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Joel Plaskett, Peter Elkas

Thu. May 17th 2007 9:00pm Sugar (All Ages) 9:00pm
Tickets at: Lyles Place,
Presented by: Atomique Productions
It's a long way to Arizona, and it's a longing that carries Joel Plaskett home to Halifax. His new album, La De Da, is about what happens when you know you have to go away; what happens when you know you have to go home; and what you do on the road in between.

Plaskett recorded La De Da far from home, in Phoenix, AZ, when a fan made him an offer he literally couldn't refuse. Although Bob Hoag first invited Plaskett to record at his Flying Blanket studio about two years ago, at first the seasoned indie rocker didn't do anything about it.

"But when I was thinking of making another record," says Plaskett, "I e-mailed Bob and said 'What are your rates?' Toying with the idea. He e-mailed me back and said 'I'd love to have you here. I'll record you for free and you can stay at my house. My wife and I, we've got a pool,'" says Plaskett, laughing broadly at his own good fortune.

By the time he got to Phoenix, Plaskett had driven clear across the continent in his old Suburban truck. The trip was something like the travelogue described in one of his best new songs, a lazy, panoramic riff-rocker called "Natural Disaster: "I left Nova Scotia/ Headed down the coast / Tore a strip off Memphis/ Before I left for Roanoke / I punished Pecos County/ And headed for Las Cruces." Not to mention the barren badlands, and a Texas tornado.

"I didn't have all the songs done, and I wanted to present myself with a challenge," says Plaskett. "A chunk of time on my own where I would just be traveling and thinking about the record. But when I got there, I still didn't know exactly what I was gonna record."

Which left a lot of room for spontaneity (like vocal asides, thuds and clunks), even if Plaskett did play almost all of the instruments himself. "With my last album, Truthfully Truthfully, I demo'ed everything and was going for a kind of 'modern rock' sound," says Plaskett. "But with this record, I didn't know what I was doing!" he adds, laughing. "I'd never played 'Lonely Love' for anybody. I had no idea how it was going to go, and I wrote two of the lines as the mike was on. I tried to let the ideas flow through and not second-guess them. The album was recorded in about two weeks."

Although it contains his travels, La De Da is bookended by songs rooted in Halifax, and in Plaskett's memories of his good old early days: The mid-'90s, when he led Thrush Hermit - alongside Sloan, Eric's Trip and jale - to glory, as the then-booming Haligonian scene went from local to international. The opening song, "Absentminded Melody," finds our grown-up rocker hanging out at the same old club, noticing the bittersweet differences between then and now; the closer, "Love This Town," is a warm tribute to the city -- which he never left in the old days, even when all of the aforementioned bands got signed to the big time.

"Halifax is a big part of my identity," says Plaskett. "It's where I choose to hang my hat. It's a great town, and I wanted to have a kind of weird connect-the-dots between Halifax and Arizona."

"Lying on a Beach," a poppy song about the salvation of daydreaming in a dreary job, could happen in either locale, although it originated in a hometown job. "I worked in the public archives of Nova Scotia for a couple of years," says Plaskett, "dubbing radio shows onto CDs, in a large vault. It was mind-numbing work, but it paid really well. It bankrolled Down By The Khyber [Plaskett's second-last album], but it turned me into a kind of zombie."

In Plaskett's world, zombification can be a daily staple of stability. If "Lying on a Beach" describes a day spent dreaming to escape work, the spastic, electric-piano new-wave of "Television Set" catalogues a night spent hypnotized by the cathode-ray tube, and "The Truth Be Told" portrays the wee hours spent in a bluesy, boozy haze of free-associating jabber. Not to mention the self-explanatory "Paralyzed."

The spirit of "Natural Disaster" and "Nina and Albert" battle that numbness with a restless urge to travel, while the soulful ballad "Lonely Love" and the simple, heartland country-rock of "Happen Now" -- anchored by a killer banjo riff -- accept the toll that such travel takes on romance, when somebody's left waiting at home.

And somewhere, sometime in those travels, Plaskett found himself questioning the existence of a God. The result, "Non Believer" finds him hedging his bets on redemption by the time the last chorus comes around. "It's about the fact that if you make a decision you have to live with the consequences," he says. "The punishment isn't something that happens later. I grew up in pretty much an atheist environment. That's done some good things for me, but it presents you with a whole other set of questions. Like, 'what do I do with myself?'"

If you're Joel Plaskett, you drive away, you come home, and you record a great new solo album in between, singing "La De Da" all the way.

Peter Elkas

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