Plants and Animals take the time to get it right

Tuesday 06th, December 2016 / 16:26
By Savannah Leigh Wellman

After a well-deserved break, Plants and Animals are back with, perhaps, their most creatively fulfilling record yet.

VANCOUVER — Plants and Animals emerged from the Montreal scene at the height of its indie band frenzy – the success of bands like Arcade Fire was shining an international spotlight on the culture-rich bilingual city, and at the time you’d be hard-pressed to find a hip 20-something that wasn’t in a band. But this three-piece was no passing trend – the release of their first full length album Parc Avenue earned them both Polaris and JUNO award nominations in 2008. 2010 saw the release of the raucous La La Land, followed by the slightly mellowed out The End of That in 2012, cumulating in over six years of constant hustle (write, record, tour, repeat). When the cycle wound down, they all agreed it was time to take a breather. “We had a cumulative burnout,” says drummer Matthew “Woody” Woodley. “We needed to slow down to let our creative juices flow. We needed to play with other people, and have the luxury of time for reflection on the songs we were working on. We all had kids in the time we were off, so being able to be more domestic was welcomed, we were all into it.”

Giving themselves the freedom to create unhinged by a tight deadline allowed the group to really let creative ideas foster, something they hadn’t been able to do since their first album. “We wrote in the studio, which sometimes seemed backwards, building music off of one little moment or idea, as opposed to going in with a song already finished. Sometimes the best stuff is the most intuitive stuff, and not necessarily the most fleshed out and laboured over.”

This kind of improvised approach was even applied to lyrics at times, where singer Warren Spicer would fill in unwritten lines with gibberish or random thoughts, that would sometimes stick and inspire the rest of the words. The result at times feels mystical – lush cinematic landscapes that bring a sense of nostalgia, not in that they sound familiar, but that they bring an unnamed emotion almost out from behind a memory, one you want to feel again but you’re not sure why, or exactly where it came from. It’s a beautiful collection of carefully crafted musical ideas, that still maintains the loose experimental feel band is known for.

While the creative process might have harkened back to their original days as a band, the influences didn’t. “I think for a long time a lot our influences were from the golden era of rock ‘n roll, and we drained whatever was in that well for us. It came up consciously a bunch of times, let’s not make an album that sounds like the ‘70s, let’s make something that sounds contemporary. We started getting inspired by other things, and listening to a lot more contemporary music.”

Woodley lists some hip-hop references, and while they may not be directly audible influences in the music itself, it’s the production and the experimentation with sounds that the band was interested in. And they’re happy with the results – for the first time in a while, it turns out. “We all really like this record, more than the past two. In hindsight when we talk about them, there’s some good stuff but we’re not completely satisfied. We’re a three-headed beast, so we’re trying to keep everybody happy at the same time. You have to make compromises because of that, and sometimes when you look back you think ‘I wish I’d spoken up about that’. Part of the reason we took so long with this record is we wanted to be happy with it – and I still am.”

Plants and Animals perform at the Burton Cummings Theatre (Winnipeg) December 9, O’Brian’s Event Centre (Saskatoon) December 10, Winspear Centre (Edmonton) December 14, MacEwan Hall (Calgary) December 15, and Orpheum Theatre (Vancouver) December 16.

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