Nova Scotia’s Joel Plaskett and Jenn Grant are possibly two of the country’s finest songwriters, and distinct voices. The award-winning musicians are touring Newfoundland together this November, making stops in Corner Brook, Stephenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, and St. John’s.
Known for his catchy solo tunes, and 90’s indie rock band Thrush Hermit, Plaskett is an East Coast institution. He’s recently opened New Scotland Yard Emporium in Dartmouth: a cafe, studio, record store, and barbershop all rolled into one, and released his most diverse record yet, The Park Avenue Sobriety Test.
Grant dazzles audiences with her legendary acrobatic voice. Her latest record, Compostela, is a sonic journey with a Spanish flair that charts the Milky Way and beyond. The two recently caught up with The Overcast to meditate on creativity, survival, and music’s role in it all.
You can catch them at what will be a great show, this Thursday the 12th, at the Arts & Culture Centre, at 8pm. Tickets are $35
What has been the great challenge for you both as artists in a continual ritual of renewal?
Joel: My general approach is to make records to keep myself interested. My hope is if I’m engaged and excited about a project it will speak to my audience as well. The challenge I sometimes face is how to know whether repeating myself is a bad or good thing.
Jenn: The fact that being an artist does offer up these chances of self renewal is one of the most rewarding things that comes with this kind of life. So I feel myself chasing that. There haven’t been a lot of breaks this year. But to be honest, that’s not what I wanted this year. I’m happy when I am creating, and feel productive. I’m passionate about what I am doing, and I count myself lucky.
Lyrically, you both explore themes of love, longing, loss, and geography. Given you’re both nestled on the East Coast, and in your own ways you’ve been scoring the soundtrack to this place, what role does your surroundings/place play into your songwriting? What inspires you to continue writing music?
Joel: When I’m on the road, I reflect on where I’m from, and when I’m home I think about where I’ve been. Places often find their way into my songs because locating a place in my mind helps me connect with the feeling I’m trying to evoke.
I have no back up plan. I still live and breathe music and making it is the only life I’ve really know as an adult. Working as a producer with other musicians and friends keeps me on my toes, and gives me inspiration. I still feel like I have something to say when I pick up a guitar.
Jenn: It’s such an amazing honour to think that someone as yourself would consider my music part of the East Coast landscape, and to hear my name in that sentence with Joel’s is just a double honour! I feel myself coming back to the landscapes here for inspiration. I can’t avoid it, it’s just part of the method and the madness now.
I did decide to move just a little bit out of the city to be more connected to nature, because I feel my songs come from a place that is not necessarily nature, or landscapes, but from a different source altogether which just feels easier to connect to when I’m able to look out at a big bright sky
Not only are you both prolific and award-winning songwriters, who tour internationally, you both hold down different outlets beyond music. Jenn, you’re a stunning painter, and sing on various records, and Joel you produce other artists, and just opened a cafe/studio/record store/barber shop in Dartmouth. How do your other practices, or work, influence or balance your music careers?
Joel: I don’t want my entire livelihood to exist on the road, because it becomes more taxing as I get older and it keeps me away from my family. The production work keeps me closer to home and allows me to continue working on records. I learn a lot working with other people.
The new shop I’m involved in is fun because it’s providing something to the community on Portland street in Dartmouth. Now we have a recording studio, good records, great coffee, music supplies and haircuts under one roof. It was a lot of work to get it rolling, but now I’m hoping I can step back and get back to writing.
Jenn: I have had no time to paint this year. But I think that in the winter I will be able to get back to that for a few months, and I can’t wait because I think I am a better songwriter when I am painting. It exercises different muscles, and opens up new corners of my brain for ideas to come from.
Also, I love singing on different projects and collaborating because when the songs don’t come from me, my voice finds new and exciting ways to play a part on something of someone else’s.
You both tour internationally. What is unique to performing in Newfoundland? What can we expect from your show at the Arts &Culture Centre? Any duets?
Joel: Newfoundland audiences are the best. It’s an island of singers and I always feel welcome here. My Dad is with me on this tour which is really great, and the Emergency is joining us for St John’s so it’ll be a rock show. Duets? You bet!
Jenn: I’ve been a fan of Joel’s since I was a teenager. It’s been a dream of mine to go on tour and open for him, so this is truly amazing for me. I know these are going to be really special shows and there might be a little shared moment or two on stage. My shows in Newfoundland have been some of my favourite shows to play in all of the world, because the people and the land are like no other and we love them.