The Restlessly Rooted Life of Joel Plaskett

The Restlessly Rooted Life of <b>Joel Plaskett</b>
When Halifax hometown hero Joel Plaskett opened up his copy of the local weekly The Coast earlier this year, he was equally flattered and flabbergasted at the results of the paper's annual readers' poll. His power trio, the Joel Plaskett Emergency, cleaned up in the categories for Best Local Act, Best Live Band, Best Bassist (Tim Brennan) and Best Drummer (Dave Marsh). They were also voted Second Most Likely to Move to Toronto.

Halifax is a town that has seen much of its best talent either retire quietly or move on — a fate Plaskett himself laments on "Work Out Fine," the best track on his new album Truthfully Truthfully. In a couplet nearly everyone east of Winnipeg can relate to, Plaskett sings: "All my friends/ where did they go?/ to Montreal! Tor-on-to!" To discover that he was considered next on the expatriate list was a bit of a shock.

"It's sort of funny, because I've made a point of sticking around here this long, and now I've bought a house in Dartmouth," says Plaskett, taking a break from re-shingling his roof after Hurricane Juan. "I'm pretty firmly planted here, and if I went elsewhere, it wouldn't be to Toronto. I love visiting there, Montreal too, but if I were to move somewhere else, it would probably be Saskatchewan. There's a feeling I get from the people and the landscape that's kind of what I like about Nova Scotia. There's an underdog status to it, being next to Alberta. The prairie is not unlike the ocean, the same kind of expanse. I take a certain amount of pride living out here, and my way of giving back to it is to write about what it's like to be here."

That said, Plaskett has toned down the Canadianisms that he scattered through his vastly underrated classic rock tour de force, 2001's Down at the Khyber. There is also less of a country influence, drawing instead from British power pop trios and old soul music. On his 2002 tour, Plaskett was covering a Curtis Mayfield song, and upon first hearing his own "The Day You Walked Away," the listener would be forgiven for thinking it was another Mayfield song. "I was trying to write a song in that vein," Plaksett admits. "It's probably shameless or whatever, but it's only shameless if you know the Impressions — which most people who know my music don't. What I really fell in love with about Curtis Mayfield's writing is the way he writes about love and love lost. He has this real sort of pride in the way he writes about relationships. It's never really woe-is-me, whereas white indie rock — myself included — tends to get into that territory quite a bit. Listening to Curtis Mayfield is really uplifting even when it's sad, which is a real challenge."

On the hilariously hammy "Extraordinary," Plaskett's influence comes from a completely different era of soul music: "Funky Cold Medina." "To me it's like Ray Davies meets Tone Loc, a bit of a piss take and a bit snarky," he laughs. "When I was writing it I was cracking myself up, because it was a bunch of vignettes with no relation to each other and almost none of it is particularly extraordinary. I don't know how people will take it; one friend told me it reminded him of David Wilcox and I thought, ‘Oh, Jesus.' On this record, the serious songs are heavier and the fun songs are more tongue-in-cheek. We're a live band who goes out and tries to entertain people, and so I wanted a few songs that would suit that purpose."

Some of those songs would have been better left to the live set, like the first single "Come On Teacher" (originally a b-side by Plaskett's former band, Thrush Hermit). But while the production is a bit shinier than Khyber, Truthfully does display Plaskett's formidable rhythm section in full bloom. Dave Marsh even takes the mic and penned the closing track, a new trend for the veteran drummer that started with the surprisingly excellent Super Friendz reunion. And despite the fact that Tim Brennan moved to Dublin recently, he's still committed to the band, and Plaskett couldn't be happier with the dynamic.

"After having played with this rhythm section for a few years, I'm realising that I can sing to just bass and drums a lot more, and I'm getting off on that," he enthuses. "This band is kind of out of step with what's going on right now, where you have a lot of really big bands, and dense bands with a lot of instruments. I love that, but I don't have the energy or the aspiration to get a bunch of people together to do that. It's too exhausting and too expensive. There aren't a whole lot of power trios these days. When things swing into vogue I tend to swing away from it. That's probably part of the reason why I've never sold any significant number of CDs. I never want to make the same record twice."