BY MEREDITH KLEIBER Joel Plaskett is no music-biz newbie. If you’re an American, his name may not yet be familiar to you, but Plaskett is among the most well known contemporary musicians in Canada. Hailing from the Halifax indie scene of the 90s, Plaskett cut his teeth with Thrush Hermit who hung it up in 1999. He went solo around the turn of the century and blew up in the great white north shortly thereafter. He kind of looks like Michael Cera but his taught, whimsical brand of pop-rock sounds like the second coming of Marshall Crenshaw, and as second comings go, you could do a lot worse. He plays tonight at the Philadelphia Folk Festival.
PHAWKER: I recently listened to the triple-disc Three and thought it was really ambitious. What is the connection between the three records, and why did you decide to release them as a set rather than one at a time?
JOEL PLASKETT: Well, I was 33 when I made that record, so I had it in my mind that I was going to record all of these songs that I’d been working on from traveling and whatnot. It didn’t start as a triple record, but it kind of morphed into one when I started to write all these songs that had the same word three times just kind of in the refrain. But I wanted to make a folk record, and maybe a rock-and-roll record, since I had all these different kinds of tunes. And so then I made the joke to my manager that I was going to make a triple record, but as soon as I said it, I knew that’s what I was doing. And for me, each record kind of serves a different purpose in a way. It’s autobiographical, and maybe cinematic is the wrong word, since it’s not really melodramatic, but I wanted to tell a story in the way of like a three-act play. The first record is sort of rock-and-rolly, and is about leaving and doing what I do, and the second record represents being alone or being left behind. Then the third record is sort of the slow return home. I thought it would be a bold move to put them all together, and I realize it’s a tall order to expect everybody to listen to it in one fell swoop, but I also try to make each record kind of short so that it would hold up as a triple. I wanted a record that showed the different facets of what I do by having a little bit of a traveling narrative to it that allowed me to pull it all under one umbrella.
PHAWKER: In your song “Through & Through & Through”, you say “Good things come in three”. It’s funny because my mom always told me that bad things happen in threes. Would you care to share any significant “threes” that have happened in your life?
JOEL PLASKETT: (Laughing) Yeah, I think there’s some truth to that, too. Maybe I got it wrong. I like playing with language. I got kind of carried away on that album, but I’ve always liked rhyme. I tend to write a lot in the moment and then hang onto the stuff that I enjoy. For me, the thing that I always find is that two things always turn into a third. It kinda sounds corny, but you know, in the way that friendships develop… or you have a different experience when things happen back to back. In terms of relationships I’ve had, there’s always another element that comes from two individual situations or people. So that’s kind of how I think of that record; there’s this balance in three that’s kind of inevitable. I’m not really, like, spiritual or that big into numerology or anything, but I’ve always sensed that. I can’t exactly grab examples; it’s more like two things always lead to another thing. I’ve always found that interesting.
PHAWKER: Your music style seems to touch on a bit of everything — folk, singer-songwriter, rock-and-roll, a little bit of bluegrass, some rhythm-and-blues — which I’m sure appeals to a wide variety of listeners. Do you choose a different set of songs for each audience or do you treat each show in the same manner?
JOEL PLASKETT: I curate it a little differently for the audience, especially depending on whether it’s a band gig or a solo gig. But having said that, it’s always a little different when I play a tune in the States because people know my catalog a lot more in Canada. So it makes it a little easier to do whatever I want in Canada. In the States, I often feel that people don’t have the same awareness of my music. My fan base in Canada is from the age of eight to like 65, so it’s kind of liberating in some respects, and in the States I’m trying to gain an audience. The challenge for someone like me, someone with a weird name, because I touch down on a number of genres, it allows me to play in different arenas, but doesn’t allow me to be easily described to people. For me, the thing that ties the genres together is a lyrical or performance approach; regardless of what song I’m playing, the way I sing or tell a story doesn’t change. It’s still there from the rockingest tunes to the most desperate, ya know?
PHAWKER: So I think the Philly Folk Fest is a good venue for you, then. Is this your first time playing the Philly Folk Fest? What about the fest are you most looking forward to?
JOEL PLASKETT: Yeah, it’s my first time playing. What I’m most looking forward to is a different audience. As much as I love playing in Canada, it’s exciting to get down in the States, and especially in Philadelphia, which is a really cool town I’ve been to over the years, having played down there in smaller venues and stuff. It’s a place where I’ve felt that people get it. There’s some kind of connection that carries up to the Eastern seaboard, maybe on an influence level. The people kind of recognize where it comes from. Nova Scotia has the Irish, Scottish, British, and American influences, and there’s a real tradition of bluegrass there as well, so when I’m playing in Philly, there’s a lot of the shared cultural touchstones. I’m just excited to play for some more people and see if I can make some new fans.