Plaskett tones it down for "Three"

Justin Brake
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music Polaris nominee brings theatre show to Holy Heart Friday

"I've never been one to sell a ton of records." Joel Plaskett chuckles with the admission.

His straightforwardness is accompanied by an air of honesty and a level of confidence not common among indie artists who've spent the majority of their music careers below the radar.

But the 34-year-old Dartmouth, N.S. native seems to have embraced comfort during his ascent to indie icon status, a journey that began in the early '90s when he fronted the popular Halifax alt-rock band Thrush Hermit.

Joel Plaskett

"I've never been one to sell a ton of records." Joel Plaskett chuckles with the admission.

His straightforwardness is accompanied by an air of honesty and a level of confidence not common among indie artists who've spent the majority of their music careers below the radar.

But the 34-year-old Dartmouth, N.S. native seems to have embraced comfort during his ascent to indie icon status, a journey that began in the early '90s when he fronted the popular Halifax alt-rock band Thrush Hermit.

Over the past 15 or so years, Plaskett has established himself as one of the country's most highly regarded unsigned artists, a rank that's been legitimized by a host of accolades, most recently a long-list nomination for the 2009 Polaris Music Prize.

The nod is in recognition of "Three," his third solo effort, a triple-CD package devised around a bundle of themes regarding, you guessed it, the number three.

A number of critics have lauded the project, for which Plaskett rallied his father, folk musician Bill Plaskett, and a slew of guest musicians, often declaring it his most "ambitious" work to date.

If ambition is measured by the number of three-related themes - it's his third solo album, there are 27 songs (three to the power of three) on three discs, and a good number of songs are titled the same word thrice, like first single "Through & Through & Through" or "Run, Run, Run" - the claim would be indisputable.

But, as Plaskett explains, the album required ambition only in terms of "structuring it, pacing it, sequencing it and seeing it through."

"To me, the record kind of became a story in terms of a three-act play," he says, elaborating on the less obvious three-related concepts that play out on the album, "like the idea of two people having a third thing, (and) every story having a beginning, middle and end. Once I realized that was a theme in terms of the repetition aspect of it in certain songs ... I realized I was writing in threes a lot in terms of the way I repeat things. That was kind of a leaping-off point to the record - when I realized the playfulness of language was a theme and that what I was writing about was leaving and being alone and retiring - realizing the broader themes instead of the details and the wordplay."

With the songs divvied up according to the ideas of of departure, separation and return, each of the three discs not only boasts thematic differentiation, but genre diversity, too.

"The more playful rock 'n' roll ones were about the joy that comes with travelling and feeling like you're free to go where you want as an individual," says Plaskett, pointing out Disc 1's closing track "Run, Run, Run" as a representation of the departure theme or, more precisely, "the feeling that you need to constantly propel yourself."

"The flip side of that is leaving something behind, and then spending time alone and leaving somebody alone," he adds.

Disc 2 is the closest thing to a "folk record" Plaskett says he's ever made, and a good CD to spin on a quiet evening at home, while the third represents all kinds of returns, from working, touring, travelling, and with his rock band The Emergency joining him on closing track "On & On & On," a return from the solo material.

The tune "Lazy Bones," also from Disc 3, is a song about "getting home and the idea that you don't have to do anything," says Plaskett. "It's OK to stay still and watch everybody. You stay on the shore and watch everybody else sink, going about their hustle and bustle."

Since the album's release it's fair to say the always-eager-to-tour virtuoso has been in departure mode, bringing the "Joel Plaskett and Friends" show around the country with his father and "Three" contributors Ana Egge and Rose Cousins.

The tour will stop in St. John's Friday, where the four will perform at the Holy Heart theatre.

The two-set show will give Plaskett an opportunity to "cover lots of ground," including a selection of new songs and a handful of tunes from his back catalog of solo and Emergency material.

"It's a different kind of show than I've ever put on and it's been exciting for me to be able to do that," he says.

"In no venue can you please everybody," he says in reference to the rock venue to theatre adjustment, "but having said that, I aim to please."

Tickets for "Joel Plaskett and Friends" are $25 and available at the Holy Heart box office or by calling 1-888-311-9090. The show is all-ages and doors open at 7 p.m.

Organizations: Through & Through, The Emergency, Holy Heart theatre

Geographic location: Dartmouth, St. John's

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