Chris Mihas sat down with Ian Thornley to discusses the past, present and future of Big Wreck.
Let’s start with what’s going on with Big Wreck right now. You’re playing Echo Beach this Friday. Is this part of a tour?
Ian: No. Generally we don’t get too many tours happening in the summer these days. It’s mostly festivals or what I like to call, a weekend warrior kind of thing.
Do you play stuff from the Thornley albums when doing a Big Wreck show or do you prefer to keep the two separate?
Ian: Um, no. Their all ripe for the pickings. The Thornley songs get rotated in from time to time and if they fit then we go for it. Generally we’ll take them and re-work them a little. In our language that usually means just throwing in a guitar solo and stretching things out.
Do you improvise your solos or do you play them as their heard on the record?
Ian: It depends. I do a bit of both. For the most part, if their wasn’t a solo in the song to begin with, then it’s improvised but sometimes I stick to what it is. The “Ghost” solo for instance, the first solo I’ll go with what’s on the record and the last one will be an open ended free for all.
What are your favourite three songs to play live?
Ian: Oh boy. That’s something that can change from venue to venue and crowd to crowd. I love playing them all. There aren’t any in the set that I don’t like playing. There are certainly Thornley songs that I don’t like to play, so we just don’t play those. Generally speaking the new songs are the ones the band gets off on more.
When you’re touring, do your set lists change?
Ian: We tried a lot of different ways when doing that. When we’re doing our own tour, we get an hour and a half or two hours. There’s a lot of music to cover and a lot of different ways to put it together. Generally you find something that works and you can augment from there or diminish from there. You settle with what works and you really don’t mess with it, cause you’re getting into a rhythm every night. There’s a lot of different ways to do it and I’m still learning about that. There is a science to it. Some guys know how it’s suppose to be for them, some guys kinda wonder. I’m somewhere in the middle.
You’ve released four albums with Big Wreck and two albums with Thornley. Have you entertained the idea of recording and releasing a live album?
Ian: Ah ya. Will, we did a live e.p. and generally it’s actually pretty easy nowadays to bring out a rig and record stuff live. Maybe the next time we go and do our own tour, where we’re able to stretch out a little more time on stage; I’d love to do that.
We’re seeing bands re-releasing albums on Vinyl and Cd. New remastered versions packaged up nice and including other goodies with the album. Being that your debut album is nearly 20 years old, would you consider doing something like this and re-releasing “In Loving Memory Of…”?
Ian: Ya of course, that would be great. I would love to get my hands in there and either remix it or remaster it or even re-record it, that would be cool. That record was done so quickly and it was done on tape and we were so young, I would love another crack at it. Their was a lot of stuff we didn’t use, so I would be curious to go through and see what’s in there. But ya who knows. I generally like to focus on newer things, try to discover new ideas and flush out older ones that I didn’t get the chance to try yet. Theirs still a lot of music yet that I wanna release.
Was there songs you recorded but left off albums that you wish you included?
Ian: Yes and no. It’s always nice to have everything you’ve done out there but if they’re left off, then they’re left off for a reason. Either they don’t fit or they’re not quite ready yet. Sometimes they get revisited but if they don’t fit, they just don’t fit. Nowadays theirs always somebody that has a copy of something.
You stated that you weren’t trying to produce any ‘Radio hits’ during the writing process of Ghosts. Do you not feel satisfied or a sense of accomplishment when you hear your songs on the radio?
Ian: Oh yeah, that’s a feeling that never goes away. It’s always great to hear yourself on the radio. I do better work and honest work when I don’t have that as the end goal. Getting it on the radio isn’t the end goal. Trying to make something beautiful and pointed is the end goal. Trying to make something that rocks is the goal. To try and please myself and please us and to make something quality and to make something that stands the test of time, these are goals that I’d rather reach for.
Your single “Albatross” has gained many accolades, from being #1 on the Billboard Rock Charts to winning a Casby award. Did you know when you wrote “Albatross” how unique and special it was?
Ian: No. I was tickled when they said it was gonna be a single. I thought that was a really ballsy move. I was like wow, cool! I thought it was a great centrepiece for the record and um, a beautiful song and it’s certainly one that came along pretty quickly. The riff was around for years, but as a song though, it came around quickly.Ghosts is the longest running Big Wreck album. Did it also take the longest to record?
