Published May 10, 2007James 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, thats a new way of talking. The other thing is that, although English is my first language it doesnt always come off that way, so feel free to, uh...
James Keast: I havent decided what Im actually going to do with this. Ill 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? Theres the tour were going to be doing together and theres a lot of history.
James Keast: I had forgotten about the Front Man War tour...
Peter Elkas: [Thrush Hermit] didnt 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 didnt happen! How do you want to structure it? You want us to just talk and ask questions?
James Keast: Ill prompt as needed.
Joel Plaskett: I bet youve got some really good questions. Youve 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 its easier.
James Keast: I have something we can start with if you want. I got Petes record a couple of months ago, and got Joels record... the second I heard it I thought "We have to put them on the cover together, and the link between them is that Petes record is Darkness on the Edge of Town and Joels record is Born to Run. Thats where the cover concept came from theyre two sides of [Bruce Springsteens] 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 somebodys 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 Id 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 thats more accurate.
Joel Plaskett: Yours is more Tunnel of Love for sure. Its 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. Its 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 youre right in saying that Wall of Fire is more like Tunnel of Love. Joel Plaskett: What Ive 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, its "alright, now I want to make a record that does this: pushes these buttons. Ive always tried to have themes on the record, but it isnt 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. Theres what youre trying to do conceptually, what youre trying to do as a writer, and what youre 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 youd 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 youve ever tried in your solo career. Would you say thats 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. Ive done so many gigs solo in the past couple of years after La Di Da, and a lot of band gigs, but I dont 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. Its not entirely about them, but it certainly references that time. Theyre going to hear a lot of inside jokes that we had together, a lot of it harkening back to when we were kids, theres 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: Theres one on there I wrote in 1992. Theres another from 94. There are three songs that date back to the Hermit thats 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 "heres the story that I want to flesh out, and Ive got these other tunes that kinda link into it but I couldnt see the whole picture. I was talking to Gordie Johnson who produced it, and Ive got this song "Drunk Teenagers, which goes back a few years that would be a good way to start a record. Ive got a beginning and an end, and Ive got these other snippets and songs. When Im singing these songs to him, I realised how many lyrical through-lines there were, through some of my old stuff from Thrush Hermit, because Im 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: Theres 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 hadnt thought of that, but thats 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 thats 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 thats... so yeah, basketball and swimming.
Peter Elkas: So which is basketball and which is swimming?
Joel Plaskett: Rocknroll 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 its 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 theres 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 its so off the floor, a lot of the music was already there before we started doing overdubs, and I thought "Wow, Ive 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 Ive been searching for that since the Rabbits broke up. To kind of have the camaraderie and the group thing, because frankly thats why I started playing in a band in the first place. I was in the Local Rabbits and didnt play any instruments yet it was good enough to be in the band and play harmonica and bongos on the street. Ive 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 dont 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 dont know that Im that easy to work with because Im 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 Springsteens career, you can see him wrestling with that. I feel weird talking about us... if were going to pose and look like the cover of Born to Run, were going to talk about Springsteen, but its 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 thats true, and definitely true for Springsteen the E Street Band wasnt inducted into the Rocknroll 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: Its something... I dont want to say wrestle with... You dont want to downplay the importance of other people in what you do, whether its 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 youre trying to make some kind of statement and youre putting your name on it its your name, its your association, its your statement as the kind of person I am. If youre 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 Im 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 didnt write that many songs. Actually, I think 90 percent of the songs I have ever written have been released on records now. Im not the most prolific songwriter, although I kinda feel like each ones 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 dont have a big back catalogue every single ones gotta be good. Now that Ive gotten back into the real band zone, Im feeling a little fraudulent about this record... even calling it a Peter Elkas record without a band name attached to it. But Ive been trying to get those guys to come up with a band name and they dont like the names that I come up with. That last two were Jogging Pants and Feathers of Sorrow, and they didnt like those, so fuck, theyve gotta come up with something, and now its 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 ones going to get in there. You have the veto and are charged with the decision of who youre going to collaborate with, but at the end of the day, thats 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 youre writing all the songs, you paint yourself in a different way. Youre 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. Its all on you two.
