Are You an Ipod God?

This story originally appeared in the April 12, 2007 issue of HFX/The Daily News.

Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl booms out of the PA system at Tribeca Bistro and Bar downtown. A packed crowd sandwiched into the club’s back room sings along.

They’re facing the stage applauding, but tonight there is no DJ.

Instead, two teams clutching their iPods flank the evening’s MC – tonight, in a gladiatorial IPod battle, they control the music.

As the song reaches its zenith, the track stops and the crowd hangs on the dead air in anticipation. The opening refrain of The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men thunders through the bar and they erupt in approval.

“It’s a lot of guilty pleasures,” admits the night’s organizer Aaron Siegner, aka DJ Double A.

IPod battles pit two teams and their personal MP3 players against one another. The goal is to one-up your opponent through crowd response to your song choices.

Each team plays 111/42 minutes of a song, and the teams alternate back and forth until each has played five songs.

The winner, as determined by measuring crowd response with a decibel meter, moves on to the next round.

“If you want to win this thing, it’s pretty simple. You just round up as many of your friends with the loudest voices,” Siegner says.

“Bring ’em down here and have them scream for you.”

Share your faves

First-time combatants Lael Williams and Sami Vujcic, who call themselves the Hotshots, blame this factor for their loss to defending champions, the Gameboyz.

“They had more Tribeca regulars here,” Williams says.

When the IPod was first introduced, many people predicted a population shut off from one another by little white headphones.

The IPod battle flips this theory on its head by offering the average music fan the chance to share his or her favourite songs with the masses.

A friend in Montreal first turned on Siegner to the idea. He says that the first battle, held last November, attracted a lot of hipster kids that knew about IPod battles through the Internet.

Word quickly spread, and a more diverse group of competitors came out for the latest instalment.

The audience is also a mixed bag of hip-hop heads, indie rockers and pop-music fans.

The appeal is that no one knows what will come next – not even the competitors. It doesn’t matter how cool or obscure your picks are – if the audience doesn’t like it, you’ll lose.

And with nothing at stake except bragging rights, the atmosphere is light.

“It’s just a party, end of story,” says Siegner.

ipod battle picks


Dolly Parton: 9 to 5

Kriss Kross: Jump

Journey: Don’t Stop Believing

M.O.P.: Anti Up

The Jam: Town Called Malice

Travis Smith (the Spin Doctors)

Missy Elliott: Work It

Scissor Sisters: Filthy Gorgeous

Duran Duran: Girls on Film

Gorillaz: Feel Good Inc.

The Strokes: Last Night

Ryan McNutt

(the Spin Doctors)

LCD Soundsystem: Tribulations

The Ramones: Blitzkrieg Bop

The Jackson 5: I Want You Back

Ratatat: Seventeen Years

The Rapture: Get Myself Into It

Those Kids Will Get You in Trouble

The Red Light Sting are one of Vancouver’s greatest musical assets. Much like The Beatles did in the early sixties, the group has been able to absorb the sounds of today’s underground and convert them into a unique style. Beyond their music, band members Andy and Zoe run Ache Records whose catalog boasts releases from Hot Hot Heat, Death From Above and Radio Berlin, just to name a few. I had the privilege to talk to all five band members (vocalist Greg, guitarist Andy, keyboardist Zoe, bassist Jeff and drummer Paul) after their show at North Vancouver’s Selwynn Hall.

DiSCORDER: So I guess we’ll start at the beginning. How did you guys all hook up and form the Red Light Sting?

Greg: Well, the three of us were in a band
Zoe: He’s not going to know who you’re talking about.
Greg: Oh, okay. [Laughs] Andy, Zoe and I were in a band called Hooray for Everything, and our original bassist Matt was in a band with me called The Self Esteem Project, we had the same drummer in both of those bands, but then he moved to Saskatoon so that kind of broke up both of the bands I was in, so I was kinda angry and writing kinda angry songs. Then I wanted to work with this guy again… this guy being Andy. And then this guy, Paul, was in d.b.s. with Andy and then Andy showed him some stuff that we were working on and he was like, “I want in on that.” Then we needed a keyboard player cause I was originally going to play keyboards, but then we realized that I couldn’t play keyboards and then we figured out Zoe could. So Zoe played keyboards.
Andy: And somewhere along the way we picked up this jerk…Jeff. [Laughs]
Jeff: They asked me to join about a year ago through a bunch of confusing emails.
Greg: It seems like so much longer.
Andy: How long ago was that?
Jeff: It’s a year.

