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Joel Plaskett




Joel Plaskett: Past and Present

Joel Plaskett dishes on hair styles, Zeppelin and the making of Park Avenue Sobriety Test.

By Jacob Gradowski

Joel Plaskett builds on his considerable catalogue on his newest album, Park Avenue Sobriety Test. Looking both backward and forward for inspiration, the new collection only solidifies his standing in the Candian music pantheon.

Soon he will be taking the album out on the road across Canada. First though, let check in on some grooming choices.

Jacob Gradowski: I'd like to start off this interview by asking "When was the last time you let your hair Grow out?

Joel Plaskett: Uh, I don't know. I think it's been 8 or 10 years, I;m not even sure, I've not been keeping track. I've been keeping it pretty short. Why? do you think it's time?

Getting the songs out to the audience and having them react to them - that's when they take on a new life.

JG: I saw you perform on CBC with some pretty short hair debuting your new music and then again in some long locks in old Thrush Hermit videos.

JP: I had long hair for a long time, but at a certain point, I've been getting  a few grey ones - and I don't really wanna have long grey hair. Not that I really have any problems with that it's just not what I'm into. Getting over that awkward middle length is the hard part - if you went right to long hair it would be fine, but ya gotta power through it with that awkward length. I  just don't think I have the patience. 

JG: It was definitively a transformation for me too (mine was down to my chest in high school). You kind of finished up with The Emergency and I imagine that your style figuratively and literally changed a little bit as you leaned to more solo acoustic stuff.

JP: Well, me and The Emergency still play and the guys are all over the new record. I'm still out there doing rock shows - I don't really think long hair equals rock n' roll. I think it really depends on your taste. I kinda just got tired of havin' it but it didn't really make me wanna play electric guitar any less. Maybe it suits my folksy side.

JG: When did Park Avenue Sobriety Test (PAST) start coming together?

JP: The song itself is about 2 years old. But the record I started recording and making demos in summer time - and a bunch of tunes in, I figured I better start making a record. So a couple of those demos eventually turned into a recordings of me playing most of the instruments that are actually on the record for a handful of songs. Most of the album was cut in November live off  the floor  in my studio with The Emergency or with some other players, with six to seven players at once on live vocal takes. That was fun and half the record was done that way. so the writing songs over the course of the last few years, the actual recordings were in June to December, but mostly cranked out in November.

JG: You started putting out a few of these songs out during some live sets starting a few years ago . So what does a Canadian music vet of rock, pop, folk and blues, like yourself, feel when they debut something new to a big crowd?

JP: For me, the excitement of having a record out is having some new tunes for the live show. A couple have crept in there - I’ve been playing PAST  in solo acoustic sets for a while. "Alright OK" was put in the set list just before recording it. Getting the songs out to the audience and having them react to them - that's when they take on a new life. Makin' the record is the first step. Getting to play them on stage and have the tunes connect with the audience is when they really take hold.

Everything else on the album is new and untouched - we're gonna have to rehearse for the upcoming tour because we just kinda learned it in studio and then recorded it. That's usually the version you hear on the record 'cause I wasn't too precious about it being perfect, I wanted to capture that feel on this record - like people in a room. I think we got that here.

Joel Plaskett

JG: Do you dig back to any styles from the days when The Emergency was in full swing or with Thrush Hermit?

JP:I feel like there are parts that touch down in every aspect of my catalogue a little bit - "Credits Roll" makes me think a little bit, melodically. “Captain's Industry” could have been on "In Need of Medical Attention" stylistically. And a few others remind me of "Down At The Khyber" and "Truthfully Truthfully." It was kind of a natural thing to reference earlier records - recognizing that what I've done here is making a connection with people. If I have new songs that feel like old songs, I'm not gonna run from that - It can be a good thing.

JG: Do your songs have any inside jokes or references for people who may have known you for quite some time to personally get?

JP: Yeah, there's some stuff that's for myself, inner circle and hardcore fans that they can pick up. I do work referentially sometimes, depends on the tune. Some are more obvious than others - but I'm often referencing some music I like. There's one song on the record that quotes Joni Mitchell and then I reference that I'm referencing Joni Mitchell. They are easier to spot if you read the lyrics' cause you can see the quotation marks.

Joel Plaskett explains...

JG: Speaking of reading the lyrics, What can you tell me about the short song "The Last Phone Booth"?

JP: At about 30 sec long, it probably, of all the songs on the record, it doesn't merit the title of "song" - but I had to give it its own name and lyrics page 'cause I would get a kick out of it. It sounds like a beginning of a song, a transition - but It's kind of my favourite. You'll get the joke when you hear it.

JG: Many people would call you quite humble - but is there anything that you will openly boast?

JP:There are some things I think I do very well, but that doesn't mean there's lot of who can't do I do. There're many great musicians. I take a lot of pride in what I do. I think my new record is Awesome - but I'm like a fish in a big big ocean and not quite a pond - getting anybody's attention and singing your own praises won't get you too far. But I mean, I'll get boastful - but more like, I'll shoot my mouth off. Led Zeppelin IV is the best album ever made.

JG: That's a pretty valid statement.

JP: It's pretty close but actually "Houses of The Holy", that's the big one - they're my band.

JG: You're heading out on tour in April - Are there any stops your looking forward to? I heard you won't be going though Kelowna - I heard the story there.

JP: I've played Kelowna since then and had good shows. I'm looking forward to all the cities honestly. The great thing that's happened over the last few years - A love lost...
I can't recall a bad show. Like there are some technical things or something going on on a playing level, but really it's all kind of come out in the wash. When I think of the last few years of touring, I can't really think of any shows that have really been a drag. And having people seem to come out of the woodwork to see me feels good.

JG: In 2009, I was supposed to go to the show with my girlfriend at the time, but she asked me for her ticket for her friend - so she traded me a painting for it.

JP: She made you a painting? I guess if the painting is super awesome, then it was probably more important than the show.

JG: She hates it, but I love it - so too bad for her.

Follow Joel on twitter at @joelplaskett
Joel on the web:

Listen to Jacob Gradowski on The Arts Show every Thursday at 5pm (pacific time) on CJSF 90.1FM -

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