Do good things come in three? Dartmouth-based singer-songwriter and rocker Joel Plaskett believes they do. He’s just released Three, the follow-up to 2007’s Polaris Prize-nominated Ashtray Rock. It’s a triple album that loosely documents the three-sided life and journey of a touring musician.
In this age of downsizing, how did the idea of a triple album present itself to you?
I had a handful of songs in threes, with the same word repeated three times, like [the track] Gone, Gone, Gone. I was just writing that way. And part of it was sparked by the fact that I had my studio space in Dartmouth. I had been writing a lot on the road, with a lot of songs half-finished. I decided to break it into three themes: The first record is about going away, or being left behind” record two is about being alone where you are, and record three is coming home.
How did the concept affect the songwriting, once you realized where the project was going?
Not all the songs are slaves to the idea. Demon I wrote in 1998, and there are a bunch of songs that existed before the idea for the record came about. But it definitely affected the material. I love playing with language. So I had a line ‘good things come to those who wait,’ and then I added Irma Thomas’s song Wait, Wait, Wait, which is an old soul song. I had ‘good things come to those who roll,’ and then ‘good things come to those who run.’ And there’s the songs Run, Run, Run and Rollin, Rollin, Rollin. The more I paid attention, the more I realized that I was writing the same thing over and over again, and turning the phrases on their side.
When you repeat the same line or word once, it’s a mistake. But three times, it’s intentional, right?
Exactly. Some people would run from that fear of repetition, but I felt that this whole idea, because everything was in triplicate, I thought the replication was exactly what I wanted. It freed me up. It was a liberating record to make in that respect.
The album, or albums…
It’s a pile of tunes [laughs]
But it isn’t, though. On one level it’s about relationships, and on another it’s about being a musician and the process of making a record.
Well, there’s a narrative. There’s my life at home with my wife and cats and whatnot. But there’s also what I do and my love of music. With any person, if you have somebody else in your life, you try and strike a balance between two people. But you have this third thing, which is your pursuit, especially as an artist. So I was thinking of that third presence â€” two people creating a third thing. It’s like chemistry. You were 331/3 years old when you made the record, and in addition to backup singers Rose Cousins and Ana Egge, the third player was your father, Bill Plaskett. How did that come about?
It started musically, because if he wasn’t a good musician, it wouldn’t have been happening. I wanted to document the way we play guitar together, particularly on a few of the tracks like Heartless, Heartless, Heartless and Beyond, Beyond, Beyond. He’s a really good acoustic guitar player, especially in a traditional finger-style, British folk kind of stuff.
He’s featured more on the second disc, which is a bit darker than the other two.
Each record has a bit of a different feel. It was deliberate. It was nice to make that second record in the context of the others, because I knew it was going to be a blue, quiet record. I think if I released just that second record on its own, people would think I was pretty down and out.
Can you talk about the three-sided journey the album is concerned with, particularly the process of making the album?
With all the travelling I do, there’s a disconnect you feel when you’re not around the people you care about. You get lost in what you do. I very much got lost in what I was doing, making this record. It was so much to focus on. I tried to make the record long because I wanted to make it feel like a journey. And it was a journey to make.
It’s 27 songs. Do you think listeners will be willing to stay with you for such a long ride?
It’s a lot for people to digest. Who knows if the interest is going to hold for other people? But it did for me to make it. Maybe it was a bit selfish, but I feel like it wouldn’t have served its purpose if it was a 30-minute album. That’s not enough of a journey to portray the way I felt about it.
by Brad Wheeler