By Alex Kruse

Joel Plaskett rose to fame as a member of the Halifax alternative band Thrush Hermit and released his first solo album in 1999. Since then, he’s established himself as a Canadian rock icon with an extensive list of awards, including a Juno for his 2009 release, Three. I caught up with him just prior to the release of his sixth solo album, Joel Plaskett & The Park Avenue Sobriety Test, to talk about his upcoming show with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and the new album.

The Walleye: Tell me a bit about your symphony shows and what the audience in Thunder Bay can expect.

Joel Plaskett: I’ve got a mix of songs from most of my records worked up with charts for the symphony. I really enjoy these shows, but they’re kind of nerve-wracking! I normally don’t do the same songs the same way every night, but when you’re dealing with that many musicians, you just don’t go off-script. Some of the slower material works really well with the symphony, but I also try to balance it with some of my more upbeat songs as well. And I do a bit on my own to incorporate more of a conversational element.

TW: What are the highlights of playing with a full symphony?

JP: I just love singing ‘“Light of the Moon” and another song called “Harbour Boys”—they work really nicely with the symphony. It’s thrilling to be singing songs and have that much sound behind you; it’s a real trip. I love all the aspects of the orchestra, but when you hear strings swelling behind you, you suddenly feel like you’re in a movie. Or like Frank Sinatra. It may not sound like Frank Sinatra, but I’ll feel like him at least. I’ve learned a lot from doing these shows. Just what you can do with the shading, you know—there’s so many more colours with a symphony. You’re drawing on all these instruments and there’s the collective power of all these people. It’s really neat.

TW: People have been referring to your new album The Park Avenue Sobriety Test by the acronym PAST—was that intentional?

JP: The acronym was just a happy accident! I had put the artwork together, which is a picture of me lying on my record collection, and in the background there are pieces from my other records like the carpet from Three and a monkey from Scrappy Happiness and some of the art from previous records. There’s songs on this record that could have existed on any one of my records, so it’s almost like a greatest hits of all new songs. Kim Cook (of Pheromone Records) was writing about the record and he abbreviated it. I couldn’t believe that was the acronym because the album art already has all these elements from the past. And all of a sudden it connected everything.

TW: How do you feel about coming back to Thunder Bay?

JP: I get a real sense of satisfaction about being able to bring this type of show to Thunder Bay. I’ve played Thunder Bay quite a few times over the years, so to get an invite to come play with the symphony makes me feel like I’ve done something right. Like “Hey, I made it!” That’s pretty cool. And, in many respects, it’s going to be the first tour date for the new album—it’s my first date after the new album comes out!

Joel Plaskett plays with the TBSO at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium on Saturday, April 11.