along and she gets smacked in the head with a foot because he’s getting passed along in the crowd. So, I kind of urge people to have fun in that regard. Have fun. Don’t go crazy.
XW: So before shows, do you have any traditions with the band to get yourself psyched up for the show?
JP: No, just some routine. We’re not like a band that says the Lord’s Prayer before we play, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Occasionally, there’s an “All right boys, lets go to work.” Actually one thing we do, it started years ago with my old bass player, Ian. We play a game called “Bottle”, where we take a bottle that’s not totally full but half full of water and just toss it around. It’s a good way to loosen up and gets your balance going. It really makes you focus, and part of playing music is hitting the beats in the right place. Eating is really important. Sleep is huge for me. If I don’t get 8 hours, my voice doesn’t show up. I’ve got to keep the drinking down to a couple whiskeys to get the voice going, and that’s about it. I’m not a big post-show party guy just because I can’t sustain it. It’s everybody’s night to go nuts, but it’s my night to go to work, and I love it. I try to bring the party to the stage, but I have to most of the time cap it.
XW: Do you still get nervous before you go on stage?
JP: A little bit, yeah. I’m always hoping we can play the best we can, so I always hold a certain degree of nervousness for my voice showing up. This is night five of five in a row, so I’ve got my fingers crossed. But then I’m like if it cracks, and I can’t hit the notes, most people don’t care. Frankly, most people don’t notice, and those people who do notice, I don’t really care because people are out to have a good time, and if I remind myself of that then I stop getting paranoid, and it kind of goes away. I don’t get too nervous, except sometimes in new environments, new kinds of shows.
XW: Like the Paul McCartney gig, for example. Would that be one of those times?
JP: That was a bit nerve racking. That kind of had some other circumstances around it that were challenging. There was a fight that broke out near my house the night before, and I was up at five in the morning giving police statements. The guy got beaten up really badly, and it was kind of traumatic. So, I didn’t have any sleep that night. I’d had two hours sleep before the gig, and we had to load in at 8 in the morning. So, we had to load in, and I was really out of sorts, because I mean this guy got beaten up bad. He was in critical condition in the hospital the next day. He survived, from what I know. I didn’t know who it was, but I went out in the street and called 911. He got beaten up by some guys coming out of a park. So, we loaded in our gear and then we got a line check before we went on, which means getting your monitors dialled and ready to play in front of 40,000 people. I had a seven-piece band that night, and then the power went down for the whole site, the generators blew. So, they pulled us off stage, and we hadn’t even dialled our monitors or anything. It took them half an hour to fix it, so this show was running behind, but they had to keep it on time. Got the generators up, and they were like, “You’re on!” I was like, “Are we getting announced?”, and they were like “No, you’re on!” I counted in the song and all our monitors were like wild. No one had gotten their mix on stage, and we played for an hour, and it was like a total blur.
XW: Was that the largest crowd you’ve played for?
JP: Canada day, a year previous, we played for what must have been 50, 000 people at the parliament buildings. I mean, people for as far as the eye can see. We only did like a song or two. I think we did True Patriot Love and maybe Face of the Earth. It was like when Ashtray Rock came out. I just remember this sea of people. We played one song in the afternoon, then a song or two at night right before Blue Rodeo came out.
XW: So now that you’re a married man, has that changed your musical style at all? Has it changed your writing process at all?
JP: Even before I was married, I was with my wife Becky for a long time. All I can say is that she’s informed my music greatly, and she’s a really talented artist, and I find her really inspiring. She’s made my music better without a doubt. Being married hasn’t really changed the writing, I don’t think, but it changes something in your mind. It changes that level of commitment that you embark upon. Certainly makes you feel more like an adult in a really subtle way. So, maybe that way it’s informed my writing. The challenge of playing rock n’ roll – they say it’s a young man’s game – you know, is getting older. I sing about my youth, but at the same time I want to sound like the age that I am, so I try and make music that reflects where I am in my life. It kind of keeps changing, so that as people get older the music still rings true. The guys I admire just keep getting better as they get older. I saw Springsteen a year and a half ago two nights at the Philadelphia Spectrum before they tore it down. He delivered it. He played for three hours the first night. The next night was three hours and fifteen minutes. He killed it. Like, he levelled this place. They were tearing it down anyway, but he destroyed it before the wrecking ball showed up. It was unbelievable. I mean, he’s 60! It was an education. He out rocked anybody I’ve seen in their 20s. It made me feel better about getting older. I feel like we’re getting to be a better band. I’m getting to be a better performer.
XW: Going forward do you see yourself being like Bruce Springsteen, just going on until you drop basically?
JP: (Laughs) I don’t know! I don’t have a backup plan. I’m getting more into record productions, and I love being in the studio. My live commitments will come and go, I think, but I’m always going to play live. I have to do that. I don’t have some other fall back. Music’s been my life since I was sixteen years old, and I’m thirty-six now so I don’t see that changing. Something would have to shift.
XW: Any last words for our listeners and readers?
JP: I’m looking forward to tonight! I always get a sense of a real great music community up here in StFX and I appreciate it. I know my record gets spun up here in Antigonish. These shows have always been fun. Gigs close to my back door make me happy. Antigonish has always been a wicked music town, going right back to the 90s. When my band Thrust Hermit came through we always had a wicked time.