Big Wreck Recovering From The Loss of Founding Guitarist

Big Wreck has announced its “but for the sun” tour 2019 in support of the bands’ latest album of the same name. The 2019 Canadian tour will hit 10 markets across the country including multiple dates in Southwestern Ontario, including Guelph Concert Theatre on Nov. 22, London Music Hall on Nov. 23, Hamilton’s FirstOntario Concert Hall on Dec. 4 and Imperial Theatre in Sarnia on Dec. 5.

The band was formed in Boston in the early 90’s. Their 1997 debut album, In Loving Memory, is certified double platinum in Canada and featured the chart topping singles “Blown Wide Open,” “That Song” and “The Oaf”. Since that time, vocalist Ian Thornley has fronted either Big Wreck or his solo band Thornley. He returned full-time and Big Wreck in 2010 and the band hasn’t stopped since.

In June, founding guitarist Brian Doherty of Sarnia passed away from complications arising from cancer. Despite the loss, the band released its latest album and is on tour.
We spoke with Ian ahead of the start of the tour to catch up on facing the loss of Brian and continuing on in his spirit.

I was listening to “but for the sun”. It sounds like a big ass return to loud as hell rock and roll. Is that what you were going for?
Yeah, that’s the sort of mission statement that we carved out for ourselves at the onset, for sure.

I think it has a bit of a ‘70s vibe at times where you know, when rock albums were masterworks. Where do you think this album fits in with the Big Wreck catalog?
I look at all of our albums as sort of unique and individual. Yeah, it’s hard for me to stand one up against the other. Right now it’s my favorite, but that’s probably just because it’s the most recent. But I love them all for different reasons. It’s kind of like your children. You don’t love one more than the other.

I love rock and roll and I love raw sort of riff based, a little bit more adrenaline. I love that kind of sound and it’s something that we’ve definitely done before. But on a personal level, I don’t think it was time to go there with the previous album. So Grace Street was a statement of where we were at that time, and I think But For The Sun was, I think musically it was the right time for us to go in that direction.
It’s not really a hard left or right, it’s in keeping with what we do. But yeah, it was just it felt like the right time to sort of turn things up a bit.

Well, you certainly let your influences shine on the 40th anniversary of Rush’s A Farewell to Kings last year. How did that come about, and is Rush one of your influences?
Ironically, no. It came about, we shared management and a label for several years there, and I’ve come to be friendly with Alex Lifeson just over the years of being in the sort of Toronto scene, and he’s a lovely guy. I’ve met Ged several times and he’s a lovely guy. I’ve never met Neil. I have infinite respect for what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, but musically it was never really my cup of tea. There are moments obviously that I think are beautiful, but on the whole, it was just … I don’t know, maybe it’s just when I was coming of age sort of musically where my tastes were sort of across the street from where they were, you know? But I mean, I can stay if it’s on the radio, I’m not changing the channel. It’s just it’s not something I ever really sunk my teeth into. But who knows, maybe I will sometime in the future. But of course being a Canadian kid, I heard all that stuff on the radio constantly.

On your new album – Voices is such a great opening track and it’s got that classic Big Wreck sound and it almost seems like a tip of the hat to Brian.
You know, the record was completed while he was still with us. And yeah, I think lyrically a lot of the references are just sort of subconsciously snuck in there. I listen to it now and I have a hard time with some of the lyrics because I’m like, “How would I have said that if I … ?” Because we were still of the mind that he was going to be fine. I don’t know, maybe it was just the idea of losing someone that close that I’ve known for that long. I don’t know. I tend not to edit myself too much if it feels natural and it’s from the heart and it says what I want to say. I tend not to look at it too closely. If there’s something that’s making me feel uncomfortable and I’m like, “Ew,” sometimes that’s the right thing and sometimes it’s not, but I tend to not look at it too closely.

