Big Wreck’s Ian Thornley Discusses Band’s Revival, ‘Albatross’ Album + Velvet Revolver Audition
Hailing from Canada, Big Wreck showed plenty of promise in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but after their sophomore set slumped the band members decided to part ways. Now, a full decade later, singer Ian Thornley reached out to his longtime friend and cohort Brian Doherty and by opening the lines of communication, his onetime guitarist returned and a surprise resurrection of Big Wreck followed.
Loudwire spoke with frontman Ian Thornley about how Big Wreck came back into focus, the solid early returns from the band’s ‘Albatross’ album in their native Canada, the breakout success of the title track in the U.S., and Thornley also revealed a little about his onetime audition for Velvet Revolver as well.
Thank you for the time and I’ve got to say that I’m so happy that Big Wreck is back as a recording entity again. Can you tell me how that came to be?
Well it’s just Brian and I from the original lineup, but it was just my personal relationship with Brian had sort of fallen by the wayside after we parted ways the first time and that was something that was just sort of a sour spot for me. I just missed the guys and we had been roommates in college and had been really tight before and through all of the Big Wreck thing.
So I just called and we just started hanging out and then he filled in for Paulo [Neta] for one show because Paulo was going to be in Portugal and then the idea to do a Thornley-slash-Big Wreck tour came up and that’s sort of the band that we have now.
I just love the idea of playing with three guitar players and doing the record. We didn’t go in to make a Big Wreck album per se. I was just going in to make a record. And I think it was Nick Rasculinecz, the executive producer, who suggested calling it Big Wreck, which didn’t sit right at first, but eventually I came around to, you know.
Well perhaps that is what makes it sound like it does, because a lot of times reunited bands feel like they’re missing something that wasn’t there in the past, but this sounds as fresh like it developed organically without any pressure.
Yeah, I’m really proud of the record and the fact that it’s being received at all is just gravy. The fact that it’s being received well is just exceptional at this point and to go out and score a No. 1 up here [in Canada], that’s a big deal for someone who’s been at it as long as me. I’ve had so many Top 5, almost No. 1’s, that finally we get one when we go in to make a record by our rules, you know. There’s some sweet vindication to it and I’m also really proud of it.
You mentioned the accolades and already there’s a couple of CASBY Award wins for you even before the disc drops in the U.S. So with that momentum going, how good does it feel to get that recognition right off the bat?
It’s great. I don’t know how much that carries over, but it’s great. I’m in a position to … I think Brian and I, as well as the other guys, I think we’re all in a position to enjoy it this time around and really sort of take it all in. Cause I know how fleeting someone digging one of your songs can be. But it feels great, but I think the overall vibe with the guys and myself is a lot of different than it was 10 years ago. Everyone is a lot more positive and a lot more focused and I think the priorities have changed. So, any and all is icing on the cake. And I think the cake is still a record that I still listen to and it’s been out here for almost a year and I still enjoy listening to it. That to me is what I’m most proud of is, in my opinion, making a really kickass record. Having people recognize that and just dig it is just gravy.
It’s great that you’ve reconnected with Brian but once you went head on into this thing again, can you talk about how that relationship has evolved? Is it different? The same?
Yeah, everything is fantastic. I think all the time we were apart sort of, I think we both matured, a lot. When we started hanging out again, there wasn’t a sort of, ‘OK, well here is what upset me about…’ We didn’t hash anything out. It was just that neither of us were holding any grudges and I just sort of missed my buddy and we were in similar places in a personal way and we both matured a lot in dealing with the things you have to deal with in this industry. We deal with them a lot better now, whereas before a lot of stuff would get swept under the rug and get turned into something great down the line. I don’t think either of us is going to let that happen in this incarnation.
One of the things I love about the album is that you can almost feel the room and how live it feels. I know as producer you have a lot of say in that. Can you talk about what you wanted from the sound of this album going in?
There was a lot of discussion about the sound and the feel of the record before we even knew what we were going to do. How do we achieve a certain sound? Do we know those tricks? Do we need to know those tricks? But what you’re speaking of is the end result that I wanted. I wanted it to sound like a real band making a real record. It’s so easy now to do it the other way and there’s the pre-packaged guitar sound and pre-packaged drum sound and press ‘Alt’ click whatever and you’ve got drums. But it’s much harder to catch a performance and capture interaction between musicians and all the little ghosts that can make their way into a piece of tape, it’s much harder to get it on a computer screen when you’re putting it into a grid and making it all perfect and correcting this and that. I think as evidenced by a lot of the things you see on television or whatever, and musicians performing live and something goes down and the music’s still going. There’s a lot of that going on and it might be great for some, but it’s not really my cup of tea. I love hearing real sounds made by real people with real fingers and real throats and it’s harder work, but we still made a record in about month. We did it quickly and kept it fresh.
Getting into the album, ‘Albatross’ the song, and you mentioned getting things to sound a certain way, I just love the guitar sound at the beginning and it’s got that great psychedelic feel to it.
Well, the sound at the beginning is just an electric 12-string with some delay on it, but it’s in an open tuning, which also lends itself to that sound, but nothing was not considered that went into the whole album. Everything wasn’t argued over, but it was discussed. I think it should be this guitar with this amp and we distance mic it so we get more ambiance with it and it’s all those things, but still having said that, it was all very quick. It was a lot of go with your gut and go with what you know sounds good. The psychedelic stuff is fantastic. But a lot of my trick bag is about trying to get the sounds that I know and love from all the albums I grew up listening to.
