Interview Series: Plants and Animals

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If you were to listen to the entire Plants and Animals catalogue on shuffle, you’d likely find yourself curiously dazzled by this enigmatic indie rock outfit from Montréal.  Mellow tunes, instrumental tunes, rock tunes, folk tunes.  This band is ever-changing and I figured it would be interesting to pick their brains a little bit.

On their most recent tour in support of their exceptional release The End of That, Plants and Animals stopped off in Vancouver and Warren C. Spicer, lead singer and guitarist, was kind enough to take 15 minutes out of his busy tour schedule to have a telephone chat with MoreThanAFeeling Music. He was also kind enough to give some insight into what makes them tick, why they recorded their album in Paris, why they won’t be putting out any francophone material any time soon, and what their favourite song to play live is.

Let’s do this!

MoreThanAFeeling Interview with Warren C. Spicer of Plants and Animals:

MoreThanAFeeling: Your new album, The End of That, has been out for just over 3 weeks now and you’ve played a few shows supporting it.  How has the live experience and crowd reception been with the new tunes?

Warren C. Spicer: It’s been great, actually.  Couldn’t really ask for anything more, we’ve played 5 shows, I think—4 or 5, they’ve all been sold out, so the attendance has been great and people are coming out.  I think musically, with the addition of a bass player the arrangements are a little truer to maybe the way we had recorded them and I think musically, [they’re] probably some of the best shows we’ve ever played.

MTAF: That ties right into a question I was going to ask you next about the bass guitar: one thing that both surprised and impressed me about your live act was the omission of the bass guitar—having two guitar players and a drummer, which isn’t necessarily the typical trio format.  You guys have just recently begun incorporating a bass live, can you give a little bit of background as to how that transition came about?

WCS: Sure.  Well, when we started 10 years ago, we were doing instrumental, kind of minimalist instrumental music and so it really wasn’t your typical kind of rock ’n ’roll music.  The two-guitar-drum thing, we never thought about having a bass ‘cause musically, it wasn’t really necessary.  As we got working on things and started making our first record, Parc Avenue, it didn’t occur to us to add a bass player but on a lot of those songs there is a bass—probably more than half that record there’s a bass on the recording.  And then our next record there was a bunch of bass on the recording and on this record there’s a bunch of bass on the recordings.  Up until now we’ve just rocked it, the three of us, and I think that it did a lot for the relationship between the three of us.  It’s pretty intense when we’re just touring, the three of us and we’re kind of compensating in lots of weird ways to get more low end and bass.  Our guitars are tuned differently and we’re carrying around these big huge amps… We stretched that out for a long time and we had talked about trying to play with a bass player for a long time.  It was something that we always wanted to do, we just never got around to it for whatever reason and then we kind of made a point of it for this tour and as soon as we did it, I think we just realized that it really allowed me, personally, to concentrate more on singing and more on playing guitar the way I’d rather play it as opposed to constantly trying to fill up the bottom and making sure there was something going on with the kick drum.  Yeah, it really has just made our lives a little easier to concentrate on what we each want to concentrate on as opposed to all three of us trying to create an imaginary bass on stage, you know?

MTAF: This new album was recorded, if I’m not mistaken, completely in Paris last spring.

WCS: Yeah.

MTAF: Can you describe why you chose to record there as opposed to… elsewhere?

WCS: Yeah, well there’s this studio outside of Paris called La Frette Studio. A guy by the name of Olivier owns this place—but he also has a place in Montréal—and we got to know him through some friends.  We were on tour through France a couple years ago and the opportunity came about to go and record for a couple of days at this place that we had only heard about.  We heard it was this big, old French villa with a studio in it and you go and you stay there.  So we went and recorded for two days and it completely blew us away.  It was the most, kind of, surreal place to make a record, let alone visit, for that matter.  It’s basically in a small castle, in this wicked recording studio, and you’re playing in the living room and everyone has their own bedroom and you have your wine and cheese up on the roof on the patio and look out over the river… It’s completely outrageous. To imagine that we would have been able to do that is… Life is weird like that, you know, one day if somebody said a couple years ago that you’ll make an entire record in an old French mansion, I wouldn’t know how that’s going to happen, but I’d look forward to it! It was just one of those flukes of life that we got to record somewhere really awesome.  I mean, it’s basically all because of Olivier—the guy that owns it—he’s a supporter of ours and he likes our music and we get along really well and he made it possible for us to do it, so…

MTAF: One word that comes to mind when I think of The End of That is honest, to me, both lyrically and instrumentally—not that the other albums weren’t but the first time I listened to it, it really came off as honest.  Can you explain a little bit about the songwriting approach to this album versus the past two?

