Full Transcript: Joel Plaskett & Peter Elkas

Full Transcript: Joel Plaskett & Peter Elkas
James Keast:The idea was that you guys would interview each other.

Joel Plaskett: We may have to wing it a little bit. Are you thinking of questions for me?
Peter Elkas: I thought of three... stuff you could riff on. Three stuff, that’s a new way of talking. The other thing is that, although English is my first language it doesn’t always come off that way, so feel free to, uh...

James Keast: I haven’t decided what I’m actually going to do with this. I’ll probably end up writing a story out of it, do the entire transcript, and put that online — all 10,000 words of it or whatever.

Joel Plaskett: Should we be focussing primarily on the new record? There’s the tour we’re going to be doing together and there’s a lot of history.

James Keast: I had forgotten about the Front Man War tour...

Peter Elkas: [Thrush Hermit] didn’t end up doing it. Joel got sick.
Joel Plaskett: I pissed a lot of people off actually.
Peter Elkas: This is the rematch.
Joel Plaskett: For something that didn’t happen! How do you want to structure it? You want us to just talk and ask questions?

James Keast: I’ll prompt as needed.

Joel Plaskett: I bet you’ve got some really good questions. You’ve been giving it some thought.
Peter Elkas: I gave it just a minor amount of thought, but the thing is, your record has a bit more of a concept, so it’s easier.

James Keast: I have something we can start with if you want. I got Pete’s record a couple of months ago, and got Joel’s record... the second I heard it I thought "We have to put them on the cover together, and the link between them is that Pete’s record is Darkness on the Edge of Town and Joel’s record is Born to Run.” That’s where the cover concept came from — they’re two sides of [Bruce Springsteen’s] personality. Does that ring true for either of you?

