Rich in anecdotes, interviews and photos, Nowhere With You is as much a heartfelt biography as it is a work of cultural sociology. O'Kane took the title of the book from Plaskett's 2006 single of the same name, one of Plaskett's best-known songs, that auspiciously served as O'Kane's thesis.
"Joel is a success that I wanted to highlight," says O'Kane on the phone from Toronto. In the book, O'Kane carefully but not pedantically shows how Plaskett has 'gone nowhere' by staying here, unlike many of his peers. Over the last 20 years, Plaskett has forged a sustainable, practical and national career in music, despite trends in economics and the arts, and high rates of outmigration.
"I was interested in how Joel was able to stay and do this himself," says O'Kane. "His success means that anyone can be a success. It doesn't mean everyone will, but it means that it's possible. I think for Joel, it has a lot to do with thoughtful entrepreneurship and constantly trying, and constantly working. For me, as a music nerd, it was a musical story that hadn't been told before."
Initially, O'Kane's access point into Plaskett's music was the result of his own leaving. "I was someone who had to move away to find a fulfilling and creative career," O'Kane explains, who is originally from New Brunswick. In 2009, as he was moving from the Maritimes for Toronto, O'Kane fell in love with the Joel Plaskett Emergency. "You know how you hear an album that you slept on, and then all of a sudden, you're obsessed with it, like, two years after it came out. For me, that was Ashtray Rock. It felt like this document of the east coast, like someone sweeps in and there's all this partying, then real life hits and someone moves away. And then I had moved away. I related to the theme so much." That year, Plaskett released his triple-disc Three. O'Kane became even more endeared to the rocker, noticing the recurrent theme on all his albums of people leaving home. "All my friends, where did they go? / To Montreal, Toronto," Plaskett sings.
"I had been interested in music journalism, and I thought there was a real opportunity for more long-form. And this aspect of leaving was a theme I had been personally living out," says O'Kane, on the book's genesis. "Then in November 2013, I went to see Joel play a show in Toronto, and I turned to my friend and I said, 'This is it, this is what I want to write about.' It went from there."
Over the next two years, O'Kane exhausted musical archives, media clippings and Have Not Been The Same while spending six months living in Halifax interviewing people in Plaskett's orbit—Plaskett's drummer Dave Marsh, his dad Bill, his friend Charles Austin, Plaskett's wife and Plaskett himself— to get a comprehensive picture of the rocker's career timeline and personality.
"Dave Marsh was a treat, he was really interesting and straightforward," says O'Kane on his favourite interviews during his research. "Dave's been a key player in Joel's growth since 2000. He keeps him on his toes, not only in terms of the beat, but his ambition. Sloan's Chris Murphy was great, too, he's got this wonderful sense of humour and he told stories with an enthusiasm that was equally sarcastic and romanticizing, as well. And Joel's dad, Bill, was just a total natural storyteller. You can see how that influenced Joel's approach to songwriting."
While the theme of leaving home is a Maritime phenomenon if not a cliché, O'Kane says the book is regionally and nationally relevant: "It's a generational thing to move from a small town to a big city," he explains. "The numbers make it even more difficult to stay in the Maritimes, but it's relatable everywhere. And I was also struck by how many people love Joel. His songwriting is not just good songwriting for the east coast, it's impeccable songwriting that is loved across Canada."
On Saturday afternoon at The Carleton (1685 Argyle Street, 2pm), O'Kane will host a Q&A with Plaskett for the official east coast ECW Press launch of the book. Copies will be available to buy.
"There are a lot of thanks in the back of the book," says O'Kane, "Especially the Maritime Mafia, who are the Maritime friends I made here in Toronto. We all really miss home. But we can't go back home right now, so that's shitty and sad. But there's a celebratory part of coming home, too."