WCS: I think the record before it [La La Land] was kind of camouflaged.  The emotional content was… it wasn’t really me.  I was trying out different personas or something, writing from different point of views and stuff.  After that record and after some things happened in our lives and stuff, we just got back to basics and just tried to write some simple songs about… straight out of myself, basically, and not trying to pretend I’m somebody else or pretend that I’ve got another story to tell or whatever.  Yeah, I think it was honest, I didn’t make it up, so… for the most part, anyway.  I was actually just trying to sing about what was going on.

MTAF: You guys are from Montréal and all speak French.  Has there ever been any pressure or any desire to write songs with French lyrics, being that you guys are from that area?

WCS: Not really, no, definitely no pressure.  There was a French part of one song on the first album on the second half in the chorus [A L’Orée Des Bois], and that made sense at that time and we haven’t done anything in French since.  I’ve never tried to write in French and I’ve only sung in French a couple of times.  There’s a lot of anglophone music in Montréal going on—they’re kind of two different scenes for sure, the francophone and anglophone music scenes, but they do crossover quite a bit, actually.  But yeah, French is a strange language for rock ‘n’ roll.  It doesn’t quite… it’s great for other things but for the kind of music we do, I wouldn’t know how to do it.

MTAF: I’ve seen you cite David Bowie as a source of inspiration in past interviews.  Are there any other bands or artists that you draw inspiration or ideas from?

WCS: Well, yeah, it’s kind of always changing.  I mean, on our last record [The End of That], the weird combination in my mind was Bowie and Neil Young.  Not for musical reasons but for conceptual reasons.  What we were trying to do with a lot songs on that record was we would start at point A, and by the time you got to the end of the song, you’ve travelled very far from where you’d begun.  There are a lot of Bowie songs that are like that where you get onboard and you get taken very far away from where he started from.  It’s like the whole thing is kind of a ride musically.  And, you know, something like that song, Crisis! Is kind of like that. It has this loose, groovy kind of thing and you go through all these different kind of changes and by the end of it, you’re somewhere totally different.  So that was definitely something we were thinking about while we were working on the songs and I guess Neil Young—in the honesty department—is about just being able to write the song you need to write for yourself, and cross your fingers that it’s going to work for other people.

MTAF: You guys have released 3 full-length albums in about 3 years time, if I’m not mistaken.  After your past tours, has there been a point where you’ve said, “I need a break,” or have you gone back into writing and recording?

WCS: Well, I mean, there has been a lot of breaks in between, you know? You take a couple weeks off and by the end of a couple weeks, I’m rested.  I’ve slept and I’d rather just be working.  I feel like if you leave [music] alone, it kind of… You gotta stay in the game, or else you might lose something.  Personally, I finish a tour, come home, take a week off or something… but I’d be in the studio everyday if it were my way.  And that’s kind of the way I want to approach things is to find a way to work consistently and not block our lives off in terms of tour, recording and rest.  Mix them all up so they’re all going more or less at the same time.

MTAF: Do you ever write songs while on the road?

WCS: Hmm… maybe a few little ideas will pop up, but generally—well no, that’s not true—yeah, sometimes things happen on the road, for sure, but it’s not really on my mind right now.

MTAF: In a live setting, is there a song that yourself or the band enjoys playing the most?

WCS:  Yeah, I think Faerie Dance is probably the pillar of our band.  That song seems to always be rewarding to play, and it consistently changes and kind of morphs into something else… I dunno, that song seems to hold it all together.


~ by DR on March 23, 2012.

2 Responses to “Interview Series: Plants and Animals”

  1. Great interview, Dylan!

  2. […] to meet and interview some amazing people (Jeff Innes of Yukon Blonde, Hannah Georgas, Steven Page, Plants & Animals), and I’ve made many friends in the music scene, some working in it and some just loving the […]

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