Most of you guys are in other bands or doing your own thing. What was it about The Red Light Sting that made it the priority?

Andy: I don’t think it was a decision anywhere along the way, it just sort of happened. d.b.s. and The Red Light Sting overlapped a little bit. Me and Paul were in both for a few months I guess and then d.b.s. broke up, so pretty much all my time and energy went into The Red Light Sting. And from there I’ve had side projects. But my side projects don’t really involve practicing or playing the guitar in any way so it’s an entirely different thing.

Do you find it difficult to write in a band with so many creative people?

Andy: No. That’s what makes it easy. We don’t even have to do anything. We just turn on our amps….
Greg: …and the songs write themselves. I haven’t heard it before…is this a cover song?
Andy: Paul just clicks, he counts in and we just start playing something and it always works out well.

Where do you come up with your ideas for the lyrics? They’ve always struck me as being like an excerpt from a book.

Greg: They’re actually directly taken from books. [Laughs]
Andy: Almost all of them are from Stephen King.
Greg: That’s fucking weird, I was going to say “Stephen King’s It.” [More Laughs]
Andy: Wicked dude!
Greg: But no, anyways…what were we talking about?
Zoe: Where you come up with your lyrics.
Greg: They’re just there for the most part. We’ll bring in the song and I’ll have a couple of ideas for what I want to talk about. I’ll focus on one area at first and just kind of repeat that over and over. And then I’ll establish the theme kind of and then just base it around that. That’s a pretty boring answer. [Laughs]

I’ve noticed on your website you have links to a bunch of other bands’ sites and almost all of them have managed to become sort of buzz bands recently. You guys obviously have good taste in music.

Andy: Well, most of those bands are our friends. We don’t put links up for just any band. Yeah, it is weird that most of our friends’ bands got popular and we didn’t. [Laughs]
Greg: I wonder why?
Zoe: We don’t like to just put links to anyone. We try to keep it small, to just the stuff we respect or our friends…and we also respect what they do.
Andy: I don’t respect any of my friends actually…especially these guys.

Has it been kind of weird with Hot Hot Heat’s success recently?

Andy: It’s not really weird…it’s kind of interesting.
Greg: It hasn’t really affected us, I don’t think.
Zoe: We’re happy for them. They worked really hard.
Andy: It doesn’t really affect us in any way, it’s just an interesting thing to happen I guess.

You guys are working on a new record right?

Andy: Yeah, it’s done.
Zoe: Done recording.
Andy: Yeah, we’re just working on the artwork and stuff like that.

Why have you waited so long to put out a full–length LP?

Greg: We write really slowly.
Zoe: We didn’t want to. Initially we just wanted to do EPs.
Andy: We thought the kind of music we play didn’t work after forty minutes. That’s why we only play for fifteen minutes.
Greg: We just figured it would be too annoying.
Andy: But I think that we’ve done pretty good with this one because we kind of switched it up a little bit. I don’t think it gets boring…and it’s still pretty short.

How short is it?

Greg: Thirty minutes.
Zoe: Ten songs.

All of the Ache Bands have very distinctive album art. Where do you come up with the ideas?

Andy: Well, The Red Light Sting stuff we all design together. We all sit around and come up with an image or one of us brings in an image. Greg brought in the psycho image for the cover of the split and I brought in the photo of the mannequin for the next one.
Greg: The third one [Our Love is Soaking in It] was like a still from a movie that the guy that runs Sound Virus did. It’s just like this scene of his grandma smoking so we all thought that looked pretty cool.
Andy: We hired a design team from London to do the album art for our full–length.

Pulling out all the stops for this one?

