Plants and Animals invade new territory

Warren Spicer dreamed of being a rock star since he was 10 years old. But now that it's happening, the Plants and Animals frontman is finding it a little frightening.

Warren Spicer dreamed of being a rock star since he was 10 years old.

But now that it’s happening, the Plants and Animals frontman is finding it a little frightening.

“It keeps getting scarier and scarier,” said Spicer, from Montreal this week.

It all started in Halifax, when the boy next door picked up a guitar. “He was older than me and was my hero,” said Spicer.

So, Spicer copied him, and started playing “hippie music” on his dad’s old acoustic.

Grunge music replaced the hippie tunes in high school. Then Spicer headed to Montreal to study music at university and his musical tastes got quirkier.

“I got into avant-garde compositions and sound art,” he said.

This led to Plants and Animals’ first album, an instrumental record with 18-minute songs.

“It was pretty repetitive,” said Spicer.

“It’s unlike anything we’re doing now.”

The band’s sound has continued to change, but the members haven’t.

Spicer has known drummer Matthew (the Woodman) Woodley since grade school in Nova Scotia. They both moved to Montreal after high school, where they met French Canadian guitarist Nicolas Basque.

The first album they created together wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a Canada Council recording grant, said Spicer.

“These grants were set up to fund music that was never going to be commercially accepted – which is essentially what that album was.”

Today, it wouldn’t be possible, because the Harper government got rid of that arts funding, he added.

It was with their second album, of mostly short, ‘70s-sounding pop songs – with lyrics – that things really took off for the Quebec trio.

Since Parc Avenue’s release in 2008, Plants and Animals have played over 100 shows, including appearances at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, Primavera in Barcelona, Central Park Summer Stage with the National, and even one night in Columbus opening for Gnarls Barkley, after Danger Mouse discovered Parc Avenue and invited them out.

But this fame came with its share of fears.

Suddenly, instead of just making music in their Montreal jam space, Plants and Animals were conscious of working on a record they knew people were going to hear.

“And this is scary,” said Spicer.

“It’d be nice to be able to go back to that time before.”

The band tries not to let its growing fan base influence its music.

“We don’t have a rock-solid formula, like some bigger bands, to give people what we know they will like,” said Spicer.

“We’re still search for our own sense of stability.”

And even if they find it, that stability might be short-lived.

“We might get frustrated and want to do something completely different,” he said.

Spicer is the man behind the music.

“Every song starts from something I’ve developed,” he said.

“And I write all the lyrics.”

Spicer carries around notebooks to jot down ideas of phrases. “And inspiration usually comes from real-life events,” he said. “Not fantastic voyages of the imagination.”

Playing live has proved a challenge for Plants and Animals because while they have lots of instruments on their albums, there’s only three of them in the band.

“The shows are different than what was recorded,” said Spicer.

For the next tour, the band is toying with the idea of adding a bassist.

“As a guitar player, it’s more relaxing (with a bassist) because you’re not trying to fill up that void all the time,” he said.

But the group is playing in Whitehorse as a trio.

It’s their first Yukon show, but not their first time in the North.

The group played Yellowknife’s Folk on the Rocks a few years back.

But Spicer didn’t get to see the northern lights.

So this time around, the guys are going to stay for a few days to get a taste of the Yukon and hopefully spot the aurora borealis.

Spicer is looking forward to getting back on the road.

Back when he was 10, and first picked up a guitar, Spicer dreamed of doing essentially what he’s doing now.

“I achieved this,” he said.

“But when you get to that point, you just keep wanting more.

“You get to the first couple of stages and then realize where you could be – and you start to realize it’s not inconceivable to get there.”

Plants and Animals are playing the Yukon Arts Centre on Thursday, September 15. The show starts at 8 p.m.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

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