Joel Plaskett: Actually, Springsteen was the thing we bonded on when we first met, in terms of somebody’s career and an artist who represented something pretty passionate, kinda fun, but also really... you can see some evolution to it. And also that line between band and solo artist that has become this weird blurry domain for me and Pete.
Peter Elkas: He definitely represents something you can model yourself after, or model a career after, especially as an indie artist. Just the slow build of records — the first two are sort of schizophrenic and then he really comes into his own on the third. It was certainly the first thing we really bonded over, yeah.
Joel Plaskett: But I’d like to think of our two new records as Born in the U.S.A., and yours is Tunnel of Love.
Peter Elkas: I actually think that’s more accurate.
Joel Plaskett: Yours is more Tunnel of Love for sure. It’s super-romantic.
Peter Elkas: Springsteen is romantic in the sense of bromance, which is what we have.
Joel Plaskett: My new record is about that. It’s about the friendship of two friends playing music together, which is a very Springsteen kinda thing too.
Peter Elkas: Bruce explored the bromance thing quite early, before ever getting around to man and woman. It only really happened on Tunnel of Love, so I think you’re right in saying that Wall of Fire is more like Tunnel of Love. Joel Plaskett: What I’ve been loving about your new record, Pete, is hearing the focus. It is that thing where you shift — the schizophrenia of wanting to try a bunch of different things, finding your feet in the studio, writing different kinds of songs, it’s "alright, now I want to make a record that does this”: pushes these buttons. I’ve always tried to have themes on the record, but it isn’t even until this record that the sign picture and the theme and all the little bells and whistles and the songs all slotted into place for me. There’s what you’re trying to do conceptually, what you’re trying to do as a writer, and what you’re trying to present as a sound. Often, I only get close to two out of three.
Peter Elkas: I was going to ask you this, because I know we listened to your record right when you’d just gotten those mixes, and we took that trip home before Christmas. It sorta dawned on me, and you mentioned it too, that this record is kind of a culmination of all the stuff you’ve ever tried in your solo career. Would you say that’s true?
Joel Plaskett: I was trying to marry the acoustic guitar and the rock band, for sure. I tend to structure even the rock records as they start as a party and they change. I wanted to bring the two worlds together. I’ve done so many gigs solo in the past couple of years after La Di Da, and a lot of band gigs, but I don’t want them to feel like totally separate worlds. But deeper than that, I wanted to actually have a record that referred to my entire catalogue, as far back as the Hermit — this record is as much about growing up, playing music with my friends Ian and Rob. It’s not entirely about them, but it certainly references that time. They’re going to hear a lot of inside jokes that we had together, a lot of it harkening back to when we were kids, there’s a nostalgia to it, but I wanted to bring it into my updated context. Not make it sound like an old record that I did, but actually pull some of the same strings that I would have back in that old band.
Peter Elkas: Let me ask you this: Where the songs specifically come from, and at one point you decided to make it a concept record, what prompted that, and did you write it all in one swoop?
Joel Plaskett: There’s one on there I wrote in 1992. There’s another from ’94. There are three songs that date back to the Hermit — that’s why it feels nostalgic for me to even sing some of these songs. A handful of them are new, fresh this year, and a handful of them are things that have been hanging about for a few years. What was weird was when I thought "I want to make this concept record,” I had basically the central song — "Soundtrack For the Night” — the last song on the record, I thought "here’s the story that I want to flesh out, and I’ve got these other tunes that kinda link into it” but I couldn’t see the whole picture. I was talking to Gordie Johnson who produced it, and I’ve got this song "Drunk Teenagers,” which goes back a few years — that would be a good way to start a record. I’ve got a beginning and an end, and I’ve got these other snippets and songs. When I’m singing these songs to him, I realised how many lyrical through-lines there were, through some of my old stuff from Thrush Hermit, because I’m constantly referring to my own phrases and stuff, recycling stuff. He was like "oh, that fits there!” Him saying: "I see that connected to that...” "Holy shit, yeah.” There was a collaborative effort in terms of the structure.
Peter Elkas: There’s a marriage of stuff going on. You marrying your rockin’ side with your acoustic side — would you say that one is basketball and one is swimming?
Joel Plaskett: I hadn’t thought of that, but that’s wicked!
Peter Elkas: Because the record starts with this soundtrack of people playing basketball and then the sounds of a swimming pool. Can you explain a little bit about what that’s about?
Joel Plaskett: I just remember, we were in junior high and there was a guy who ran for school president on the platform that he was going to build a pool beneath the floor of the school gym. He was awesome — his yearbook caption said: "Keep metal strong.” I just remembered that, and I wrote this little tag song at the end that’s... so yeah, basketball and swimming.
Peter Elkas: So which is basketball and which is swimming?
Joel Plaskett: Rock’n’roll is basketball and solo is swimming ⎯ because you do one by yourself and one on a team. Would you say on your record, you were trying to do a similar thing? Your band sounds slamming on it, and it’s a big part of it. It sounds like a group effort — two drum sets on a lot of it, it almost sounds like an extended band. I hear you, in terms of your thing, but there’s some pretty heavy playing on it.
Peter Elkas: Absolutely. We did half of it in Toronto and half of it in Austin with Charlie Sexton working on it, and when I left Toronto with pretty much finished bed tracks, I listened to them... because it’s so off the floor, a lot of the music was already there before we started doing overdubs, and I thought "Wow, I’ve barely played on my own album.” The guys in the band are so strong, and they did so much contributing — and Charlie played drums too — I certainly wrote the songs and sang a lot and did play guitar, but absolutely. And I think I’ve been searching for that since the Rabbits broke up. To kind of have the camaraderie and the group thing, because frankly that’s why I started playing in a band in the first place. I was in the Local Rabbits and didn’t play any instruments yet — it was good enough to be in the band and play harmonica and bongos on the street. I’ve actually come full circle now, just playing harmonica and bongos on this tour. But to get back to that, to have that be a true thing, and have it be a real band again, was something I was trying to make happen again.
Joel Plaskett: I find the balance between the two to be a real challenge, because you don’t want... Personally for me, anyone who works with me knows the degree of control I want to retain over everything I do. Sometimes to my own... I don’t know that I’m that easy to work with because I’m pretty particular about stuff. I certainly try to take advice from people and listen, but I also really try to keep my hands on the whole thing. But I love the camaraderie of playing and I know that there are so many things that I get from my band, all these things are kinda crucial to the creative enterprise. You try to strike that balance. And even beyond music — it plays into your home life. The feeling you get when you play music with a bunch of your friends, and then you have this other life at home, or when you play by yourself — the balance as a human being to me is as important. In some ways, looking at Springsteen’s career, you can see him wrestling with that. I feel weird talking about us... if we’re going to pose and look like the cover of Born to Run, we’re going to talk about Springsteen, but it’s that balance... you have to strike a balance in your life where you want to be social and collaborative and the times when you want to make a definitive statement on your own.
Peter Elkas: I think that’s true, and definitely true for Springsteen — the E Street Band wasn’t inducted into the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame, it was just Bruce, because it had to do with whether or not the band was credited on the records. When it came for Bruce to be inducted into the hall of fame, I think it was a downer for a lot of those guys.
Joel Plaskett: It’s something... I don’t want to say wrestle with... You don’t want to downplay the importance of other people in what you do, whether it’s your band, your wife. There are so many people who help you be a creator, be creative, you have to give credit. At the same time, if you’re trying to make some kind of statement and you’re putting your name on it — it’s your name, it’s your association, it’s your statement as the kind of person I am. If you’re a lyricist — for me, a lot of it is trying to make sure that I create a platform for the things I want to say, because lyrics are such an important part of the equation. Kind of more important to me than music. I get particular about the music because I want the platform to feel right for what I want to say, but that can be a little bit hard and sometimes you can go too far with it. It is this weird balance. But I’m happy because I think on this record I married the two a little bit. I can hear it on your record — I loved Party of One so much. It seems like the first record you were really comfortable with your voice.
Peter Elkas: In a lot of ways, that feels like my first record. I only ever really contributed so much to the Rabbits stuff — it was always less than half, if that much, and there was never any problem with that, I just didn’t write that many songs. Actually, I think 90 percent of the songs I have ever written have been released on records now. I’m not the most prolific songwriter, although I kinda feel like each one’s kinda got something to it. I guess Ben Gunning from the Local Rabbits maybe unfortunately taught me that: there are no toss-offs. As a result, I don’t have a big back catalogue — every single one’s gotta be good. Now that I’ve gotten back into the real band zone, I’m feeling a little fraudulent about this record... even calling it a Peter Elkas record without a band name attached to it. But I’ve been trying to get those guys to come up with a band name and they don’t like the names that I come up with. That last two were Jogging Pants and Feathers of Sorrow, and they didn’t like those, so fuck, they’ve gotta come up with something, and now it’s too late — we just put the cover art to bed today. I do appreciate the safety of having your own name on it. Lyrically, no one’s going to get in there. You have the veto and are charged with the decision of who you’re going to collaborate with, but at the end of the day, that’s up to you.
Joel Plaskett: I have so much nostalgic feeling for playing with Thrush Hermit, and that feeling like a band that was very much like a democracy and a friendship that started when we were really young. When you put your name on something and you’re writing all the songs, you paint yourself in a different way. You’re perceived differently by people. Thrush Hermit was perceived different than what I do now.

James Keast: No one is going to go up to a member of the band and go "your record sucks.” It’s all on you two.

