Where Happiness Resides: Arthur vs. Joel Plaskett

Iconic East-coast rocker Joel Plaskett has been delivering consistently solid material since his involvement in the grunge inflected “Thrush Hermit” in the early 90s. 16 albums later, Plaskett’s artisic vision has certainly matured (he may disagree) while retaining a youthful sense of innocence and fun.

The Joel Plaskett Emergency will be playing October 11 at the Acadamy Theatre in Lindsay, Ontario.

Arthur reached Joel on route to Ontario via Saskatchewan.


I was looking at videos of you and I found a blog post where you asked a silly question with a silly answer, but I think it’s worth asking again. Joel Plaskett, Happiness … what does it mean, and once we know, how do we find it?

JP: Right now, from my particular vantage point, rural Saskatchewan is making me very happy. We are just cruising down the TransCanada, just past Piapot and stopped in a little town called Tompkins. So, if I were to define it in this moment, it would be the sweet rolling prairie that I am enjoying so much in this moment in time. So I feel like I found it … at least for today, we’ll see how I feel tomorrow. In the moment that is the answer I can give you and that tends to be where happiness resides.

Along the same lines, most if not all the progressions, lyrics and imagery surrounding your songs and the attached media (such as videos) reflect some sort of innocence or fun even when you are dealing with heavy issues. Are you an optimistic person? And if not, why do you think it is important to promote this kind of optimism?

JP: Well, I am pretty optimistic. I mean there is stuff that drives me nuts. The world can be pretty depressing if you look at the newspapers as part of the lens. From where I sit as a fairly lucky and privileged member of the Western world who moves freely through it without much friction, I guess I don’t feel a responsibility to promote optimism but at the same time I think it is maybe more important to reflect my life as opposed to running away from it. I do enjoy what I do; I like making music and I like bringing joy to the stage. I have found there are times when that is challenging, when I get bogged down with negativity but with this particular record and this moment in time I am trying to look at in an opposite way and recognize what it is that I enjoy about things and focus on that instead of focusing on the negative.

As I asked the last question, the video for “French Inhale” by Thrush Hermit came to mind. This song is silly, but maybe a different kind of silly, maybe reflecting a grungier time. There is a lot of butt rubbing and smoking. Do you think that you or the world have changed more since this song came out in 1994 and what are your thoughts regarding those changes?

JP: That’s hilarious. Well, I don’t think I have changed that much. I have been living in an adolescent bubble of playing rock music so how different can I be? I still like a lot of the same bands, but I’m probably less judgmental than I was back then. I think that the world has probably changed, I mean there was no internet back then – the only reason you can watch “French Inhale” now is because there is internet. That’s a tough question. It would be easier for someone with perspective to answer, I have none. I am me. I can give you no perspective other than my own and I am stuck in it.

I noticed in your upcoming tour dates you are playing in a lot of theaters. The date most relevant to our readers is at the Academy Theatre in Lindsay. Is theatre playing a reflection of a more mature artist? And being that Peterborough is the larger hub in the area, why Lindsay?

JP: To answer to your first question, have you seen my hardwired, rock n’ roll monkeys? That spin on top of my amps? [laughs]. To answer your second question, we have played in Peterborough a bunch over the years. I played in Lindsay once in a café years ago and frankly the offer came in to play Lindsay. It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I love getting to the smaller places. I grew up in a small town of 3000 people, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I really recognize the importance of bringing in live music to a small town. Sometimes our best gigs are in places that are off the beaten path. I look at every gig equally. Some are more high profile and more pressure like Massey Hall in Toronto and opening for McCartney in Halifax. We bring our show everywhere we go and make a point of having a good time.

On your website, your latest album “Scrappy Happiness” is described as a risk. Why is it a risk, and why was it worth taking?

JP: Well I guess it is on our website so somebody must have said it. For me the risk was the fact that it was deadline based. We recorded and released at one song every week for 10 weeks. So when Thursday came around every week it was like we have to deliver this song it is going up on iTunes and being played on CBC in a couple of days. Deliver! So the risk was that the pressure was there to deliver something that I was happy with and that hopefully other people would respond to. The risk was that I would catch a cold, or my favourite piece of analog equipment would break and I would be stuck doing something on a compromised level that week. It all rolled pretty smoothly, it was stressful but it was a risk worth taking because I turned a record around from start to finish in basically 10 weeks. In total it was a three month turnaround which is rare now. There is a slowness at which the industry moves and it doesn’t reflect the time that we are living in.

We recently interviewed John K. Samson and he expressed a frustration with the emphasis on awards culture in Canadian music, despite being nominated and awarded with many himself. Being a fellow multi-award winner, what are your thoughts on the “play to win” mentality?

JP: I think if you play to win, then you are playing a different game than me. I know there are many ambitious artists/musicians with a competitive streak and I think everybody is subject to that on some level, but at the same time I don’t think it drives art and self-expression at least not in its entirety. I make music for myself and my audience. I have won a handful of awards out East and a Juno a couple of years ago. I don’t look at those things as negatives. I recognize that it is part of an industry machine that helps promote and award certain things. Really for me, it’s kind of a reaffirmation. It’s not that I need it to continue to do what I do but it helps build momentum and I feel like it is another organization or group of people who are saying “hey, this is noteworthy.” I am not really bothered by it, and I don’t pay a lot of attention to it when I am not up for something. When you are invited to the party you show up, but when you’re not you hear about it but you don’t feel as much a part of it. When I am included I am not going to complain.

watch joel making the final cut on scrappy happiness