If we are lucky enough to have a loving relationship with our family, there are things we inherit from them. Whether it be a sense of place or worldview, growing up alongside these people will – for better or worse – find a way to shape our perspectives, build our characters and define our sense of place in the world. While earlier in our lives most of us will undoubtedly take their influence for granted, as we get older we all have one or two moments when we realize, to our pleasure and dismay, that we are turning out just… like… them.
Joel and Bill Plaskett will be performing at the National Arts Centre on March 18 in support of their collaborative album Solidarity. The album is a marriage of two different experiences and voices, united by blood and music. I had the pleasure of speaking to Joel, fittingly enough on Family Day, and he talked about the joys and challenges of collaborating with his father, the things he learned about him and the themes that run throughout the album.
Joel and Bill are no strangers to playing together. Bill, an accomplished musician in his own right, has toured with his son many times and appears on several songs off Joel’s 2009 album, Three. A few years ago, Joel thought it was time to feature his father more predominantly.
“I wanted to showcase what he does and have some material that he could sing on his own. I wanted to draw attention to not only our shared influences but the influence that he has on me as well.” Bill grew up in the UK and made his way to Canada in the 1960s and his love and performance of traditional folk music was an important influence on his son.
The influence that Bill has on his son is far reaching and ever-evolving, from the way Joel sings to the way in which he carries on a conversation. “He’s English and he’s got sort of a transatlantic accent. His phrasing and the way he finishes his words is not dissimilar to the way I do because I sort of inherited it.”
In making the record and planning the tour, Joel is starting to realize just how much he’s gotten from Bill. “We both talk a lot, so with this tour, there is much more conversation going on and he kind of likes to meander around a point. So I’m like “oh jeez, is this what I’m like?! Oh shit…” After speaking with Joel for 25 minutes, I could write with utmost respect and delight that this is EXACTLY what he is like.
Joel, who produced the album at his studio, The New Scotland Yard, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, spoke of his experience recording Solidarity with his father, which wasn’t without its challenges. “I’ve been making records where I was the writer, singer and narrator on all of it and so it’s much easier to sequence a record when the approach is singular, but here you’ve got two people’s perspectives, and there’s kind of a variety both in age and history too and you’re trying to make it feel like an album.”
Joel also had to be mindful of when to add his input through suggestions and inquisitions, and when to hold back. “There’s a performance on the record of a song called Jim Jones, which is an old English transportation ballad about English prisoners being sent to prison in Australia. My dad does a really cool version of it and I was going to add some guitar, but the performance of just my dad and the guitar was better in many respects so I just let it be.”
The record is a meeting of old and new and the songs explore the convergence of traditional music and themes with new perspective and issues. Though these perspectives were often vastly different, there were areas in which the Plaskett men found common ground. “My dad has a very nostalgic element to his writing and I write with that same sort of nostalgia but from a different place. He would just have an older perspective of a similar theme.”
Evidence of this could be found in two of the albums tracks. The last song on the album called “On down the River” is a song Bill wrote about leaving England to come to Canada. In the song “The New California,” Joel writes a vignette set in Yellowknife about being away from his home and family in Nova Scotia.
Joel also took the role of producer as an opportunity to learn more about his father. “Part of the way I produce records for myself and other artists is that I might address where I think there’s a lack of clarity. Sometimes the process can involve asking questions like ‘where was your head at when you wrote this?’ or ‘tell me more about what this represents?’ if it’s not clear to me. Then I might make a suggestion lyrically or production-wise about how to make the song more powerful.”
“I’m starting to feel a sort of interconnectedness and presence, and I’m trying to put my best foot forward because I’ve realized life is all about what you put out into the world.”
Not only was the record a chance for Joel to build his musical relationship with his father, it was also his chance to explore a side he hasn’t yet in his music. Written and recorded under an unstable political climate on both sides of the pond, Joel and Bill took the opportunity to add their voices to the conversation. “It’s kind of where the personal meets the political. Everyone has their own story and sometimes, the individual leads you to a shared worldview and you find people who have different experiences and yet you come together under the same cause or the same sense of what influenced you.”
The political tones are not overt and don’t only explore the global environment. The song “Blank Cheque” is deeply rooted in Dartmouth, where locals struggle to find a place in an expanding and increasingly gentrified city.
Joel was also eager to speak about a spiritual awareness he has been experiencing as he’s grown older, which has been influenced by his father. “I’m starting to feel a sort of interconnectedness and presence, and I’m trying to put my best foot forward because I’ve realized life is all about what you put out into the world.”
Seeing Joel share the stage with his father will most certainly be a one of a kind experience as Plaskett the younger has been energized by his father’s enthusiasm. “It’s kind of a new twist for me because I’ve been doing this for a long time. So seeing him excited is making me really excited.” They will be joined by The Mayhemingway’s from Peterborough.
Joel and Bill Plaskett perform at the National Arts Centre on March 18. Tickets cost $29–65 and are available online at www.nac-cna.ca.
Apt613 has a pair of tickets to give away: comment below with the name of Plaskett’s music studio in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. A winner will be determined by random draw on Saturday and notified by email. For bonus points, finish this sentence: “Slap! Shot! Shoot! Score! You just can’t…”