Joel Plaskett: Thats kind of what it feels like sometimes. Its like "Okay, this is costing a lot of money and its gotta be good, youve gotta be good. Here we are at the studio, and Im producing this stuff for Two Hours Traffic, Im sitting in the role of producer trying to make this good, and Im thinking... listening to other records critically, which you do as an artist, Im trying to do now from a production point of view. Trying to do another band justice, with the idea that its like, you could get halfway through this record and what if you think "the sounds off well, were 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 dont have that. If you want to continue to move forward as an artist, you can only second guess yourself so much. Ill get critical about peoples records... everyones 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, thats 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 didnt really actually hear that much in what hed 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 thats 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 Im just going to do this with this guy.
Joel Plaskett: He had expressed interest a while ago I dont know when I met Gordie but it was several years ago. He knew the Hermit stuff a little bit. Hed never seen us I dont 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 wed 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 hes so, so loud.
Peter Elkas: Its funny, another thing that ties these two records, is that both the producers are Austin guys now, they both know each other, and theyre both crazy guitar players far better than we are but well 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 whos made records that sound good on the radio. Itd 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... thats why we did the three songs for a little EP, low pressure. That relieved the pressure. Three songs its expensive, but its not as expensive as making a record, its not an enormous investment, and they turned out great.
James Keast: And if it doesnt work out, you havent blown your new record on an experiment.
Joel Plaskett: Exactly. Did that. Worked out great. Did the whole record, and its 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 youre working on with Two Hours, it seems like even your producer chops have gone up a little bit.
Joel Plaskett: Its interesting watching somebody work the studio. Im 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 dont have a massive interest in all that stuff, though Ive learned a bit of it and have some preferences, but for me its like an arrangement thing hearing what devices work in the studio for maximum impact, and also realising that theres 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 theyve 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 couldve blown up in my face. I just lucked out on that educated guess, but... I think thats the place where the records differ a little bit, maybe the approach in general. It could be that Im 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 hadnt even been written yet before I got there. It was "okay, Im going to Arizona, and by the time I get there I have to have a record. Thats why I drove there by myself, was to have that sense of time to organise it in my head. Thats how I slot records, just time alone, driving thats when I align my records: those are the parts that go here, thats the song that connects to this song, having the dictaphone with me. This new record was very much like "Okay, its a concept record, this has to hold. Its not the tightest story of all time its conceptual, its pretty ridiculous really but I wanted melodies to reappear in other songs, theres 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 wouldve 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 theyll 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 Im sceptical of concept records in general. Often, what happens is the artist sees it as a concept record, but the listener doesnt make that connection. Ive had albums that I see as a coherent piece of work, that, in my mind, its a concept record, and the artists say "Dude, no way, those songs are way far apart. Then Ive had artists that say "Yeah, its a concept record, its all well thought out and when you listen to it, its like "Youre on glue. Theres so little coherence to any of this. In your case, what I hear immediately is that its one side of what you do. You do a lot of different stuff, so theres 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, were dealing with this chunk. Whether its lyrically clear to me, I dont know yet.
Joel Plaskett: You couldnt read the lyrics and say "I get it. You couldnt do that. Thats why theres a comic with it.
James Keast: Your wife did the comic?
Joel Plaskett: Its not a comic. Its 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 wouldnt know that because its 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 Ive made a few more than you under my solo name and in that regard, for me, whats 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, Ive 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 wont 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 couldve bloomed. There was that just on the cusp thing there throughout the Rabbits career. And now youre 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 "Im not quite there, but Im getting closer?
Peter Elkas: Yeah, one thing Im 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, Id say his career post-band has served somewhat of a model, at least just that, yeah, its feasible to do a new band project under your own name. At the same time, I didnt 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 wouldve 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 youre by yourself. Even if maybe you dont 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. Its kinda satisfying knowing it was your decision, whether its cover art, or title for a record.