Joel Plaskett: That’s kind of what it feels like sometimes. It’s like "Okay, this is costing a lot of money and it’s gotta be good,” you’ve gotta be good. Here we are at the studio, and I’m producing this stuff for Two Hours Traffic, I’m sitting in the role of producer trying to make this good, and I’m thinking... listening to other records critically, which you do as an artist, I’m trying to do now from a production point of view. Trying to do another band justice, with the idea that it’s like, you could get halfway through this record and what if you think "the sounds off” — well, we’re in the midst of it, you gotta finish it, you want it to be good, you gotta work so hard for it to be good, and you also just have to go on faith. You could be done a month later and say "you know, it could have been a lot better if we waited a month...” or something, but you don’t have that. If you want to continue to move forward as an artist, you can only second guess yourself so much. I’ll get critical about people’s records... everyone’s gonna have an opinion of it.
Peter Elkas: One thing you said, you were talking about a leap of faith, and I know that for my record, that’s been a real strong theme just in the making of it and getting it done and even just starting from the beginning of this cycle — getting a new manager, not really knowing him too well, but putting a lot of faith into his track record, and then the same with the producer, working with Charlie Sexton. I knew his stuff, and frankly, I didn’t really actually hear that much in what he’d worked on that really related to me, but I just had a really good feeling that he would be a good guy to work with. But I had really limited conversations with him, and then at one point it was like "hey, you have to make a decision here” and so it was just a leap of faith and it paid off. I really feel like that’s been a theme for me for the last couple of years. Did you find that with Gordie? You had a lot of time when you got to brass tacks and started working on the record, but did you find at one point it was like "Okay, I guess I’m just going to do this with this guy.”
Joel Plaskett: He had expressed interest a while ago — I don’t know when I met Gordie but it was several years ago. He knew the Hermit stuff a little bit. He’d never seen us I don’t think. I remember him saying "Oh, I love that song ‘Back of the Film’ or whatever.” Somehow it caught his ear somewhere. Then I got up with Big Sugar, he invited me up on stage — we’d met previous to that — he said "hey man, you should come up and play guitar with us.” We played "Waiting for the Bus” by ZZ Top in Halifax, although I could not hear my guitar at all because he’s so, so loud.
Peter Elkas: It’s funny, another thing that ties these two records, is that both the producers are Austin guys now, they both know each other, and they’re both crazy guitar players — far better than we are — but we’ll get all the credit somehow.
Joel Plaskett: I really waited to decide if I was going to work with Gordie. I met him a few times, talked to him, then made ,La Di Da, and then I decided "well, I wanted to make another rock statement.” Gordie was the obvious candidate, just in terms of the sound, as a guy who’s made records that sound good on the radio. It’d be nice to make a record that could carry me into that arena, but at the same time retain what I like about grittiness or sounds or whatever... and a guitar player too. We did the three songs with him, and that really worked, and having that outside... that’s why we did the three songs for a little EP, low pressure. That relieved the pressure. Three songs – it’s expensive, but it’s not as expensive as making a record, it’s not an enormous investment, and they turned out great.

James Keast: And if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t blown your new record on an experiment.

Joel Plaskett: Exactly. Did that. Worked out great. Did the whole record, and it’s actually been really good.
Peter Elkas: I can tell right away, just from hearing the three songs and then the new record, and just briefly hearing the stuff you’re working on with Two Hours, it seems like even your producer chops have gone up a little bit.
Joel Plaskett: It’s interesting watching somebody work the studio. I’m starting to pay more attention to how records are made. Ian was always the guy who did that in Thrush Hermit. When we were recording, I was worried about tracking songs or what the guitar part was going to be; Ian was like "What about this compressor?” I still don’t have a massive interest in all that stuff, though I’ve learned a bit of it and have some preferences, but for me it’s like an arrangement thing — hearing what devices work in the studio for maximum impact, and also realising that there’s really no right or wrong way. You just have to do what feels right.
Peter Elkas: I really felt like that, going in to make this record. Again, part of the leap of faith thing — really not knowing how he was going to approach recording, the brass tacks of it. We did no pre-production whatsoever. This is where I think our records really different, in the making of them. All I could do was rehearse the band as much as possible and get as tight as we could, and start rocking. We set up off the floor and he said "okay, play.” We played "Wall of Fire,” which was the tightest song that we had, and he came in and said "you guys sound killer.” From there, he set up his satellite [drum] kit and his drum kit grew bigger and bigger, and he wound up playing second drums on every track. It became this real good times vibe, but more and more out of my hands. Also, all the players in the band are accomplished guys in their own right and also not making much money, so they’ve got to be able to put their fingerprints on this thing. But allowing them the space to breath and trusting them to do their thing really gave me a kick-ass record, but it could’ve blown up in my face. I just lucked out on that — educated guess, but... I think that’s the place where the records differ a little bit, maybe the approach in general. It could be that I’m just fucking lazy too.
Joel Plaskett: I took that approach a little bit more, maybe not so much with players, but with La Di Da, where I had a bunch of half-finished songs, some ideas and stuff that hadn’t even been written yet before I got there. It was "okay, I’m going to Arizona, and by the time I get there I have to have a record.” That’s why I drove there by myself, was to have that sense of time to organise it in my head. That’s how I slot records, just time alone, driving — that’s when I align my records: those are the parts that go here, that’s the song that connects to this song, having the dictaphone with me. This new record was very much like "Okay, it’s a concept record, this has to hold.” It’s not the tightest story of all time — it’s conceptual, it’s pretty ridiculous really — but I wanted melodies to reappear in other songs, there’s melodic stuff that happens, there are lyrical things that happen, and a lot of the songs connect. Songs change key, and another song begins in that key — there are a lot of... the order was actually totally worked out in advance. The pre-production was really important, otherwise it would’ve gotten into a nine-month Radiohead record or something. If you want to make records that way, you have to have the luxury of enormous amounts of cash to put yourself in the studio and muck about until you find what you want.
Peter Elkas: Do you think that the concept and the story of the record will be apparent to listeners? Do you think they’ll have to sit with it for a while?
Joel Plaskett [to Keast]: You tell me, do you hear a through line or no?

