Plants and Animals, the Montreal three-piece of Warren Spicer (guitar, vocals), Matthew Woodley (drums, vocals) and Nicolas Basque (bass, vocals), found an underground success with their 2008 debut Parc Avenue. Pop ‘stache was able to catch up with Plants and Animals’ frontman Warren Spicer in between touring for their third album, The End of That. Warren opened up about the songwriting approach on their latest record and their plans for the near future.
Pop ‘stache: Plants and Animals formed in 2005. How did you guys meet?
Warren Spicer: Me and Woody go back further than that. We grew up together, met when we were about 10 years old. We started playing music in junior high and high school. We played in grunge band, an experimental jazz improv group—kind of all over the place.
P ‘s: So you and Matt Woodley are the two members originally from Nova Scotia?
WS: Yeah. We both moved to Montreal around 2006. I ended up studying music composition at Concordia University. I met Nic there and I had no idea that he played guitar at the time, we were just in classes together. We weren’t really playing indie rock at that point—more experimental, post-rocky stuff, not like what we’re doing now.
P ‘s: What’s it like to be part of the now incredible Montreal music scene? When you were getting started in the mid-2000s the scene was still in its nascence, but now it has exploded with everything from folk rock to hip-hop.
WS: We were around in the mid-2000s, sort of just getting started when all of that was happening. We didn’t have a record out yet, and honestly, we didn’t realize what was happening at the time. I guess we sort of expected it to blow over. In retrospect, it certainly set the bar for us!
P ‘s: You’ve worked with Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld. Is the Montreal scene pretty familial?
WS: A lot of us are all in the same boat, you know? We all need a jam space. If someone is looking for a guitar player or a drummer—there’s a big network of people working towards the same goals.
P ‘s: The new record—despite its sometimes cheerful jangles—is darker than your earlier albums from a lyrical standpoint and certainly more confessional. What brought this on?
WS: It’s just that moment in time. I was going through some serious changes in my life. I think when we did Parc Avenue—there are lyrics on there that meant nothing to me, they just flowed with the harmonies. There’s something about that that was nagging me and I wanted to delve into lyrics that were more about what I had to say than pairing words with a melody. I’ve been doing a lot more experimentation lyrically. I feel like everything is open game now. I can use the whole palette.
P ‘s: How old are you guys, if you don’t mind me asking? Is the underlying anxiety, or “Crisis!” as you put it, the feeling of being blindsided by adulthood?
WS: That is definitely something that I was feeling. Early 30s. Living a life of touring and being a rock band, adulthood can seem very far away sometimes. Friends of mine who weren’t involved with music were leading completely different lifestyles. People were getting married, having kids, breaking up. Those are the days that you wake up and say, “Holy shit!” and I wrote a song about it, sort of in the moment. It’s the moment when you start to wonder, “Am I going to change or am I going to stay this way forever?”
P ‘s: What did you change on The End of That versus your first two albums?
WS: Well, it’s hard to say exactly—perhaps the simplicity of arrangements.
We wanted to keep it simple. A band in a room kind of feel. Most of the songs were recorded live. It was less building an album and more about just recording a performance of a song. It wasn’t constructive where all the pieces are put together individually. I think it took a lot of guts to do this record. If there’s anything that I’m particularly proud of it’s that we took that risk and wrote an album that was transparent and bare.”
There’s a quote by Paul Simon that escapes me, but it’s something along the lines of “You’ll always be rewarded more for uninteresting repetition than an interesting change.” I guess it’s easy to take shots at some of our work, but thankfully we have connected with a lot of people in a profound way.
P ‘s: What do you think is your strongest track off of The End of That?
WS: For whatever reason I think “Crisis!” might be my favorite. It’s an interesting song the way it’s put together—the way it starts, the way it ends. The whole track felt well done. The first single was “Lightshow” and then “The End of That” followed, both with videos. We were particularly fond of “The End of That” video which we put together with a bunch of our friends.
P ‘s: I can tell you that I’ve given “Before” more than a few spins. Has your live show changed since the release of the new album?
WS: We added a bass player [Eric Digras] for this tour, so the trio that we’ve toured with over the past couple of years has now become a quartet. We’re probably playing better now than we’ve ever played. Adding a bass player has really allowed us to focus. We also don’t necessarily favor the new record either on setlists, but rather try to put together the best show for our fans. Definitely a new level of comfort and ease.
P ‘s: Are you considering recording as a four-piece in the studio?
WS: We’re not really at that stage yet. I usually write the bass parts for the records and we’ve been able to manage thus far as a trio.
P ‘s: How did the States’ crowds vary from your hometown Canadian crowds?
WS: It depends on the cities. Montreal, being our hometown, we get a lot of love around there. New York has been pretty good to us. The West Coast, San Francisco and Portland in particular have been really fun. But it’s tricky if you’re not a “buzzy” type of band. The one thing that we figured out on our last tour is that the people that are coming out to our shows really care about our music. They care more about our music than I would have ever expected.
P ‘s: What is it like touring months after your album’s release?
WS: July was really, really busy. August was here and there. Right now we’re in between touring and it’s sort of quiet.
P ‘s: Where to from here? Has the band been able to compose any new tracks while on tour?
WS: The three of us are currently working in the studio. We haven’t actually recorded anything yet, but we’re working towards recording three new songs before the end of the year. We just kind of go in and keep tweaking our rough songs.
P ‘s: Are these new songs intended for a new album or, considering the recent release of The End of That, maybe an EP?
WS: I’m not sure. We’d like to release a new song before November and stream it for free on our website. The main thing is trying to stick together and work because otherwise the process sort of stops. This is what we do. If we’re not recording, something’s wrong. [laughs]
P ‘s: Have you been working with a producer in the studio?
WS: No, we’ve always produced our own stuff. We worked with a sound engineer in France on the last record, but we’ve always done most everything ourselves.
P ‘s: Who have you toured with lately?
WS: We just did a support tour with a British band, Bombay Bicycle Club, in July which was pretty cool. For our headlining tour in America we mostly had local bands playing with us. In Canada we toured with Little Scream who are produced by Richard Parry of Arcade Fire. We played a handful of festivals—Osheaga, Squamish outside of Vancouver. We also played in Europe.
P ‘s: What was it like in Europe?
WS: We’ve actually got some really good things going on in France right now. We’ve done well in Paris. We’ve played a couple of shows in Paris and we now have a publicist out there that’s working with us. It’s funny—we headlined one of the nights at the FME Music Festival in Northern Quebec, and we didn’t know it, but there were a bunch of people from France in the crowd. We got a ton of rave reviews after that show. The new record might actually be released in France.
Europe is on hold for the time being, but Plants and Animals have begun the second stint of their The End of That tour in Canada and the Northeast. More details about the band and upcoming tour dates can be found at their Web site.