A Wayward Word's Worth

Barenaked Plaskett

http://www.seemagazine.com/article/music/music-feature/Barenaked-Plaskett-0408/

The first time Joel Plaskett saw The Barenaked Ladies, in his hometown of Halifax during their mid nineties heyday, his eyes weren’t fixed on the instruments that melded their meandering melodies, or the microphones they used for their renowned harmonizing. Instead his gaze stayed on their t-shirts, which were emblazed with the name of his budding band- Halifax’s home grown troubadours Thrush Hermit.

He was incredibly flattered. And little did the lanky, east coast indie darling know that he would one day play opening acoustic solo sets for the Barenaked Ladies, on a string of shows that includes a stop at the Jubilee Theatre on April 14.

But Plaskett shares more with BNL than those venues, or an affinity for catchy hooks and lyrics brimming with whimsy- Thrush Hermit just wrapped a one-off reunion tour last month, ten years after a burnout split that eventually inspired his breakthrough album, Ashtray Rock.

“When Thrush broke up it was a drag, it felt like the carpet was pulled out from under my feet,” Plaskett said of guitarist Rob Benvie’s decision to quit the band in 1999.

Signs of the strain from that breakup are littered throughout Ashtray Rock’s lovelorn lyrics, Plaskett’s biggest muse being the music itself- the tunes he crafted with childhood friends Rob Benvie, Ian McGettigan and Michael Catano. And his current solo opening stint for the Ladies comes weeks after they released All In Good Time, their own record about dire days- like the departure and drug debacle of founding member Steven Page (Page’s management did not reply to several requests for an interview for this article).

Tyler Stewart, drummer for the Barenaked Ladies, agreed with Plaskett’s sentiment that much can be made of the ashes after a band burns itself out.

“It’s clichéd but true, what they say about the silver lining. We feel rejuvenated and reborn,” he said of the seminal soft rockers’ decision to soldier on without Page after his arrest for cocaine possession in 2008, and the inspiration all that turmoil gave them while recording their latest album- a far more earnest effort than their usual, playful ditties.

 “We’re connecting better now than we have in a decade,” he said. He added that recording All In Good Time was much more fulfilling than Page’s final, dysfunctional days in the band that left Stewart as hollowed out as the drums he felt forced to play.

Plaskett agreed that breakups can feel disastrous at first- until a band realizes that losing its groove just may keep its members from falling in a rut.

“It pushed me to get going on my solo stuff,” he said of Thrush Hermit’s split. “Its’ all part and parcel of living on planet earth and taking the good with the bad.”

“We’re not going around an extra set of personality neurosis anymore,” Stewart cited as one advantage of Page’s departure. “There’s still the neurosis of us four (remaining members) but there’s one less now… (and) that freedom’s reflected on the record, there’s more risks taken.”
One of the Ladies’ daring decisions while recording All In Good Time was to trade instruments, leaving Stewart to even sing on a few songs, and he relished the chance to be more involved.

“I’m not going to say before we were inhibited, but you get in certain patterns in a band after awhile,” he added. “You fall back on familiarities, like only having specific guys singing. Switching that up made things more fluid this time… we just fell in love with each other again.”

Plaskett said those familiarities can turn deadly on the road.

“It’s a pressure cooker if you’re jammed in a bus together for years on end, especially when you don’t have women to diffuse all the testosterone,” he said, adding that those claustrophobic years help him empathize with anyone’s desire to go it alone.

On his current string of opening solo sets, for instance, he can share intimate stories like the fact that Ashtray Rock was named after a boulder on the outskirts of his suburb , where he and his fellow Hermit members would congregate when they were teens to pontificate and party.

“But the Hermit has this spirit of punk energy that I’ve never found anywhere else,” he said of his old crew. “We picked up our instruments together, what we developed was very united, so I’m looking forward to rediscovering that. We may have split up, but that shared approach to rock is what I’ll always have with those cats. And whether you break up, or stay together and stall, I think that spirit of song is something you can always look forward to rediscovering.”

Joel Plaksett will play an opening solo set for the Barenaked Ladies on April 14 at the Jubilee Theatre. For more information visit joelplaskett.com and barenakedladies.com.

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