James Keast: I have to say I’m sceptical of concept records in general. Often, what happens is the artist sees it as a concept record, but the listener doesn’t make that connection. I’ve had albums that I see as a coherent piece of work, that, in my mind, it’s a concept record, and the artists say "Dude, no way, those songs are way far apart.” Then I’ve had artists that say "Yeah, it’s a concept record, it’s all well thought out” and when you listen to it, it’s like "You’re on glue. There’s so little coherence to any of this.” In your case, what I hear immediately is that it’s one side of what you do. You do a lot of different stuff, so there’s absolutely a coherence to the sound and the approach and the choices that you made, clearly out of the wide range of capacity that you have, we’re dealing with this chunk. Whether it’s lyrically clear to me, I don’t know yet.

Joel Plaskett: You couldn’t read the lyrics and say "I get it.” You couldn’t do that. That’s why there’s a comic with it.

James Keast: Your wife did the comic?

Joel Plaskett: It’s not a comic. It’s a drawing for every song, with the same characters. There are three basic people in the story — and the guy who ran for student president as a sideline — so there are songs from each perspective. You wouldn’t know that because it’s me singing it from the "I” perspective all the time. A lot of the songs have double... they can work from that perspective, because I wrote them about whatever I was feeling, but I somehow slotted them into... For me, the excitement of making records — and I’ve made a few more than you under my solo name — and in that regard, for me, what’s exciting to do something different every time. Working with someone different. I made a lot of records with Ian, I made a couple of things with Gordie now, I’ve had the Emergency the whole time, but just trying to make different sounding records. I just want like... so much music wants to repeat itself.

James Keast: How old are you now?

Joel Plaskett: 31.
Peter Elkas: 30.

James Keast: And how old were you when you joined your first band?

Peter Elkas: 15. The Rabbits.

James Keast: Pete, we know each other well enough and long enough, you won’t take this the wrong way, but Joel is at a different level career-wise than you are. And yet, it could have reversed in some way. Thrush Hermit could have been the almost-made-it band, and the Rabbits could’ve bloomed. There was that just on the cusp thing there throughout the Rabbits career. And now you’re entering into trying to rebuild and rebrand as a solo artist. Do you look at what Joel has done with his career? Are there models that you use? Do you have that sense of "I’m not quite there, but I’m getting closer”?