Ian: No. I think we did it in less than a month. We did a good couple of months of pre-production. Just with Eric Ratz and I going into a studio and flushing out song ideas and putting things together. We rehearsed the tunes and went in the studio and it really wasn’t that long. It’s pretty mapped out before we go in the studio. Studio time is expensive.
So you’re not doing any of the writing process in the studio?
Ian: Oh no. This isn’t the 80’s. I heard stories of what it was like back then. It took 6-9 months to make a record. Sounds great but just don’t have that in them nowadays.
Big Wreck performs with three guitarists. Does having a third guitar player create that much more of a dynamic or is it just a personal preference to operate with three guitarists?
Ian: Definitely. I tend to layer a lot when putting a song down. A lot of the guitar parts will go together like Lego and sort of fit together to make different parts of the song speak and move the way I want them to. We did a tour before the second version of Big Wreck. We did Thornley music and then came out and did a set of Big Wreck music. Paulo was playing guitar with Thornley and Brain was gonna do the Big Wreck side of it. We just started doing it with all three of us playing it and it was great. More than enough parts that need covering and it also takes a load off me when I’m singing. The itch you wanna scratch is when all three guys play the same thing at the same time and see how many windows we can break. It’s awesome. I love doing it. Those guys are fantastic musicians. it’s quite a thing.
The song “Time” taken off your album Albatross has the lyric “If I could go back in time, what would I change of mine”. If you could go back and change something, what would it be?
Ian: Dude! Ha. Wow. Is this a loaded question? I’m going through a lot of personal stuff right now where that kinda of question, I can go on for hours. But I mean, at the same time, in my reflective moments and I’m not seeded about something, not upset or pissed off about something, sort of just being. I’m able to look at things and not have any regrets. Something good always comes from any decision that I’ve made. There’s a lot of stuff that I’m sure anybody would change if they could.
I was looking at the “Ghost” liner notes/booklet and there’s a picture of a row of guitars (I think I counted 21 or 22). Did you use all those guitars on that album?
Ian: Oh yeah. You tend to have favourites for a certain purpose. If I need a guitar for a certain type of sound then I’ll have couple of different options. I generally go for the ones that stay in tune and sound the best. I’m lucky to have companies that make guitars that do that for me.
How many guitars do you own?
Ian: Quite a few. But I’m not a collector guy. I don’t have a glass case with vintage things. Their all tools for me, they serve a purpose. It’s not wall candy.
What type of Guitar do you normally play at home or try new ideas on?
Ian: I kinda like to have a few around, just cause of that. They have different voices, depending on your mood and depending on anything. The right instrument at the right time can be a pretty magical combination for inspiring something. I generally like to have a Suhr within arm’s reach or a flapjack in arms reach. There are acoustics kicking around as well.
I assume being a recording artist and touring can be draining at times. What do you do to relax?
Ian: Honestly, play guitar. I know a lot of guys that go golfing. I went golfing last week and my hands got really sore. It was fun, being out in the sun but I like riding my bike and generally, it’s music all the time.
I read somewhere you play other instruments. Have you ever played an instrument other than the guitar on a Big Wreck song?
Ian: Ya. I played piano, mandolin, pedal steel. All kinds of percussion and organs. I wouldn’t list them on the record.
With technology constantly changing, has your recording style or approach in the studio change since the band’s debut album?
Ian: Oh of course. Everything is a lot quicker. In some ways I look back really fondly on how things used to be. You were forced to do things in a different way. Beautiful things can come from that. When you only have 16 tracks or 24 tracks, you gotta make them count. And now you have 616 tracks and you can do whatever you want. And the ‘take’ would have to be the ‘take’. Nowadays you can be like, ah it’s good enough, I’ll fix it later. We generally approach recording the way I always have. I want the ‘take’ to be the ‘take’. As untouched as possible. Certainly you do things nowadays to fit in with everything else, um, theirs a scheme you put on everything. I just want the vibe of the performance to be captured.
When did you know that you would be able to make a career out of being a musician?
Ian: I still don’t. I worry about it everyday dude.