The return of Big Wreck
Ian Thornley of Big Wreck (Handout)
Big Wreck are back and in the midst of a co-headlining cross-Canada tour with Theory of a Deadman through Christmas. After an almost decade long hiatus that saw frontman and songwriter Ian Thornley launch a successful solo career, the lure of the old band, and especially his good friend and bandmate Brian Doherty, had Ian longing to relaunch the band that was, and still is, all over Canadian Rock Radio. MSN caught up with Ian before his show at Massey Hall in Toronto to discuss getting back together, songwriting, the tour and almost fronting Velvet Revolver.
You’re about seven shows into this tour, how’s it been to be back out on the road?
It’s been going great. The shows so far have been just sort of getting progressively better from our end. I can’t really speak for Theory of a Deadman. They seem to be going well for them as well. It’s a lot to try and pack in as much music as we would like to play during one show. It’s a lot to pack that into 75 minutes. I’m sure they probably have the same issue because it’s this co-headlining thing. It’s hard to build a set that keep the serious fans and not so serious fans happy. You want to play songs that people will know, but you also want to play things that are a little more in-depth, and maybe a little less well-known.
Like what? What are the fans going to hear?
Well, I think we’ve reached a happy medium. We’ve been altering the set just slightly every night. In certain spots if I feel like I’m losing them then we’ll go, “Let’s scratch that tune.” Then the next night will be a little more straight-forward and just give them hits. I don’t really know. It’s hard to keep your finger on the pulse of a crowd before you go out.
Does playing theatres change the way a set works for you guys?
Oh yeah. We did a run in the spring of all soft-seaters, or as many of those as we could get ourselves into. We built a set around the fact that we knew people were going to be sitting there, and listening to a concert. It’s not like going to a big rock show, and it’s like football practice in front of the singer. That was one thing. This is definitely a little more of a rock n’ roll thing. We try and pace the set so there’s a whole bunch of everything. I think that’s what we’ve arrived at. A little something for everybody.
How did you arrive at Big Wreck again? Who made the first call to reconnect?
I did. I just missed [Brian]. We were so tight for so long. We were roommates in college and we started the band initially together. Our relationship had just sort of been left. After Big Wreck split in ’02, all those relationships were left dormant. We hadn’t talked for a good number of years. I was wondering if enough time had passed and we’ve been both done enough maturing and growing that if I could perhaps offer out an olive branch and see if there was still a friendship there. That’s essentially what it was. It wasn’t, “Hey man, we’re putting the band back together and gonna go play some s***.” It was nothing like that. It was just because I missed my buddy. As we were hanging out, we had a Thornley show, and Paulo [Neta, guitar player] couldn’t make it, and he suggested Brian, because Brian was right there at the show when we got the announcement for this Edmonton play. Paulo was like, “I can’t do that one. I’m going to be in Portugal.” He said, “Why don’t you ask Brian to fill in?” it’s a long convoluted story but everything fell into place that way.
What does Brian bring to your music, that was either lacking while he was away, or that makes you a better player?
He has a very particular feel and vibe to his playing that I think complements mine very well. As does Paulo. Live, it really is a nice blend of three totally different voices on the instrument. More essential to me, the more that I think about it, and the more that I’m asked about it, when you’re in the studio making decisions about stuff, and whether or not to put something in there, or to try this or do that, it’s real easy to have a seed of doubt planted in there. Next thing you know, an idea that could’ve grown in to something wonderful has been squashed. Most guitar players are really opinionated, and I’m certainly no exception, nor is Brian. It’s just nice that our opinions usually line up. If I have this idea of, “What if this was a harmonized solo?” then some schmuck with a suit on says, “Those don’t sell. Those are not big on the radio right now.” If Brian wasn’t around I might be prone to listen to this guy being, “Yeah, well I guess so. I mean, I want to be current.” As opposed to having Brian there being like, “F*** that man. That would be awesome!” Then I’ll be like, “Yes. OK. I was right.” It’s just nice to have my brother back in the sense of the initial gut instinct was right.
This almost all didn’t happen, because I heard you were almost the new frontman for Velvet Revolver but chose not to because you felt naked without a guitar?
It’s not that I didn’t want to do it. I just don’t want to do it without a guitar. I think Slash was on the same page with me in that respect. We got along musically very well, and personally. They’re great guys. Very down to earth, and genuine, authentic dudes. There’s not any of the drama that you would associate with Guns N’ Roses. Not like that at all. I think that stuff is all left with Axl, although I don’t know. It was a great few hours, just jamming and playing. I thought my voice sounded great over their stuff. I think Slash thought it sounded great. Then this little manager dude comes out and was like, “Can you try a few without the guitar?” I was like, “Well, no.” I can’t imagine myself being one of those guys. I could have given it a whirl, but I’ve been doing this a while and I know that it’s my shield and crutch. I lean on it, and I don’t have any moves without a guitar on. [laughs]
It’s a very different beast to tackle the stage without an instrument.
Exactly, man. I don’t have any tambourine moves. I’m always that guy in front of the mirror with a tennis racket. I was never the guy grabbing the hair brush and being like, “Watch this.” I was always more of a Keith, rather than a Mick. That’s how I’ll put it.
On the topic of guitars, you play in so many random tunings. How do you go about choosing them for songs?
I don’t know. It’s just after years of doing it. You tend to know what tunings elicit what personalities out of you. Often time, you can stumble on a tuning looking for an overdub. If you want to, for example, you’re overdubbing acoustic guitars just to lift the chorus a little bit, but you want them to have that open strum sound, as opposed to barring everything and chording it off, you can find these interesting tuning and interesting voices. You just follow your ear, and before you know it, you have no idea where you are from where you started. You’ve got all of these new shapes and these new sounds. You just leave that guitar there and move on to something else. Then the next day you pick that guitar up and are like, “Oh yeah, what was I doing?” Then you’ve got a whole new song.
Five quick questions. One word answers.
Road or Studio?
Lennon or McCartney?
When you hear a song, what usually hits you first: Lyrics, melody, or rhythm?
Song you’ve written that you’re the most proud of?
‘Albatross’. That one went No.1, so that’s why I’ll say ‘Albatross’. I love them all equally, but that one apparently everybody else loves it more, so there you go.
In one word... Big Wreck.