Joel Plaskett answers his phone somewhere in Halifax and asks if it’s okay if he walks around outside, because he paces when he talks.
Over the periodic din of street noise, the veteran Nova Scotia musician and songwriter talks about how big the country is and how he can’t say he’s actually been everywhere — even though he has been nearly everywhere — until he’s been north.
“I feel really honoured to have the invite,” Plaskett said. “I always think when you experience a landscape, it profoundly affects your understanding of a place, the sense of personal space… I have a feeling that with the North, I’ll feel that even more.”
He pays for parking and the conversation shifts from music to politics, the upcoming federal election and his disappointment with the way the country is being run. He’s been giving these things a lot of thought lately.
He calls Stephen Harper’s electioneering micromanagement of media “literally a propaganda campaign,” and says — like a true Maritimer — it’s fine if you disagree, just be honest because people have a right to know where you stand. He said it’s no wonder everyone on the left seems extreme because Harper’s government has pushed all the centrists there.
Since we’re talking about Nunavut, the discussion leads to climate change and the role Aboriginal people have traditionally played as environmental stewards.
When told of Clyde River’s fight to protect their marine hunting grounds from seismic testing and oil and gas exploration, Plaskett said he found it “really inspiring” and asked whether it was dividing the community, which I thought was a good question.
“The Indigenous populations are the original shepherds of the land who understood the way these ecosystems worked and they were really self-sustaining in a way that wasn’t harming the environment,” Plaskett said.
“And the fact that they hold a lot of land rights is actually one of the few things that gives me hope, that not everything is for sale. I really hope that within these communities, that people recognize the power they hold.”
We talk for a while about indigenous communities opposing resource development and the importance of mainstream support of those communities. He said many Aboriginal societies aren’t yet spoiled by unchecked capitalism.
But he recognizes he could come off as self-righteous. He knows that as a touring musician for more than 20 years — first with indie fan-favourite Thrush Hermit and later solo or with various collections of musicians like the Emergency — he’s earned a living by burning a lot of fossil fuels.
Plaskett says he tries to mitigate that consumption in other ways, including being vocal about it whenever possible. You can drive a car and still hope one day to live in a society run on renewable energy, he says.
“You got me going!” he says after a long sigh, before adding, “Ah, I get tired talking about it.” Which doesn’t seem the case at all.
A shapeshifter when it comes to music and ideas, Plaskett has influenced a generation of Canadian musicians and songwriters with irresistible lyrics, full-spectrum musical styles and charming performance.
Even if you don’t care for his music, you can’t help but have a good time at his shows. At home on stage, he thrives on interaction with his audience much like fellow Haligonian and Alianait favourite David Myles. There must be something in the water out east.
Born in historic Lunenburg, N.S., Plaskett says he yearned for his favourite bands to come east of Montreal when he was younger. They rarely did.
It wasn’t as remote as Iqaluit, but he can sympathize with Nunavummiut who feel live-music-deprived, he says.
“It felt a bit more remote than say what Toronto would get. There are all these degrees of separation. But up there, it’s really not on the touring network. Like, you’re not going to pass through it on the way to Japan,” he say, laughing.
“With that in mind, I really recognize the value of music when it gets to small places.”
Live music brings people together, he says. It creates a space to exchange ideas, discover new sounds or find common ground with people you might not expect to.
“I love playing and as you can tell, I can talk a blue streak,” he laughs. “I won’t have any problems enjoying people’s company up there and having something to talk about.”
Look for an eclectic set list populated with tracks off his new album Park Avenue Sobriety Test, the latest of eight studio albums he’s released since starting a solo career in 1999.
His repertoire spans from heart-wilting ballads to cocky rock and roll, sometimes with Celtic echoes, other times overlaid with 1950s rhythms or distorted guitar.
He’s not just a player of all music, he’s a fan. That becomes obvious after the first note.
Plaskett takes to the stage at Joamie school in Iqaluit at 7:30 on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4. Tickets are $24 in advance and $27 at the door and are available at the usual places — Arctic Ventures Marketplace and online here.
In Iqaluit, Plaskett will be joined by Alianait Battle of the Bands winner Joshua Haulli from Igloolik. And, speaking of Igloolik, Plaskett will be playing a show there too, Oct. 6 at the community hall at 7:30pm. Admission is free.