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Joel Plaskett: Two can be as bad as one

– so Halifax rocker Joel Plaskett decided to get really ambitious and construct a triple album

“I felt with this record, if I just make it ridiculous, then maybe people will pay attention to it. Because how hard is it to get attention? It’s difficult. People’s attention spans [are] so limited, so why not demand their attention?”

Joel Plaskett sits in the back room of a popular Kensington Market watering hole in Toronto. He’s wearing blue jeans with a matching jean jacket, and there’s an affable grin pasted on his boyish face. He’s not giving off the slightest indication that he’s about to release the most ambitious musical project of his career: not one new record, but three. On the same day.

It seems almost preposterous that, in this iTunes era of schizophrenic listening habits and free-falling attention spans, Plaskett – one of the country’s foremost singer-songwriters – decided a triple album would be a good idea. We have hard drives masquerading as jukeboxes and our iPods permanently set to “shuffle” precisely so we don’t have to listen to an album – gasp! – in its entirety, right? Even Plaskett admits he’ll “listen to half of one [song] and skip to another one” just like the rest of us inattentive schmucks.

But perhaps he’s exactly the man to do it. His last album was the conceptual rock opera Ashtray Rock – a finalist for the Polaris Prize in 2007 – so he’s no stranger to thinking big.

“Why am I here if not to do something ambitious?” he asks on a recent Friday afternoon. “I like to wear different hats. I like to pick up the acoustic guitar. I like to play rock ‘n’ roll. I love soul music. I love folk music. I like fiddles. I like saxophone. How do I marry all that together?”

It’s a polygamous marriage. Three, which hits stores today, spans 27 songs over three discs. Plaskett, 33, describes it as “brief within each album” yet “big on a large, conceptual level,” and admits he doesn’t know how people will react

“I imagine there is a prejudice [to triple albums],” he admits. “It is self-indulgent, but who am I doing this for?”

Maybe he’s on to something; both Grammy-nominated rapper Lupe Fiasco and sultry R & B songstress Ciara plan to release triple albums this year. But it wasn’t Plaskett’s original plan. Initially, he wanted to record an album full of songs whose title features the same word three times, i.e. Deny, Deny, Deny. That might be too gimmicky, he thought, plus it excluded songs he’d written that didn’t fit that mould. Keeping with the theme of threes, Plaskett decided upon the triple album. He was 33 when he recorded the bulk of the album, and three times three is nine, which is the number of songs per record. Originally he wanted to record 33 songs before deciding that might be a bit much.

“Granted, there’s still a novelty to what I’ve released,” he says.

Plaskett is currently producing the new album for P.E.I. pop-rockers Two Hours Traffic, and he just finished an unlikely collaboration with East Coast rapper Classified, who contacted Plaskett to express his admiration for the single Fashionable People. Plaskett wrote the emcee a hook for a song called One Track Mind, which is about “completely obsessive” people. Does that describe him when working on music?

“It’s funny. It came to me when I was knee-deep in this triple record … and not paying attention to all sorts of other stuff,” he says. “There are times where I can’t calm my mind down. At night I’m lying in bed and words are flying through my mind and I have to get up out of bed and write down all the stuff that I’m thinking because it’s going to be gone if I let myself go to sleep, and I won’t fall asleep until I get it out of my system.”

He’ll have the chance to get the new songs out of his system when he embarks on a cross-Canada tour beginning next month.

“The idea of it coming out and then having to tour it is a little bit daunting, but it’s also exciting. It means it’s going to take on a life [of its own] and songs will be put to the test,” he says. “The challenge will be trying to decide which songs I’m going to play nightly.”

by Mark Medley