Plants and Animals bring Canadian edge to ‘post-rock’ performance

Matthew Woodley, Nicolas Basque and Warren Spicer of the Canadian Band, Plants and Animals.

Matthew Woodley, Nicolas Basque and Warren Spicer of the Canadian Band, Plants and Animals.
Photo courtesy of Caroline Desilets

Originally Published in The Badger Herald, May 9, 2012

Warren Spicer steadies his breath and mouths some of the verses he will sing tonight. Nicolas Basque strings out a few melodies. Even though he has performed before, Eric Digras can’t help but notice the novelty of the moment. The stage door opens, and in walks Matthew Woodley. “Woody,” as they call him, carries a bottle of Jägermeister and several shot glasses. He pours out the rich, dark liquor.

The show starts in less than three minutes. They raise the small cups. Tilting their heads back, the liquid cascades down their throats. It sinks into the dark.

Suddenly, stage lights glow, amps crackle and as the fermented fog clears, the four find themselves standing in position inside a music hall. The audience is intently watching, so they begin.

Spicer, Basque, Digras and Woody comprise the Canadian rock band Plants and Animals. Currently on tour in the United States and Canada, they recently performed in Madison, Wisc.

Plants and Animals demoing at one of their recording studios, The Treatment Room

Plants and Animals demoing at one of their recording studios, called The Treatment Room.
Photo courtesy of Caroline Desilets

Ten years ago, Plants and Animals released its first eponymously titled EP. Three more records followed. One of them, Parc Avenue (2008) was twice nominated for the prestigious Canadian Juno Award in addition to the Polaris Music Prize. The band has headlined for handfuls of artists, including Gnarls Barkley, Grizzly Bear and The National. Their tour is a debut for the songs from the band’s new album, The End of That (2012).

“It’s been really fun,” Basque said. “The tour has been the first time we tour with a bass player. We usually tour as a three-piece. So it’s exciting.”

Basque is Plants and Animals’ guitarist. He sees himself as having a “melodic role” while the band composes new music.

“Warren (Spicer) often comes with the blueprints of the songs, and I always try to think about how we can color it or make it sound modern, but at the same time add special color to it — a special quality,” Basque said.

By modulating elements like delay and reverb, Basque helps the group find texture in its music.

“Warren often says ‘Put some sauce on that,’” Basque said.

Plants and Animals has its origins at Montreal’s Concordia University, where Basque studied jazz guitar and composition.

“For five years I played with this weird, experimental orchestra. It’s like a big band: four trumpets, four trombones, four sax, guitars, bass. And we were playing modern composition by local composers,” Basque said.

At the same time as Basque, Spicer also was studying at Concordia. Their paths eventually crossed through mutual jazz circles.

“We liked the same music, so we started hanging out and playing guitar together,” Basque said. “We started playing each other’s compositions.”

Thereafter, Basque performed with Spicer and Woody, who had already been jamming together in their own ensemble. Together, the trio composed the tracks that became Plants and Animals’ first EP.

“At the time, it was halfway between rock music and jazz. And it was instrumental,” Basque said.

Nic Basque recording his melodic guitar playing.

Nic Basque recording his melodic guitar playing.
Photo courtesy of Scott Eagle

Basque’s background in experimental music helped influence Plants and Animals’ style. While the band is often associated with classic rock, the three prefer the label “post-classic.”

Plants and Animals’ latest release, The End of That, makes extensive use of bass, played by Digras. Basque thinks including the bass has helped draw attention to each band member, not just the novelty of having a new bassist.

“It’s a record where we wanted all the individuals in there,” Basque said. “It works as a whole, but you can also listen to just one. … You can recognize the people playing. That was something that we were after with (this) record.”

Plants and Animals – “The End of That” ©2012 Secret City Records

Another feature of the album is its introspective lyrics, sung in Spicer’s country vibrato. At times, the melodies feel amusing. At other times, haunting.

“It seems obvious for a singer to try to make an emotion. But I think the thing with Warren (Spicer) — he can bring people together with his voice. I think he wrote lyrics that were really direct and easy to catch on right away,” Basque said. “There is more meaning to it than what’s already there.”

Basque says concert attendees should expect something that is both “sad and edgy” yet “laid-back and easygoing.” Like “Baudelaire,” he joked.

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