Plants and Animals are Warren Spicer, Nicolas Basque, and Matthew Woodley. The Montreal musicians have been sharing their sound with the world for over 10 years. The Lab asked Woodley to tell us all about their latest album, evolution, and the literal depths the band has gone to to put on a great show.
THE LAB MAGAZINE—You’ve described your music as “post-classic rock.” How would you spell out the Plants and Animals sound to someone who missed out on that classic era?
MATTHEW WOODLEY—It’s probably about time we made that disappear from Wikipedia. It’s ironic and funny and light-hearted and means about as much as it doesn’t mean at all. Classic rock is The Beatles and CCR, right? Post rock is a nineties subgenre. One night way back, outside a bar where we had just played, a friend said we had a classic rock sound. I said we were post-classic rock. He laughed and it stuck. Everything comes from the classical and the blues and we’re no different. It would be great to invent a new subgenre but that’s not our priority so much as making something honest and exciting and maybe even goosebumpy at times.
TLM—Plants and Animals started out as a purely instrumental group. When did you decide to begin writing lyrics, and what was the catalyst for this change?
MW—We made Parc Avenue, which came out in 2008, over two years. The singing emerged over that time. It started as “oohs” and “ahhs” and gradually evolved into real words. It’s sort of like the fish coming out of water in the olden days, but faster. The fish was like, “This is the future,” and the fish grew lungs and legs. At first it was kind of awkward, but eventually it learned to run and start fires.
TLM—The release of Parc Avenue got you nominated for the Polaris Prize and two Juno Awards, and launched you to opening spots for Grizzly Bear and Gnarls Barkley. You’d been together almost five years at that point. Did that sudden spotlight change the band at all? Did it make recording a follow-up more difficult?
MW—We wanted to be a full-time band. We worked very hard, built a boat, caught a wave and rode the wave. Then we came home and started on record number two, post-Parc Avenue. That whole recording process was quite a different experience because we were now a band with history and a reference point. People had an idea of what Plants and Animals sounded and felt like. That’s a brand new thing for a band and I think a challenge for a lot of them. Before there were no people and our idea of ourselves was a lot more innocent.
TLM—The End of That was much more carefully planned than your previous records, which were composed mainly in-studio, and it seems that in general you’ve moved from your improvisational roots to a more considered and slow-paced recording style. How has that change come about? Was it a deliberate choice or a natural evolution?
MW—It was a deliberate choice to write and solidify a bunch of songs over a few months, then get on a plane, unpack in a big house in France and dump them out over two weeks. We did it, but we also learned that two weeks isn’t enough time for us to record. We were watching the clock from the get go. So the preparation was more considered, yes, but the recording wasn’t slow paced at all. I think the best way for us to work is to keep the spirit of improvisation alive in the studio. We keep learning things, we do.
TLM—Do you think it’s important for a musician to have broad tastes, rather than dedicating their focus to one idea, one sound? And how has having such broad tastes affected your identity as a band?
MW—Or maybe a kid in the woods/jungle/swamp who has only listened to insects for her entire life comes up with a fresh new beat that sweeps across the globe. Everyone has broad tastes now because everyone’s digital music collection has a bit of everything. While all the bands are mixing different cocktails of blues, rock, classical, hip hop, jazz, folk, reggae, dubstep, jungle and so on, we’re all just waiting for the insect girl beat.
TLM—You guys are from Montreal. How has the city and its cultures shaped your creativity?
MW—Montreal has a bunch of music scenes under one big music scene, tons of amazing musicians, cheap rent, its own particular weirdness, and a prevailing attitude that music and art are good things to be supported and, foremost, enjoyed. That’s a blessing for creativity.
TLM—You’ve been together nearly 10 years – a lot of bands implode long before the decade mark. What keeps you three together beyond the friendships you have forged?
MW—Well, it would be weird to just stop.
TLM—You called Parc Avenue scatterbrained and innocent; La La Land was adolescent, both cocky and insecure; The End of That is your twenties… How would you describe what’s coming next, in terms of entering a new phase with your music?
MW—We’re skipping a few decades and going full-on adult contemporary. We don’t know. It’s a secret.
TLM—In November a video came out with you guys playing in a mine shaft. How did that come about?
MW—It was the idea of Bande à part, which is a Radio-Canada thing. A lot of people are filming sessions where a band plays somewhere different, like a bathroom or an elevator. I thought they had run out of ideas until Bande à part came up with that idea. It was a gold mine in northern Quebec. We took an elevator about a kilometre below the earth, which was the most claustrophobic ride of my life, including the time when I was 13 and Warren and his friend locked me in a chest and carried me around his house. I don’t like mines. But it was also fun. I still don’t like mines though.