Plants and Animals in La La Land
This weekend, on an unseasonably mild Saturday afternoon in Montreal, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Warren Spicer from the Montreal based indie-rock band Plants And Animals. The group received much praise from both the indie and the jamband worlds after releasing their debut album, Parc Avenue in 2008. Pleasing both of these musical crowds is no easy task, as each seems to be snobbier than the next. The indie crowd only loves top-notch unique music and the jamband scene generally digs psychedelic music that can be extended in a live setting. Plants And Animals found a happy medium, creating diverse music that’s both catchy, complex and conducive to improvisation when played live. Two years later, after much touring and some time off of the road to record new songs, Plants And Animals is releasing their follow up album entitled La La Land. Mr. Spicer was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me in a breakfast dive in the Mile End area of Montreal to have a few coffees and talk about the up-coming record and a whole lot more.
Parc Avenue was a very big album, rich in instrumentation and varied in song style and structure. What can listeners expect to hear on your new album, La La Land ?
WS: I guess we haven’t done anything insanely, drastically different than what we did on Parc Avenue, it’s just kind of a continuation of what we were into. I guess we kind of got back into more loud rock music because we had been touring so much, and when we made Parc Avenue we didn’t really tour a lot, so we were kind of just rehearsing and playing in our apartments more. That record kind of came out with more acoustic guitars and quieter stuff. Then we started touring and we ended up playing a lot louder and with more electric guitars and rocking out so even the songs on Parc Avenue changed quite a bit when we played them live. We came back and started working on new stuff and it just started to sound more like what we sounded like live. Its maybe a little darker, this new record, but its classic P&A (laughs).
Can you talk a bit about the Montreal music scene and how it has influenced La La Land? I’ve heard The Slip’s Brad Barr and the Arcade Fire horn section are featured on the album. Are there any other guest contributors?
WS: We had a few different people in doing things, some stuff worked, some stuff didn’t work. Brad lives in the same apartment building as me and he is just a pretty incredible musician. He’s been busy ever since he showed up in Montreal and as soon as he got here I met him and we started hanging out. I feel like the Montreal music scene, I think when you are a newer band starting out, like before we had released Parc Avenue, maybe I was more connected to the scene because I was out at bars more checking out other bands. Then as things progressed, you start enjoying your own time when you come home. You don’t go out to bars, I don’t even know who the hot bands are in this town anymore. But I have my group of friends and Brad is part of them. You know, musical friends, and we all end up helping each other out at recordings and jamming whenever we get the chance. The scene for me has a lot more to do with my own scene rather than “the scene” because I don’t really know what that is anymore. In terms of shaping the new record, we kind of just had the studio booked for two weeks here and there and kind of did whatever we felt like. If someone happened to be around, like I always wanted to do something with Brad and he came in and ended up playing some piano. We just kind of hung out and figured out what worked and low and behold. Colin who plays sax for the Arcade Fire is Sarah’s boyfriend and she’s the violinist for the Arcade Fire and she played on our first record and we went to school together. It’s more just a web of friends who all play music together.
Your debut album Parc Avenue was named after the street it was recorded on. What’s the significance behind the dreamy title of La La Land?
WS: There’s no huge significance, Parc Avenue just fell into place right away, we didn’t have to think about it very much. We had worked on this record and maybe also looking back in hindsight, things seemed to have fit together more logically in that album when it was all finished. Finishing this record was kind of a mad dash; everything went haywire as we approached the deadline of when we were supposed to deliver it. We didn’t have a title, we didn’t know what the artwork was going to look like, and we didn’t know anything. When you get stuck in a position like that you start trying to brainstorm and everything sounds bad. Every idea you come up with sounds terrible. The list of absolutely hilarious bad names is wildly long (laughs). We should probably put that up on our website, there’s some gold in there. There’s a reference in a song, the second song “Swinging Bells” which is loosely about L.A. We were worried that people would think it has too much to do with L.A. but most people don’t really connect La La Land with L.A. but some people do, its more of an actor thing. It just kind of made sense. There’s kind of this dreaminess about the record, it’s not that specific it doesn’t lock us into anything, it’s open-ended
That being said, Parc Avenue felt like a really cohesive, flowing album. Is La La Land a little more scattered?
WS: No, it’s still built the same way. That’s how we make records. We make records that flow from start to finish. I think it’s less epic; it’s a shorter, tighter album. Parc Avenue is almost an hour long. If you can have that kind of attention span, that’s awesome and it was our first album too so you put a lot of your life into that first record because you have never had the chance to do anything like that before. It kind of made sense that Parc Avenue was that long and I’m glad we made that record that long. We toured and we tightened up and then we wanted to crystallize things a little bit more and I wanted to write some shorter, tighter, poppy songs. That’s always a challenge too, it’s not easy to write a shorter song when you’re not used to that. It’s a different challenge.