Big Wreck: Bigger Rebirth
Coming back after a 10 year hiatus, you'd think Ian Thornley & the boys would be a bit rusty�.not a chance.
When I reached out to cover this piece, I wasn't sure as to what angle I'd approach the story. It's a great story at that: huge band in the late 90s, 2x platinum, random breakup in early 2000s. The objective was to sit down with two members of Big Wreck and ask them the obvious questions; why did you break up and who's fault was it? Was I going to ask them if 'The Greed and The Pleasure' tanked because of poor marketing? Maybe I'd bring up the bands touring difficulties in the early 2000s, with displeasure throughout the band which would be carried on to the stage….or mention Ian Thornley's supposed audition with the guys from Velvet Revolver, and his decision to decline because they didn't want him to play the guitar. I didn't ask any of those questions because they've already been asked, and it's the past. No need to re-hash challenges when you already have something good in the making.
I arrived to Ottawa a little after noon on a beautiful brisk Saturday and was on my way to the CE Centre (renamed: Ernst & Young Centre Nov. 1st) to meet up with Ian Thornley & Brad Park of Big Wreck. As we met one another, I couldn't shake the fact that both gentlemen were taller than me, and had hands that could palm a basketball.
With their second kick at the can as Big Wreck, they decided to go with a different roster of cats; but a very similar approach to making the music. Firstly, they added; Brad Park (drums), Dave McMillian (bass) and Paulo Neta (guitar) to the team. Huge picks as Dave and Paulo have been closely connected with Ian Thornley from his solo project, 'Thornley'. Brad Park is one of the most animated drummers in the business; his ties to Ian Thornley go way back as well (story below). Ian Thornley & Brian Doherty (guitar) are the two remaining original band members of Big Wreck. I guess you can call them the foundation of the band as they've shared burgers, apartments and tour buses over the last twenty years. Secondly, their approach to writing still remains the same as Ian Thornley flexes his writing skills on 'Albatross' and delivers a gem. Now that Big Wreck version two is in check, lets get to the music….
The bands third album, 'Albatross' was released this past March with rave reviews from critic that aren't easily impressed by mainstream/rock. Nor do they give two shits about comeback stories -- half smile. I'd like to add that 'Albatross' isn't just rock or mainstream, but more of an orchestral ensemble that inhaled a breath of fresh air just a second ago. There's a reason as to why 'Albatross' debuted at #5 on the Canadian album charts, and hit #1 on the rock charts: people love Big Wreck. An entire generation grew up listening to this band in the late 90s during their chart topping singles, The Oaf, and That Song. This generation appreciates really rock music that brings back memories, and gives us/you a sense of self. It makes us, not only returning fans, but new fans that grew up in this generation listening to Deadmau5, Jason Aldean and The Lumineers, appreciate such a return to the music scene with great confidence, and a pretty solid catalogue of music.
The Live Show
Both new and old fans have filled venues all across Canada to watch these guys work their magic the last few months, and I've been lucky enough to witness this first hand, twice. There's something special about this band and the music they create. It comes so easy to them when they are on stage projecting their sound, while having fun and joking around with one another.
"I like to make music man. 'Albatross' to me is an album that I can listen to from top to bottom. And I still do. There is nothing that feels forced or uncomfortable to me this record." - Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
The music the Ian Thornley writes, and the energy Big Wreck brings to the stage every night is electric. So much power in everything they do, from start to finish, one guitar swap after another. Each member of the band has his own unique way of bring the music to life, starting with Brian Doherty on the double necked guitar. The guy is just as beastly as Jose Bautista with a 3-1 count, but knows how to use an array of bats --- guitars. Brad Park doesn't play the drums, he makes them breakfast; 5 eggs, sunny side up. Bassist, Dave McMillian is the Roger Moore of the bunch with so much class, but also comes off as 'the most interesting man in the world' --- 'Dos Equis' gutless plug. Can't forget about Paulo Neta; bald guitar guru, and should probably be nominated for a CBC Bucky Award for having one of the coolest names in Canadian music. And finally, Ian Thornley: one of Canada's best musicians and guitarists. That's a total of 3 guitarists and a bass player….with this many guitarist on stage, and a very large assortment of guitars to the side of the stage, Big Wreck is able to layer tracks during their live show, and give the fans the album in full effect. 'Albatross' speaks for itself --- written by Ian Thornley.
