It was at a junior high school in Halifax that Canadian indie rock icon Joel Plaskett played his debut performance.
He was 13 years old when he and his first band Hard took the stage.
“I’m sure we were terrible, but I remember it being totally awesome,” said Plaskett. “We were the only band in our school and we got up and rocked a version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I just remember thinking it was totally freaking awesome even if nobody else did.”
Plaskett has become best known as a singer/song writer with a distinctly Canadian identity, and even more distinctly Halifax.
“I always enjoyed living here and that’s why I stayed,” he said. “There was a time in the ‘90s when we were in Thrush Hermit when we were batting about the idea of moving to New York or Los Angeles for like a six month or year long stint. None of us really had the desire to move permanently, but we just wanted to be around the industry at the time because we had an American record deal. We talked about it and we moved into a house together and decided we were fine in Halifax.”
Even though his decision to stay rooted in the Maritimes may have been perceived as a disadvantage at one point in his career, Plaskett said it reversed as he pursued his solo career.
“It kind of turned a corner where all of a sudden there are Maritimers all over Canada; Alberta has thousands probably,” he said. “I would go out on the road and all of these people who had moved away would be celebrating me because I was from back home. The flags would fly, and not even just Maritimers the fact that I had an identity and people identified me with a scene.”
Plaskett said it was similar to Bruce Springsteen being identified with New Jersey.
“Springsteen is from Jersey, he had a house in California. And not that I’m comparing myself to Springsteen, but he is associated as being from Jersey,” he said. “Staying rooted to this place wasn’t something I did to be successful, but it was a comfortable place to live. It’s affordable, all of my friends are here, why would I go chasing a music career when it rarely happens? You have to create something that you care about artistically and I find for me I have always made better art when I am comfortable. I can always go places to make records, but I always write a lot when I’m at home.”
Coming from a musical family, Plaskett received support from a young age to pursue his passion for music.
His dad is a musician, his sister is a music therapist and his mom did a lot of dancing when he was young.
“My family’s interest in music is definitely what sparked my interest,” he said. “But really what got me into wanting to play was when we moved to Halifax when I was 12 years old, I met some guys and they were my age and they were really into music, but I didn’t play anything. One of them started playing guitar and I thought it would be more social to play the guitar and join a band. It was really more for social reasons it rapidly turned into a desire to express myself, but initially it was basically to make a racket.”
Plaskett’s music career started in the early ‘90s when he formed Thrush Hermit with Rob Benvie on vocals and guitars, Ian McGettigan on vocals and bass and Michael Catano on drums.
Until their break up in 1999, Plaskett was front-man and guitarist as well as primary songwriter.
Following the end of Thrush Hermit, he formed Neusiland with a collection of musicians from other popular Halifax bands, but with Neusiland’s end after their one and only album, Plaskett decided to go solo, performing in Joel Plaskett Emergency and also doing acoustic shows.
“When the band is firing on all cylinders and we are doing a swinging rock show, it is a pretty unbeatable feeling. But then also when I can pick up an acoustic guitar and play a song with a lot of detail and sort of quitetude,” he said. “When I can sing a song that means a lot to me in a quiet place, that is really amazing too. It’s more like going back and forth between the two that feeds the energy for each of them. If I had to do one all the time it would seem less special. I really do enjoy both.”
With 12 years having passed since Plaskett was last in Nelson, he is happy to be coming back to take the stage at the Capitol on September 20.
“I played The Royal years ago with Thrush Hermit, I don’t know if the Emergency ever played Nelson,” he said. “It gets a little blurry between 1998 and 2000, I remember playing and staying in Nelson. I really remember the landscape and I really remember Nelson as being a particularly awesome, freaky town. I can still picture some of the people that I saw in that town and walked into the room. There weren’t a lot of people when we played.”
Plaskett will be playing acoustic on this tour which is allowing him to visit towns that ordinarily he may not get to access with the full band.
“We get to go to places that agents call secondary markets and probably even tertiary markets, and to me that is what is really interesting about it,” he said.
“What is nice about being able to play both full band and solo shows, with the acoustic shows often allow me to get to some of the smaller places because often the band is a more expensive proposition to take on the road.”