East Coast indie legend to headline Shindig
Joel Plaskett doesn’t blaze. But over a lengthy career on the concert circuit, he’s come to identify the sweet smell of chronic wafting over a crowd as a part of the cultural fabric of the festival scene. As the headlining act for the first ever Tweed Front Yard Shindig, Plaskett says he’s happy to be on stage at an event that will proudly feature a vape lounge and children’s tent in the same setting – something he sees as a refreshing changing of the times. We caught up with the East Coast indie rock legend to discuss the concert, his latest album and his legacy on the Canadian music scene.
Is this one of the weirder private party requests you’ve fielded in your 25-year career?
Playing at a marijuana factory is a first. To me, it’s an indication of changing landscapes, changing times. Living in a world as a musician where alcohol has been a constant presence, marijuana’s been part of that universe too. I don’t smoke weed, but I have no problem with it being enjoyed responsibly. It’s nice to have an event where the social construct around things is loosening a bit.
Your career has in some sense been built on the strength of your live set. Is touring and playing to be credited for your success on the scene?
The band has a tidy rock show that we pride ourselves on. But I’ve also taken a lot of gigs solo or duo that have put me in front of different audiences. I’ve developed a fan base in front of other people – I’ve opened for the Hip, Paul McCartney, the Barenaked Ladies. I’ve gotten in front of a lot of these bands and scenes, which has sort of allowed me to create my own audience. And what I really love is I look out and see people my age with their young kids, but then I see an older audience with people my parents’ age, then I also see teenagers and people in their early 20s. I’ve crossed the radar in some fashion and I’m still making new fans.
You’ve had a close connection to the Hip throughout your career and even developed an almost uniquely Canadian style. Are you conformable with being considered a “nationally adored icon?”
I embrace it in as much as I write about where I’m from. My music has a regional element of the Maritimes in it. And it also works in a Canadian landscape because I’ve toured Canada far more than I’ve toured the world. I certainly feel that my music can speak to people elsewhere, but I think it stems from the region I live in, and you can hear that. I’m not going to run from that. It’s a part of who I am in the same way music from New Orleans sounds like it’s from New Orleans, music from Memphis sounds like it’s from Memphis and music from New York sounds like it’s from New York. You can’t shake that.
You’re getting to place in your career where the conversation can start to centre on a legacy. Do you take pride on what you’ve been able to accomplish?
The accolades or the respect that I’ve gained from people is great. It fuels a desire to continue to make music, knowing that it isn’t falling on deaf ears. I’ve been really fortunate that way. I’ve gotten to know a lot of the bands in Canada, and I’ve been around long enough to play shows with many people that I admire and I’ve looked up to for years. And I’ve also got to meet younger bands that are coming up behind and moving their way through the music scene. I don’t feel I’m a household name but the thing that’s cool is I love the fact I’ve gotten to a point where I’m getting invited to places like Smiths Falls – that I have enough of a name that it can put me on a bill, or at the top of a bill, of a festival in a small town.
The Park Avenue Sobriety Test, your latest offering, is said to be an exploration of the more serious side of your sound. Was that the intention?
As you get older, you get angry and serious about different things. I’d be much more dramatic about a relationship or something when I was younger, but now there’s a bit of wisdom. I remember a time before the internet, and it’s a really beautiful, nostalgic place in my mind because the sort-of dog-whistle politics and the social media universe of instant reaction and anger to what is happening is a really fatiguing place to exist, and a really polarizing political environment.
You’ve never been an overtly political artist but there are songs on this album, “Captains of Industry” for instance, that drive home a political message. As you’ve grown as writer and individual, is this an area you’ve become more comfortable exploring publicly?
It’s there, but I try not have it be something that’s a huge part of the show. I’ve said some stuff and had it come back to me once or twice. I’m not someone who wants to argue but I also don’t want to be a silent bystander when I think that there’s something wrong going on. I think the importance of activism is something I think about. I’m not out there marching with people. It’s hard to engage on those things as a musician. I’m not afraid of it, but I’m mindful of it.
The Globe and Mail called the album a “veritable kitchen party.” Is that an accurate description?
The kitchen party is a way for people to spin it into a Maritime context. And the Maritime music history and kitchen party vibe is something that I’ve been around. It kind of evokes a Celtic vibe a little bit, at least on the East Coast. But we didn’t record in a kitchen; we recorded in my studio, which is a studio full of fancy gear. It wasn’t like we threw up a couple mics. We cut a bunch of it live and it was a blast. It was touching down more in the world of Bob Dylan or Neil Young records. It was great because it brought a bunch of friends from the past onto the record.
How has tracking some of these songs live translated to playing them live?
In some sense, the sound of Park Avenue is denser. The spirit of making things up on the spot – mistakes, warts and all – that shows up on Park Avenue in a way that hasn’t shown up on my previous records. So I think it reflects the spirit of the live show, even if it sounds a little different.
“I knew if I bring everybody into it, if everyone shows up, even if we don’t make a good record, we’re going to have a really good time.” Does the ability to have fun making music help to explain your longevity in the industry?
Yeah, and also just keeping myself interested. Whenever I’ve followed my gut in that way, there’s been some people who have followed me there. If I start resting on my laurels in my mind, if I don’t try something different, then I think it will seize up a bit. That does create longevity – it makes you want to keep doing it.
Still don’t have your tickets to the Shindig tomorrow? Get them at http://frontyardshindig.com/
Here’s to Future Growth!
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