With a new catalogue of music, you'd expect the guys to be playing most of their newer stuff…right? But surprisingly, they mixed it up quite well. They went through a number of their classic hits from 'In Loving Memory Of…,' and 'The Pleasure and the Greed'….they even played a few 'Thornely' tracks from the 'Come Again' album. It seemed like the guys didn't mind playing the older stuff….
"I can still put myself in there. If I couldn't, it would be a lot harder. There were songs on some of the other records that I had a hard time playing." Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
During both of the shows that I attend (Ottawa & Toronto) at the end of November, whenever a classic track was played, the crowd took it to another level. You could hear the singalongs travelling through the venue as they ring off the walls, and sent shivers throughout your Alexander Keith's infested body. Even more mind melting was that songs off 'Albatross' were accompanied by just as many crowd jammers, and even a few tears during the bands self-titled hit single, Albatross. It was amazing to be experiencing this --- a band that had broken up --- to come back 10 years later --- 10 times stronger --- 10 times more focused and ready…..
"My goal coming back was to make an album that was going to be as good as this one….and that was going to move me. That was the goal. Go make music that moves me. And hopefully, it will move other people." - Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
This band formed when my family came over to Canada almost 20 years ago. It's hard to think that 20 years have passed by so fast, but Big Wreck has somehow found a way to overcome all these challenges, and make the appropriate changes to continue. The band originated in Boston, Massachusetts in the early 90s while all the guys (Dave Henning and Forrest Williams included) were going to school at the Berklee College of Music. A school that holds such prestige that its alumni list that would make for one hell of a stadium concert. And with that kind of backing, comes the added pressure to do well. Ian was the solo canadian in the original Big Wreck and was moving to bean-town to study jazz….
Ian Thornley of Big Wreck
"I was a bit of a fish out of water. There was a lot of shredder guys, which really wasn't my bag. And there was also a lot of jazzer dudes. Either straight ahead jazz, or fusion guys. And that wasn't really my bag either. I come from the 'Bruce' Cockburn school of music. I was more of a finger guy. I'd use my right hand fingers as a opposed to a pick. So that was a bit weird. I get asked a lot if I'm a better musician for going there; and of course I am. It afford me the time to be able to play that much. Where if I was going to a different university, or a different college, I probably wouldn't have spent that much time sitting at a piano, or playing guitar all day. And you are surrounded by music." - Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
Berklee College of Music is know as the largest independent contemporary music college in world. That's some hefty swagger….and it has every right to do so when 99 Berklee alumni have received a total of 221 Grammy Awards. Those are some serious numbers for a school that's know for its strong background in jazz and rock. The college has also producer some popular music with such admired stars as: Gavin DeGraw, John Mayer and 'Gangman Style' fame, Park Jae-sang. Though it's easy to say that all three men are talented musicians due to their worldwide popularity, with catchy tunes and memorable videos, there's always a level of dedication that needs to be taken when it comes to your schooling to attain a certain success at your craft….
"I was certainly taking it seriously. I mean, I didn't take it seriously to the point where I had to get my degree or diploma. That seems weird to me. To get a piece of paper that says you are a kick-ass musician? My last year there, I was taking courses that had nothing to do with getting your diploma or degree --- I was just taking courses with the teachers that I really dug, and who had stuff that I really wanted to learn……either it was ideas, or just guitar guys." - Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
The formation of Big Wreck was sparked up by Brian and Ian as they were roommates while in Boston, "our first apartment, I remember the building was called 'Tremont Towers,' and it was basically in the ghetto. It was scary, but no one ever gave us a hard time. Brian and I were a couple of grubby…rum and noodle eaten kind of guys with guitars on our backs. They just left us alone," chuckles Ian as he continues to talk about a couple of Northeastern fellas who weren't as luck. Brian and Ian have struck it out through the thick and thin; from sharing a cheeseburger when they first starting touring because "it was either the gasoline to get to the next show, or we eat," to playing sold out special feature 'du Maurier' shows at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, and Francis Winspear Centre for Music in Edmonton in the early 2000s before their breakup. The Edmonton show was especially challenging for the guys as it was post 9-11 as Ian explained, "Dave (Henning) hadn't talked to his uncle who lived in the village, and we didn't know what was going on. We weren't even sure if we were going to play the show."