Peter Elkas: Yeah, one thing I’m not guilty of is being delusional. It just takes one look at my bank account to safely ground me. Definitely, Joel and I have had a lot in common since day one, just in general, music and otherwise. Definitely, I’d say his career post-band has served somewhat of a model, at least just that, yeah, it’s feasible to do a new band project under your own name. At the same time, I didn’t have any long-range forecasts for my career when I started doing a solo project. I had six songs that were really meant to go on a new Rabbits record, and I had moved to Toronto to make the Rabbits happen from Montreal. That would’ve put three of us in Toronto, but Ryan, the bass player, moved right back to Montreal. I took that as an indication that if I was to do some recording, it would have to be something different, and the closest thing at hand was just myself. Having experienced so many problems with the four-headed monster that can be a young band, it goes so much quicker when you’re by yourself. Even if maybe you don’t accomplish as much, you can do things at your own pace. Obviously, you have some internal dialogue but you come to a decision much quicker, and you just live with it. It’s kinda satisfying knowing it was your decision, whether it’s cover art, or title for a record.
Joel Plaskett: It’s weird when you’re younger and playing with other people, you have more time at that time in your life, and more interest in coming to some collaborative thing on cover art. You come up with a cover that everyone’s happy with, but maybe one guy’s not totally happy with it — you strike these compromises. Cool stuff comes from that — you’re representing four people instead of one. That can be amazing if everyone’s on the same page, and it feels great. That’s kind of the ultimate. But man, as you get older, the time you have for that kind of decision making process. I still want to maintain control of all that, but there’s a point where you can’t be discussing all the finest details on things and trying to make decision collaboratively. You just spin your wheels, and keep you from actually writing songs.
Peter Elkas: To answer your question, if I’ve modelled the start of my solo career after Joel, probably to a degree, probably subconsciously and inadvertently. We’ve wanted to collaborate for so long, that now, because I’m doing this, it makes sense to do it. This tour is a perfect opportunity — I get to play in Joel’s band and I get to open the shows, and that’s pretty much what I love doing. I love backing someone else up as well.
Joel Plaskett: Pete and I go back so long, I think what was so cool about our experience — both the Hermit and the Rabbits in general, if you talk to any of us — on some level when we met... We were a year older than you guys. We were on our first tour with Sloan, that Montreal gig, and you guys showed up — they’re 17 years old. It was like seeing a reflection of... suburban kids from another... there were three of you and it was really the three of us. Cliff was playing drums, but he was older — he was hanging with Sloan, he was friends with Patrick Pentland. Ian, Rob and I were all 18, the Rabbits were 17, and you guys were kinda like us. We didn’t say that, but looking back on it, that’s why we connected. Pete and I have had such a long-standing friendship in that way — I have such a love of the Rabbits, and also such respect for Pete as a musician, it was great that we got to the point that we can play together. I feel flattered that you’ll come out and play with the band; it certainly makes what I do stronger when we’re together. I think in terms of my solo career, it started earlier than the Rabbits did, due to the fact that the Hermit broke up. Also, I feel like I’ve lived a lot of my life in a pretty lucky bubble. I graduated high school, we were in Halifax when all that stuff was going on. We were ambitious, and I think we were talented, but we were in a good place at the right time. I credit Sloan and the murderecords family for kick-starting our career. I don’t want to get bogged down in details, but I saw music as my livelihood as soon as I got out of high school. Even though it was a small livelihood, it was like "this is what I do.” I’ve only ever had one job, and that was at the Khyber, and that was only through nepotism. Other than that, it’s been like carving a living out playing music just touring, doing things, and I see it as a very... if you’ve seen anything by watching my career, I feel it’s baby steps leading to something. I haven’t bottomed out. I feel like every year it gets better, the shows get better, and so I feel very lucky to continue to have an audience.
Peter Elkas: Yeah, the slow build thing is way safer in a way. Having a creative vision of yourself long term. I’d rather see a slower build than a quick rise. It has to end at some point, so the longer you can take to get to the climax, the longer your career will last.
Joel Plaskett: It’s more about what do you want from music. For me, I love playing shows and I get off on things getting bigger, but it’s like a creative accomplishment. You gotta feel like people are listening to it. If I didn’t feel my audience growing, I would be maybe a bit stymied by it. At the same time... I’m full of contradictions this way, but so much about music is intention to me. If I sense an intention... it’s really impossible to judge someone else’s intentions. You don’t know. I’ll listen to a record and go "the intention of this doesn’t feel right.” You know what I mean? That’s what reviews are — people sussing out the artists’ intention. In terms of a career — the intention and the integrity of a career ⎯ that’s why we talk about someone like Springsteen. I don’t know Springsteen — I love his music, but there’s stuff I love more. But you talk about Neil Young, in terms of intention, integrity, focus and idiosyncrasy — that’s paramount. You get such a sense of the guy’s personality.
Peter Elkas: Do you find that you start to see stuff within yourself as an artist that you might not like so much, but you’re like "well, this is a part of it” so you start to look for other artists that also have that? You’re talking about Neil — you definitely have idiosyncrasies. There’s a quirkiness that’s popped up, and it’s like you’re embracing it a little bit more. There’s a hilarious vibe to this record too.
Joel Plaskett: I think if you look at our two records, what I see on your record, which is really cool, you’re an outward romantic. Your love songs... you’ll be unabashedly lovey-dovey. It’s soul — you’re going to a place that’s really classic soulfulness. You’re putting yourself out there, because that’s something that not everyone is going to think that’s cool. Not every indie rock fan is gonna think it’s cool. I think it’s cool. I love it. For me, I think as I’m getting older, I’m taking music less seriously and more seriously at the same time. It’s a friggin record. I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna put it out, it’ll be fun. And I think my sense of humour is getting stupider as I get older, like wackier, and I get more nostalgic about stuff if I’ve had a few drinks. I like to laugh and I feel like what hits me about my favourite movies are things that straddle the line between comedy and sadness. I love that feeling. Then I also just love to howl and laugh. When we go on tour together, every day we’re just laughing. I want that to come across in music. If I’m having a good time, I don’t want to feel like I have to curb my sense of humour, for someone who’s not going to think it’s cool. I put doo-wop songs on this record, man. After the mix was done, I was like sweating, going "oh shit, I’m gonna catch a lot of flack for this.” But I was like "I love Billy Joel’s Glass Houses! Fuck that!” It was cooler to put that on — the idea was I wanted, like, Bowser on one song. I might get called on that. Certainly not everyone is going to think that’s cool. It’s pretty goofy and probably really nerdy, but it’s also like... I don’t know. I just hit the point where... Neil Young did it!
Peter Elkas: Yeah, Neil had the Shocking Pinks. You can kind of, not justify it but reassure yourself maybe by looking at guys like Neil who always try something different and have great careers.
Joel Plaskett: We haven’t made Re-Ac-Tor yet. Or Trans. The other thing is I just find the music business — and the presentation of music on television, and the whole echelon of star status and fame — to be fucking ridiculous, and a lot of the time, immensely overdramatic. I love a nice sweeping statement — I love the Smiths as much as the next guy! — but there’s a lot of humour in the Smiths. There’s so much that seems so overwrought right now. Even in a lot of modern pop punk stuff — everything’s so amped and there’s an element of glitz to the thing that shimmies the wrong way. I’m constantly searching for something that feels like you have some understanding of the individual outside of what their perception is as an outward image: "I’m hard,” or "I’m dramatic” or whatever. Well, why don’t you show us when you’re laughing? You get a sense of people when they’re sad on record. But you don’t often get the sense of someone being goofy — but in the context of their other moods. You get one or the other. Often you get the Barenaked Ladies at their wackiest, or you get hardcore. To me, the guy who does it so well — he doesn’t necessarily do it musically, but does it lyrically to perfection as far as I’m concerned — is Vic Chesnutt. Sadness and humour and idiosyncrasy and all these complicated things, and a pretty ambitious musical scope. If anything I would aspire to be Vic Chesnutt in some sort of pop arena. I like on your record that I hear the Pete I know. I hear a focussed version of the Pete I know, you know what I mean?
Peter Elkas: That’s part of the clean up as well — getting away from stuff that’s a little more schizophrenic, or trying everything, it’s part of focussing the sounds and the lyrics and everything to get one vibe happening. I’d be willing to explore my more hardcore aspects on the next record, you know?
Joel Plaskett: You’re also at the point where you really want to make the romance record.
Peter Elkas: For sure. As much as I was happy with Party of One, it had a very limited audience. I know that this one is the second chance at a first try, you know? I’m really happy with it being a calling card kind of a record, really happy with the band that played on it and the producer and everything. I’m pretty excited about everything right now. I still don’t forecast very long range, but I’m totally psyched — I think touring with you is the perfect way to begin it, and I think we’ll have an awesome time and an awesome year. It’s funny that, when you were asking earlier about Joel being a little bit further along, and Joel was talking about the Hermit and when we first met. You know when you’re in high school, you think that someone in the next grade is that much further along. If you see people from high school now, even though we’re in our 30s, you think "oh yeah, that guy’s a grade older than me.” I see you as being a grade older than me.
Joel Plaskett: What’s funny though is I see us as the same age. You met us, we were on stage opening for Sloan in Montreal.
Peter Elkas: But you were a grade older — we were still in high school and you were done.
Joel Plaskett: Yes, absolutely. But when we met you, you were from another town. We were the kids amongst an older group of people, hanging out with Sloan and all these people, but we were just a little boys club. We had our thing. We were chumming with people older, but it was kind of awesome to find someone we could be younger with — as opposed to aspiring to being older.

