Big Wreck Frontman Ian Thornley on Their Successful Comeback, How Close He Came to Joining Velvet Revolver
There were high hopes for rock band Big Wreck – formed in 1994 at the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston, signed to Atlantic – but then after 1997’s In Loving Memory Of… and 2001’s The Pleasure and the Greed albums, the four-piece broke up and it was not amicable.
In Canada, where frontman Ian Thornley is from, their music has endured -“The Oaf (My Luck Is Wasted),” “That Song” and “Blown Wide Open” and more all staples at rock radio – and Thornley is regarded as one of the country’s top guitarists. He had a healthy career with his next band Thornley on Chad Kroeger‘s 604 Records and released two albums, 2004’s Come Again and 2009’s Tiny Pictures. By then, he also shared the same management as Rush.
In late 2010, Thornley reconnected with Big Wreck’s guitarist Brian Doherty and they toured Canada under the banner “An Evening with Thornley and Big Wreck.” In 2011, Thornley left 604 and decided to put out albums via his management’s label, Anthem. He, Doherty, guitarist Paula Neta, bassist Dave McMillan and session drummer Chris Henry (Brad Park is live drummer) entered the studio with Thornley producing alongside engineer/mixer Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Cancer Bats). Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Death Angel) executive produced.
Under the name Big Wreck again, Albatross was released in Canada this past March and it will come out in the U.S. on Rounder on Feb. 19.
Noisecreep spoke with Thornley about this new phase of his career, his first No. 1 single, his reflections on the past – as well as how close he came to joining Velvet Revolver.
You had an amazing year with Albatross in Canada. How does it feel that 2013 you will still be working it?
It’s great. I honestly didn’t have high expectations for the album. Certainly when we doing it, we weren’t doing a Big Wreck album. It was just time to make a record and somebody brought it up that we should call it a Big Wreck album. There was no one leaning over our shoulders saying, ‘You have to do this to get a hit.’ And after the last couple of outings, I was pretty miffed with the whole recording process and people making me edit myself. So I was just so happy with what we’d come up with, what we’d made, so that was kind of the bonus for me, to make a record that I was really into – and the fact that people reacted to it is just gravy.
Watch ‘Albatross’ Video
What sticks out for you about that time in Big Wreck with Dave [Henning, bass], Forrest [Williams, drums] and Brian, coming out of Boston’s Berklee College of Music? Did you have big dreams?
Of course. We had really big dreams. We had really big dreams. We really did a lot of things our way, musically, certainly on the first record. So when things started to happen, it was really exciting. It was a great time. And, of course [signs) everything just sort of imploded, I guess. It stopped being fun and it was like we were becoming something that we’re not.
We never really attained what it is we set out to attain – I think we did musically, certainly in the first album, but commercially and all that shit, with the labels the way we were certainly being groomed for something much bigger, it never really happened. I was sort of miffed at the direction that it had taken in order for that to happen, and the fact that it didn’t happen, I had to wash my hands and try something else.
And, of course, when I tried something else, I was like, okay, this is going to work [laughs] I’ll just cut out all the stuff I love to do and just stick to the song and this is gonna happen. And then, of course, when you find you’re just as broke making music that you’re compromising as you would be making music that you’re pouring your heart and soul into, it just got to a place where I’d rather be happy musically and broke, than frustrated musically and broke.”
After The Pleasure and the Greed, is that when Chad Kroeger stepped in and signed you to his label 604? You were friends.
We were friends well before that. I remember driving around Vancouver and he had an advance copy of The Pleasure and the Greed and he had already learned every song on it. I think he just bought himself some sportscar that he was driving way too fast and it was fuckin’ scary. Yeah, we’d been on the road for In Loving memory Of… across Canada with Nickelback opening. He stepped in at the end of The Pleasure and the Greed. I was like, ‘Well I’m getting into something else.’ He stepped up and said I’m doing this label; we’ve got a great connection with [our distributor] Roadrunner. It was just when [Nickelback’s] ‘How You Remind Me’ was blowing up and he was becoming the Chad that we all know and love – or despise now.
You’re still friends with him.
Oh, yeah very much so.
Good, I didn’t want to end it on the “despise” note and have any misunderstandings. Why is it that you haven’t gone out under your own name – because even with Thornley band members came and went. The current Big Wreck is only you and Brian from the original lineup. What is it about the band thing for you?
We’d initially gone in the studio and we were going to call it Ian Thornley. I think it was Nick Raskulinecz that brought it up first: ‘You guys should call this Big Wreck.’ It didn’t really sit well with me, but as somebody put a Big Wreck sticker on the track sheet in the studio, and as I was listening to the music and I’d look up every now and then and see this BW sticker, it was ‘Yeah, it kind of fits in there so why not?’ It’s a name that people remember, and artistically it allows me a little more license to do the stuff I like to do and a good way to close the Thornley chapter for a bit.
Watch ‘Control’ Video
Did you reach out to Forrest and Dave?
Yeah, over the last couple of years I have, but it wasn’t really gonna work out because Dave’s all the way in LA. He was actually gonna do the Slash thing at first, and then with Forrest, just with schedules, it wouldn’t have worked.”
But they’re still doing music?
Dave is. Yeah. I don’t think Forrest is.
How did you reconnect with Brian?
I just called him up. He’s the one that I was I was closest with of the original guys in Big Wreck. We started the band out of our apartment. We were roommates in college and he married a Canadian girl and lives in the Sarnia [Ontario] area. So I knew that he was still here. I hadn’t talked to him in years and years. I just really felt like it was sore spot and I’ve grown up a little bit and figured it was time to offer up an olive branch. [When I did] it was picked up where we left off. And then Paulo couldn’t make a Thornley show because he was gonna be in Portugal and he was the one who suggested, ‘Why don’t you get Brian to fill in because you guys have been hanging out?’ Then the idea to do that tour of Big Wreck and Thornley music and from there, I was like, well I really like the sound of three guitars and the band was really starting to gel.
You’ve had a great year. Do you feel it?
Yeah, getting a No. 1 is a big deal [for the single ‘Albatross’]. I mean, it’s not a big big deal, but it’s a feather in my cap. It’s not like you get a boat or something, but you can’t get any higher. Through all of Big Wreck and Thornley I’ve never got one. So, yeah, it was really nice.
Whenever Slash is Toronto, he talks about you in interviews. How close did you come to being in Velvet Revolver?
I don’t know. I think the kicker was that I wouldn’t put down the guitar, right. It’s not who I am. They are all really great guys. They are way more down to earth than they need to be and Slash is such a sweet guy, really articulate and a genuine human being. It was cool to just to hang with them and jam and play. He’s really loud in rehearsal and I don’t want to sing, I just want to listen to him. There was a good musical connection that I could feel for sure and I think that Slash certainly could and I think all the boys could. Then this manager dude came out and he was like, ‘Ian would you like to try a couple of numbers maybe without the guitar?’ and I was like, ‘Mmm, no.’ It’s not my vibe. It’s like Scott Weiland, he’s great at being a frontman and grabbing the tambourine and dance for a little bit while Slash solos. I’m just not that guy.
So you have no regrets?
No, I just know that I would be horribly uncomfortable every night before I hit the stage. I’m just not that guy. I’ve always found myself more of a Keith than a Mick, if you will.
What’s the plan for next year. Do you have a tour booked for U.S.
Nothing’s booked yet. There ‘s nothing set in stone. The record’s coming out in February so we’ll see.
Big Wreck’s Albatross will hit U.S. stores on Feb. 19 via Zoe/Rounder Records. Fans can also download a free copy of the song at www.bigwreckmusic.com.