With the release of their debut record, 'In Loving Memory Of….' in 1997 going 2x Platinum, and charting in both Canada and the US, the guys were on a high unlike any other for a couple of Berklee boys. They followed that up with their sophomore release, 'The Pleasure and the Greed' in 2001 with very little response from critics, media and fans…..and a very poor marketing strategy. After great success with their first record, and their second record not even charting in US or Canada, the battles within the band had begun…and in turn led to the demise of Big Wreck in 2002. Though the band had parted ways and took on different chapters in their lives, Ian would later reconnected with Brian as he would fill-in for Paulo during one of the 'Thornley' shows out in Edmonton back in 2009. This all randomly came up as, "Paulo was going away on his honeymoon, and he had suggested that Brian come in and fill his role" said the Big Wreck frontman. A phone call later, Brian and Ian had patched things up, and put the past behind them. They would continue touring together as friends, as well as musician under the name, 'An Evening with Thornley and Big Wreck'.
But there was an in-between period from 2003-2009 where in my mind: Big Wreck still existed in may ways. Maybe the full band wasn't there, and shit was changing around Ian, but the man was still writing music. He went on to record two albums as 'Thornley' under Chad Kroeger's label, 604 Records. This transition almost seemed seamless as Ian put out, 'Come Again' in 2004, which quickly charted in both Canada, and the United States. And this was around the time when I discovered Big Wreck because of 'Thornley'. I always thought Canada's rock scene was going to be know for producing Nickelback, but lucky 'Thornley' was the opener the night I saw my first concert. And I never thought I'd say this, but 'thank you Nickelback' for introducing me to a great Canadian rock band, and musician. If you didn't get it, Nickelback was my first concert back in 2004 --- 'Thornley' was the opener. There were a few things that stood out about 'Thornely,' and that was music had a very hard, heavy and catchy feel to it. A lot harder than Big Wreck, and there was something behind it….
"All my 20s, I was pissed off. That's what you do. There was definitely a mission statement going into the record…..I wanted it to be marketably different than a Big Wreck album…where there wasn't as much exploring and jamming…..what a beautiful moment and what a great solo. What if there were no solos? And certainly working with Gavin Brown helped because we were on the same page, and heading in the same direction. We really wanted to cut the fat. I mean there is a couple of solos on that record, but nothing really to speak of. There was definitely a formula, but there wasn't a formula involved. The formula was that I wanted every song to be swinging for the fucking fences. I want them all to sound like they could be hits. And having said that, I'm not the right guy for that." - Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
Why I respected 'Thornley' so much has a lot to do with their sound. It was big, on every song. They didn't hold anything back because every song did sound like a hit. I quickly found out that wasn't what Ian was all about, and he wasn't looking for that hit….
"It was a fun experiment. I think some stuff just doesn't turn me on. Stuff that was a definite hit 30 years ago, I get that. And I get why it's a hit. Nowadays, it's a hit because it's a lyric that everyone can understand and relate to on some very, very shallow level upon the first time you hear it. That's a hit. It means that's a hit. It's not because there's this great movement within you that it's like, 'fuck, that stirs something.' It's nothing like that. It's just not my game." - Ian Thornley. Big Wreck
It was very comforting to know that Ian was a musician that has been through a lot, realized a ton along the way, and admitted to some of his faults. There are musician out there consistently looking for the next hit; searching every nook and cranny, hoping to dig up something. Hits are one night stands in my opinion. Classics are long-term relationships that you will always keep with you, and hopeful never forget about. Looking for that one night stand everyday, multiple times a day, must get tiring….
"Yeah! I don't want to do it. I honestly tried it with 'Come Again'. It was one of those things, 'If we do this shit, it's going to be massive'. You'll be a millionaire by the time you are 28 or whatever I was at the time. Change agents. Change this. Change that. I wanted to get out of the Big Wreck thing because there was a lot of tension & shit going on there. But after that happened, I compromised all the musical stuff that I liked to do. The way I like to do music. I changed it all, and I'm still just as broke as I was when I was doing the music that I wanted to do." - Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
As I continued to talk 'Thornley,' and consistently repeat myself by telling Ian that, 'Come Again' was sick for one reason alone: every song was a hit. The animated drummer, Brad Park pitched in with his opinion on the two 'Thornley' records, and a cool story came from it, circa 2003…..
"I'm a 'Come Again' fan. But I watched it develop during pre-production and for that, I love that album. They did it in a studio where I was living before I was playing with these guys. That was my first time meeting Ian and Gavin Brown (producer). Sekou Lumumba was the drummer for 'Thornley' at the time and he was my roommate. It all kind of came around full circle. But I was there when they were writing and playing it for the first time. I was standing outside with goose bumps." - Brad Park, Big Wreck
I think Brad put it best, "it all kind of came around full circle" when talking about his connection to 'Thornley,' and now his involvement with the band. The other record, 'Tiny Pictures' was Ian's second album, and it didn't have the same head of steam, nor the same power. A couple things played a factor in the record not being as successful as the first, and wouldn't you know it --- it all started at the top….
