Home Uncategorized Plants and Animals: taking their sound to the next level

Plants and Animals: taking their sound to the next level

by Archives November 29, 2006

That making an album is a meticulous process would be no overstatement for Plants and Animals. With their second full-length album, a year and a half in the making, and no immediate release date set, the Montreal trio will chip away on their sonic baby until it fits their vision – no matter how long it takes.

“You’d think that it might get discouraging, but it’s really not,” vocalist Warren Spicer said about the recording process. “The more we work on it, the more we record, it transforms the record. The more it feels like everything is coming together. Even if we’ve scrapped [material] and we’ve invested a

bunch of time and money.”

The band started out as Spicer’s instrumental solo project in 2001 when the Canada Council for the Arts gave him a grant to produce a record. He recruited his childhood friend Matthew “Woodman” Woodley on drums and Nicolas Basque on guitar, both from the halls of Concordia’s music department. Somewhere during the single project a unified band emerged.

While their first and self-titled record was hard to put into a genre (although “uncommercial acousto-electric” was Spicer’s own description at the time), the band promises their second record will have immediate appeal to the easy listener. Among the collaborators are Arcade Fire’s violinist Sarah Neufeld and country singer Katie Moore, as well as a 7 year-old boy who hauntingly finishes the track “A l’oree des bois”, all contributing towards the complex and progressive song structures Plants and Animals carry with them from their instrumental days.

The most obvious change on the forthcoming record will be the addition of vocal tracks, but the band said their songs also take on a lighter, poppier nature.

“It took a while to learn how to [sing] to a point where we were happy doing it,” Spicer said. Using vocals was a learning process for them, and one that is largely the reason for their lengthy recording process. “A lot of our singing was just ‘la-la-la’s’. And that was pretty disappointing. But then we just kept with it, and we kept with it, and slowly the ‘la-la’s’ started getting replaced by words,” he said.

By now, the band feels like they have reached a level where they’re no longer creating the “transitional songs” they wrote while moving away from being an instrumental trio. So, even though they estimated they’ve only finished a “handful” of tracks, they hope the rest will be done by this spring.

“We’re becoming what we really are through this whole thing,” Spicer said, comparing this record to previous efforts. “We’re getting closer to what we’re happy with. Before we were just hammering out ideas we call[ed] songs. But they were more like sketches.”

“It’s no point in putting all that time, and energy and money if it’s going to be something that you’re not 100 per cent happy about,” Basque agreed.

Judging by material posted on the web, there are definitive similarities between this record and the last although the band has changed their approach to record making. While their first album got overwhelmingly good reviews from those that picked it up, Spicer said it was written with only record production in mind. “It’s really not a record you can play live.”

This time, P&A try their material live on a regular basis.

“I think part of the reason it’s taking us so long to finish the record is because a lot of the stuff we develop, and then we try it out live,” Spicer said.

“I think you have to do it that way,” Woodman added. “We’re putting in a more concerted effort to play more – to play more places, to play more often, to have a record that people listen to.” Spicer agreed, “If it pulls off live and it works then you know you’re onto something.”

When they played Pop Montreal earlier this fall, critics again reached for their superlatives to describe the forthcoming material. Exclaim! labeled them “a bunch of good time-enjoying, scarily talented musicians,” while Pop Montreal’s Andrew Rose predicted they were “crafting something big.”

Even though they now put more emphasis on live performance, all three agreed some of their material might never be played live, even if it makes it on to the record.

One of the reasons might be their songs’ complexity, making them hard to play live. On their Myspace page fans get a sneak-peak of three new songs, one of which Spicer said maxed out the 24 sound tracks analog recording (as opposed to digital) allows them. The beautifully arranged “Faerie Dance” took Spicer, who also works part time as a producer and sound engineering professor at Concordia, a full four days to mix. The first two days were spent trying to organize the progressive feast, mapping how to get from one part of the song to the next. “It sounds like a waste of time, if you were on digital you could just automate the whole thing, and it would be done in one day,” he said, while maintaining that there are other, not so obvious advantages to analog recording.

A digital format allows bands to record a virtually unlimited number of tracks onto a computer, which usually results in recording several satisfactory versions of each element in a song, and then mixing bits and pieces together to get the best possible outcome. Although that might sound like an ideal situation, the shear amassment of material can be daunting when it comes to sorting it out. For Plants and Animals, recording analog “forces” them not to even attempt such a jigsaw puzzle of nuances.

“I think if we had a hundred [tracks], or whatever you can amass onto a computer screen, we’d dig ourselves a big, deep hole,” Woodman said with a laugh.

He said their lengthy recording process has earned them a reputation among friends of “striving for perfection that can never exist.” That is however not a classification any of the guys will agree to, saying they know when they are satisfied and quickly move on.

“It just has to be good,” they maintained, and joked “we’re basically just trying to stay alive long enough to finish.” However the final product might turn out, Plants and Animals is definitely one band to keep an eye out for in Montreal’s ever-hotter music scene.

Plants and Animals play Casa del Popolo Nov. 29.
4873 Blvd. St. Laurent
With: Go Sumo
Tickets $5

The Ukranian Federation Dec. 15
5213 Hutchison Av.
Headlining act: Patrick Watson
Tickets $15

Le Divan Orange Dec. 19
4234 Blvd. St. Laurent
With: Museum Pieces

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