Joel Plaskett: Its weird when youre 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 everyones happy with, but maybe one guys not totally happy with it you strike these compromises. Cool stuff comes from that youre representing four people instead of one. That can be amazing if everyones on the same page, and it feels great. Thats 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 theres a point where you cant 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 Ive modelled the start of my solo career after Joel, probably to a degree, probably subconsciously and inadvertently. Weve wanted to collaborate for so long, that now, because Im doing this, it makes sense to do it. This tour is a perfect opportunity I get to play in Joels band and I get to open the shows, and thats 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 theyre 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 didnt say that, but looking back on it, thats 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 youll come out and play with the band; it certainly makes what I do stronger when were 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 Ive 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 dont 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. Ive only ever had one job, and that was at the Khyber, and that was only through nepotism. Other than that, its been like carving a living out playing music just touring, doing things, and I see it as a very... if youve seen anything by watching my career, I feel its baby steps leading to something. I havent 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. Id 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: Its more about what do you want from music. For me, I love playing shows and I get off on things getting bigger, but its like a creative accomplishment. You gotta feel like people are listening to it. If I didnt feel my audience growing, I would be maybe a bit stymied by it. At the same time... Im full of contradictions this way, but so much about music is intention to me. If I sense an intention... its really impossible to judge someone elses intentions. You dont know. Ill listen to a record and go "the intention of this doesnt feel right. You know what I mean? Thats what reviews are people sussing out the artists intention. In terms of a career the intention and the integrity of a career ⎯ thats why we talk about someone like Springsteen. I dont know Springsteen I love his music, but theres stuff I love more. But you talk about Neil Young, in terms of intention, integrity, focus and idiosyncrasy thats paramount. You get such a sense of the guys 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 youre like "well, this is a part of it so you start to look for other artists that also have that? Youre talking about Neil you definitely have idiosyncrasies. Theres a quirkiness thats popped up, and its like youre embracing it a little bit more. Theres 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, youre an outward romantic. Your love songs... youll be unabashedly lovey-dovey. Its soul youre going to a place thats really classic soulfulness. Youre putting yourself out there, because thats something that not everyone is going to think thats cool. Not every indie rock fan is gonna think its cool. I think its cool. I love it. For me, I think as Im getting older, Im taking music less seriously and more seriously at the same time. Its a friggin record. Im gonna make it, Im gonna put it out, itll 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 Ive 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 were just laughing. I want that to come across in music. If Im having a good time, I dont want to feel like I have to curb my sense of humour, for someone whos not going to think its cool. I put doo-wop songs on this record, man. After the mix was done, I was like sweating, going "oh shit, Im gonna catch a lot of flack for this. But I was like "I love Billy Joels 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 thats cool. Its pretty goofy and probably really nerdy, but its also like... I dont 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 havent 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 theres a lot of humour in the Smiths. Theres so much that seems so overwrought right now. Even in a lot of modern pop punk stuff everythings so amped and theres an element of glitz to the thing that shimmies the wrong way. Im constantly searching for something that feels like you have some understanding of the individual outside of what their perception is as an outward image: "Im hard, or "Im dramatic or whatever. Well, why dont you show us when youre laughing? You get a sense of people when theyre sad on record. But you dont 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 doesnt necessarily do it musically, but does it lyrically to perfection as far as Im 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: Thats part of the clean up as well getting away from stuff thats a little more schizophrenic, or trying everything, its part of focussing the sounds and the lyrics and everything to get one vibe happening. Id be willing to explore my more hardcore aspects on the next record, you know?
Joel Plaskett: Youre 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? Im 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. Im pretty excited about everything right now. I still dont forecast very long range, but Im totally psyched I think touring with you is the perfect way to begin it, and I think well have an awesome time and an awesome year. Its 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 youre 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 were in our 30s, you think "oh yeah, that guys a grade older than me. I see you as being a grade older than me.
