As quickly as they arrived on the scene with 1997’s “In Loving Memory Of…,” Big Wreck dissolved in 2002 amid poor marketing and an ill-fated sophomore album that didn’t live up to the promise of its predecessor.
While fans across Canada were mystified by the split, radio stations kept the band’s soul alive as 90s classics such as “Blown Wide Open,” “The Oaf (My Luck is Wasted),” and “That Song” remained in regular rotation.
Frontman/guitarist Ian Thornley went on to release a pair of excellent solo albums, while guitarist Brian Doherty formed the group Death of 8, but there’s something about the original collaboration that just couldn’t lay dormant forever.
On March 6, 2012, Big Wreck released “Albatross,” its first new album since 2001, as well as the first not to feature fellow founding members Dave Henning and Forrest Williams.
With eleven songs featuring richly textured production and swooping guitar intricacies, the return is, by all accounts, a triumphant one.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Ian Thornley via telephone recently, and his enthusiasm for where the band has been and where it’s going is an encouraging sign for those who missed out the first time around.
Question: How did it feel to work under the Big Wreck name again?
Thornley: Good, I guess. We’ve been back together for a couple years now, so it’s been a really great ride. I always try to stay busy, and rekindling my friendship with Brian (Doherty) has gotten us right back to where we left off. Our creative chemistry is still very much alive. I don’t like to stay quiet for too long, which means that I always have musical projects that I’m working on.
Question: What made you decide that 2012 was the right time for a reunion?
Thornley: Nothing, in particular. I think it just felt like it was time to make a record, so Brian and I started putting songs together and decided to put the Big Wreck name on it. It’s not the full reunion given the absence of the other guys, but I believe that the material holds up well against everything I’ve ever done. I’ve been back in the band mindset for a while now and the songs we wrote lent themselves rather easily to the Big Wreck style.
Question: Where would you rank ‘Albatross’ among the albums you’ve released in your career?
Thornley: Well, I think it’s natural for any artist to say that their most recent project is their favorite, so that’s the way I feel. I’ve been living with these songs for two years and they continue to transform every night. During our year of touring, certain songs have been given the live treatment and become some of our most focused yet. I love the record and each night is a little different depending on the venue we’re playing.
Question: Much of the album features a clean guitar tone. What influenced you to develop that sound as opposed to the heavily distorted style of modern rock?
Thornley: We borrowed from Strat players such as Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, and The Edge at times, because we’d be in the studio and someone would say “You know that tone in so-and-so’s song? That would sound really great here.” I made a conscious effort on this album to avoid sounding like every other rock band that leans on Marshall stacks all the time. Sure, we used some to fatten up a chorus here and there, but the majority of it was recorded using little amps. I wanted to shy away from whatever it is that makes all these bands sound the same today, you know? The vibe was definitely something from the late 70s or early 80s.
Question: You worked with familiar producers throughout the process. What did they bring to the table that jelled so well with what you wanted to do?
Thornley: Well, Nick (Raskulinecz) worked with me on the last Thornley record and he’s a really talented, inspiring guy to be around. He’s the ultimate cheerleader with sharp instincts, so, if you don’t like particular song, he’ll urge you not to throw it away and have you loving it five minutes later. He manages to get everybody into the process and his enthusiasm is contagious. I’ll have something in my head and Nick will be able to bring that out in the studio. Our engineer, Eric Ratz, is also a highly skilled song doctor who helped out tremendously, because we worked quick and without a big budget.
Question: How have audiences responded to the material given that the band was away for a while?
Thornley: It varies depending on where we are, but I’d say it’s been great overall. At the beginning, we were playing theatres and were able to stretch out the set with intricate arrangements that the audience could really focus on. It wasn’t an arena rock vibe at all, which is cool. We’re lucky enough to do everything though, so I still enjoy the bar scene or any of the outdoor summer festivals we play. We can’t always break out a 4-minute guitar solo in the middle of “Control,” but the crowds are usually quite responsive.
Question: How did your upcoming Canadian tour with Motley Crue come about?
Thornley: I got the call recently about it and said it was fantastic. I don’t know if they requested us or what, but I assume an agent worked out the deal. We did play with Kiss, but I’ve never really seen the whole rock spectacle thing before, so it should be interesting.
Question: What are your plans for Big Wreck once the touring wraps up?
Thornley: I start to get itchy, so I won’t be quiet for long. I’m actually working on a new record right now, but I don’t know what it will become yet.
Question: I love the ‘Tiny Pictures’ album from 2009. Have you ever considered doing something like that again?
Thornley: Thanks, I’m glad to hear that. That was a really interesting process, because Nick and I worked on those songs intently. I can draw a line down the middle of that album and point out the songs I just don’t like that much anymore. Of course, there are also songs from that record that I think are terrific. It would’ve been nice to have a pile of cash to go into the studio without someone else controlling your creative direction, but that wasn’t the case. I understand the label’s need to protect its investment, because, if they want put out ‘Robot Rock’ that sounds like everything else, that’s their business. I’m trying to skate around badmouthing the label, but the directions on that record weren’t always heading toward the same end. Then again, I did bring in a 12-sting acoustic that had a 70s vibe to it, so it’s still something I’m proud of.
You can see Big Wreck at Town Ballroom on April 5 in Buffalo.
See http://www.tickets.com for details.