Andy: Yeah. No holds barred. We also got Paul McCartney to play a song on this one. [Laughs]


Greg: He plays three tambourines…all at the same time.
Andy: You might call him the tambourine man!

Where did the idea for Ache records come from?

Zoe: Hot Hot Heat was playing around and we really liked what they were doing but they only had a demo, and Andy had just gotten a new job where he had extra money and thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll start a record label,” because nobody was putting out their records. So he did that, but then he needed some help, so I ended up putting in some money and helping. We did the Hot Hot Heat record and then The Red Light Sting was starting out, so we did the split. Now it’s a lot more like a business.
Andy: Originally, we didn’t know where we were going with it. It was like, “Hey maybe we’ll do a split with Hot Hot Heat, that’d be cool,” and then d.b.s. broke up and I was like, “Oh we’ll release the last songs that we recorded.” Then suddenly we were like a real label.
Zoe: Now it’s really busy. We both have day jobs, but it takes up the rest of our spare time when we’re not practicing.

You’ve got the Divorce series coming out now too?

Zoe: Yeah, that’s coming up, as well as the Kid Commando full–length, Femme Fatale full–length, Secret Mommy LP and Piers Whyte EP, so we’re really busy.

Finally, how would you describe The Red Light Sting’s sound?

Greg: Awesome.
Zoe: We are like totally awesome.
Andy: I would call it incredible.
Greg: Are you going to elaborate on that?
Zoe: Sebastien from Death from Above told me that our new record was very eclectic and thinks that it should be filed under world music. So I hope that’s a good definition.
Greg: Awesome, eclectic world music…The Red Light Sting. Somewhere between Maxi Priest and Megadeath.

This story originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Death From Above

Upon first listen, Death From Above could be best described as a wall of sound. The duo’s heavy bass and drums sound kicks out the jams with skull–crushing abandon. However, beneath the turbulent storm lies an inherent sense of melody. Indeed, Death From Above’s sound is far more calculated than a casual listen lets on. “I always wanted to write songs on bass,” explains bass player Jesse F. Keeler. “All electronic music, all jungle, all house, all hip hop, all everything is bass and drums. Something that I really love about house music: is that it’s so difficult to be creative in the confines of the format. You can’t mess around with the time, you can’t mess around with all kinds of stuff. We have to be creative in a simple way, so having only two instruments and still being creative is a challenge.”
As a result of being faced with this daunting task, Death From Above have created one of the most efficient sounds in music. In a short fury of sound, the band’s songs leave little space for the listener to reflect on what they have just heard. Yet each song stays with you long after the record is over. Though at a loss for a description of their sound, Keeler feels that Death From Above’s style can be inferred from the diversity of their fans. “We have twelve–year–old kids that want us to autograph everything. I autographed a Billy Talent t–shirt two days ago. We have Hell’s Angels that liken us to AC/DC and Motorhead. They listen to Death from Above at the Hell’s Angels clubhouse in Toronto. We have nerds that love it, and girls that look like they put on everything in their mom’s closet…they love it too. We have serious rap guys from Scarborough and Toronto coming to our shows that want us to do backing music. I guess the reason that it’s so hard to describe our sound is because there’s so many weird and disconnected groups of people that all seem to get something out of it.”