I have to ask, I know that riff for ‘Albatross’ has been hanging around for a long time. So how gratifying is it to not only see it completed, but embraced as a single?
[laughs] I didn’t think it was ever going to be single. I was thrilled when the guys at Warner here in Canada were like, ‘Well we want to go with ‘Albatross,” and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s ballsy. Go for it. Have at it.’ But I think for me the satisfaction was hearing that riff finally being in a song. That little na-na-na-na melody has been kicking around for, I can’t put a date on it, but well before the first Big Wreck album. I’ve tried a million different things with it. I tried to put it on the end of a song. I tried to put in the middle of another song. OK, maybe an intro then. But I never tried it as the focal point, the meat and potatoes of the song and then have it be the song. But that’s the thing … sometimes it takes ten years to write the song that writes itself in five minutes.
I was listening to Rod Stewart. I was listening to ‘Gasoline Alley’ a lot and it dawned on me that I should just try the 12-string acoustic trick and as soon as I started playing the 12-string acoustic, like the demo of ‘Albatross’ was all acoustic, and then a song popped out and there you go. Finally! But to have it be a single, yeah, why not?! There’s a slide guitar solo on radio. Who would have thunk it?
I have to say, ‘A Million Days’ off this album has to be one of my standout tracks. Where did that track come from?
It’s hard to say. I had that sort of mellow chorus, the ‘Stay with me for a million days’ which was hooky and pretty if not a little corny. And then I just started surrounding it with things that were going to take the tease out of it. And then then challenge became how do I make this sound like one arcing song with all the mood changes and color changes, but I think it was successful. What I wanted to do, and maybe it’s just me, but contrasting colors to where if you heard one section of the song without the others, there was no way you would say that was the same song. But hearing the whole thing in context, there’s a good arc to it and I think it makes sense. But yeah, I love trying things like that and musical experiments that work out. It’s one of my favorites for sure.
Watching some of the videos you’ve done, ‘Wolves’ sounds great live. Is that song starting to be one of the live favorites for the band?
Yeah, it’s one of my favorites on the album. Certain songs just have a feel and a vibe and a life to them and it’s a little different than the other ones. For me, ‘Wolves’ has always been that. When we first put it down, I got choked up listening to it. And I still do get a tingle listening to it, but doing it live and seeing people singing those lyrics back to me is just huge. That’s one that is near and dear to me for sure and it’s a lot of fun to sing.
‘Control’ really feels like you have a chance to let loose. Can you tell me what it was like putting that track together and what you were looking for?
‘Control’ is born of me picking up a Strat, with Mark Knopfler being one of my heroes and certainly those first two Dire Straits records being close to me. And you’ve got that chorus, that’s where I was going for that Peter Gabriel vibe and I just thought marrying the two, how do we do that? I just that adding that Fleetwood Mac drum sound laid the whole vibe for that. And then lyrically, it’s pretty well-mined territory, but there’s some room there. And live, it’s one of those things I look forward to every night because you never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes the solo will go on a little too long and sometimes not long enough and sometimes it’s just right, but when it’s just right, that’s when everybody is strumming with their iPhones, you know.
I see you’re doing some dates with Theory of a Deadman. What are your thoughts on joining them on the road?
Great guys man. I’ve toured with them a few times on the road here and there and Joey, the drummer, is an old friend and they’re just nice guys. I couldn’t say enough nice things about them. It’s been great so far and it does make it a lot easier when the guys in the other bus are easy to get along with. It makes every day go a lot quicker and it’s been great so far.
I noticed on Twitter that your wife has her black belt. So does that make things a little more dangerous around the house for you?
[Laughs] No, but for anybody else trying to get in the house, sure. It’s something that’s a hobby for her and it’s one of her passions. She’s also a chef, so she’ll kick your ass and cook you a nice meal. But it’s been great for her … and both the kids are involved and I love the martial arts.
I know a couple of years back your name was mentioned for Velvet Revolver and they’ve gone through so many different people trying to find a singer. What was your experience trying out for the vocalist spot?
It was great. They were all great guys, and Slash in particular was really [cool]. I was really taken aback by how genuine and what a real human being he is, well actually all of them are. They’re just really good dudes. But I flew down and jammed with them for a few hours and the music part was great, but I think they were looking for a guy that doesn’t play guitar.
At least at that time, they wanted a guy who was a frontguy, like an Axl or Scott Weiland or one of those dudes who doesn’t play guitar — he dances and gets the crowd going and all that stuff, and that’s just never been my thing. So when I was up there, it was like, ‘That was great, but do you mind playing it without the guitar?’ And I was like, ‘Nah, nah, it’s not going to happen.’ What am I gonna do if Slash takes this awesome 10-minute guitar solo. I don’t want to, I don’t know any of those moves. I just think and Slash has said this in interviews too, ‘Well he was great but he wanted to play guitar and that’s why he’s not in.’ And hey, I’m fine with it. Had I tried to do something without a guitar around my neck, it would have felt unnatural and weird, you know. I couldn’t imagine doing that night after night. I gravitate toward the guitar, that’s always been my cool factor. I’m a Keith more that a Mick.
I know you did Thornley in between the Big Wreck periods. What do you see for the future of Big Wreck? Will you continue or balance projects?
I’ve learned enough to never say never in this biz. But right now everything is going great, sounding great and everybody’s in a really good place, so for the time being, I’ll say absolutely to [more Big Wreck].