© Ty Dunham
The Joel Plaskett Emergency rocks the crowd at Labrador City’s Arts and Culture Centre last week.
Joel Plaskett just doesn’t stop.
After winning a Juno for his 2009 triple album “Three” and being handpicked by Paul McCartney to open for him that same year, Plaskett has been on a fast-track to becoming one of Atlantic Canada’s biggest artists.
Fortunately for Labrador West and Happy Valley-Goose Bay residents Plaskett and his band The Emergency marked the two towns in their busy calendar, playing solid rock and roll shows for each Art and Culture Centre last week as part of their tour across Newfoundland and Labrador.
Plaskett, who grew up in the small town of Lunenburg, NS, knew it would be fun to visit new places.
“I always valued music in small places. Sometimes we have our best shows in small towns; it’s uncharted territory. They want music, they grew up around it.”
Plaskett said with Newfoundland and Labrador’s deep musical history the shows were going to be great.
“Even if we don’t have packed houses we’re not going to have a bad time, it’s going to be fun. We get to see all these places, and get to play for people who have probably never had the chance to see us or have only seen us in big cities.”
The show began with Joel Plaskett and the Emergency, with Dave Marsh on drums and Chris Pennell on bass, powering through song after song with the force very few three-piece bands could provide.
Plaskett took the stage for the second act with his acoustic guitar, telling back stories to some of his more personal songs like “Love This Town” and inviting the audience to sing along. The Emergency joined Plaskett again, mixing improv with classic songs.
The improvisation gives each audience a unique show, and Plaskett said it brings a challenge to the band.
“There’s moments in the set designed for improv, to ebb and flow in a different place and it pushes it somewhere else. The band is real good at that, listening to where it’s going and following me. There’s a fine line between playing something right and not getting it so set in stone that it gets boring.”
Plaskett said bigger shows can have more energy to them, but that doesn’t make them necessarily better.
“Sometimes it’s these off the beaten path shows that are fun and totally memorable for different reasons. It’s also more relaxed playing in a small place, and it brings you back to what you do best because you’re playing for people who have never seen you so there’s not that pressure. I like small towns because I feel like I can be myself.”
Plaskett’s goal is to make each show better and different every time.
“A lot of it is about keeping my mind limber, by working on songs or making stuff up on the fly. I try to bring it to the live show, try to wing it. The rhyme stuff at the end of the night, a lot of it is foolishness, but it loosens things up. If I can carry that into the record in any way it keeps it fresh, not getting hung up on things being too perfect.”
For his latest album, “Scrappy Happiness,” Plaskett didn’t allow much time for perfection. Knowing it would be tough to follow the prolific and conceptual album “Three,” Plaskett took a major risk. For ten weeks, the band recorded one song each week and immediately released it for airplay on iTunes, CBC Radio 2, and CBC Radio 3, selling the songs as singles before releasing all 10 songs as a complete album.
“I thought the best way to make the next record was just to do it, and I got the idea for the song “Week” and thought this is a great way to not over think it. It meant I had to let go of it and make something different.”
When some bands spend months on a song and other artists spend an hour before recording it, Plaskett said there’s no formula to it.
“Some things go together really fast, other songs we work on for a really long time. Some songs we had played live or I had ideas for. But some songs lock quick, quick, quick. Other times you toil over it for months and it never feels quite right. There are a lot of songs where you’re just finding that right feel.”
There have been a handful of moments in his career other musicians could only dream of, but Plaskett remains humble and hardworking.
“My whole approach has been to work with my head down and every once in awhile I look up and something cool has happened. If you get the expectation that something is going to lead you somewhere, it usually doesn’t. You don’t know what will lead to big opportunity. So you just work until something big happens for you.”
Sharing the local recognition with other major acts such as Sloan, The Trews, Sarah MacLauchlan, and Great Big Sea, Plaskett said Atlantic Canada’s separation from central Canada has helped produce distinct artists.
“I think every city and scene in the Maritimes is all different as well. I think the one thing you see on the East Coast is very supportive communities, and musicians who support each other as opposed to it being a very competitive thing. There’s enough competition to light a fire under your ass, but not in a mean way. I’ve always felt the support from my community and my fellow musicians, and that makes a difference, and I think that’s helped me.”