"On 'Tiny Pictures,' I could hear the struggles between what Nick (Raskulinecz) and I wanted to do. Nick, the grammy awarding fucking producer, and then some guy that's running a label that really knows what a hit is…and they're both pulling in different directions." - Ian Thornley, Big Wreck
Not long after 'Tiny Picture', Brian (already on tour with the band) and Ian were in talks about bringing back Big Wreck --- Paulo, Dave and Brad were already on board since they were with 'Thornley' originally, so finding a band was out of the way. With the band put together, the guys went in and made 'Albatross.' With 'Albatross,' Ian was able to work at his own pace to complete the record in 4 weeks in a way that he felt worked best for the entire team. All the songs were already written, "I have piles and piles of music ready to go at anytime," says Ian, "I like to work real quick, and I already had an idea of what I really wanted." I think the rest of the story tells itself. 'Albatross,' 11 songs, duration: 50 minutes.
Earlier, I touched on how Brian and Ian use to share a cheeseburger so they could have enough gas money to get to the next gig. Well, that has changed, and I witnessed it first hand, "there is catering in the next room if you'd like some lasagne" said Ian with grin on his face. The guys are eating well, but trying not to indulge too much while they are on tour…at least Ian is trying….
"…..some of those habits (cheeseburger) don't change though. Eating when you can, or waiting till you are hungry, then over eating and feeling horrible after. But that's totally different when I'm at home. When I'm at home, I eat really well. I keep a pretty consistent way of eating."
According to Brad, "he's a pretty damn good cook" when talking about Ian's cooking skills. And Ian doesn't hide it either, but instead pumps his own tired on how great of a cook he really is. Ian might be the best cook in Big Wreck--- but at home, he'll forever going to be number two. Ian's wife, Christine Tizzard is the new host of CBC's, 'Best Recipe Ever.' She's got a solid resume, but Ian still feels like he had something to do with her talent, "what we do at home is we cook, and I think…I don't want to take any credit for it, but what maybe got her into it was cooking at home with me. I mean, she kicks my ass now, and obviously she has mad skills, but I can still pull a few tricks," he smiles while Brad chuckles in the background.
The guys are eating well, enjoying a new album on top of the Canadian charts, and selling out venues all across Canada. It's like they never missed a step. They continue their cross Canada tour throughout December heading to west coast, and finishing off in Vancouver, BC on the 18th at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. You can following Ian Thornley and the boys on twitter @bigwreckmusic, and check their website (www.bigwreckmusic.om) for all other news and information. Catch them live if you can. Promise, you will not be disappointed. It's one thing to listen to the album and enjoy it. It's another to watch Ian Thornley serenades his guitar till the strings turn into cupid's arrows, while Brian Doherty shreds every guitar in a 15km radius. These guys are fucking good. I'm happy they're back.
Merci Big Wreck.
Encore w/ Big Wreck
1. Your walkout wrestling theme song if you were in the WWE?
Brad - Achilles Last Stand by Led Zeppelin
Ian - Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin & a little bit of 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun'
2. If you could go back in time and change something, what would it be?
Ian - That German fella, what's his game….Hitler. Let's take him out.
3. Favourite venue in Canada?
Ian - I haven't played Massey Hall, so I'll reserve my judgement.
Brad - The Flame Central! Pretty tacky, but if you're a Flames fan...it was very cool.
4. If Big Wreck was to make a hockey team, what would your roles be?
Ian - playmaker
Brad - Goalie
5. Big foodie?
Ian - Im a very picky eater.
Brad - Huge. Opinionated Food Critic. I'm pretty into going over to Ian's house.
The Interview Show is everywhere.
www.cjsf.ca (Vancouver, BC, Mondays 4:30-5pm PST and Wednesdays 12:30am PST)
www.ckdu.ca (Halifax, NS, Saturdays 1:30-2:00am AST)
www.radiocfxu.ca (Campus Community Radio, Antigonish, NS, Fridays 11pm-12am AST)
www.cfru.ca (University of Guelph Radio, ON, Tuesdays 3pm EST)
www.umfm.com (Winnipeg’s Hit Free Radio, Fridays 6-6:30pm CST)
www.caperradio.com (Cape Breton University Radio, NS, Wednesdays 3-3:30pm AST)
www.localfm.ca (Campus Radio Saint John Inc., NB, Tuesdays 11:30am and Fridays 3:30pm AST)