A Parc full of Plants & Animals

Back from their coast-to-coast tour and romp, P&A dive back into experimental rock

Recent nominees for Rookie of the Year on CBC Radio3, Plants and Animals are diving back into writing material now that it has turned cold.
Recent nominees for Rookie of the Year on CBC Radio3, Plants and Animals are diving back into writing material now that it has turned cold.
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From an encounter with dolphins to a run-in with drug-sniffing dogs, Plants and Animals stayed true to their name during their first North American tour this fall.

Now back home in Montreal, the rock-happy Polaris Prize nominees is taking some time to relax before they dive into their second full-length album.

Drummer-vocalist Matthew “Woody” Woodley told the Journal he’s glad to be home.

“We went to all kinds of beautiful places and saw all kinds of beautiful things and met all kinds of beautiful people,” he said without skipping a beat over his cell phone from Montreal. “But it’s really nice not to be living out of a van.”

The six-week tour, which started in mid-September, was the band’s first “all-encompassing, U-shaped tour, coast-to-coast type of thing,” Woodley said, adding that it was also the longest they’ve ever been on the road. “That’s enough time to make you miss home. Home’s a nice place to be,” Woodley said.

When they weren’t onstage, the band—which also includes guitarist-vocalists Warren Spicer and Nicolas Basque—spent most of its time in the tour van, Woodley said.

“The Southwest in particular was spectacular,” he said. “That made hours in a van hours of joy. You can roll the window down and let the view come in.”

Driving in Texas and Arizona, the trio almost got into trouble with the border police.

“The border guards are crazy in the South near the Mexican border,” he said.

“They’ve very strict. We got pulled over at one border stop and they flooded our car with dogs and yelled at us, trying to tell us that we smoked pot,” he said with an audible smirk.

One of his favourite moments, though, was an early-morning swim in Los Angeles.

“We swam with dolphins in the Pacific Ocean, by accident,” he said. “I don’t think they were sharks; I didn’t hear any cellos.”

Woodley said the response from American audiences isn’t much different from the reception Plants and Animals gets in Canada.

“People might say, ‘That was great, y’all,’ or, ‘That was terrible, y’all,’ at the end. But … when you have a big mass of people, more the big differences are city-to-city than between the two countries,” he said.

Although the scenery along the road was inspiring, Woodley said he didn’t write any new songs while on tour.

“We tend to write at home when we can hole up in a room with our instruments and kind of get loud,” he said.

The band’s February release, Parc Avenue, took more than two years to record and earned them a spot on the shortlist for the Polaris Prize. On Tuesday, Plants and Animals were nominated in the Rookie of the Year category for CBC Radio3’s Bucky Awards.

Woodley said the next album won’t take nearly as long.

“For lack of a better cliché, we’ve kind of found our voice since making the first record. And we have more of a routine and an understanding of how we get things done, and we don’t have two years to mess around. This has become our full-time job to make music. It’s like going to work, in a really fun way.”

He said now that they’ve had a bit of time to rest, they’re already working on some new material.

“It’s nice to work on new things right now; it feels very right. I think it’s also a good time to be creative, when it gets cold and dark … not because we make cold, dark music or have cold, dark thoughts. I don’t know, there’s something kind of introspective about the fall,” he said.

But when it comes to recording, Woodley said the band has a “better vibe” when the sun’s out. Most of Parc Avenue—named for the Montreal street Woodley calls home and where the band records—was tracked during the summer, he said. A friend from their label, Secret City, came up with the idea for the name.

“It just resonated with us all right away,” Woodley said.

As for the name Plants and Animals, he said there really isn’t a good story behind it.

“I keep thinking we should make one up and we haven’t been able to yet. It’s just something that Warren came up with a long time ago, before we were even really a band,” he said, adding that they like the name because it was “oddly familiar.”

When they started playing together in 2003, Plants and Animals focused on instrumental songs. Today, the best self-classification for band’s sound is “post-classic rock.” This resonates as Parc Avenue is a wispy kaleidoscope of down-to-earth rock and experimental songs.

“It’s not post-rock and it’s not classic rock; it’s post-classic rock,” Woodley said.

“We … gradually moved further and further away from experimental, long songs into more concise things, and then ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahhs’ started coming in and then Warren started singing,” he said. “The more we recorded, the more we realized we wanted more stuff that had that feel to it.” Woodley said lyrics are important to the music because most people connect with the voice above all else.

“That’s the first thing most people identify with,” he said. “It’s much more personal and intimate when you have that.” Now, he said, they’ve settled on their style.

“Our sound’s never changing,” he said. “I have a feeling it might be even a little bit more focused the next time around, but it’s a little too early to say.”

Plants and Animals play Saturday night at The Grad Club.

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