Can the Montreal trio bring back classic rock and help new gen'ers rid themselves of hipster shades?
Words and interview by Shirine Saad.
Montreal’s Plants and Animals have earned comparisons to Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire for their sharp, inspired post-classic rock. Now they’ve grown up and sing about doing drugs, building families and the other elements of life as thirty-somethings. Let Matthew Woodman Woodley, the band’s drummer and vocalist tell you why the trio thinks Internet buzz is for the birds.
You’ve been touring all summer. How did it go and what are your projects for the future?
We’re about to start working on new music. We’ve been touring and playing this album a lot, but we’re excited to get creative again and do it in an open way. I take my cues from audiences more than from reviews – critics or Internet chitter chatter, which has become very influential. I love the energy you feel in a crowd. The music is supposed to connect with people. Our music provokes clapping and cheering. Last night we played a show in a big restaurant in rural Quebec. People were sitting really close to us, and it was really a joy to play to this kind of audience and more and more it’s my favorite way to do things. I prefer that to a boisterous audience, but I like both.
Tell me about the last album. Is it about adulthood?
We took a really autobiographical tone, particularly. I think when people connect to these lyrics I think it’s because they see themselves in there where they identify. Also we’re an energetic, dynamic band and all lyrics aside you can get into the physicality of the whole thing. Ultimately, the chorus is we three. The first album was a yard sale of sounds and influences — we’d do things ourselves in a little room. The next time around we got simpler, a lot more rock’n'roll, it was thicker and guitar heavy. The third time it was really the simplest. It was just the three of us playing without adding much to that. This time we’re going to bring some other sounds.
I’ve read critics say that it was hard to define your sound…
We have a lot of different influences from rock, folk, jazz, world music. I listen to Al Green, Bach and CCR. Those are my ABC’s. Everyone has an i-Pod, it’s not like 20 years ago when you were a rock person or a hip-hop person. Lately I’ve listened to a lot of classic rock, the golden years, mid ’60s to mid ’70s, and that’s been a huge influence on our sound, so much so that I’ve needed to take a break from it. And I really like Motown.
How do you work in the studio?
Warren and I met when were 12 years old in Halifax and played in a few bands together. We moved to Montreal at the same time, primarily because it’s a nice, exciting city. I just always had a connection with the city growing up, I had a romance with the place I guess. So I decided to go to university here. We met Nick at Concordia. The next project was an instrumental album, we spent the next couple of years playing small shows. Over those two years we became poppier. It was a letting go of the need to be different. In our 20′s we were listening to music no one else listened to or so we thought, like free jazz and Steve Reich. Gradually we got more comfortable in our own skin and said, ‘hey, aren’t the Beatles fantastic?’ and that seeped into the music. The two years we spent on Parc Avenue was when we shifted from Plants & Animals the great explorers to Plants & Animals the band. There’s a thread running through our albums. It’s us and our voice and our sound.
How do you make an album?
Warren [Spicer, guitarist-vocalist] usually brings in the ideas. Nic [Basque, guitarist-vocalist] describes us like one of those hot chicken sandwiches with sauce on top. Warren is the meat, I’m the bread that holds it all together and Nic is the sauce. The last album was recorded at La Frette outside of Paris. We only had two weeks, which was too short. Patrick Watson from our label had worked there a little bit. Fell in love with the place. Read that Feist had done the reminder there. Indeed it is a magical house. It’s majestic and crooked at the same time, a big old manor. Surrounded by big trees and chirping birds, there’s romanticism, dreaminess. It’s an easy place to get comfortable and acoustically it’s got that je ne sais quoi.
The themes come later. Everything comes from the music, from the rhythm and harmony and the way we play together. Sometimes we work on a song and there are no lyrics — it’s not about anything. When lyrics come in, sometimes I feel that we have to adjust and words tend to take the forefront. It’s that second element of words and meaning.
What was the Mile End scene like when you moved there in 1996?
Then, nobody really went to that area. It was very quiet. There were a lot of old Greek ladies sweeping out the leaves and not so many young people with cool glasses. You could have a large apartment with several rooms for 500-600 bucks. Now we’re friends with other bands. The scene is quite small and it’s full of artists. After this conversation, I’ll take my dog out for a walk and I bet I’ll run into a musician. There’s a lot of cross-pollination. There are a couple of bands on our label The Barr Brothers and Patrick Watson– we’ve learned from them about touring. Our first American tour was with Wolf Parade. We just saw how they did things. We also played with Sarah Neufeld who’s the violinist on Arcade Fire. That collaborative spirit keeps the bar high because so many good musicians and so many ideas that you cant help but being influenced, inspired and challenged by it. If you see another band and they’re really good it pushes you to be good too.
Want to see more bands like this? Check out special report on Montreal, here.