The music of singer/songwriter Joel Plaskett is synonymous with Canada’s East coast. With over two decades in the business and numerous albums under his belt, Plaskett is on an unstoppable role.
“Solidarity”, Plaskett’s latest album is a collaborative one. Teaming up with his father and fellow musician, Bill Plaskett, the album combines rock-infused inflections and soulfully inspired prose, merging together with Bill’s traditional folk sound. The result is a lyrically charged album creating the perfect synergy between father and son – Solidarity is bound to leave an indelible impression. TM chats with the Plasketts on working together, songwriting and their upcoming Canadian tour which kicks off March 17th.
TM: The new album “Solidarity” is fantastic! Had the idea of the two of you working together been percolating for a while? How did it come to be?
Bill Plaskett: It was an idea that percolated at some point. We played together enough in public before, and on the odd occasion had done a song or two of mine. People would say you should record something together. I think it was just an idea whose time came.
Joel Plaskett: Dad had accompanied me in the context of the shows, but I thought it would be really nice to have some of his material to play. We would creep a song in here or there, but we felt like people didn’t know it; they hadn’t been recorded. It was like, now dad’s going to sing a song that no one knows as well as my material. So I thought it would be nice to have a record that actually documented that – for people to know the record when they come to a show. When dad sings a song that song is also known. I wanted to make the record a more collaborative thing, not all pointing to my tunes.
TM: Lyrically the album works so well. Was it a real organic process for the two of you making this album?
Joel Plaskett: There are always challenges making a record. Because it wasn’t just my tunes, we were trying to find the songs that worked well together. Then beyond that how do you sequence it so it isn’t stacked one way or the other, so that it goes back and forth?
As we started recording we started to see the similarities between us. Even though I have a much higher voice we have a shared sense of melody, I play guitar differently then dad, but there are these things I have learned from him over the years. We have a shared melodic kind of ground, when that comes out of the mix it gets really strong.
TM: Tell me a bit about the writing process. Who wrote most of the lyrics for Solidarity?
Bill Plaskett: The point of reference for my material was the old cassette tapes that Joel had of stuff that I had recorded on-set years ago. “On Down the River” was one of those songs. In that particular case I had it structured in this kind of jaunty way, a bit like a Gordon Lightfoot song, with some repeating choruses and what not.
When we sat down with that one to think about how it was all going to work there was an editing process that went with it. Changing the shift of some of the narrative elements of it in the verses. In a way for me Joel is a much more prolific songwriter than I have ever been. I must say that I admire his skill in all of that, in a sense he would be offering his advice on how to restructure.
Joel Plaskett: Part of it for me is I have produced a lot of records for myself and for other people, so one of the aspects that I focus on is editing; what you choose to weave in or cut out. Sometimes I just see what lines don’t connect, at least on first listen. Don’t sing the chorus four times if you don’t need to!
TM: “The New California” is such a great song on the album. What was the inspiration behind it?
Joel Plaskett: That’s a short little tune, which I wrote it this past summer in Yellowknife. It wasn’t one of the songs I was considering until I wrote it. I wrote it and I put it up as a twitter video back in July. I wrote the tune and its actually about Yellowknife in the North West Territories – it’s not about California. We were there in July and it was midnight, the sun was still out and it was 25 degrees by the Great Slave Lake.
We were sitting on a beach by the Great Slave Lake at midnight as if it were six o’ clock in the evening in Northern California. I said, “This is like the New California,” so that was the spinning off point. I was away from home, a bit homesick but in this fascinating part of the world as well. It was really just a little vignette from my trip to Yellowknife. When you go up North it really changes your perspective of Canada.
What I liked about it and what get’s referenced again in “Solidarity” is traveling around you find great people, and like-minded people, and people who are coming together on things. It’s like I have been to California; the new one and the old one. Finding people everywhere it opens up your mind. One of those lucky things about playing music and being a traveller is it leads me to interesting places. At that point you connect with people who have very different experiences, but you find this common ground, which is where you build “solidarity”.
TM: How do you both stay inspired and focused musically?
Joel Plaskett: For me, it’s that I don’t really have another thing that I know how to do (chuckles). If I do its very limited; I can cook breakfast successfully. I guess my way of engaging the world is through music and conversation. So that is why so much of my music is lyrical and verbose; it’s because I always try to articulate an idea or a feeling. I have never blocked that desire to communicate despite all the challenges of the world. Really, music can serve as a refuge from that.
That’s been its purpose in many respects, to run parallel to what’s going on. Comment, criticize it and sometimes go completely in the opposite direction. So when you are feeling down you sing something that brings you up. That’s what keeps me inspired! Then there is just the sheer need as a performer to have material and that drives me to want to create it.
Bill & Joel Plaskett’s Solidarity Tour hits the road beginning March 17th in Montreal. Click here for tour dates.