East Coast flavour reaches mainland

Canadian rocker Joel Plaskett and his Emergency tour with the Hip

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Joel Plaskett Emergency

Joel Plaskett is “hauling ass across the country” " but he still can’t escape his East Coast roots.

While on the final leg of an American tour opening for the Tragically Hip with his band the Joel Plaskett Emergency " comprised of Plaskett, Dave Marsh and Chris Pennell " he took some time to reminisce about touring, his latest record and growing up in Halifax.

“We’re different bands but we’re a complementary opening act,” Plaskett says about opening for the Hip. “They’ve been really great to us.”

But he says touring isn’t a vacation.

“We’ve seen some beautiful countryside [but] we’re just trying to keep up with the Hip ... so we don’t get to see the romantic parts. It’s like, ‘Oh another Bob’s Big Boy truck stop!’”

While he’d love to have more success south of the border, Plaskett is satisfied with the mark he’s made on the Canadian music scene " and rightly so.

Plaskett has plenty of recognition under his belt, ranging from multiple wins at the East Coast Music Awards to the shortlisting of his band’s latest release, Ashtray Rock, for the Polaris Music Prize.

Released in April, Ashtray Rock " a concept album inspired by Plaskett’s teenage years in Halifax " garnered critical acclaim and was touted as Plaskett’s greatest achievement.

The album’s storyline involves a teenage love triangle, with songs about high school parties, heartbreak, and the friendships forged through music.

“The narrative is fictitious, but its channelling the energy of playing music growing up is truthful. A lot of the details that make the characters on the record come from real places,” Plaskett explains.

Songs like “Fashionable People” describe being uncomfortable at a party, something Plaskett has firsthand experience with.

“In high school, I didn’t drink at all, I watched everybody else doing it. I was the guy into music and girls or whatever,” he says.

Plaskett’s focus on music helped catapult his high school band, Thrush Hermit, into the limelight. Its 2000 release, Clayton Park, was the most-played album on Canadian college radio.

“I was probably awkward,” Plaskett says. “But I didn’t have a really hard time in high school ... I had my friends that played music together, the Hermit guys and a girlfriend.”

While his most recent album is steeped in nostalgia, it also rings true to Plaskett’s life on tour.

“[Ashtray Rock] works in the present tense for me ... it’s the balancing act of playing music now and going out on the road and having to leave my wife and friends behind for awhile.”

Plaskett still clings to the East Coast for a sense of community, and his ties to the Maritimes prompted him to take P.E.I.-based band Two Hours Traffic under his wing after its members gave him a promo CD at a show.

“I was like, holy shit, there’s some good songs,” Plaskett says.

Plaskett produced Two Hours Traffic’s self-titled debut in 2005, and its full-length follow-up Little Jabs in 2007, an experience he describes as “really rewarding.”

From his Thrush Hermit days touring with Canadian rockers Sloan to his current tour with the Tragically Hip, Plaskett’s had his fair share of support. So it only makes sense that he is passing it on to a new generation of Canadian musicians.

Now finished his tour with the Hip, Plaskett is glad to be back in Canada for smaller shows.

“I love the energy of a small club when it’s rocking,” he says.

With tour dates until mid-November and a trip to Australia in the new year, it looks like Plaskett won’t be heading back to the East Coast any time soon " but at least he brings a bit of the East wherever he goes.

The Joel Plaskett Emergency played at Call the Office yesterday.

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