Joel Plaskett: Whats 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 youre 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, theres been a resurgence of that sense and youre 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. Whats weird is, to my perception, because Ive 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. Its great to see things happening but its been a constant flow of hard work. I had an audience Ive 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 wasnt right. If we had done that in this climate, it would have been received differently, I think. I think its great that all thats happening, but it hasnt really affected me at all, I dont think. Whats affecting me now is not so much the resurgence of indie rock, Im just seeing the snowball effect of all the work Ive put in, reaching a little bit more of a critical mass. My perception of it is that its great, whats 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 dont like anything thats 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 dont really... I dont think I would have called it that. I know what youre saying, but I dont 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 theyre still one of the only Canadian rock bands Im 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 youre referring to is something we could have fit into as well.
Joel Plaskett: My feeling is that theres 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 dont really know all these people. Living in Halifax, unless you seek that out I dont go out to shows that often because Im away most of the time and I tend to just recoil when I go home.
Peter Elkas: Whats cool about what youre 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 thats going to happen for me too. At the same time, when we go out to do this tour together, theres kind of a community vibe happening there.
Joel Plaskett: There is for us, because that was our community. Theres 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 dont 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 its pretty exciting, whats going on right now with Canadian music the climate has never been better seems to be everyones consensus, but Ive also watched it come down pretty hard. Youve watched the ebb and flow of it at Exclaim! Everythings a wave, right? Theres got to be ebb and flow of the tide a bit. It really is just how you choose to live your life if youre playing music. If you do it, some people play music for five years, some people play for 30. If youre going to do it for a long time, youre 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 hed been slogging away for years and years in Montreal before that.
Joel Plaskett: He had, but to me, it seemed like "kapow!
Peter Elkas: Sams 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? Sams always been super-talented, he had great songs, but I know what he was missing. Its what we had we had this community thing. We had murder. I still dont 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: Its 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 Ive 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 didnt 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, its 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 didnt 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 didnt 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 thats how its supposed to be. At least from movies and TV.
Joel Plaskett: I think thats where Toronto figured stuff out, and Montreal too theres a scene. Those cities now, theyre having their moment and deservedly so, but enough people with like-minded tastes decided to cooperate and get along and help each other. Theres something about the music business that sometimes works against human nature.
James Keast: I also think theres just a moment that happened. And as soon as theres a scene, there are people in it who deny theres a scene, there are people who try to latch onto it, and its a temporary thing. It lasts a couple of years, bands break up, they move away, you lose momentum it happened in Halifax, Ive seen in happen in Toronto.
Joel Plaskett: There was definitely a heyday of the Halifax scene; Ive been there the whole time. Theres always been a sense of community has always been there, but the scene even though its not sonically of the same picture theres always been shows. When a club got shut down, thered be underground shows. Its hard work and its intention. If your intention is there to make music and be part of a community regardless of whether that is a successful community if its your community, thats 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 theres 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 bands from my town and not somewhere else.
Peter Elkas: Buying locally you mean?
James Keast: Buying locally and touring globally.
Joel Plaskett: Im buying semi-locally when I hire Pete to play with me now and then. Im doing this stuff with Two Hours Traffic who are from P.E.I., because Ive taken an interest in these guys. Ive hired Ian to come in and help with mixes, because hes got another set of ears that I trust that I go back with. Im not necessarily branching it out into a community of people that I dont know, but Im 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. Its partly because I want that feeling of camaraderie or something I want to be able to pull that in a little. Its as much of a selfish endeavour as an outward one, frankly. Even producing stuff for me, its 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 elses songs. Certainly, working with Two Hours Traffic, I love their songs and its affected the way I write in subconscious ways.
Peter Elkas: You have bought locally, if were using that expression just working with Two Hours Traffic, youve brought them on tour quite a bit, but its not just because theyre from there, theyre a really good band. Its about their music and you heard something, but you happened to hear it because its local. I would like to... the stuff Im going to have access to is going to be around me, and hopefully it will be good stuff. I havent had the opportunity to extend my own success because I dont have that much of it, but Ive played guitar in a lot of bands, Ive played with Joel.
Joel Plaskett: Youre generous with your time, too. Youre interested in being part of a greater community.
