Updated: May 15
Words & Photos by Will Yannacoulias
The Capitol Music Club has been stylishly celebrating their ninth anniversary for the entire month of May with a series of performances from local artists and well known Canadian indie mainstays. Several impressive names have performed but the feather in the Cap's anniversary cap is Nova Scotia's Joel Plaskett, taking the stage on Friday May 19th. The Juno award winning songwriter has been writing and releasing Canadian indie anthems for almost 25 years, emerging with his band Thrush Hermit from the 90's Halifax scene that also spawned Sloan, Jale and Eric's Trip. Two decades of releases as a solo artist and with his longtime band The Emergency have assured Plaskett's legacy as one of Canada's most beloved artists. I reached Joel by telephone in his studio in Dartmouth, where we had fun chatting about anniversaries, collaborations and his plans for The Capitol show.
Plaskett's headlining performance at The Capitol's ninth anniversary is fitting, as anniversaries have been a big part of his creative focus in the last few years; in 2019 he reunited with his Thrush Hermit bandmates and toured Canada to celebrate the twenty year anniversary of the iconic album Clayton Park. At the beginning of the pandemic isolation he retreated into his studio and re-imagined his triple album Three on its ten year anniversary, and later assembled his Emergency bandmates to take a twenty-years-later run at re-recording 2001's Down At The Khyber. "It's been nice going back to that music" Plaskett shared, as we discussed the connection between his album anniversaries and The Capitol's celebration. "There's something special about bringing something from the past into the present moment, recognizing you've grown around a venue or an album over time. It's of course different but the original spark is still there. This interesting thing happens when you realize it's changed and you've changed, and it still resonates with you but in a different way on a personal level."
Plaskett is counted among Canada's most iconic songwriters, playing to sing-along audiences from coast to coast. His songs are unapologetically woven into the fabric of Nova Scotia, stories enriched with towns, streets, venues and characters from the province. That sort of referential regionalism could sink other artists when trying to connect with a larger audience, but Plaskett finds fans everywhere he performs, returning often to the prairies to play to sold out rooms. "I'm deeply attached to where I'm from and it informs the sensibility of my songwriting and music" he observed. "I've recognized that when you lean into something that you know personally, it gets specific but it also gets weirdly universal. Every town has it's Ashtray Rock."
The May 19th performance at the Capitol Music Club will feature Joel Plaskett playing alongside longtime protege-turned-collaborator Mo Kenney. Plaskett has worked with Kenney since 2012 as a producer and co-writer, and much of the young Dartmouth-based songwriter's career has overlapped with Plaskett's in some way. He explained that "I started working with Mo when they were quite young, 19 or 20, so I know I've influenced their sound but the influence goes both ways. I've learned a lot from Mo over time, and we've become friends and collaborators more and more over the years. I learn a lot when I make music with other people, and I think through collaboration we stumble upon unique things."
Whether playing with a band or solo, in a bar or headlining a festival, there are certain traits that define a Joel Plaskett show. The fourth wall is non existent as he carries on conversations with the audience, shares lengthy anecdotes and responds to inside jokes yelled out by longtime fans. Shouted impromptu requests from his expansive back catalogue can turn into a game of 'stump the singer' as Plaskett goes cold into songs he sometimes hasn't performed in years (often nailing it). When asked what he had in store for audiences this Friday , the veteran showman assured that that his performance would be tailored to the room. "Mo played quite a bit on (the 2020 album) 44 so we'll lean into some of those songs. With these kinds of shows I tend to just see what I'm feeling that day in terms of a set list, think back to what I played last time I was in town, and take a few requests. There's of course certain songs that people expect, and I'm happy to oblige- they're staples of the live set for a reason. It's always a mix of giving people songs they know and throwing in a few oddballs. You walk a line between entertaining & making it fun, and doing more introspective delicate stuff. The fun of a live show is planning in advance but leaving yourself room to think on your feet, and the exchange of energy where the audience can shape the feel of the show."
Tickets for Joel Plaskett's May 19th appearance as part of The Capitol's 9th Anniversary are available here. Plaskett's latest release, The Window Inn Sessions, is available on all streaming services now. Follow Joel on Patreon for exclusive releases and streams.