Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Joel Plaskett Odyssey, Part One: Thrush Hermit

Casey Dorrell

Trush HermitSome day an article will be written about Joel Plaskett that doesn't reference his previous band, the late Thrush Hermit. But this isn't that article. Still, his post-Hermit success and the relative obscurity of most Canadian indie-rock bands before the explosion of the Montreal indie scene in 2004 means Plaskett may be poised to eclipse the fame of Thrush Hermit, at least outside Canada.

Back in 1993, the East Coast Canadian city Halifax was hailed as the "new Seattle" in reference to the scene that spawned Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and a thousand other major-label signings of grunge bands. The "new Seattle" was also sometimes referred to as the "Halifax Pop-Explosion," a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 1917 Halifax Explosion, the largest pre-atomic explosion. I guess you had to be there. Many groups were associated with the scene yet there was no definitive sound. At best, the halifax "Cod-Rockers" were tied together by a shared love of pop and thrashing guitairs, but mostly they shared geography and the interest of desperate major labels.

Out of the many, only four groups remain well-known today: Eric's Trip, Super Friendz, Sloan (who instigated the hype and are the only ones still together), and Thrush Hermit. The latter formed in 1992 fronted by Joel Plaskett and Rob Benvie, a sort of Lennon-McCartney split with songs being credited to one vocalist or the other. Plaskett and Benvie were then joined by Ian McGettigan on bass and a rotating cast of drummers. After signing to Sloan's Murderecord label, Thrush Hermit released their first EP, Smart Bomb. It was well-recieved, with one Plaskett-penned song, "Hated it" even making it into the less-than-good Kevin Smith movie, Mallrats. Still, many faulted the band's low production 60's garage sound for being little more than Sloan Part 2.

Says Benvie,
I think in the beginning we had a bit of a chip on our shoulders because everywhere we went it was like, 'Hey! Sloan Junior! You guys sound like Sloan. You guys look like Sloan. You guys are just like Sloan except you're smaller.' And to a certain extent that was probably true, but we were also pretty young and pretty impressionable and still finding our direction.
Thrush Hermit

Two more EPs and Thrush Hermit finally cashed in on the major label interest, signing with Elektra in 1996 and releasing their first full-length, Sweet Homewrecker. The album marked more songwriting input of McGettigan and positive critical reviews. It also touted an air of 70's rock nostalgia, helping separate the band from Sloan whose sound recalled music more of lighter 60's acts.

Despite this, Sweet Homewrecker did not fair well in Elektra's eyes and although they didn't drop the band, they did stop promoting the album.

"When you're at a big label like that it all comes down to whether you're a priority, or whether there's some sort of push behind you," Benvie explained, adding, "I mean, we saw memos saying, 'We are not working the Thrush Hermit album anymore. We are moving on to this.' It was very discouraging."

Disillusioned with being a major-label band, Thrush Hermit opted out of their contract (Elektra happily bought them out), releasing their fourth and final album, Clayton Park,independently via Sonic Unyon in 1999. It was a critical and commercial success, getting the band nominal radio and MuchMusic (Canada's MTV equivalent) play, topping Canadian college radio charts, earning them a Juno (Canadian Grammy equivalent) nomination, and garnering general critical adoration. Basically, it did everything Thrush Hermit had already done, only better. It was the album that every good live band strives for, finally capturing the raw energy (cliche alert) they were known for at shows.

Thrush HermitIt was also the first album that fully embraced the band's collective love of harder 70's rock. In fact, at one of their largest concerts earlier that year in Toronto they played an entire show of Steve Miller covers to a somewhat bewildered but generally receptive crowd. Not to say that Thrush Hermit were entirely derivative of what had already come before them. They did ape the 70's sound but with that they artfully mixed late 80's indie aesthetic. The mix of Led Zeppelin-Uriah Heep type 70's rock with disparate unabashed indie pop actually resulted in a frenetic almost punk-like sound. Both Benvie and Plaskett were proving to be engaging song writers, the latter tending to provide the heavier songs, while Plaskett offered some of the few low key offerings, foreshadowing his solo career.

So what's a band to do when they achieve that sort of success? Break-up of course. There wasn't any big personal disagreements or "creative differences," the band members were simply ready to move on.

"It's nice that people are upset that we're breaking up," Plaskett said at the time, "But I'd rather have them remember us as a great band that made good records as opposed to a band that lost interest and whose music suffered as a result."

Will Thrush Hermit ever play together again? Will Plaskett survive on his own? Was the hermit portion of the band's name prothetic? Is there anything more satisfying than peanut butter Smarties? Check back for the Second half of Plaskett's Saga.

The Thrush Hermit Discography:
The Like Young - So Serious Smart Bomb EP (94) The Like Young - So Serious Great Ocean Pacific EP (95)
The Like Young - So Serious Sweet Homewrecker (97) Thrush Hermit - Clayton Park Clayton Park (99)

Thrush Hermit - Hated It (Smart Bomb)
Thrush Hermit - Snubbed (Sweet Homewrecker)
Thrush Hermit - At My Expense (Sweet Homewrecker)
Thrush Hermit - I'm Sorry if Your Heart Has No More Room (Sweet Homewrecker)
Thrush Hermit - Songs for the Gang (Clayton Park)
Thrush Hermit - We Are Being Reduced (Clayton Park)
Thrush Hermit - Before You Leave (Clayton Park)
Super Friendz - Fireflies [Buy]

The Like Young
Tegan and Sara

Comments on "The Joel Plaskett Odyssey, Part One: Thrush Hermit"


Anonymous Johnny said ... (3/1/06 9:50 am) : 

More random Thrush Hermit factoids:

A. The band were creuly nicknamed "Clone" at the start for sounding a lot like Sloan.

B. Ian McGettigan only played with three bass strings (dropping the G string). When I asked him about it, he just said "It's my thing." Rock and roll!

C. The full Thrush Hermit discography from Rob Benvie's site:

Learn to Party (1999), Video
Clayton Park (1999), Sonic Unyon, LP
Giddy with the Drugs (1998), Murderecords, 7"
Rock and Roll Detective (1997), Elektra/WEA, EP
Sweet Homewrecker (1997), Elektra/WEA, LP
Take Another Drag (1995), Bong Load, 7" single
French Inhale (1995), Genius, Special Edition, 3 sided 7" single
The Great Pacific Ocean (1995), Murderecords, EP, 12" picture disc
Smart Bomb (1994), Murderecords, EP
Marya (1993), Genius, 7" single
Ammo, (1993) Cinnamon Toast, 7" single
John Boomer (1993), Cassette
Nobody Famous (1992), Cassette

- Johnny!


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (3/1/06 5:28 pm) : 

You should do a Sloan profile for us - document the descent from great to . . . well, ok.


Anonymous Johnny said ... (3/1/06 9:15 pm) : 

No kidding, huh? Well at least they're excuses to tour...


Anonymous Johnny said ... (3/1/06 9:19 pm) : 

*They're being the shitty albums they've been releasing. Sorry for the flagrant abuse of pronouns.


Blogger mel said ... (3/1/06 11:49 pm) : 

I read this and went, "hey, I didn't reference Thrush Hermit in my review this summer!... Oh wait... nevermind."

Touche Casey.


Anonymous Casey said ... (4/1/06 12:34 am) : 

he he

(and yes, I do feel that the sentiment "he he" warrants being a comment)


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