According to Sebastion Grainger, the group’s drummer and lead vocalist, songwriting for a band like Death From Above is relatively easy. “The good thing about being a two–piece is that when things are in the theoretical stage they’re not that far from being practical because it just takes an idea and we go and do it. There’s not a lot of discussion involved and it’s not too complicated. The dynamic is pretty easy.” Adds Keeler, “Some of our songs were written literally in minutes, music–wise anyway, the lyrics take longer. But sometimes the lyrics flow pretty fast too. We’re really comfortable playing with each other and it’s not hard to write, it’s just a question of finding the time.
Death From Above’s lyrics are as passionate and intense as their music, filled with references to failed relationships and a sense of carrying on in life. “Those lyrics were written in a specific period of my life,” explains Grainger. “I was seeing a lot of my friends changing. There was sort of a metamorphosis amongst my group of friends. I was observing a lot of politics within friendships and it ended up sounding really emo, I guess. The duo’s debut EP Heads Up opens with the particularly scathing “Dead Womb” which includes the line “so tired of sluts coming to us in the clubs with their cocaine.” The club it references is one that Keeler used to DJ at. Keeler recalls that “[The club] was awesome if you were one of those people, but it was really shitty if you’re one of us.” Grainger elaborates, “We would see a lot of people who were constantly making bad decisions. At the time I was getting seriously involved with my girlfriend, and I was just so sick of seeing shitty girls being shitty and acting shitty, and I was just so happy that I didn’t have to deal with that because I’d found someone who was the antithesis of it.
Though hailing from Ontario, Death From Above are signed to local independent label Ache Records, run by The Red Light Sting’s Andy Dixon and Zoe Verkuylen, with whom Death From Above played their first shows. The label is also home to Keeler’s other band Femme Fatale. “I just told them that me and Sebastien have something else going which was more in theory than it was in practice,” he explains. “We made some three track recordings sent it to them…and they said, ‘We’ll do a record for you.’”
Like most things about Death from Above, the artwork for Heads Up is strikingly different. The cover is simply a sketch of Keeler and Grainger’s heads with elephant trunks where their noses should be. The elephant imagery comes from Keeler’s original concept of the band’s sound. “You know the Sonic Youth song called ‘Scooter + Jinx’ from Goo? I always thought that it sounded like elephants. The bass sound that we have, when I was first fucking around with it, that’s when I was like, “Wow, this kind of sounds like elephants,” and I like elephants anyway.
When asked about the possibility of a full–length LP, Grainger explains that “At this point we just want to give people little tastes.” Keeler goes on to explain that Heads Up “is a really time specific record for us. I don’t like the idea of writing songs over the course of a two year period and then putting them all on one record. Maybe not musically, but emotionally for me I’d like it to be more cohesive.”
Anxious Death From Above fans will be happy to hear that the band will remain active touring in the foreseeable future, and has new material on the way. “We’re doing a short EP [on Sound Virus] with remixes and stuff as well, and we’re constantly working on new material, as often as we have a chance,” says Grainger. Keeler adds, “The only thing that frustrates us about being on tour right now is that I don’t have time to just sit down with my bass and play.

