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Canoe Review

Record, mix, master, release for airplay, and ultimately digitally sell a song a week, for ten weeks.

That was the ambitious agenda that veteran indie East Coast musician Joel Plaskett, along with Joel Plaskett Emergency drummer Dave Marsh and bassist Chris Pennell, set for themselves earlier this year.

The ten songs would ultimately make up Scrappy Happiness, the latest JPE album, which was released in its entirety on March 27 with a cross-Canada theatre tour starting Friday (April 13) in Victoria and wrapping up with a two-night stand at Toronto’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre on May 18-19.

Scrappy Happiness follows Plaskett’s last solo album, the 2009 triple disc Three.

“I wanted to do something different from the last record, which was very composed and epic,” said Dartmouth, N.S.,-based Plaskett, 36, in Toronto recently as he launched Canadian Music Week with a high (literally) profile JPE gig atop the CN Tower.

“I got the idea for this record partly from being commissioned by the CBC to write a song for the (2009) (Great) Canadian Song Quest. A couple years ago I wrote a song for the Cabot Trail and I had to turn it around really, really fast and I delivered it at the last possible moment of the deadline and it was on the radio the next day. And I thought it was really neat how quickly something, if there’s a mandate and a deadline and an avenue in which to release it, can go out to the public. And I was like, ‘Why doesn’t this happen with bands all the time?’ ”

Plaskett had already written all the tunes but gave himself, Marsh and Pennell a weekly deadline of Thursday at noon to starting recording a song and finish it for delivery to Rich Terfry’s Radio 2 Drive program on CBC for airplay, and to iTunes for digital sale the following Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t do every record like this, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot to be learned from having deadlines and to let it go and to get it out there while it’s fresh,” said Plaskett. “I stand behind all the songs. There’s some recordings I’d probably change. Some turned out better than others in terms of mixes and all the technical stuff and even my vocal performance or whatever. But I’m a firm believer if the song is good, people are going to hear that, first and foremost. Words and melody.”

As for the tone of Scrappy Happiness — named for a line from the record’s opening song, Lightning Bolt, about life moving fast, so people should find happiness even if its imperfect — the band, in Plaskett’s words, is “rocking out again.”

It makes it harder for him as a singer and musician on the road but, in the end, it’s worth it.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s more work for me, like I have to cover more on guitar, and the singing is more intense ’cause when we’re rocking I have to get up and above the band. And that is the hardest part about getting back into full swing on a rock show level. My trepidation is always of a physical one because I’m not the strongest guy and the songs — the fact that they’re loud and rocking — are lyrical so I have to deliver. Sometimes I wish I could just play guitar.”

by Jane Stevenson