Joel Plaskett: In Pursuit Of Scrappy Happiness

Record by record, song by song, Halifax’s Joel Plaskett has built quite a reputation for himself in Canada and beyond. After getting his start with rock band Thrush Hermit in the early ’90s, Joel has since become a formidable solo artist with eight individual album releases.

In addition to winning numerous East Coast Music Awards, a Juno Award and numerous Music Nova Scotia Awards, he has performed with Paul McCartney and has also become a go-to producer for artists including David Myles, Sarah Slean and Mo Kenney, who is opening Plaskett’s show at the Capitol Theatre Saturday night.

After his sprawling 2009 record Three which was comprised of a whopping 27 songs spread across three discs, Joel went back to basics for the making of his latest record Scrappy Happiness. This isn’t to say that Joel allowed himself to settle for just any batch of songs;, it was the unique way in which he made the record that is worth noting.

‘I knew from the outset that it was going to be a challenge to follow-up Three ,’ Joel acknowledges. ‘ Three was so structured and so conceptual that eventually I had come to the conclusion that the best way to make a follow-up record was to have no time to think about it. Just get into the studio and do it.’

Just ‘doing it’ involved Joel writing 10 songs in 10 weeks. And while to some this might not sound like a daunting task, he bucked the trend of recording all the songs, mixing them and then releasing them. Instead, he wrote, recorded, mixed and released each of the 10 songs weekly. Once all 10 songs had been released, he then compiled them all and thus his newest record Scrappy Happiness was born.

‘In the time leading up to recording these songs, I had more than enough songs written. Only a handful of them had been played live but what made these songs different is that I made a point of not recording any of them prior to going into the studio. I didn’t want to make a demo and then spend a whole lot of time trying to replicate that energy and trying to make it sound more polished. It doesn’t end up being quite as magical though, so I figured that I would try to capture as many first takes as possible.

‘I didn’t want to be hung up on the recordings if they weren’t perfect,’ Joel says. ‘In the early days of rock’n’roll, singles were released as fast as they could press them. Even these days, an artist only has a small window where their record is considered fresh. When I listen to Scrappy Happiness today, it still feels and sounds really fresh to me.’

Joel says that while Scrappy Happiness still sounds fresh to him even 10 months after he recorded the songs, he also feels that the record boasts more of an eclectic sound when compared to Three . He attributes some of the more playful nature of the record to the fact that he has his backing band The Emergency, comprised of drummer Dave Marsh and bassist Chris Pennell, performing on the bulk of the tracks.

‘There is definitely more of a group personality running through this record,’ Joel says. ‘There is a playfulness that happens when we play together as a band and I think you hear that on this record.’

Joel recently completed an extensive two-week tour of Newfoundland where he performed throughout the province in many of their arts and culture centres. Having played St. John’s but few other places in the province in the past, this tour gave Joel and his band mates a renewed vigour to needing to win over new fans during the shows.

‘All of the shows were great but at some of the shows, I would make a point of asking how many people had seen us live before and only a small group of people had seen us live. Being back at a point where we needed to win those newcomers over was a nice challenge, to bring it back to what it’s all about.’

Admitting that the Maritimes have been a ‘late piece of the touring puzzle,’ Joel has spent much of 2012 on the road. There was a national tour this past May and he recently completed a run of acoustic dates through Western Canada.

‘This year has been all Canada in terms of touring and it has been a lot of fun. There has been a really great energy among us. Everyone is in good spirits.’

At the time of this interview, Joel shares that he is looking at the possibility of performing some shows overseas in the United Kingdom as well as a run of shows through the United States. One thing that he is fairly certain about, however, is that he does not anticipate devoting as much time to promoting Scrappy Happiness overseas as he did with promoting Three .

‘I am still very interested in picking up international opportunities when they look good and will be worthwhile,’ Joel says, while adding that making sure touring remains a financially viable thing is necessary as well.

‘I think one reason why we have stayed pretty close to home thus far with the promotion of Scrappy Happiness is due to the amount of touring behind Three. It was a lot of travelling and while it can be tough to break into new territories, I definitely want to play for anybody I can. It is just a matter of being a little more selective with respect to the opportunities I pursue.’

Article published in the November 30, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript