No alternatives to Plants and Animals

By Amanda Hu

Nobody really knows what alternative music is anymore. The days of Bush, Alice in Chains and the Foo Fighters are in the past, while the section devoted to the genre grows bloated with unclassifiable music in CD stores. Montreal’s Plants and Animals’ newest release, Parc Avenue, was recently nominated for best alternative album and best new artist at the 2009 Juno Awards, though many say the album’s sound is highly indefinable and certainly not simply “alternative.”

“It used to make sense,” lead singer and guitarist Warren Spicer says. “They used to have whole radio stations for that kind of music, but I don’t think we sound like that. I don’t know what that means besides we’ve made some sort of a rock record that we’ve been nominated for an award for. Going to the event will be an interesting day.”

Parc Avenue was a three-year project for the group, made up of Spicer, drummer Matthew Woodley and bassist Nicolas Basque. The result was a highly-orchestrated romp through sometimes-theatrical rock with interjecting strings, horns, steel drums and everything else in between. Spicer says the recording process played a large part in the creation of the songs, helping the trio to hone their songwriting skills.

“It was the only way that made any sense to us,” Spicer says. “We kind of had to go through it to get an understanding of it. It helped us make songs that we liked because we didn’t just jump into it and record a bunch of songs and go, ‘It’s done,’ and then a week later realize that we didn’t like any of the songs we did, which probably happens quite frequently actually.”

Though they’re being nominated for best new group as well, the Montreal trio has been creating music since 2000, exploring many different musical avenues before coming upon the sound of Parc Avenue. Spicer says the move from strict instrumentals to music with vocals has changed the way they look at their songs and increa- sed interaction with their audiences.

“It makes you economize in a whole different way with less space and you want to make it count,” he explains. “You want to find a way to keep the good ideas and get rid of the bad ones. The narrative is completely different than with words because with instrumental music you still have the melodies but you don’t have any content or words. The thing that makes the song or tune could be very different. Sometimes even in a song with words, the words are meaningless and it’s the melody and the way the words sound.”

Instrumental music isn’t the only different music tack they took in the past. Spicer recalls being in bands with Woodley in high school, noting how it affected the music they make now.

“We were into weird free jazz in high school, like really bizarre stuff,” he recalls. “We had this saxophone player and it was just super-improvised. It taught us how to communicate musically and build a musical vocabulary and helped us play our instruments better. We don’t really do that anymore, but if you’re having a cocktail party or something, me and Nick sometimes do jazz gigs.”


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