Big Wreck's sixth album had a mission statement to be a big rock record.
Big Wreck … but for the sun tour 2019
When: Oct. 31, Nov. 1, 8 p.m.
Where: Commodore Ballroom, 868 Granville St.
Tickets and info: $42.50 at livenation.com
The first lyric in the tune Voices pretty well sums up what’s been going on in Big Wreck’s world of late.
“Another decade came and went/well, we lost some friends/And paid the price,” sings lead singer/songwriter Ian Thornley. The song then goes on to protest that the narrator had some fun too, but the sixth album from the Toronto hard rock act blasts out with self-aware mortality.
The death of original guitarist Brian Doherty earlier this year doubtlessly influenced the writing, as well as the wisdom that comes with seeing things end.
Formed in the ’90s in Boston by Canadian Thornley, bassist Dave Henning, drummer Forest Williams and Doherty, the band’s debut In Loving Memory Of … produced the top-10 U.S. single The Oaf (My Luck is Wasted). While that success didn’t repeat, the band achieved significant commercial success in Canada before finally calling it quits in 2002. Thornley went on to form Thornley, and the other members pursued various projects.
Big Wreck reformed in 2010 and released Albatross to solid reviews and has continued on with Thornley, bassist Dave McMillan, drummer Chuck Keeping and various guitarists. Chris Caddell has joined as Doherty’s replacement, and Thornley said the rehearsals were going well as Big Wreck prepared to drive across Canada once more.
“I love the process of starting with the broadstrokes and then starting to add in the finer details to put the beast together,” said Thornley. “It can involve some heavy lifting, but then the penny drops and it all comes together and it’s great. Dave, Chuck and I had finished off the last tour as a trio when Brian passed and now we’ve got Chris Caddell (Colin James, Sass Jordan and others) who is a journeyman of the Canadian music scene.”
Finding the right foil for Thornley’s songs is pretty crucial. Big Wreck emerged at the height of a hard rock revival with big guitars a key part of the sound. One listen to the slamming single Locomotive proves that nothing has changed. Mixing clear Led Zeppelin influences with grunge-era drive, the song is five minutes of banging bliss for fans. This isn’t a band that will ever depend on backing tracks or loops.
“I entertained the idea for a few seconds when we were chugging along as a trio, but it quickly got shut down by all involved,” he said. “Big Wreck doesn’t do backing tracks, so now Chris is here working his way into the dynamic the three of us came upon and it’s going great. He’s had the new album and really learned it front to back and it’s really clicking the way we need to as a band.”
Without question, Big Wreck has always been the better of Thornley’s two projects. His self-named band dropped two albums — Come Again (2004) and Tiny Pictures (2009) — on 604 Records. The label started by Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger is home to a number of hard rock acts that fit in the style of Kroeger’s band. The second Thornley album, Tiny Pictures, featured Nickelback drummer Daniel Adair and a host of other musicians co-writing. Thornley departed 604 Records around the time that Big Wreck reformed.
“The Thornley thing was more focused on trying to score a hit, looking at taking what I did and fitting it in with what was happening right now so it would score big and I would be rich within a year,” he said. “And I signed on, going, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ When it didn’t happen, I found myself with a bunch of compromised songs that had started out as pieces of music I wanted to grow rather than something to sell.”
He freely admits that his best work has always come from a place where he was staying true to the idea of the song and not its commercial potential. Trying to package it in any specific way just doesn’t leave him feeling satisfied and he’s pretty sure that the listener picks up on that. He feels very differently about the new album.
“People will say, ‘But the Thornley stuff is heavier,’ and I have to point out that was the sound that was hot in 2003,” said Thornley. “Everyone has their own filters they apply to their writing to arrive at the best possible sound or arrangements for songs, and working with those parameters just wasn’t it. The mission statement and goal of … but for the sun was to make a fun, raw rock record with plenty of variety.”
The dozen songs on … but for the sun are all varied within the confines of that mission statement. Too Far Gone is one of the heaviest riffs that Big Wreck has recorded, while Follow Me is one of the dirtiest-sounding guitar sounds to come from Thornley’s kit bag of noisy hooks. In fact, the closing song, The Fly and the Bowl, is the album’s only mid-tempo ballad. The record is completely devoted to big, loud production.
“Before even forming the band, before I knew if I could write a tune, we had our influences lined up and they’ve remained,” he said. “It was, ‘We’re going to be the perfect cross between Arc Angels and King’s X with some Zeppelin and we are going to low-tune like Sabbath.’ The list was ridiculous and impossible, yet there is always some of that there too.”
For the coming tour fans can expect to hear favourites from throughout the band’s career, as well as some selected covers that might surprise. Among the tunes the band has pulled out in concerts are Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall and Peter Gabriel’s Biko. Each has come about in the set from a pretty organic point. Thornley cautions that there is nothing etched in stone in the set list. It changes regularly.