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Interview with Joel Plaskett & The Emergency

By Gary Wien

originally published: 07/11/2011
Joel Plaskett is a Juno Award-winning artist from Nova Scotia whose band's set at the 2011 Southern Shore Music Festival in Millville was one of the highlights of the day. I was able to catch up with Joel after his set to talk about his band, Canadian music, opening for Paul McCartney, and building an audience in the States. His band will be returning to the area on Thursday, August 18th when they take part in the Philly Folk Festival in Schwenkesville, PA.

How did it feel to be called back for an encore? I was here last year and I don't think there was an encore all day.
That was really cool. I love playing and reaching out to a new audience. I really feel like we built it slow and steady in Canada and I like the idea of getting something happening in the States -- especially on the Eastern Seaboard. It's right down from Nova Scotia and makes a lot of sense; it's a lot closer than Vancouver. There's a lot of people down here and I think there's a lot of shared tastes.

Believe it or not, but I became a fan of your band from Iceberg 85!
Right on!

I was wondering if Canadian bands are finding a lot of fans from satellite radio these days?
It's hard for me to tell how many... has satellite radio grown in popularity? It might have bubbled a bit, I'm not sure.

Well, every new car has it now...
Right! We haven't been to the States a lot over the past few years, but I see stuff posted online at Facebook and get requests for us to come play in a particular place in the States. I figure a lot of that is from people finding us from satellite radio like Sirius or the CBC station. Those stations are cool because their mandate is to support Canadian artists.

Iceberg has been very good to me and my profile in Canada has been steadily building, but that border -- unless you get radio support, it's a different world as soon as you step across that border.

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The CBC is a national station in Canada, but thanks to satellite radio it's like a North American station as well.
Absolutely. It's very cool. I did a bunch of shows in the UK last year and people are finding music in a lot of different ways. That's the first thing you notice. Everybody has their own "go to" station. I still like radio as a way to discover new stuff if it's good. The problem is most radio is so poorly curated.

I actually didn't know where your band was from when I checked out the websites for the bands playing the festival, but I really dug your sound and made a note to check out your set. I'm not sure why it is, but I have a habit of liking Canadian bands. If you played me ten acts, I'd almost certainly be able to pick out the one from Jersey and the one from Canada.

Forgetting about any accents, do you think there is a particular Canadian sound?
I would say there's some stuff in common. I think there's a shared sense of melody. It's influenced very much from the States and from England. It's a real hodgepodge for us because where we're from in Halifax there's a Celtic music influence and a real traditional music influence, which touches down to my music a little bit. But rock and roll is a huge part of my world and I get it from American and British records.

There's definitely a bit of a Canadian sound with bands like Sam Roberts, us, and Sloan.

In a weird way, Canadian music always reminds me a bit of 80s rock.
It's pretty tough to generalize completely, but I do think that Canadians like choruses -- they like big choruses and the records are not really clean, but they're sort of like square in the way they hit you.

I've always been able to find bands like Sloan, The Weakerthans,The Trews -- I never understood why, but maybe there is some sort of connection with them all.
It could be the shared influences. We all grew up within the same area. I've played with all of those bands and we all know each other; it's a small scene.

Well, actually the only band I've never seen or even cross paths with are The Weakerthans. I know we basically know each other without knowing each other, but they're always on tour when we are.

You said on stage that this was your first time actually in New Jersey. I bet this area here isn't quite like you see on TV.
We've driven through it a bunch, but we've never stopped and played Jersey. I actually played Hoboken once years ago with my old band, Thrush Hermit. That was at Maxwell's, maybe 1994. I've been touring since 1993. I was with Thrush Hermit until 1999 and then we broke up and I started doing stuff under my own name. I've been at it a long time.

Tell me about the band, how long has this group of guys been together?
Dave Marsh who plays drums with me has been on deck since 1999 where it first started; Chris Pennell who plays bass joined around 2007; and Peter Elkas who plays guitar didn't make this trip.

I also do a lot of solo shows and play a little with my father. There are a few gals who sang on my last record who've done some shows with us as well. There's kind of an extended family, but the core of the band is me, Dave, and Chris.

We opened for Paul McCartney in Halifax, which was a really big outdoor show and we had a seven-piece that night.

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Did Paul choose your band specifically for the show?
That's what we were told. We got the email from his management. It was like "Paul would like to invite you" so let's go!

He probably doesn't get turned down very often.
It was a super cool show.

Do you have any plans to be back in the area anytime this year?
We'll actually be back in August... let me check the date. It's August 18th for the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

One final question, who's a Canadian artist on the rise that we should keep a look out for?
Hmm... Do you know Two Hours Traffic? They're a really good band from Prince Edward Island. I'm a little biased because I produced a couple of records for them, but I think they're a pretty great band.

There's a lot of good stuff happening out there. Canada's got a real happening scene right now.

Photo by Mat Dunlap

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.



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