Peter Elkas: But I dont 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 Ive experienced it youve maintained a certain hero status in Halifax. "Its Joel!
Joel Plaskett: I get that on the street in Halifax, and in the Maritimes more somehow, and its awesome. It really is wicked. I feel super fortunate. But its also why Ive become such a goof its 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 its a reflection of who you are as an individual and the way you conduct yourself again, its 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 Im 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 someones floor. Its a bit of an ownership thing that happens on the East coast. Like Matt Mays, whos done very well for himself and also very much a hometown guy its not like I have ownership on that. Im just probably the guy whos been there. Im the oldest now, aside from guys like Jimmy Rankin or Natalie McMaster; its a different scene. In terms of the rock scene, Im 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. Theyre older than me. Their creative impulses are still cooking, and theyre writing stuff, but they dont have the same audience that Ive acquired because Ive focused, and Ive had momentum behind what Ive been doing. Look at a guy like Al, hes such a bluesman, he really is. Hes the only bluesman I know. Tuck, really he just follows his nose. "Im just going to show up here and play. The thing is, I dont know what Als intentions are in writing songs I talk all this stuff about intention but Al writes out of a love for musics sake. Thats what, to me, thats what community is loving something not because its happening or whatever. I ask you to play in the band because I love Petes musicianship and I love the feeling that he brings to the stage. Thats important.
James Keast: I wanted to ask about the tour. What you think its going to bring, what you hope its going to be, and at one point in the phase of working a new record where youre both now right on the cusp wheres the point where you turn that corner and you start thinking about the next record? Whats 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 Im getting really specific here. Im hoping to have the buzz of the records help as the tour grows.
Joel Plaskett: At the end, itll be the Nevermind tour.
Peter Elkas: Ive want to increase my audience, and Ive been wanting to tour my band across Canada since I started playing with them and thats almost three years. Its never made sense financially. At this point, if we lose a few bucks, it doesnt really matter because hopefully well see a return in some way. I dont mean a financial return but I do mean a financial return. Its such a no-brainer in my mind, to tour the Elkas Band and the Emergency, because theres good crossover for sure without stepping on toes in any way. As much as I would like to joke and say its going to be an all-out slugfest, I dont think it will be. I think itll 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. Id be excited to see this tour as a fan.
Joel Plaskett: I also think anyone whos 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. Its not like were doing something brand new to us weve toured so many times together, the Local Rabbits and the Hermit. I like it because it feels comfortable thats why were doing it. Were old enough now, why do something that doesnt 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 its not Halifax. Its connected artists. In my mind, in some way, its "did you see the tour where Ian Hunter went out with T-Rex? Theres a connection there and were representing that, nationally.
Peter Elkas: I wanted to follow up our solo tour with a double band tour much more quickly than this. Im just anxious to really get out there and play for people. Youve toured Canada a ton with the Emergency, and this is my first time since the Rabbits. Ive toured solo opening for people, but always alone... to really have all the guys there, and really represent the album, Im super, super excited about that.
Joel Plaskett: Im just excited to be playing this tour. Ive decided to go at it really hard this year. I feel like Ive been running a marathon for three years straight ever since I made La Di Da. I feel like Ive 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 Im 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. Its 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 dont 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 cant stop working. Even if its not a lot of money, its enough money to a bunch of people that if you stop, that infrastructure that youve created of people that you care about and who work on your behalf, if they disappear then youre kinda back to square one. Its a little bit self-perpetuating. I find it a bit overwhelming and a little freaky to think about. To be honest, Im already thinking about the next record Im done with Ashtray Rock. Well go play it but theyre old songs now. I always feel that way as soon as I finish a record. I dont have a whole records worth of new songs, but Ive got some stuff. Im psyched for this tour. I love going across Canada. The first tour behind the record, youre like "Okay, lets go.
Peter Elkas: This part of the cycle of a new record is fun youre starting to do press, youre starting to find out if people like it, if its getting good reviews, and you get to go out and play. Its kind of the best part. Ive 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 Im just going to enjoy it. After the tour, Ill 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:Id kinda like to make a covers record its 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.