In the last three years, Halifax rock hero Joel Plaskett has released an incredible amount of quality music. First came the triple-disc solo record Three (2009), a remarkably easy album to get into despite its daunting length, then its follow-up EP Three More, followed by the closet-clearing, ridiculously-titled rarities compilation EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations (2011).
Fans and industry folks alike would have granted Plaskett more than enough time away after such a wave of material. But he didn’t stop, and in fact tightened his schedule even more for Scrappy Happiness, his first album with backing band The Emergency (bassist Chris Pennell and drummer Dave Marsh) since Ashtray Rock (2007).
Scrappy Happiness holds 10 songs, each one recorded over a week-long period and pre-released to iTunes and CBC radio. During his appearance at this year’s Canadian Music Fest, we sat down with Plaskett to learn how and why it came to life.
You’re coming into this record off an extensive solo collection, Three (2009), and a rarities comp, EMERGENCYs … does Scrappy Happiness feel like starting anew?
That was part of it. That compilation definitely cleaned house. It was a palate cleanser, which allowed me to say, “What’s next?” I had this record in mind at the time, just waited for the right time.
What did you have in mind?
My desire was to do it without a lot of time to second-guess, and I wanted there to be an “angle” to it. I don’t mean a gimmick, just something for people to talk about. Focusing on one song per week is a very neat thing. You don’t have time to step outside [the music] a week later and say, “Is this any good?” because it’s already out. I wanted to be as “in-the-moment” as I could be, and I think that’s part of the problem with the music industry nowadays, everything takes a long time to come out. Not everybody can be Radiohead. I romanticize a time when things came quickly … Neil Young’s “Ohio” coming right on the heels of its tragedy.
That is the one thing I would change about the industry … taking two to three years to put out 40 minutes of material that might be “pretty good,” you hope, seems ludicrous to me.
I agree. We think of Neil Young’s long career, but from about ’69 to ’74 you hear a lot of his music. And like Dylan, there could be weird missteps. But another was coming in six months! You can’t give up because someone switched [styles.] Whereas now, three years later, your favourite band drops something you’re not really into … will it be another three years before the next one that I’m not even sure will come? You give up on them.
For Scrappy Happiness, you gave yourself a week to record each song. How did that actually work out?
The first few came really quick. I was working hard, my energy was fresh. A couple went right down to the deadline …
You had an actual deadline?
Every Thursday at noon, to be delivered. I met it every week but was sometimes mastering at like nine in the morning.
Did you keep The Emergency on-call?
Nope, we did the rhythm tracks every Thursday. Those days were super-exhausting, running to meet the deadline at noon then starting right into it again that afternoon.
by Jesse Skinner