If you can’t exactly figure out the Canadian trio Plants and Animals, don’t worry. They’re still trying to figure things out on their end as well. But there’s no doubt that the Montreal-based band is on to something. Nominated for both the Polaris Music Prize and multiple Juno Awards, the three-piece’s constantly evolving roots/classic/post/rock sound is embraced by critics and fans alike.
Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Warren Spicer met drummer Matt Woodley when they were in junior high, and guitarist Nic Basque joined the pair when they were in college together. The trio’s well-developed synergy has been the foundation through three studio albums. Their latest, February’s The End of That, was released on Canadian indie label Secret City Records and the last leg of touring in the States on the release makes its way to the Casbah Monday night.
I recently spoke with Spicer from his Quebec home -- after he patiently dealt with some technical difficulties on my end -- about the band and what the future holds.
Scott McDonald: How’s it going?
Warren Spicer: Great. It’s a beautiful spring day here in Montreal.
SM: Nice. These upcoming dates are the end of this tour for you guys, right?
WS: It is the end of the American tour. But we have a few more dates in the summer and some “Canadian stuff” to do as well.
SM: Do you work in between?
WS: Well, at the beginning of the tour, we added a bass player to the band. We changed a lot of arrangements and did a lot of rehearsing. But now that we’ve been on the road for two months, everyone’s just taking a break and getting ready for the next leg.
SM: After being a three-piece for so long, was there any initial trepidation that adding a bass player might throw things off?
WS: Yes. For sure. I think we were worried about it screwing up what we had going. And there’s something kind of special about a trio. But once we started working with it as a four-piece, all of those fears went out the window. We didn’t make any compromises. In fact, I think everyone’s able to do their job even better now. It’s been great, and we’ve all been really happy about it.
SM: Is it something you might continue on the next trip to the studio?
WS: We really haven’t gotten any father than the live dates. We just wanted to do some different arrangements on the road. And there hasn’t been any thought about what we’ll be doing recording-wise on the next record. But we’ll probably just work with the three of us, because that’s what we’ve always done. I guess you never know, but there’s no talk of anything different at the moment.
SM: Well, I guess the three of you know each other so well, it would definitely change the dynamic.
WS: On a personal level, I think you get to know a person very quickly when you’re playing music. You understand what they can do -- or what they can’t do -- and where things are going to work or where they’re not. I think if you throw a bunch of people in a room together and all they have to do is play music, it’s like dogs at a dog park: You figure out very quickly if it’ll work or not.
SM: The overall sound has changed a bit on all three of your records. Is that the basic blueprint -- to make sure things are different -- when you go in to make one?
WS: I think it’s more a result of where we are when we make it. We never go into it with much more of a game plan than "Let’s start working again." And it just ends up explaining itself from there. We haven’t even figured out what it is yet. We just keep experimenting as a band. This last one is a lot more stripped down and raw, and the last one was more textural. We’re still trying to find out what we’re looking for. And we haven’t settled on anything -- that’s for sure.
SM: Listening to End of That, it not only sounds more stripped down, but it feels more personal.
WS: For sure. It is more personal. I wrote a lot more about, you know, real things in my life than I did on the last one. That was more obscure and didn’t quite tell the truth in a lot of ways. But that’s just the way it was. Sometimes you can have no idea what someone is singing about and it doesn’t make any difference at all. There’s all kinds of different ways to use vocals in a song. I've done things like that. We’ve used them as just melody, where the lyrics are not so important. On this record, the words and context of the stories took more of a front seat.
SM: The records are done in Montreal, and they’re recorded in Paris, so there’s a French connotation to it all. Yet, you’re always drawing comparisons to distinctly American bands -- Wilco, Built to Spill, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, etc.
WS: Well, I’m from the East Coast. I didn’t move to Montreal until I was 18. But I learned French when I was a kid. And Nic, our other guitar player, is French. But a lot of our references are American. I tend to gravitate to recordings where it sounds like something really happened when it was recorded. Slick production is fine, but I like things with an element that’s uncontrollable. I’m always looking for something special that happens when you’re playing, rather than trying to control things so there are no mistakes. I feel like I’m lucky to be in a band that gets to do this. It’s a scary path -- we produce our own records and do our own thing, and we’re not really in the sound of the times right now. We’re doing something else.
SM: But that’s what people like about you, I think.
WS: Yeah, I think the people who do like us, definitely like us for that reason.
SM: What’s next?
WS: Right now, it’s finish this tour. Then, this summer, we’ll work on some stuff that we started in the fall. But I think the game plan moving forward is to take a little bit more time working on things. On the next one, there’s no delivery date, there’s no nothing. We can throw things away, we can start again. So we’re just going to make use of everything we have in terms of recording, and we’re going to do it with the least amount of pressure possible.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com