James Keast:> It occurs to me that you’re at an interesting point — you were caught up in the first wave of Halifax, the Rheostatics, the mid-’90s. Both your bands were caught up with that initially and now, in the last couple of years, there’s been a resurgence of that sense and you’re part of it in a completely different context. Can you talk about your perceptions of that?

Joel Plaskett: I think all that stuff is immensely legitimate. The success of Canadian music internationally is way bigger than what happened to us in Canada. [The first wave] was Canadian music finding itself within Canada. Canadian indie rock finding its footing in Canada amidst Canadian commercial rock. Now what we have is Canadian indie rock finding its footing in an international setting. What’s weird is, to my perception, because I’ve just been pounding away at it for years since the Hermit broke up... I never felt like I was slowing down. The landscape was more barren... there was the Constantines. It’s great to see things happening but it’s been a constant flow of hard work. I had an audience – I’ve seen it ebb and flow a little bit. In the Hermit, around ’96, ’97, live shows just dipped way off, those couple of years when the DJ thing got bigger. Everything went down and then ’98 and ’99 things went up. I think partly because the Hermit made a better record — for us, things got better because we made Clayton Park — but even still, then, we made a pretty ferocious hard rock record, it was our last record, and it got some momentum going for us and then we broke up, but even then, the climate wasn’t right. If we had done that in this climate, it would have been received differently, I think. I think it’s great that all that’s happening, but it hasn’t really affected me at all, I don’t think. What’s affecting me now is not so much the resurgence of indie rock, I’m just seeing the snowball effect of all the work I’ve put in, reaching a little bit more of a critical mass. My perception of it is that it’s great, what’s happening right now, but I actually feel quite outside of it.
Peter Elkas: When I think of the first wave as you put it, I remember it being a community — just from my personal perspective, it was being a part of it and being included in something and it was kind of a gang. The whole murderecords thing was kind of a clique and something you felt privileged to be a part of. My new motto is is that I don’t like anything that’s exclusive — it did sort of feel like that, and it felt kinda good.

James Keast: Did you see it as a clique at the time?

Peter Elkas: I definitely felt, even if I never spoke it out loud, that we were part of something that other bands probably wanted to be part of. I was happy to be in it. There were benefits from it, aside from the major laughs that happened, we got to tour with the bands and spread it across the country. But this kind of second wave, I don’t really... I don’t think I would have called it that. I know what you’re saying, but I don’t know from my personal perspective, that I would put these two periods as part one and part two of anything. But when you were just saying that the Hermit would have been something different if it was kinda now. When the Cons started really rocking out — and they’re still one of the only Canadian rock bands I’m really feeling — I started to really feel like "Ah fuck, if the Rabbits had just focused and we kept rocking and we just tailored down a lot of the bullshit, we could have totally been on tour with those guys.” We started to get kinda deadly live, and really aggressive with the guitars, even though the records barely came off that way. I do feel like that second wave you’re referring to is something we could have fit into as well.
Joel Plaskett: My feeling is that there’s definitely a kinship between this wave of Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire because I read about it. I know all these bands know each other, but I don’t really know all these people. Living in Halifax, unless you seek that out — I don’t go out to shows that often because I’m away most of the time and I tend to just recoil when I go home.
Peter Elkas: What’s cool about what you’re doing, and you touched on it earlier when you said you live in a happy bubble all the time, is that you are kind of on your own. You can fit into all kinds of scenes. You exist outside of all that shit. I kinda hope that’s going to happen for me too. At the same time, when we go out to do this tour together, there’s kind of a community vibe happening there.
Joel Plaskett: There is for us, because that was our community. There’s a community for those bands — we touch it sometimes — but that scene is going to ride itself the same way the ‘90s scene... Even then, you guys had the connection to the Rheostatics through the Rabbits — we don’t know the Rheos that well. The Hermit never played with the Rheos, we were connected to the East coast, and maybe the occasional Ontario band, like early Treble Charger. Sonic Unyon bands. I think it’s pretty exciting, what’s going on right now with Canadian music — the climate has never been better seems to be everyone’s consensus, but I’ve also watched it come down pretty hard. You’ve watched the ebb and flow of it at Exclaim! Everything’s a wave, right? There’s got to be ebb and flow of the tide a bit. It really is just how you choose to live your life if you’re playing music. If you do it, some people play music for five years, some people play for 30. If you’re going to do it for a long time, you’re going to have to watch it change and feel some jealousy now and then. I look at a guy like Sam Roberts, who came out of the gate swinging and had such a good record, so many good songs. I in no way begrudge him that success.

