Sunday, January 17, 2010

Exclusive Interview: Warren Spicer of Plants And Animals

This weekend, on an unseasonably mild Saturday afternoon in Montreal, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Warren Spicer from the Montreal based indie-rock band Plants And Animals. The group received much praise from both the indie and the jamband worlds after releasing their debut album, Parc Avenue in 2008. Pleasing both of these musical crowds is no easy task, as each seems to be snobbier than the next. The indie crowd only loves top-notch unique music and the jamband scene generally digs psychedelic music that can be extended in a live setting. Plants And Animals found a happy medium, creating diverse music that's both catchy, complex and conducive to improvisation when played live. Two years later, after much touring and some time off of the road to record new songs, Plants And Animals is releasing their follow up album titled La La Land. Mr. Spicer was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me in a breakfast dive in the Mile End area of Montreal to have a few coffees and talk about the up-coming record and a whole lot more.

Parc Avenue was a very big album, rich in instrumentation and varied in song style and structure. What can listeners expect to hear on your new album, La La Land which is being released on April 20?

WS: I guess we haven’t done anything insanely, drastically different than what we did on Parc Avenue its just kind of a continuation of what we were into. I guess we kind of got back into more loud rock music because we had been touring so much, and when we made Parc Avenue we didn’t really tour a lot so we were kind of just rehearsing and playing in our apartments more. That record kind of came out with more acoustic guitars and quieter stuff. Then we started touring and we ended up playing a lot louder and with more electric guitars and rocking out so even the songs on Parc Avenue changed quite a bit when we played them live. We came back and started working on new stuff and it just started to sound more like what we sounded like live. Its maybe a little darker, this new record, but its classic P&A (laughs).

Can you talk a bit about the Montreal music scene and how it has influenced La La Land? I’ve heard The Slip’s Brad Barr and the Arcade Fire horn section are featured on the album. Are there any other guest contributors?

WS: We had a few different people in doing things, some stuff worked, some stuff didn’t work. In terms of the music scene I think Brad, he lives in the same apartment building as me and he is just a pretty incredible musician. He’s been busy ever since he showed up in Montreal and as soon as he got here I met him and we started hanging out. I feel like the Montreal music scene, I think when you are a newer band starting out, like before we had released Parc Avenue, maybe I was more connected to the scene because I was out at bars more checking out other bands. Then as things progressed you start enjoying your own time when you come home. You don’t go out to bars, I don’t even know who the hot bands are in this town anymore. But I have my group of friends and Brad is part of them. You know, musical friends and we all end up helping each other out at recordings and jamming whenever we get the chance to. The scene for me has a lot more to do with my own scene rather than “the scene” because I don’t really know what that is anymore. In terms of shaping the new record, we kind of just had the studio booked for two weeks here and there and kind of did whatever we felt like. If someone happened to be around, like I always wanted to do something with Brad and he came in and ended up playing some piano. We just kind of hung out and figured out what worked and low and behold. Colin who plays sax for the Arcade Fire he is Sarah’s boyfriend and she’s the violinist for the Arcade Fire and she played on our first record and we went to school together. It’s more just a web of friends who all play music together.

Your debut album Parc Avenue was named after the street it was recorded on. What’s the significance behind the dreamy title of La La Land?

WS: There’s no huge significance, Parc Avenue just fell into place right away we didn’t have to think about it very much. We had worked on this record and maybe also looking back in hindsight things seemed to have fit together more logically in that album when it was all finished. Finishing this record was kind of a mad dash; everything went haywire as we approached the deadline of when we were supposed to deliver it. We didn’t have a title, we didn’t know what the artwork was going to look like, and we didn’t know anything. When you get stuck in a position like that you start trying to brainstorm and everything sounds bad. Every idea you come up with sounds terrible. The list of absolutely hilarious bad names is wildly long (laughs). We should probably put that up on our website, there’s some gold in there. There’s a reference in a song, the second song “Swinging Bells” which is loosely about L.A. We were worried that people would think it has too much to do with L.A. but most people don’t really connect La La Land with L.A. but some people do, its more of an actor thing. It just kind of made sense. There’s kind of this dreaminess about the record, it’s not that specific it doesn’t lock us into anything, it’s open-ended

That being said, Parc Avenue felt like a really cohesive, flowing album. Is La La Land a little more scattered?

WS: No, it’s still built the same way. That’s how we make records. We make records that flow from start to finish. I think it’s less epic; it’s a shorter, tighter album. Parc Avenue is almost an hour long. If you can have that kind of attention span, that’s awesome and it was our first album too so you put a lot of your life into that first record because you have never had the chance to do anything like that before. It kind of made sense that Parc Avenue was that long and I’m glad we made that record that long. We toured and we tightened up and then we wanted to crystallize things a little bit more and I wanted to write some shorter, tighter, poppy songs. That’s always a challenge too, it’s not easy to write a shorter song when you’re not used to that. It’s a different challenge.

The band’s sound really seems to embody the Canadian music scene. Parc Avenue had tender ballads, tripped out jams, and epic progressive rock tunes. What are some of the band’s influences? Are there any Canadian bands in particular that have had a strong impact on the group and its sound?

