After releasing a triple LP masterpiece (Three) in 2009, Joel Plaskett found himself wondering where he could possibly go next. He’d made poppier records (Ashtray Rock, Truthfully Truthfully) and folkier records (La De Da), and had fulfilled grand artistic visions (the aforementioned Three). For the recently released Scrappy Happiness, Plaskett found new energy and vitality within strict, self-imposed parameters.
“Three was really sprawling,” Plaskett tells me, “and was really well-received, which was super-encouraging, but I felt like it was as complete a statement as I could make in terms of taking the album format to an epic place. So I was kinda (trying to figure out) how I could deconstruct that a little bit and not get too precious and hung up on whether I’m making the right decisions and whether it’s a good response to Three. So I just put out a deadline: every Thursday I had to deliver a song so that it could be released to iTunes and it’d be on the radio the following Tuesday. I found that invigorating just from a working standpoint; to be really in the moment with something and have that moment continue into the public. As opposed to sitting on a record for six to eight months which is usually what happens.”
Ten weeks and 10 songs later, Plaskett and his band, The Emergency, had Scrappy Happiness. The record perhaps lacks the careful consideration of previous releases like Three and Ashtray Rock, but trumps them in terms of energy, attitude, and free-wheeling rock ’n’ roll.
“The title tied into the approach, and (into) my frame of mind these days,” Plaskett explains. “Sort of ‘enjoy yourself and move on’. That’s kind of what I’m really trying to do. Just bring a lot of positivity to the stage and to the album. Not to say that the album is all positive emotions or anything; just the nature in which it was recorded. And it’s sort of lyrically about the pursuit of happiness — recognizing that the things that make you happy are often kind of unfinished. At least for me, the things I like about rock ’n’ roll, and about life, are kinda the weird moments. When things are really perfect, or finely tuned, I don’t see myself in them. I see myself in the mistakes,” he laughs.
Though a departure from his most recent work, Scrappy Happiness bears many Plaskett trademarks. Throughout his career, he has consistently celebrated his home province (Nova Scotia), his teenage years, and, particularly, his early experiences with rock ’n’ roll. On this record, there are nods to his first band, Thrush Hermit (I’m Yours), the Halifax harbour (Harbour Boys), and a couple to early heroes: Husker Du, Cactus, and Marillion (You’re Mine, North Star).
“Have you ever seen the movie Cop Land? There’s a scene where Stallone’s driving into town, and he’s driving past the population sign that says ‘Such and Such, New Jersey, Pop. 1,280’, and Pop. 1,280 is a book by Jim Thompson from the ’60’s, this crime writer that I love. I was like ‘Cool! I’m gonna love this movie!” he laughs. “And I love that, when you’re let in on some influence, or some secret, or something that inspired it.
“I feel like part of my job is to create a world, for my audience and for my band; sort of frame it for people so when they hear the records, they can see it connected to something rooted. It’s not like it’s coming out of nowhere. To the point where I repeat myself, but I don’t really have a problem with (that). There (are) times when I go chasing these ideas, and I do try to push myself as a writer, where I’m trying to find a new chordal thing or something that just doesn’t feel like me. But then, when sometimes it’s like ‘Hey, that sounds like something I’ve done’, well then it sounds like me. As long as it’s exciting, I’m still gonna go for it.”