WE DISSECT THE DARTMOUTH SWEETHEART’S LATEST RELEASE TRACK-BY-TRACK
It’s been three years since Joel Plaskett released an album of new material. Still riding a wave of confidence from his last album, Plaskett followed his nose with an ambitious project: record and release one song a week over the course of 10 weeks. The end result? The album Scrappy Happiness.
Starting with the release of “You’re Mine” on Jan. 10, Joel Plaskett Emergency recorded, mixed and mastered a new song every week for 10 straight weeks. After a noon deadline every Thursday, the tracks debuted on CBC Radio 2, Radio 3 and were then made available on iTunes.
The experience of his last album Three – pumping out a large number of songs in a short time and receiving more adoration from his fans – gave Plaskett the confidence he needed for the new record.
“Even if it’s a song a week and there’s a deadline, I can do it. I did 30 (songs) in a relatively short period of time. And I can write a lot,” says Plaskett while sipping a cappuccino at Two If By Sea Café in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
He first came up with the idea in the fall of 2009. It was around the time he was chosen to write a song about the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for CBC Radio 2’s Great Canadian Song Quest. He was busy working on David Myles’ album Turn Time Off. Myles was chosen to write a song about the Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick.
“Neither of us had written our songs. We were working on his album and the deadline was looming. One night after working at the studio, I went home and wrote ‘On the Rail’ and came back to the studio the next day and was like, ‘I wrote my song last night.’ (Myles) was like, ‘You bastard! I haven’t written mine yet,’” said Plaskett.
He wrote his song, recorded it and delivered it to CBC on Sunday night. On Monday morning it was on the radio. “I remember thinking it was so cool just to have done something so quick, to be so in the moment on it,” said Plaskett.
The songs from Scrappy Happiness have been kicking around in some form for over a year. The Joel Plaskett Emergency tested the new tracks in December 2010 and 2011 at The Seahorse Tavern in Halifax for its annual fan appreciation Concerts. Despite being written and performed live, the tracks were never demoed.
Plaskett recorded the new songs one at a time, released them to the public and moved on to the next track. This process differed from previous albums where he would sometimes record drums for the whole album, then guitars for the whole record.
“You can get hung up on the idea that there’s some sort of definitive version that is expected of you. I’d sooner just write it, record it, release it and then do the same thing with a new song as opposed to (thinking) I have to make this my Stairway to Heaven,” he said.
We sat down with Plaskett to go through the album, one song at a time, to get a glimpse into the process and ideas behind the tracks that make up Scrappy Happiness. An album about finding happiness in the unfinished.
LIGHTNING BOLT (RELEASED MARCH 13, 2012)
“Lightning Bolt is the song the album has been based around in my mind.” The album opener was the last of the ten songs to be released. “It’s playful lyrically, train of thought driven, about that rub. It’s not your fault, time flies, this life’s a lightning bolt.” Clocking in at over six minutes, the epic track is both the longest song and has the most guitar on the album. “It goes from pretty stark to the biggest moment on the record.” Plaskett says the song covers the sound and lyrical scope of the band.
HARBOUR BOYS (RELEASED JAN. 17, 2012)
This acoustic anthem was originally a full band song, but was recorded acoustically with a solo show or solo part of a full band show in mind. “I want a song that when people listen to it on record, it’s going to sound like it does live solo. I want a song or two in the set that are really strong sing-along songs that aren’t band songs.” Lyrically it was inspired playing summertime festivals in small towns across the Maritimes. It’s also a song he just enjoys playing. “It ties together my love of independent rock ’n’ roll and folk songs.”
YOU’RE MINE (RELEASED JAN. 10, 2012)
The newest song on the album was written before the Seahorse gigs in December 2011. It was released in the first week. “It’s about what I like about rock ’n’ roll, how my memories are tied to music. It connects to the other records in my mind. From Ashtray Rock through Thrush Hermit. It was brand new but I felt like it had a central history,” The song touches on the central theme of the album. “Your past is finished, but your life isn’t. You’re always in movement. Nothing’s perfect and then it’s done. I wanted a song that kind of pulled that into the present.”
TOUGH LOVE (RELEASED FEB. 28, 2012)
The playful song is one that captures the sound of The Emergency. “When I wrote it, I was like this is ‘Extraordinary’ or ‘Through & Through & Through’ for this record.” He envisions it as a polarizing track. “It will either be people’s favourite or their least favourite. If people like to party and like the rock tunes, this will be for them on the record. If people are skeptical of that, and only like the goober heartfelt stuff, this will be their least favourite. And I’m happy either way.”
SLOW DANCE (RELEASED JAN. 31, 2012)
As the oldest song on the album, “Slow Dance” was originally going to be recorded for Three with the title, “Oh my, oh my, oh my.” It was the hardest song for them to record on the album. It was going to be acoustic, but Plaskett wanted to add percussion. Eventually, drummer Dave Marsh added a his part, but the full band version of the song was abandoned. “It was one of those (songs) that I second-guessed right down to the last minute. When I listen to the recording now I can still hear a little of, ‘Well I had to get it done!’”
TIME FLIES (RELEASED MARCH 6, 2012)
Recorded on the first take when the band was hungry waiting to eat fish and chips for lunch. Drummer Dave Marsh told them it was good to play hungry. “Then we just rolled and it was like ‘Hey man, we got it.’ We weren’t sluggish. We were just like ‘Let’s friggin’ nail this because I’m hungry.’” The Emergency originally wanted a John Bonham drum sound but the track ended up with one softer and sounding closer to Neil Young or Paul McCartney.
SOMEWHERE ELSE (RELEASED FEB. 14, 2012)
“It’s about the desire to get outside yourself.” Plaskett based the song on his wife who’s been living in the city and missing the country. He focuses on “what she experiences on a daily basis versus what she’d like to see.” Early live versions of the song had a heavy guitar outro that was cut. “It’s already kind of Zepp-y, if it went even further, it might have been too much.”
OLD FRIENDS (RELEASED JAN. 24, 2012)
This song may be Plaskett’s favourite on the album. “It’s about the passage of time with people you know, and how you don’t necessarily see eye to eye all the time. You search for some sort of resolve where things are simpler.” It’s also a central song to the album’s theme: “You’ve got to find happiness regardless. It’s a hard thing to do.”
I’M YOURS (RELEASED FEB. 21, 2012)
This song originally featured a full band, but is now acoustic. His father Bill Plaskett, who appeared on his album Three, plays guitar on this song. Just like “Harbour Boys,” this song was written with an eye on playing live shows. “I want to be able to play acoustic guitar too, and I want to take a few minutes to myself every night to give my voice and some of my adrenaline a break. I thought this would be a good one for that.”
NORTH STAR (RELEASED FEB. 7, 2012)
The song is “written from the perspective of a grizzled dude in his truck driving down the highway, but he’s a good time dude. He just wants to be happy.” It’s like a fantasy version of Plaskett. “It’s me, but it’s not me.” It’s about “some guy’s perspective that’s kind of skewed through his own filter through time. That’s what mine is. This guy rolling with the punches, sniffing permanent markers and partying. Just doing whatever comes to mind. At the end of the day, in a perfect world, he’s no worse off than the rest of us. He’s probably happier that way.”
This article first appeared in the April issue of Mixtape Magazine.