This story previously appeared in the December/January 2003/04 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Fables of the Reconstruction

This story originally appeared in the September, 2003 issue of Discorder Magazine.

The Weakerthans are a Canadian band. Not in the sense that they are ignored elsewhere on our continent (The Tragically Hip), not in the sense that they move south to pursue greater success (Finger Eleven), and not in the sense that they play big shows sponsored by Molson Canadian (Theory of a Nickel–Fault). They are Canadian in the way that they sound like Canada. Lead singer and guitarist John K. Samson’s voice evokes a sense of warm isolation that typifies life on the Canadian prairies. “We write the only songs we know how to write,” explained Samson in one interview, “songs that reflect the place we come from musically and geographically, the community we live in and the struggle for any one person to connect with another in a meaningful way.”
Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, the band is comprised of veteran Winnipeg musicians including Samson who played bass in the legendary Propaghandi for five years and bass player John P. Sutton who has recorded “every Winnipeg punk band.”
The Weakerthans have managed to combine elements from their hometown’s two most famous musical exports: the breathy vocal stylings of Neil Young and the driving guitar rock of Randy Bachman. These influences are once again a prominent fixture on the group’s third LP Reconstruction Site. Bass player John P. Sutton in conversation via telephone from Toronto describes the album in typically modest fashion as, “On par with the other albums. The songwriting is basically the same idea, its the same group of boys writing the songs so it doesn’t stray too far off from anything that we’ve done before, but at the same time I think we put a ton of thought into it. It seems like we worked and worked and worked at these songs and hopefully that comes across.” The hard work does come across. The record boasts a cleaner (but not slick) production and much tighter or “cohesive” songwriting. Lyrically Samson took “a bit of a left turn” according to Sutton, moving away from the futon revolutionists of old into more “peculiar” territory with songs such as “Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call” and the first single, “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris 1961).”
Reconstruction Site and its first single are accompanied by a new video. Set in the Antarctic, the band dances around with fake penguins among other things. Though unintentional, the video comes off as surprisingly humourous, somewhat of a change from a group that are often perceived as being quite serious artists. “I think we probably come across as quite a serious, straight–ahead rock band. Listening to the records you don’t really catch a lot of humour in there. I think there’s a bit more humour in the lyrics on this new album, but there’s also a lot of the same serious, heavy lyrics. We’re humourous people, I would think. We’re always joking around and we’re always having fun together. It’s good to make a video that brings out that side of us.”
The lyrical and visual turns are not the only change being ushered in by the new album. Reconstruction Site is being released on independent heavyweight Epitaph Records. “[Epitaph] is a great scene. Everyone was just so excited about their job and about music and it just seemed like a really great fit for us.” Sutton is quick to point out that relations are still good with the group’s old label G–7 Welcoming Committee, who still handles the group’s back catalogue. The move to Epitaph was motivated by a desire to consolidate the business side of the group. At one point Weakerthans albums were being distributed by no less than five different labels, making things exceedingly difficult to keep track of. The move was an issues of control. With Epitaph, Sutton explains, the band can now “walk into a studio, record an album without a record label, own the masters and just say ‘we want to sell it to somebody now. It’s our record, and we want to hold the rights and let’s find somebody to license it from us.’”
Control on the business side of the industry seems to be a key issue to bands these days. Internet piracy, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is apparently the scourge of the industry. It threatens artists from the top down. However, Sutton doesn’t quite see things this way. “I have my own issues around it. I have my own rules that I make. I don’t feel that opposed to downloading major label music or bands that are long gone, like band from the 70s or 60s.” He goes on to point out that “it has so many elements to it. A lot of people have already downloaded our new record and when we played in London, England, it was evident that there were a lot of kids out there that knew the words to the new songs. On the one hand that’s pretty cool. They’re coming to the show and probably buying a t–shirt. They’re just so into it that they had to get the record before it came out. For a band of our size it’s not that big of a deal. Sure we may lose a few CD sales here and there but ultimately these people are liking it, hopefully, and they’re coming out to the show. As long as people listen to the music and like it that’s sort of the main thing.
The release of Reconstruction Site will see the Weakerthans embarking on a “trans–continental expedition” that includes two shows in Vancouver on September 10 and 11 at the all–ages Mesa Luna and the Commodore Ballroom, respectively. “[Touring] is everything you can possibly think of. Somedays are so fun, and some shows are so great and other days you just don’t want to get out of bed. It can be anything.” says Sutton. “I’ve done every possible extreme on tour, from having a perfect day to breaking down in the middle of nowhere and freezing or sweating to the point where you just want to pass out. You know some shows you just get up there and the last thing you want to do is play a show but you gotta do it… its something I really enjoy.” The all–ages show is a conscious attempt by the band to allow younger fans to come and see them. “We’ve been doing that for a few years now. We try to do that in most of the bigger cities in Canada and the U.S. We just find that we all grew up in the punk rock world and our best experience of seeing bands has been at all–ages shows. I really like all–ages shows. I go to them all the time still. I would feel weird if we were going to a city and a lot of the kids couldn’t come out.”
The Weakerthans continue to spread the word on life on the Canadian prairies. But will this unique experience be lost on the new audiences that wider distribution will surely bring? Who knows? Go see them, though. They’re really good, eh? •
The Weakerthans play Mesa Luna on Wednesday, September 10 and The Commodore on Thursday, September 11. Reconstruction Site is in stores now.

Interview: The Bad Plus

This story originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Discorder Magazine.

The very idea of a jazz group performing interpretations of well-known rock songs is enough to evoke images of Spinal TapJazz Odyssey” wankery for many music fans. One listen to the Bad Plus, however, quickly puts such baggage to rest.

