The Hal­i­fax Ex­plo­sion

An in­die rocker who never left

National Post (Latest Edition) - - BOOKS & WRITERS - By Gil­lian Turn­bull

Nowhere With You: The East Coast An­thems of Joel Plas­kett, The Emer­gency and Thrush Her­mit By Josh O’Kane ECW Press 232 pp; $18.95

Austin in the 1970s. Toronto in the ’80s. Seat­tle in the ’ 90s. Ev­ery city has a mo­ment where lo­cal ta­lent, a big au­di­ence and an in­flux of in­dus­try cash com­bine to make a mag­i­cal mu­sic scene. For Hal­i­fax, that time was the mid-’ 90s, when the East Coast hub had shed some of its tra­di­tional folk mu­sic chains and a new gen­er­a­tion of kids was mak­ing killer rock. Hailed as the next Seat­tle, the city saw record la­bels scour­ing ev­ery cor­ner of ev­ery dive bar for the next hot act. I’ve heard tales about this scene for ages; my part­ner paid his dues in Hal­i­fax clubs be­fore go­ing on to a ma­jor la­bel deal and tour the coun­try. Who opened the door for him and oth­ers like him? Four guys who were only a year ahead in school, but al­ready lead­ers in the lo­cal scene: Joel Plas­kett and his band, Thrush Her­mit.

Josh O’Kane’s book, Nowhere With You: The East Coast An­thems of Joel Plas­kett, The Emer­gency and Thrush Her­mit de­tails Plas­kett’s sin­gu­lar vision and ded­i­ca­tion to main­tain­ing a scene in the city he loved. Un­like my part­ner and many other Haligo­ni­ans who had to leave for Toronto, Plas­kett was de­ter­mined to stay — some­times to his detri­ment. Nowhere With You is as much about the de­clin­ing record in­dus­try as it is about the long- term eco­nomic de­cline East­ern Canada has faced for gen­er­a­tions. In a place where the death rate is eclips­ing the birthrate, mu­si­cians have a tough time de­vel­op­ing — and keep­ing — an au­di­ence.

Fight­ing against the tide of sen­ti­men­tal folk record­ings that emerged from the Celtic boom of the ’90s, Plas­kett, his band­mates, and other rock­ers like Sloan strug­gled to grab in­dus­try at­ten­tion. But that strug­gle didn’t last long: deemed the “New Seat­tle” by Melody Maker’s Everett True, the city was soon in­un­dated by record ex­ec­u­tives trav­el­ling long dis­tances to se­cure the next promis­ing act. O’Kane’s fa­mil­iar­ity with the scene and the general ex­cite­ment around the East Coast at that time an­chors his nar­ra­tive, but even more en­joy­able is his pal­pa­ble en­thu­si­asm for the mu­sic he doc­u­ments. It’s clear that the Mar­itimer O’Kane ad­mires Plas­kett’s re­fusal to cave in to pres­sures to move west in the midst of a promis­ing in­die rock ca­reer. Though Plas­kett made po­ten­tially ca­reer-dam­ag­ing de­ci­sions — like when Thrush Her­mit turned down an of­fer to in­clude one of their songs on the sound­track to the hit movie Dumb and Dumber — they served to fur­ther en­dear Plas­kett to his col­leagues and au­di­ence.

As fel­low band mem­bers drifted away one by one to big­ger ur­ban cen­tres, how­ever, Plas­kett was forced to re­shape his vision mul­ti­ple times. Af­ter form­ing the Emer­gency in early 2000 in re­sponse to the breakup of Thrush Her­mit, Plas­kett weaved in and out of solo and band work over the fol­low­ing 15 years. He be­came a road war­rior, tour­ing across Canada and the U.S. and mak­ing for­ays into Europe and Aus­tralia. In the end, the in­dus­try came to him: Cana­dian in­die la­bel Maple Mu­sic, though some­times baf­fled by Plas­kett’s de­ci­sions, signed him and con­tin­ues to find ways to mar­ket the singer- song­writer in mar­kets be­yond the coun­try’s bor­ders. The me­dia and club book­ers alike cite Plas­kett as their dream artist to work with, pro­mot­ing his work re­gard­less of com­plex­ity and breadth. Be­tween mul­ti­ple records, Plas­kett also man­aged to fit in a rock opera, Ash­tray Rock, and a triple al­bum, Three — a dan­ger­ous move in the era of on­line stream­ing.

O’Kane’s re­search is thor­ough: his de­tailed ac­count of much of Plas­kett’s cat­a­logue is am­pli­fied by in­ter­views with mem­bers of Plas­kett’s bands, his fam­ily, and Plas­kett him­self, creat­ing a full pic­ture of a life lived through mu­sic. Mu­sic is the “thread that’s pulled him all the way through to now,” says Plas­kett’s wife Re­becca Kraatz. Not know­ing what else he would do, Plas­kett re­mains in­sis­tent that not only will he con­tinue to com­pose and record, he will also al­ways do it at home in Nova Sco­tia. At present, he sits at the helm of New Scot­land Yard, a stu­dio where he has recorded and pro­duced the likes of David Myles and for­mer Great Big Sea mem­ber Sean McCann. Ever the Cana­dian in­die dar­ling, Plas­kett con­tin­ues to grace fes­ti­vals and Cana­dian main­stays like the Com­modore Ball­room and Horse­shoe Tav­ern with his pres­ence, en­dear­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of fans to his slick pop tunes and East Coast af­fa­bil­ity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.