One day last year, Joel Plaskett entered his Dartmouth studio, New Scotland Yard, in Nova Scotia and saw a dragonfly on the floor.
The singer-songwriter had never seen a dragonfly in Dartmouth, let alone in his "bunker of a studio," but recently had been experiencing some paranormal activity in the recording space (and even brought in a medium to try figure it out), so he took it as a sign. After a bit of research, Plaskett discovered dragonflies are a symbol of spirits that have moved on.
"For me, through the course of a few weeks of this stuff going on, I think there was actually a sense of like what I saw happening in the world... I didn’t have a religious upbringing, I’m not a big spiritual guy, but I think for me the past year or more has kind of had this sort of personal recognition where I’ve started to recognize the interconnectedness of things and acknowledging energetic things happening that go outside of just like a conversation or something you’re doing on a physical level," says Plaskett, who ended up writing the song Dragonfly about these experiences.
"There’s a mental energy and maybe like an energy that carries from the past or from other presences that we don’t know or we don’t see but we do feel. That has to be going on because look at what kind of tailspin the world is in right now. I really believe that there’s some big shifts going on, and for me, Dragonfly is about that. "
Dragonfly is the opening track of Plaskett’s new record, Solidarity, which he made with his dad, Bill Plaskett. Joel and Bill are no strangers to working together but Solidarity is the first time Bill — an accomplished player in his own right — is sharing the spotlight with his son, including doing press and playing a major role in live shows.
"It’s funny though because some of the stuff I sort of take for granted or am very used to, and I can just go, ‘Oh yeah that’s fine I’m no going to worry about that.’ My dad’s like, ‘Hey, so what are we doing about this?’... I have to remind myself it’s new for him, so I don’t want to brush aside the fact that a) he’s excited about it and b) he wants to be prepared," says Joel, 41.
"And when you’re doing things together, you have to prepare yourselves for how it’s going to work when there’s two of you when previously I was just rolling on my own steam and the Emergency (his band) has such a groove when we’re actually together that it just sort of is what it is. This is a different dynamic, but dad and I get along great and vicariously, I’m sort of enjoying the fact that he’s kinda new to it but he also has so much to bring to it."
Working with a parent on any type of project, let alone one that will end with weeks of touring together in a confined space, is always bit of a gamble, but Plaskett says he and his septuagenarian dad have always had a "casual and agreeable" relationship, so there weren’t any major hurdles to get over while they made the record, minus the few moments where Joel says he "got a bit quick."
"You know you get kinda quick with your parents or you get short and say things you wouldn’t say to your friends, which for better or worse, there’s that comfort level there," Joel says, laughing.
"I think it sort of has forced me to... not slow down but just remind myself that everybody has to find their own role in something. It’s not my job to dictate what that is, even though I’m putting the show together and I ostensibly produced the record because I have a lot of experience in that regard. My dad a little less so, though he’s been a social player his whole life and he can actually step into things when he’s given the spot to be there as an accompanist he can bring something that I can’t bring, and so really just trying to recognize that and make sure I leave space for that and at the same time push it forward so that it doesn’t become too causal."
The tracks on the record aren’t obviously political but certainly carry within them the weight of what the world as a whole is feeling at present. The traditional songs on Solidarity — the stunning Jim Jones and the protest song We Have Fed You — were written more than 100 years ago, and the topics such as economic disparity and cultural divides discussed in the lyrics still ring true today.
And the title track, while fulfilling Plaskett’s wish for a song the two could sing together, also tackles the idea of solidarity in both a broad and focused sense — solidarity between father and son but also with those out in the world who are struggling.
"That song in particular was about your own little personal journey, even if it isn’t political at all. For me in many respects it’s been a pretty easy... I lived a lucky life in terms of I’ve been able to follow my nose playing music, and so I tried to make my verse reflect that a bit — "a stranger to the struggled that never walked a mile in your shoes," but at the same time you can still come together with people and find common ground, whether that’s with music or with politics."
"The funny thing is though is a lot of my own autobiographical writing it really is... politics creep into it but a lot of my own experience is just about being a touring musician, finding my way through the world and making connections with people in unusual places but none of it is particularly controversial or full of duress or struggle on an economic level. It’s a little bit delicate to approach that subject matter but at the same time you feel sort of compelled in the current world to at least show some solidarity and add a voice."