It’s vintage, cozy, retro luxury— and Joel Plaskett can’t wait to rev it up.
You may assume the Maritime songsmith is obsessing over his latest album, Scrappy Happiness, a disc laced with 90’s nostalgia. But for the moment, he hopes to tinker with another memory lane vehicle.
“I bought a brand new used car— a $5500 Mercedes, man!” Plaskett says with a gleeful chuckle about his on- arrival-purchase in Victoria this week, before his new tour’s kickoff gig at Alix Goolden Performance Hall on April 13. “My wife’s from Victoria, so my father in law helps us find cars out here. Our ‘89 (Toyota) Camry is on its last legs, so I figured it was time for something new, and I was eyeing the west coast because the cars don’t have rust here.”
His hometown of Halifax couldn’t be more different, where frigid winters and salted roads corrode even the sweetest rides. Yet he and his band, The Emergency, steer and veer his new album all over that covered ground—with guitar solos that screech like bald tires, and melodies as cushy as old Corinthian leather passenger seats.
But it’s the new disc’s lyrics that truly evoke Plaskett’s old days as a pioneer of the Atlantic indie scene with his first band, Thrush Hermit. He briefly reunited with those old cohorts for a few one off shows in 2010, and the reminiscing in his playing lingered all the way to the end of the sessions for Scrappy Happiness.
Plaskett mentions his hometown’s road salt decay on the new disc’s opening tune, “Lightning Bolt,” with the line “I’d drive in rusty cars, to do the things you do.” On another early track dubbed “You’re Mine,” he yelps, “I’m travelling through space and time, to keep my love alive. It’s 1995!” His more recent jaunts to Ireland, as a Canadian rock vet, may show in the Celtic lilt of the album’s best track, “Harbour Boys.” But even it carriers a retro refrain.
“The chorus goes, ‘I came here, to bring the noise, to the island girls and the harbour boys,’” Plaskett says of the hummable strummed acoustic number. “But ‘bring the noise’ is forever from Public Enemy in my mind. It’s cool to use that old hip hop line again as I get up there and make a racket for whoever shows up, boys and girls alike.”
Nostalgia may have been his muse, but the method couldn’t have been more modern. Earlier this year Plaskett wrote, recorded and released each of the would be album’s songs as singles once a week for ten straight weeks. He’d snap random photos on his iPhone and text them to his album art designer on the fly. He’d announce song titles to label execs over Skype. And at the end of each week, the fresh song would be available to download on iTunes.
Plaskett says he’d recommend that high tech, tight deadline method to many of the artists he’s collaborated with over the years like Gordie Johnson, of Big Sugar, who produced Plaskett’s seminal Ashtray Rock.
“Gordie’s inspiring because, for a guy who can make things sound really slick, he also has a real gorilla approach to it. He’ll say ‘Lets turn this knob all the way and see what it does.’ So there’s always fun in how he tackles things.”
But Plaskett says he wouldn’t apply such pressure on all of his peers—especially his former Thrush Hermit bandmates.
“We were way too democratic, we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Plaskett says of his former troupe’s creative process, which would have bogged down the marathon, weekly deadline pace of his recordings for Scrappy Happiness. “With Hermit, I just remember these f*cking conversations that would go on forever about artwork. Whereas on this new album I was throwing concepts together on my iPhone, making decisions in five minutes.”
“Part of the album is about the past. But it’s also me recognizing that the time I’m living now is what I might get nostalgic about in the future,” Plaskett says, before mocking his own over-the-shoulder glancing. “When you look back, and find yourself saying ‘oh it was so awesome back then when I was in the moment— how do I get back in the moment like that again?’ Well, I guess this is it right now. So I better f*ckin’ do something.”
By Kyle Mullin
Joel Plaskett Emergency with special guest, David Vertesi