James Keast: But he’d been slogging away for years and years in Montreal before that.

Joel Plaskett: He had, but to me, it seemed like "kapow!”
Peter Elkas: Sam’s actually a guy I knew back in those days, we were in school together, and I was doing a lot of stuff with the Rabbits, touring and stuff, and Sam would ask him "How are you doing this?” Sam’s always been super-talented, he had great songs, but I know what he was missing. It’s what we had — we had this community thing. We had murder. I still don’t know how we even happened into it, but if he had had that kind of opportunity, I bet something would have happened a lot quicker.

James Keast: It’s like winning the lottery.

Joel Plaskett: But there was that community established in Halifax that was very much about taking your friends on tour. Sloan got success early on and they really made an effort — I applaud them. For any criticisms or jealousies that I’ve had of Sloan in my life, this was a band that did really well, we were kids and they took us along for the ride. We might have been mildly jealous at times, but very indebted to them. They did make that effort. At that time, when we were coming to Toronto, I didn’t sense that same scene in Toronto. I sensed a cutthroat thing — people battling it out for the best opening slots. Not chumming. Not having laughs. We were having laughs. Now I sense that sense of community in Toronto.
Peter Elkas: It helps that all the East coasters came to Toronto.
Joel Plaskett: There is on the East coast. Even in small towns, it’s not just Halifax. You go to Newfoundland? You can borrow guitar amps, you can play with whoever you want.
Peter Elkas: The expression "music scene” only really held any value for me in Halifax at the time. I didn’t really understand what that meant. Even in Montreal, there were so many different kinds of bands and the Rabbits were from the suburbs, and we didn’t really fit in. We plugged into the scene with you guys: this is actually a music scene. There are people with common music tastes, and they help each other out, they guest on each others stuff — that’s how it’s supposed to be. At least from movies and TV.
Joel Plaskett: I think that’s where Toronto figured stuff out, and Montreal too — there’s a scene. Those cities now, they’re having their moment and deservedly so, but enough people with like-minded tastes decided to cooperate and get along and help each other. There’s something about the music business that sometimes works against human nature.

James Keast: I also think there’s just a moment that happened. And as soon as there’s a scene, there are people in it who deny there’s a scene, there are people who try to latch onto it, and it’s a temporary thing. It lasts a couple of years, bands break up, they move away, you lose momentum — it happened in Halifax, I’ve seen in happen in Toronto.

Joel Plaskett: There was definitely a heyday of the Halifax scene; I’ve been there the whole time. There’s always been a sense of community has always been there, but the scene — even though it’s not sonically of the same picture — there’s always been shows. When a club got shut down, there’d be underground shows. It’s hard work and it’s intention. If your intention is there to make music and be part of a community — regardless of whether that is a successful community — if it’s your community, that’s kind of a success.

James Keast: That brings up an interesting point — as artists, and as members of, to a lesser or greater extent, a music community, do you think that there’s a responsibility, or do you feel any obligation to do any more than do for your career? Is there a sense of "oh, I should find a band to take out with me, and I should make sure that band’s from my town and not somewhere else.”

Peter Elkas: Buying locally you mean?

James Keast: Buying locally and touring globally.

Joel Plaskett: I’m buying semi-locally when I hire Pete to play with me now and then. I’m doing this stuff with Two Hours Traffic who are from P.E.I., because I’ve taken an interest in these guys. I’ve hired Ian to come in and help with mixes, because he’s got another set of ears that I trust that I go back with. I’m not necessarily branching it out into a community of people that I don’t know, but I’m trying to keep the community of people that I value, like Pete and Ian, my band. Not let people get too far away from me so that it becomes awkward or weird to ask them. It’s partly because I want that feeling of camaraderie or something — I want to be able to pull that in a little. It’s as much of a selfish endeavour as an outward one, frankly. Even producing stuff — for me, it’s a focus away from my own music, which I need. It gives me chops that I can bring back to my own music. I love working with another band, because I can hear someone else’s songs. Certainly, working with Two Hours Traffic, I love their songs and it’s affected the way I write in subconscious ways.
Peter Elkas: You have bought locally, if we’re using that expression — just working with Two Hours Traffic, you’ve brought them on tour quite a bit, but it’s not just because they’re from there, they’re a really good band. It’s about their music and you heard something, but you happened to hear it because it’s local. I would like to... the stuff I’m going to have access to is going to be around me, and hopefully it will be good stuff. I haven’t had the opportunity to extend my own success because I don’t have that much of it, but I’ve played guitar in a lot of bands, I’ve played with Joel.
Joel Plaskett: You’re generous with your time, too. You’re interested in being part of a greater community.
Peter Elkas: But I don’t feel like I would feel obligated to do it outside of wanting to do it.

James Keast: What about you Joel? I know this because I’ve experienced it — you’ve maintained a certain hero status in Halifax. "It’s Joel!”

