Joel Plaskett was really, really high the last time we saw him in Toronto, performing for a slightly awkward Canadian Music Week function this past March at the top of the CN Tower.
Old joke, yes, but come on: how many CN Tower jokes are there? And anyway, the way Plaskett tells it, he might have had a better time at the show had he and bandmates Chris Pennell and Dave Marsh — known together as the Joel Plaskett Emergency — actually been high for the experience. Which, for the record, was a lovably loose and rockin’ affair, even if things might have been a little uncomfortable onstage.
“That was a fun, rough gig,” says Plaskett — who returns this Friday and Saturday to play the Queen Elizabeth Theatre — from his home in Dartmouth. “We hadn’t gigged in a while. We’d been recording but we hadn’t played a show in some time, so I enjoyed it.
“But that environment — the glass and the low ceiling and this crap P.A. and all this really weird backline. We started playing and I was, like, ‘Do we sound like us?’
“There was no other way to roll it so I just got into it for what it was.”
Plaskett has learned a thing or two of late about letting go and not lingering too long on imperfections. Earlier this year, he set himself and the Emergency the task of recording, mixing and mastering a tune a week for 10 weeks straight, delivering a finished version of each song to the CBC for airplay at the end of each seven-day stretch.
The eclectic, rough-around-the-edges results — which find him indulging his classic-rawkin’ guitar-hero and Maritime-folkie sides in equal measure — have now been compiled into the summer-perfect Scrappy Happiness, the fifth Joel Plaskett Emergency record and Plaskett’s ninth since the dissolution of Halifax pop heroes Thrush Hermit in 1999.
For a collection of songs that were essentially created as singles to deliver weekly to iTunes, Scrappy Happiness hangs together remarkably well as an album. In his mind, Plaskett says, it’s as conceptually and thematically tight as 2009’s meticulously plotted (and quite wonderful) triple-album, Three, returning as it does to themes of aging, nostalgia and music’s magical ability to “teleport” you to specific points in your past.
Still, his experiences dropping 7-inch singles for his New Scotland label and, specifically, contributing a song to the CBC’s Great Canadian Song Quest in 2009 have put him in a “singles” frame of mind.
“I delivered it at the 11th hour and it was on the radio the next day,” he says. “I was just, like, ‘This is wicked.’ How cool was it to do something and then hear it on the radio the next day? For me, it was really exciting, so I thought if I could bring that energy to a record it would spur me along a little bit.
“I find with the band, anyway, that we’re best when we’re flying by the seat of our pants a little bit and a little combative in the way we play. I don’t know that perfection does the material justice, if you know what I mean, so I just tried to embrace the opposite . . . The one thing I will take from this project and continue on some level is not to be afraid to record a single and just throw it out there whenever.”
Plaskett found the song-a-week process a bit too “fatiguing” to repeat, mind you, so it remains to be seen what kind of challenge he’ll set himself for the next one. Quadruple-album, maybe?
“I’m invigorated by the idea of singles and just getting it out there when you’ve got a good song and you think it’s relevant,” he says. “A lot of records in the ’50s and ’60s and stuff were just collections of singles. They weren’t necessarily all at once. Eddie Cochrane might not have made ‘album’ statements, but that doesn’t diminish how badass a lot of his tunes are. I’m in that mindset a little bit now.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do next.”
by Ben Rayner