This three piece band (pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King) has managed to bridge the gap between rock and jazz, garnering critical acclaim and little backlash from either side along the way. While covers of the Pixies, Aphex Twin and Nirvana have drawn in many rock fans, the group’s enduring success is a testament to their skills as both musicians and songwriters. “I’ve never gotten the sense that our audience likes the covers more than the original material,” says Anderson, “The covers are only a small percentage of what we do.”
Iverson goes further, pointing out that covering well–known songs “is a long–standing jazz tradition.” When asked about the group’s choice of songs, Anderson replied, “We like doing covers that are indestructible [and the songs we cover] are beautiful tunes and they’re indestructible.” Iverson adds, “All the covers are pieces we like and like to play.”
The group’s sound can be seen as the product of their musical upbringing. Anderson, King and Iverson all grew up in the Midwest, an area not generally known as a jazz hotbed. Iverson cites “the bits and pieces” that he heard while watching T.V. as his introduction to the genre, while Anderson points to his peers who “were all looking for new music and turning each other onto things.” Though, all members are evidently fans of pop and rock music, Anderson appears to be the one who has taken these styles to heart. He contends, “Rock was the first influence [or me] and remains a powerful influence.” He cites Autechre, Bjork and Led Zeppelin amongst his primary influences, sharing space with jazz greats John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett and Ornettte Coleman, whose track “Street Woman” is covered on the trio’s new record.
Following the release of their major label debut These are the Vistas, (their first self–titled album was released on Spanish label Fresh Sound) the Bad Plus received heavy acclaim in both jazz and rock publications, acquiring such labels as “piano trio gangstas” and “post modern jazz iconoclasts.” The group take their press in stride, however. “We really just see ourselves as playing our own music without trying to make it one thing or another,” explains Anderson.The group’s new album, Give, expands on the groundwork laid by These are the Vistas, creating a record that swings and rocks harder than most bands. The trio once again enlisted Tchad Blake to helm the project. Blake is known primarily for his work with artists as varied as Tom Waits, Ron Sexsmith, and Soul Coughing among others. The choice was an obvious one for the band, explains Iverson.“His personal genius, which combines vast studio knowledge, plus unerring instinct” results in what Anderson sums up as “great sound.”
As well as the new album, The Bad Plus have posted three otherwise unavailable tracks on Apple’s iTunes music store. Anderson explains the decision, citing time constraints for their omission from Give, and a desire by their label to have them posted. “Columbia wanted to use them for iTunes and we thought that was a good idea.” He does concede however, that since Columbia owns the recordings, there was little the group could have done had they opposed the move. When it comes to the broader issue of digital downloads, both Iverson and Anderson are equally complacent. “The writing is on the wall. They are part of the future of recorded music,” says Anderson. Iverson adds, “You can’t stop the acquisition of knowledge.”
The Bad Plus are quick to emphasize the importance of the “the group” or “ensemble” when writing and performing. “When you improvise, together, every night, a tribal language develops which is fabulous,” says Iverson. Adds Anderson, “I think a group where everyone is committed to the sound and music of that band can make stronger music than a group trying to support one person’s ideas. There is also a psychological advantage when everyone is playing music that is theirs.”
These ideals are reflected in the band’s writing process. Typically, each member will write individually, then bring the completed songs to the rest of the group. “From there, the music takes on a life of its own as we all make up our own parts and live with the tune,” explains Anderson.
Of course, ultimately, a band as dynamic as The Bad Plus must be seen live, where each member’s musicianship is moulded into its full sonic force. While the group feels that their studio albums reflect their live sound (almost every track on Give was recorded on the first take, with as few overdubs as possible), an “authorized bootleg” was released in 2002. Iverson is quick to point out however, that the record “is an antique since we play so much better now.” He defends the band’s guerrilla style of recording explaining, “We are in–the–moment players, not feeling the time is right yet to do a carefully assembled studio date taking weeks and months.” When they do, watch out. •
Luckily for you, The Bad Plus are playing twice during the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Catch them with Jagga Jazz at the Commodore on June 26, or solo at Performance Works on Granville Island on June 27.

