Budding and growing with Canadian indie rockers Plants and Animals, which play Crowbar on Tuesday

The Montreal trio celebrates 10 years, a third album, and a fourth live player.

click to enlarge "A RESTLESS BAND": Warren Spicer, Matthew "Woody" Woodley and Nic Basque of Plants and Animals. - Caroline Desilets
Caroline Desilets
"A RESTLESS BAND": Warren Spicer, Matthew "Woody" Woodley and Nic Basque of Plants and Animals.

Montreal's indie rock scene experienced a growth spurt over the last dozen or so years, led by The Arcade Fire. Rising in the diverse ranks is Secret City Records trio Plants and Animals, which celebrated a decade of bandhood this year.

I caught up with lead vocalist, lyricist and multi-instrumentalist Warren Spicer by phone last week, and we discussed how the focus has evolved from their beginnings as a more improvisational group.

More than 10 years ago, Spicer was working on what he called "really weird compositional stuff" and earned a government grant to make a record. He enlisted the help of friends and fellow Concordia University music students, Nicolas Basque and Matthew Woodley, and amid the process of experimenting and collaborating on the recording, the three musicians grew into a legitimate band. "That's where we started, with these long, repetitive — not jams in the sense of more typical funky notes and licks and solos — but these simple repetitive patterns, minimalist stuff. Out of that, we got more into writing songs."

Parc Avenue, their 2008 Juno and Polaris Prize-nominated debut, was stunning and restrained roots-psych rock with chorales that hinted at chamber grandiosity, while 2010's La La Land found the threesome urgently exploring their darker retro-trippy tendencies and developing richly textured arrangements complete with horns, strings and wall-of-sound crescendos. The End of That dropped this year, their third and latest stripped down to breezy, lightly twangy, bluesy-sauntering folk rock marked by lots of acoustic guitar, and delicately melodic interludes cutting through the dirty Southern grooves and soaring epics.

"We're kind of a restless band," Spicer admitted. "We do a lot of different things on our records, we travel through all kinds of different atmospheres and we haven't really settled on or established one particular arrangement." Spicer explained that his approach on this record was different, however, less about trying out new or different ideas and more about consciously crafting the sort of songs that would play to the band's strengths. "Which was something that hadn't really occurred to me. Before, I had the idea for a song and it had a certain feel or style, and we'd give it our best, and maybe it'd work or maybe it wouldn't and maybe we’d never play that song again."

Spicer has a flexible tenor that can be gritty and drawling, tenderly high-reaching, strong and theatric with a pronounced vibrato, or dusty-nasally and blasé à la Petty or Dylan. His lyrics are frank with poetic moments of reflection, his characters unfettered and living like they're wanting or trying to be young, watching their friends become adults around them, admittedly not having all the answers or even a few, dealing with life one crisis at a time. "Do you fear loneliness? Do you fear getting left behind? All your friends are getting married, they're having ... a time," Spicer sings plaintively in "No Idea," making you wonder if maybe he's asking himself these same questions as he watches the miles pass by.

The threesome spent many weeks writing and developing material for The End of That, a drawn-out process spurred by an unsatisfying experience recording La La Land, which they dove into after touring relentlessly behind Parc Avenue, not pausing to take a break or even a breath beforehand. "Once we finished that record, I think we all realized we didn't really want to do that again, so we just decided to chill out and instead of going right into a recording studio, we went into a rehearsal studio."

This more relaxed, prepared approach helped, but there were still snags. "It seems like every time we make a record, we keep getting closer to figuring out how we're really supposed to make a record," Spicer observed. "We learned all that stuff from making mistakes on La La Land, and we thought we were going to get it right on this record, we were so confident that we knew what we were doing again — we had all these great demos and then we booked the studio, and we were like, 'We're going to pull this off in two weeks.' We had the mixing books, and we basically had everything time-lined out. But we should know that by now about ourselves, that things aren’t going to go they way we planned."

The End of That was recorded amid the comforting environs of La Frette Studios with house producer and engineer Lionel Darenne (who was fresh off recording Metals with Feist). "We'd done a couple days at that studio for La La Land, and we're pretty good friends with the owner,” Spicer explained. "It's this big old house and they've got lots of rooms, so if we're passing through Paris, instead of getting a hotel, we stay there. It's got this really familiar quality, very homey, and when we go there we feel completely at home."

The trio recently brought a bassist into the live mix. "It was something we'd always talked about, for years we'd discussed it. There's lots of bass on the records, and it's usually me," Spicer said. "For this record, it made more sense than ever to just say, let's figure this out, let's get a bass."

And having a bonus player around has already paid off. "All the arrangements have been totally tweaked and we're playing songs differently than we've ever played them. So it's kind of an evolution."

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