WS: Yah, actually last year I saw Neil Young twice. Once at the Bell Center here in Montreal and then once in Barcelona at a festival we played called the Prima Vera Festival. There’s something about seeing him live, it was like everything I thought about Neil Young, how original the guy is…just to hear his electric guitar. There is something about electric guitars that I just wanted to get back into. Also, I kind of went on a rampage this winter trying to find old Hendrix bootlegs and this weird Hendrix stuff and now there’s some fuzz on the record that’s kind of a direct result of just listening to more of the sound that’s playing. It’s not just fuzzed-out blues solos it’s more just outer-space, fuzz thing that Hendrix can do. Those are two pretty classic references but they kind of popped up again in my mind this year. It all depends on the song, you kind of write a song and you have a very specific idea of that you want to do something that’s already been done but in your own way. The new song we released, “Tom Cruz” it’s got a very kind of Neil Young-y as I could get on guitar solos. I wasn’t really trying but after the fact I thought that it kind of sounds like that, that insanely ballsy guitar sound.

Plants And Animals are a band that strongly bridges the continually thinning divide between indie rock and jamband. You’ve been featured on indie-dedicated sites such as as well as jam friendly sites such as and Why do you think that is?

WS: I guess because we can do it both if we want to. You kind of choose what you want to do and how you want to market yourself and typically in the indie world it hasn’t been hip to be a jamband. But you know, who cares it doesn’t really make a difference. I think we might have started out a bit more jammy, that’s where our roots come from, just getting together and playing and things are slowly tightening and narrowing and now it’s our least jammy stuff. There is still some extended tunes on this record, which will potentially be extended more during live sets. You also want to play to your audience; if we did a festival like Bonnaroo it would be fun to extend things. You have to know whose watching you. The group comes from a pretty educated musical background as well and we’ve worked really hard on learning how to play. Even if we don’t really showcase that on a three-minute pop-song, the chops are still there even if it’s hidden in the rhythm. The time we’ve spent learning how to play is in their in the groove.

I noticed you guys were featured on La Blogotheque’s Take Away Shows. It seems that all the biggest indie-blog-buzz bands have been featured on this site. Was performing bare bones versions of your songs in a unique location a refreshing change from the typical club or bar setting?

WS: We recorded half the record in Paris at that location in those shots. It’s a big mansion half an hour outside of Paris, it’s this old chateau with a wicked recording studio in it. We went there and recorded for five days and we lived there in the mansion. We ate there and all the windows are open and you’re playing and there’s old bookshelves full of vinyl’s and the basement is filled with the recording gear. It’s a pretty magical place to work. We were there working and the Blogotheque guys came out for an afternoon and we were already making music all day long and they walked in and we were like “sure we can play some more music because that’s all we’re doing”. Sometimes those things can be a bit weird, when it’s more contrived. There’s the Black Cab one where you get in a cab and I could see some of those being fun but a pain in the ass. The one in Paris was great though because we were already doing it. There are instruments everywhere and more than anything we were comfortable and that’s great because if you’re not there’s a good chance those things can suck.

While the band has played smaller and mid-sized festivals including the London Ontario Live Arts Festival (LOLA Fest) and the Pitchfork Music Festival, can we expect to see you playing at some of the festival giants such as Bonnaroo or Rothbury in the coming year?

WS: I certainly hope so. I don’t know what we have scheduled right now but we would love to step it up as much as possible. I think Bonnaroo might be out unfortunately. We’ve been quiet for a very long time, our blip on the radar has kind of disappeared. We were working on the new record and not touring that much so our buzz is kind of gone and forgotten. It’s kind of hard to start booking the North American stuff pre-release because people are like “oh yah I heard about you guys back then”. It’s all timing and unfortunately people are booking bands now for the summer and our album doesn’t come out until April. It might be a different story once the record comes out and we get a bunch of media attention. We’ll have to see what happens then. We will definitely play some festivals though. Some of the best festivals are the smaller ones. What you think is the best festival, the biggest ones, don’t always turn out to be the best. The most fun I’ve ever had was when we played a tiny festival in Yellowknife called Folk On The Rocks. The stages were made out of plywood and the PA was tiny and it was just awesome. The big, mega-festivals with the huge headliners and the thousands of people, that’s one thing but I think I’d much rather play a small festival run by volunteers where everyone gets to hang out and be normal. At the big, mega-ones things kind of get out of control and it’s their own thing. I wouldn’t pit the two against each other; the small mom and pop operations are certainly more relaxed and normal. The whole idea of a festival is for people to come together and it feels more normal at small ones. The corporate festivals claim to want that but you get there and everyone is compartmentalized and every band has a trailer and you never talk to anyone. You play your set and your done and you don’t talk to anyone. Higher profile is good for business but it is not necessarily the most enjoyable time.

Head over to to listen to "Tom Cruz", the band's first release off of the up-coming record La La Land, and for everything else Plants And Animals.

Here's the song "Feedback In The Field" from the aforementioned La Blogotheque filming session

Plants and Animals - A Take Away Show - Feedback in the Field from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

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