Interview: Joel Plaskett Emergency

“You fucking suck!” Comments like this can be discouraging to anyone, let alone to a musician trying to connect with a room full of people. For Joel Plaskett, audience discontent (or apathy) while playing in Kelowna, BC, was the inspiration for “Love This Town,” one of the most memorable verses on his 2005 record La De Da. This ode to Halifax, his hometown, is Joel Plaskett at his most reflective; yearning for home and familiarity while lost on the road in hostile environs. Characterized as both an ironic arena rocker and a soulful balladeer, the Haligonian musician is able to write lyrics that are at the same time hilarious, and heartfelt. It is these contrasting elements which have earned him and his band the Emergency a die hard following and growing mainstream attention, as seen by his Juno nomination for songwriter of the year and his winning the same category at the East Coast Music Awards.
Joel is proud of the recent accolades he has received but tends to view them as accomplishments along the long road in his career, as opposed to a goal which he was working towards. “There’s been a lot of momentum behind what I’ve been doing in the past couple of years, but I’ve been at what I do for so long, both with the Hermit when I was younger, and with the Emergency…but every year has these little things that are encouraging and mark the work that we’ve done as a band. At the same time when you’re in the midst of touring and recording and writing songs it kind of an acknowledgement of the work you’ve put in all year.”
When asked what he feels characterizes a good songwriter Plaskett offers what appears to be a description of his own approach to the craft. “I like personality and idiosyncrasy, I like people who reflect their own experiences and where they’re from” he says. “But also a bit of humour for me is always welcome. Its not necessary…there are certain people who are very serious and I love it, but often the people that you think of as being very melodramatic and serious often have more of a sense of humour than you realize.”
Though recognition for all this work is starting to find its way to both Plaskett and his band, it has been a long road. His original group Thrush Hermit played their first gig when he was 15 in 1990. They would go on to record two albums for Elektra Records before disbanding in 1999, the same year Plaskett’s solo debut In Need of Medical Attention was released. He would go on to record 2001’s Down at the Khyber and 2003’s Truthfully, Truthfully with the Emergency before taking the solo route for 2005’s La De Da, for which he received the songwriter nominations.
Although Plaskett says that songwriting is something he takes a lot of time and pride in doing, he is quick to dismiss the singer songwriter genre; “People say it’s a song based record and yes it is, but the records I’ve made with my band are equally as song based.” He feels that riff rock gets a bad rap in some circles. “I always find it interesting that you don’t think of Led Zeppelin as great songwriters, but they were and they were incredible band performances. People say Jackson Browne has great songs and the Who were a great band, but I liked the Who’s songs better than I liked Jackson Browne’s.
Plaskett is currently back on the road with the Emergency promoting their new DVD Make A Little Noise, which includes a hometown performance by the band at the Marquee Club in Halifax, a solo performance by Plaskett in Saskatchewan and all of the post Hermit music videos. As an added incentive the group traveled to Toronto last fall to record a three song EP with former Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson. “The whole band really enjoyed working with him, he brought a lot to the table. I was really impressed.”
The resulting tracks move away from the seventies riff rock of the Emergency’s first two albums and present a more fuller, Phil Spector rhythmic feel. “I’m really pleased that these came out different than anything we’ve done. My mandate for these three songs was to create something that was a little bit more 50s in its references. I wanted that rock and roll edge as opposed to the late 60s or 70s thing that I’ve mined a lot. I was also kind of freaking out on Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.”
Plaskett has just finished a solo tour of Australia, which included an opening slot for Russel Crowe’s band at one gig, but is returning to Canada at the beginning of the month playing gigs with the Emergency. He expects to tour to the East Coast this summer while writing songs for an album he hopes to record in the fall. “This maybe the only chance you have to see Emergency on the West Coast this year. But it really just depends on when I’m going to make the new record. I think I’m just going to have to set the date which means I’m going to be busting my ass to get the tunes together all summer.” If this is the case, be sure to check out Joel Plaskett and the Emergency as the Commodore Friday, May 5th.
This story originally appeared in the May 2006 edition of Discorder Magazine.