Joel Plaskett: I get that on the street in Halifax, and in the Maritimes more somehow, and it’s awesome. It really is wicked. I feel super fortunate. But it’s also why I’ve become such a goof — it’s a self-defence mechanism. I find it really weird. The biggest compliment to me is "I love your songs, they mean a lot to me, I like your lyrics. And I like the way you handle yourself” or something. If it’s a reflection of who you are as an individual and the way you conduct yourself — again, it’s intention. But I feel like when I talk about that, it disintegrates as soon as you mention that. Being in that scene at that time with guys I admired who were older than me, like Sloan, who took us on tour, it was a gesture that resonated. But I’m in the fortunate position to have a bit of clout that I can do that. I can take Two Hours Traffic on the road, and give them just enough money a night so they can eat, but they still have to sleep on someone’s floor. It’s a bit of an ownership thing that happens on the East coast. Like Matt Mays, who’s done very well for himself and also very much a hometown guy — it’s not like I have ownership on that. I’m just probably the guy who’s been there. I’m the oldest now, aside from guys like Jimmy Rankin or Natalie McMaster; it’s a different scene. In terms of the rock scene, I’m the guy who still goes out to tour: there are guys like Charles [Austin], or like Al Tuck — these are the guys that I admire. They’re older than me. Their creative impulses are still cooking, and they’re writing stuff, but they don’t have the same audience that I’ve acquired because I’ve focused, and I’ve had momentum behind what I’ve been doing. Look at a guy like Al, he’s such a bluesman, he really is. He’s the only bluesman I know. Tuck, really — he just follows his nose. "I’m just going to show up here and play.” The thing is, I don’t know what Al’s intentions are in writing songs — I talk all this stuff about intention — but Al writes out of a love for music’s sake. That’s what, to me, that’s what community is — loving something not because it’s happening or whatever. I ask you to play in the band because I love Pete’s musicianship and I love the feeling that he brings to the stage. That’s important.

James Keast: I wanted to ask about the tour. What you think it’s going to bring, what you hope it’s going to be, and at one point in the phase of working a new record — where you’re both now right on the cusp — where’s the point where you turn that corner and you start thinking about the next record? What’s the tour going to bring, and where does the turn come when you start thinking about the next thing?

Peter Elkas: I hope the tour brings a rise in attendance at the shows — I’m getting really specific here. I’m hoping to have the buzz of the records help as the tour grows.
Joel Plaskett: At the end, it’ll be the Nevermind tour.
Peter Elkas: I’ve want to increase my audience, and I’ve been wanting to tour my band across Canada since I started playing with them and that’s almost three years. It’s never made sense financially. At this point, if we lose a few bucks, it doesn’t really matter because hopefully we’ll see a return in some way. I don’t mean a financial return but I do mean a financial return. It’s such a no-brainer in my mind, to tour the Elkas Band and the Emergency, because there’s good crossover for sure without stepping on toes in any way. As much as I would like to joke and say it’s going to be an all-out slugfest, I don’t think it will be. I think it’ll be a really complementary night of music with some mellow shit and some good rockin’ fun. I think people are going to get a lot out of it. I’d be excited to see this tour as a fan.
Joel Plaskett: I also think anyone who’s followed what we do, and knows who we are, when we did the La Di Da tour, Pete opened and we played together. Same vibe, just this is with full band. It’s not like we’re doing something brand new to us — we’ve toured so many times together, the Local Rabbits and the Hermit. I like it because it feels comfortable — that’s why we’re doing it. We’re old enough now, why do something that doesn’t feel good? It feels good to play with your friends. It feels good to play with bands that you like. It feels good to represent a community — even if it’s not Halifax. It’s connected artists. In my mind, in some way, it’s "did you see the tour where Ian Hunter went out with T-Rex?” There’s a connection there and we’re representing that, nationally.
Peter Elkas: I wanted to follow up our solo tour with a double band tour much more quickly than this. I’m just anxious to really get out there and play for people. You’ve toured Canada a ton with the Emergency, and this is my first time since the Rabbits. I’ve toured solo opening for people, but always alone... to really have all the guys there, and really represent the album, I’m super, super excited about that.
Joel Plaskett: I’m just excited to be playing this tour. I’ve decided to go at it really hard this year. I feel like I’ve been running a marathon for three years straight — ever since I made La Di Da. I feel like I’ve been going at it non-stop. I had my first vacation a couple of weeks ago for the first time in my life. I think I’m going to go at it this year. And maybe if I find time, to make a solo record. Make that it for next year, but maybe not do a lot of touring. It’s my livelihood — my hands are tied unless something happens that I can afford to take six months off. When we play and you grow as musicians — the challenge, which a lot of people don’t really see, is if you go at it for a long time, you form an organisation of people who work on your behalf — your agent, your manager, your band. You kind of can’t stop working. Even if it’s not a lot of money, it’s enough money to a bunch of people that if you stop, that infrastructure that you’ve created of people that you care about and who work on your behalf, if they disappear then you’re kinda back to square one. It’s a little bit self-perpetuating. I find it a bit overwhelming and a little freaky to think about. To be honest, I’m already thinking about the next record — I’m done with Ashtray Rock. We’ll go play it but they’re old songs now. I always feel that way as soon as I finish a record. I don’t have a whole record’s worth of new songs, but I’ve got some stuff. I’m psyched for this tour. I love going across Canada. The first tour behind the record, you’re like "Okay, let’s go.”
Peter Elkas: This part of the cycle of a new record is fun — you’re starting to do press, you’re starting to find out if people like it, if it’s getting good reviews, and you get to go out and play. It’s kind of the best part. I’ve been waiting for so long — my record has had a really long build, it was done last summer, and the same thing happened with Party of One — so I’m just going to enjoy it. After the tour, I’ll start wondering what to do next. I was thinking of doing a bunch of stuff for the web too, just some covers and stuff.
Joel Plaskett:I’d kinda like to make a covers record — it’s kind of the ultimate in self-indulgence, but it would be really fun.
Peter Elkas: I think that would be a perfect thing to put out there for nothing.
Joel Plaskett: We should do a record together sometime too.
Peter Elkas: That would be great.
Joel Plaskett: Do a covers record together – that would be great.