Big Wreck crashing Vanier Hall

It must be Thanksgiving.

One of Canada's best rock bands of the 1990s is back with undiminished force - it turns out they never stopped at all, even if they were sometimes out of public view - and they are talking about cooking up their latest music using a turkey baster.

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Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that inspire debate over which country did it first - the sharing and fellowship of the harvest time with Aboriginal and Europeans dining together on the the bounty - and this band has inspired the same kind of debate. Are they American? Are they Canadian? It was a mix, in personnel and in geography. Whatever the irrelevant answer, it was Big Wreck and everyone got the same banquet.

Big Wreck was riding high on radio waves and TV videos in the mid-1990s. The Oaf, That Song, Blown Wide Open... the hits bulleted across the rock postmodern era.

Yet they did not soar to inconceivable heights of celebrity. They had the good looks, they had the hot reputations, and they did not stumble in their material or personal behaviour. They just seemed to choose to remain rooted people, in it for the alchemy of music not the cocktail of record company accounting and self-emulative posing.

After two albums, they pulled the plug.

Lead singer-guitar player Ian Thornley went home to Toronto and did session work for Nickelback, Sarah Harmer and Stephen Fearing to name a varied few. He started a band project called Thornley and put out another two albums, he did solo work, he did acoustic work, he was busy.

Guitar player Brian Doherty moved to Camlachie near Sarnia and formed the band Death Of Eight and got involved in teaching music and collaborating with others. He, too, was busy.

Thornley and Doherty started playing together again, slowly at first, then bigger shows, and finally came the 2010 Grey Cup Festival where they just shrugged and accepted the way things were. The band Thornley and the band Big Wreck were united under the old name, and they let the public know. Since then they've pumped out three albums, each one paced a couple of years apart, and they are happily touring. They feel fresh, they have compelling new material to mingle with the prior stuff, and Prince George gets paid a visit on Tuesday.

"Maybe its a blessing in disguise but I've never had a real worldwide smash, so I've never had to feel like I should repeat myself," Thornley told The Citizen.

"I've always been able to move on to whatever I thought sounded neat or sounded cool to me. I've never had that problem of 'well, that's what they want from me so I'd better rewrite that one.' And I've always sort of believed that if we really believed in the music enough to record it - and trust me, there's always a lot more that gets left on the cutting room floor - then it's gotta be good. There's always going to be songs that pass the test for us, and that's our sound: us, performing it. Those are our hands and throats and feet making those noises, so that's our sound. As opposed to 'it has to be this many beats per minute, it has to be in this key, and it has to be this subject matter (to mimick past success).' It will sound like Big Wreck if it's us playing it."

For Thornley, his belief is audiences will follow where a musician leads if the music is accessible but authentic. The musician has to believe in the goodness of both people and the composition. If you genuinely like them both, you're going to have some good times together.

"We're not playing the Enormo-Dome but we're carving out a career, and we're doing music that we want to do," said Thornley. "And when a new record comes out, the real fans know what they're going to get even if they don't know what they're going to get. Even if there's a surprise, they know to stick with it and it will bear fruit. They know it's not fast-food. We're not phoning it in. That's not some badge of honour to wear on our sleeves. That's just because we love doing it. The rewards are much greater when (the band themselves) think man, that sounds great, as opposed to 'that sounds perfect,' like it was made.by.a.com.pu.ter."

Thornley is taking voice lessons these days, for the first time, and his affiliation with the Suhr guitar company gets him access to incredible guitar players to share knowledge with.

He had always considered himself a guitar player primarily, who happened to sing as a means to the final outcome.

Doherty has made higher musical learning part of his profession, helping prep students for university and Royal Conservatory requirements.

Thornley and Doherty were both trained at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where they and the other three founding members of Big Wreck all met. Both of them consider the secret to a long career to be constantly learning and looking at their music as a craft people will pay for, not an income stream that needs fluffing.

The proof is dotted all over the download charts and award nominees lists. Big Wreck's three most recent albums have all supplied hit singles and robust album sales. The new material is no shadow of past work.

"I've never really gone through the writer's block thing, where you're in a drought and searching for something and nothing's coming out," Thornley said. "There was always just so much to do that if something wasn't coming easily I could move on to something else, and if something's not there, turn the metronome on and just practice. It's all part of the work."

He found a like-minded creative partner in superstar record producer Garth Richardson. When they got together to build this latest Big Wreck album entitled Grace Street, they inspired each other to unusual lengths. At one point, Richardson arranged for Thornley to play guitar on the side of a wilderness mountainside to capture the natural echoes and reverberations. At another point, they created splendid notes by stroking wine glasses filled to differing heights with water to attain different notes.

"I'm sure we could have gone on the web and just looked up 'crystal wineglass note,' download that, pitch them to whatever key, slap some delay on them, and we'd have the same effect more or less, but it would be much less, in my opinion," said Thornley, who called the whole process something akin to "an organic Brian Eno" referencing the cutting edge British music producer famous for his sonic invention.

"We didn't tune it with auto-tune, we tuned it with a turkey baster because that's how we adjusted the water in each glass," said Thornley. "I'll take a turkey baster over auto-tune any day."

Let us give thanks and share this bounty.

Big Wreck performs at Vanier Hall on Tuesday night along with special guest opener Jesse Roper. Tickets are on sale now online at the TicketsNorth website or at the TicketsNorth box office at CN Centre.

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