Joel Plaskett – Nice guy finishes first

Halifax native Joel Plaskett’s music career is building momentum with each successive release.

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His 2007 record Ashtray Rock garnered him a remarkable six East Coast Music Awards and was also in the running for the annual Canadian Polaris Music Prize.

He is out promoting a new record (the recently released Three) which is sure to bring him even more success.

The first time I made contact via phone with Plaskett for this article I had the misfortune of waking him up although, he said his alarm had sounded at the exact same time I called.

Even though he sounded a tad groggy, Plaskett did his best to make me not feel guilty about having stirred him from sleep.

“I just need 15 minutes,” he said. “Can you call me back?”

How could I possibly say no to such a nice guy?

I first met Joel Plaskett in the early 1990s when our respective bands were slugging it out in the trenches (a term I use loosely) of the Maritime Music Scene.

Basking in the glow brought to the region by bands like Sloan and Eric’s Trip, our bands might have chosen different musical paths but we identified with each other if only because we were all essentially the same age.

But more on Plaskett’s history in just one moment.

A short 15 minutes later, I reach Plaskett again and began an insightful and delightful 45-minute conversation with one of the East Coast’s best talents.

Joel Plaskett together with Rob Benvie and Ian McGettigan formed pre-high school group Nabisco Fonzie.

They then changed their band name to The Hoods before deciding on the name Thrush Hermit in 1991.

For a band who played their first show at the Shearwater Yacht Club for a pizza, they would go on to share the stage with bands like Urge Overkill, Guided By Voices and Redd Kross, as well as being mentored by Halifax compatriots Sloan while also scoring a major label deal with Elektra Records.

After releasing their triumphant Clayton Park record in 1999, the band called it quits at the top of their game, much to the disappointment of fans everywhere.

“Rob had decided that he didn’t want to do it anymore but there was also a divide in terms of the direction of the band, which was changing,” Plaskett says of the split.

“If I look back on the situation now, I could have seen it coming but after Rob made his decision, Ian and I more or less decided that it should be the end of Thrush Hermit if Rob wasn’t involved since it was the three of us who started the band.”

Deciding to pack it in when fans feel a band is really coming into their own is quite the courageous decision. Did Plaskett ever feel worried about what the future would bring?

“I definitely remember thinking ‘This is a drag, where do I go from here?'” Plaskett starts . . . before qualifying that he had already started amassing songs for his solo work.

Plaskett’s debut solo effort In Need Of Medical Attention was actually completed prior to his group’s final record coming out.

“We all had musical interests outside of Thursh Hermit,” Plaskett continues, “and it wasn’t an acrimonious split by any means. Looking back upon it now, the music is almost less important than the experience and all that we learned.”

Indeed, there were fond memories for Plaskett from his days with Thrush Hermit but one can’t discount that it must have also helped shape exactly what he wanted from his solo career.

“Absolutely, Thrush Hermit helped me define what I wanted the next time around and that was to front a band as a singer instead of being one quarter of a bigger unit,” he says.

“Being part of a democracy was cool but I realized that I wanted to be in control. That being said, I love the collaboration aspect of my work with The Emergency (who serve as Plaskett’s backing band); we felt like a band right away so it’s like the best-case scenario all around.”

For those who have not had the good fortune to see Joel Plaskett perform live, he is one of the Maritimes’ most charismatic front men. The girls love him and there is no shortage of musicians who would kill to be him.

This natural charm combined with the killer pop songs he pens make for a potentially lethal combination.

While he had a core audience from the beginning of his solo career, his fan base grew exponentially after his song Nowhere With You became a Top 10 hit at Adult Contemporary Radio, as well as being prominently featured in a Zellers commercial.

JP3.jpgIt all builds a seemingly perfect storm of publicity for Three, his newest and most ambitious record to date comprised of three CDs of nine songs each.

You read that right. In a day and age where the single is king and the album format is dying a painful death, Plaskett delivers 27 songs with nary a stinker among them; a remarkable feat for any musician.

What is even more remarkable is that Plaskett had originally worked on 33 songs for the record, leaving fans to wonder when they will have the fortune of hearing those ‘missing’ six songs?

“I actually only have the bed tracks for three of those six songs,” Plaskett says. “The other three are fully completed and were originally going to be included on the record but I ended up cutting them off to help avoid some repetition and tighten the record up some.”

The tracks appearing on Three were recorded by Plaskett himself in his home studio and although the members who comprise the Emergency appear throughout the record, this is by-and-large a Joel Plaskett record as opposed to a Joel Plaskett Emergency album.

Helping give Three its homey, intimate appeal is fellow Haligonian Rose Cousins, Brooklyn native Ana Egge and Plaskett’s father Bill, a longtime musician himself.

All three musicians will be accompanying Plaskett at his upcoming shows in New Brunswick as well as the shows in Western Canada.

So in other words, longtime Plaskett fans attending his upcoming shows will be treated to a low-key but intimate performance of both new material and nuggets from his past.

“For these shows, I’m going to be doing a two-set acoustic show and along with my material, we’re going to be incorporating some of Ana’s and Rose’s songs,” Plaskett tells me.

So with his stock rising across the country, do the Maritimes have to concern themselves with losing Plaskett to a big city like Toronto or Vancouver?

Not too likely, according to the musician.

“I like the Maritimes because it’s familiar, low key and relatively affordable,” he says. “In Dartmouth, I can turn music off, zone out and get away from it if I need to, which isn’t so easy to do in a big city like Toronto.

“I like the fact there’s a music industry here but it’s a lot less present in everyday life; even the most commercial musical artists on this end of the country give off a vibe that they’re playing music because they want to and not solely for chasing fame.

“As big as Halifax is, it is still a small-town feeling out here and it’s easy to see when people’s intentions are wrong.”

Level headed, polite and grounded; there is no doubt that no matter how successful Plaskett is with his music, he is a Maritimer through and through.

Joel Plaskett will be performing at The Fredericton Playhouse April 22; at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre April 23 and at the Capitol Theatre in Moncton April 24. Ticket information is available from each specific venue.

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