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Plants and Animals: In the Studio

Matthew Woodley discusses upcoming third album

Oct 30, 2009 Plants and Animals Bookmark and Share

Montréal trio Plants and Animals have spent the majority of the past year in a van, touring in support of their 2008 breakthrough album, Parc Avenue. Yet amidst bringing their particular brand of folk-rock to the masses, singer/guitarist Warren Spicer, guitarist/bassist Nicolas Basque, and drummer Matthew Woodley (aka, the Woodman, or Woody) have also devoted their attention to writing and recording what will be their third album. The album, title TBA, is due for an early 2010 release. As the band inches closer to the album’s completion, Woodley took some time to speak with Under the Radar, filling us in on the details.

Where are you in the process of writing and recording the new album?

Matthew Woodley: We just came back from a tour in Europe, which was preceded by a session, a couple weeks at a studio where we worked quite a bit outside of Paris. We went there to mix the album. And we mixed it. And now, as we are wont to do, we are going to remix a couple of songs, because that’s just how we work. So we are in the mixing process, getting pretty close to the end. The whole thing should be done in a month.

How long of a process was it, in terms of writing and recording? I know you guys have been touring almost nonstop since Parc Avenue.

I don’t know how long a process it was. Our first studio sessions were almost a year ago; before Christmas, we went in for a couple days. That’s just kind of the way we work. We lay a couple things down, and then tour a little more and let them breathe, and then come back and see what we’ve got, or maybe try something new. As much as we try to plan, we end up flying by the seat of our pants. That’s what ultimately ends up in us finding what we want to find.

Was it all done at the Treatment Room [in Montréal]?

No. Some of it was done at the Treatment Room. And some of it was done at La Frette, outside of Paris.

And you’re producing the album yourselves?

We are, yeah.

I know that, for Parc Avenue, the recording process was a gradual one. You guys were in and out of the studio for a few years, I understand, recording the album on and off.

We were, yeah.

How do you compare that to the creative process this time around? Did you find that the touring really helped with the generation of ideas and with songs coming to fulfillment?

Well, a lot of the songs we started to track before we ever played them live, whereas with Parc Avenue, it was kind of half-half. Sometimes we would play a song in front of people a bunch of times and then we’d go into the studio and lay it down, or else we would track it in the studio and then play it a bunch and then say, “Hey look, it’s evolved and we’ve developed it and we owned it more now, and let’s track it again.” This time, we’ve mostly been touring Parc Avenue songs, and working on the new album has just been developing on the side, in the studio. I think we work a lot faster and we have more of a sound as a band now, so things are easier that way. Still, there’s been a return to the Parc Avenue way of working, just in the sense that we like to revisit things if they’re not right, because the songs are all composed and blueprinted before we record them. It’s an organic thing. We record what we’ve got and then we develop it more from there. Sometimes we develop it into a song that you can even re-track, because you know what it is finally.

I wonder whether the process this time around was easier than it was with Parc Avenue. I know with that last album, you guys were just starting to experiment in the studio with the format that you came to use with the album, that being different from that of the debut. I wonder whether it was easier this time around in that you did do much touring, and maybe you were more comfortable in your own collective skin as a band.

Yeah, I think by and large we were. We had a better idea. Maybe we even just got better from experience, just from playing so much, so that we could go down and we could find some kind of chemistry with a new song in the studio more quickly than before, because we’ve been playing together that much more and have that much more experience to know if something works right away and to find ways to make it work more quickly.

Even just the singing was a relatively new adventure for you guys when you were making the last album.

Yeah. If we’ve improved as musicians, which I’m sure we have, it’s a lot more subtle on our various instruments than it is with Warren’s singing. I think a couple years of touring, for a guy who didn’t sing that much before, has made him get so much better. It’s gotten to the point where he tries out different singing styles more, and that kind of thing. And it’s sort of the same thing with Nick and I too, getting more comfortable as backup singers. All of us have a little bit better idea of what our voices can do.

Would you describe the tone of the new album as similar to the tone of Parc Avenue?

Yeah, it’s not a huge leap in a different direction. It’s looking like it’s maybe a little more pared down on the bells and whistles, a little more what the sum of what the three of us is, whereas Parc Avenue was so all over the place, with strings and horns and choir, and 7-year-old school children, and stuff like that. That’s not to say that this is more meat-and-potatoes. Well, nah, it’s more like, you know, bread-and-wine-and-cheese.

When I talked to Warren a couple years ago, we had this discussion about being drawn back to the simplicity of the music that he was into as a kid, Dylan and things like that, the difference being your studying the electro-acoustic music in college and doing a lot of the experimenting at that time. I wonder whether you are still drawn to that simplicity and visceral response in the songwriting, or has some more of the experimental music of your training crept into the process this time around?

Very little. I think all that training has crept into, or even drives, sometimes the recording process, when it comes down to the science of frequencies and effects and microphones and balances, things like that. But in terms of music, no. We spent the past two years, half our time, in a van listening to music, and a lot of times the music was just music that we like, like the Stones or Dylan or Neil Young, or trying to keep up with what people are doing these days too. Seeing what else is going on in the world.

Did you incorporate any different influences or instrumentation this time around?

There are other touches besides guitars, drums, and singing, yeah. I don’t know. Because we’re still mixing some stuff, I don’t know whether some stuff’s going to make it or not. There’s little odds and ends, but the foundation, the fundamentals, are guitars and drums and voices, with a little bit of strings and horns peppered in here and there, and maybe a couple treats other than that.

Was there anything particular you were listening to in the writing and recording of these songs that drove things? You mentioned the Stones and Dylan and the Neil Young.

Well, that’s just music that we like and listened to forever. But there’s something about the recordings of that era. That’s the benchmark, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing’s been done quite that way since. People are now kind of coming back to analog recording and more old school approaches that were really the norm then, and I think that’s been really good. As for what else we listened to, I don’t know. We’re talking about six months time here. I think we’ve listened to everything. Everything we possibly have has rotated through the iPod and the van’s speakers, and the same thing at home. So I can’t think of anything that really stands out. There’s more Bowie in the van actually.

Did you highlight any new songs on this latest tour?

We tried a couple out. A couple we’ve been playing for almost a year, or less than a year, but for a while. We started to mess around with other things during sound check. And god, it was refreshing to play some new stuff. There’s nothing wrong with the old stuff, but, you know, new life. Because we always play things a little bit differently, so when you have new songs, this whole world of possibilities opens up. This is how it’s going to be tonight and then you learn from it and play it a little different the next night. It’s fun. It’s a real fresh feeling.

Do you have any song titles yet? Even the song titles are subject to change, I imagine.

Yeah, they are at this point. You know, in two weeks probably most of that stuff will be written in stone and the album work will be done. We’ve got a hell of a lot to do in the next two weeks. But yeah, even the song titles are working things. That stuff is pretty last minute for us. Even lyrics, they often end up being one of the last things that are thrown in.

How have the instrumental duties broken down in the studio this time? Same as Parc Avenue?

Same thing. I’m playing drums and singing and doing little percussive odds and ends on the album. And Warren and Nic are both playing guitar, and Warren’s singing lead. There’s quite a bit of keyboard textures and touches, not really lead things, but just kind of elements throughout the record. Often Nic will play them. Sometimes Warren will play them. It kind of doesn’t matter. It’s just like someone will have an idea, like let’s put this here, or let’s put this in that part, and someone will go do it. It’s really just whatever works at the time. And none of these guys are keyboard players first and fore most. It’s usually stuff that complements that music instead of becomes some kind of voice or whatever.

And the lyrics are still coming together? There’s no sort of over-arching themes?

No, a lot of the themes are kind of general and universal. I wouldn’t say there’s an over-arching theme throughout it.

So in the immediate future you guys will be finishing mixing the album, and then you have a little time to rest and relax?

Yeah, I think rest and relax is going to come later in November and December, when the snow starts flying around here. And start working on some songs and renting movies and watching hockey games together.


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January 10th 2011

Plants and Animals have been labeled as indie, prog-rock, classic rock, even a jam band. That’s part of the beauty of Plants and Animals. They defy labels and slapping a genre on them is an exercise in futility. Their albums are a series of quests within one epic journey. Nothing is straight-forward and most tunes have the feel of a suite as opposed a rock tune.
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Sherwin Chen
July 20th 2011

This is a cool name for a band! It conjures up some great images and fun times.

aloo curry
December 1st 2011

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