I mean, it’s hard to say where this stuff comes from, and I’ve had discussions with other guys and I think maybe it’s just like it was in the back of my mind, like a what if kind of thing. I don’t know. But no, certainly the whole record ought to be a tribute to Brian, and I think every show that we play from here on out is a tribute to him.

It hasn’t been that long since we lost Brian. He was one of the originals. So, the loss must have hit you pretty hard both personally and musically.
Yeah, yeah, it did. Yeah, and it’s still felt on a daily basis and it’s still discussed, and there’s a lot of unspoken things that don’t need to be said on stage. It could just be a look from Dave or from Chuck, and it’s like you can just tell that he’s there in some way or fashion, even if it’s just in our thoughts. We have an expression for it because these last few months of shows, it’s just been a bit of a roller coaster emotionally getting through it. And the expression we’ve come up with is we’re getting Bri-slammed. If you’re at the mic and you’re concentrating and doing your thing, and all of a sudden he’ll pop into your head and it’s just like you just get choked up and thrown off course, that’s a Bri-slam.

And then Dave and I were talking about it, and I said, “On some level somewhere I know he’s chuckling whenever that happens.” I’m going for some really high note and all of a sudden my throat just seizes, and I’m sure he’s getting a chuckle out of it.

But it has been something that we’re trying to be as open as we can about and try to communicate as clearly and as often as we need to, because I think a tour like this could easily go sideways at any moment. And Chris Caddell, the addition of him I think has really helped, not only musically but personally. He’s got such an upbeat and positive energy, that I think that helps everybody keep their head above ground, you know?

Brian gave us a Big Wreck, 519 Southwestern Ontario connection. But on the plus side, you guys have some new energy with Chris Caddell. I hope I’m saying his name right. So, what does he bring to Big Wreck?
Well obviously he’s a completely different musician than Brian. I mean it’s a different energy than Brian. But I think as long as the chemistry works, and he’s obviously put in the time this summer while we were playing as a three piece, I had already tapped Chris for the tour. Once everything went down with Bri, it was like, okay well there was no one else that I would have asked. I’ve known Chris a long time, and he’s a great friend and also a great musician, a great player, and a great singer in his own right. Yeah, once that all went down and we sort of resurfaced, I tapped Chris.

He’s another local guy, he’s a Toronto guy, so we’d spend some time going through songs and going through parts and going through tunings, and he’s got a great ear. He picked it up quickly. But it’s a little bit different from what he does normally, because he’s usually more of a blues based thing. Not that we aren’t, it’s just a different focus with the Big Wreck stuff. I think once he really sunk his teeth into it, he’s just blossoming and every show is better than the last.

Yeah, musically it’s just different. It feels different. Of course we miss Bri terribly, but it’s not like it’s a completely different song book. It’s not like we’re playing different songs. Everything is being covered, it’s just in a slightly different way. Nobody has the hands of Brian, and conversely, nobody has the hands of Chris or myself. It’s just a matter of chemistry. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and luckily with Chris it works. It just works in a different way than it did with Brian, you know?

Was there ever a thought of continuing it as a three piece band?
Yeah. Yeah, we did that for the summer, and I did think about it because we started to get pretty good at covering a lot of the parts. We started to do different things sonically and arrangement wise I’m trying to cover two or three parts while I’m singing. It’s a challenge and I’m always up for a challenge, but there is just something about having two guitars. You can cover so much more ground musically. And especially with the kind of music that I like to record, I tend to put a lot of layers and counterpoint parts, and I love parts.

Sometimes you can get by just on the raw energy and the impact of the song itself, but I love hearing the fairy dust and the other bits that sort of adorn a song, you know? All the seasoning, if you will.

I mean, it feels great right now. I wouldn’t change it.

You wouldn’t change it?
I don’t think I’d want to go back to the three piece thing. I don’t know. Chris might have something else. He might have other plans. I don’t know.

Albatross brought you guys back after almost 10 years away. Was there still something left to say or do as Big Wreck that Thornley couldn’t do?
Oh, big time, yeah. It wasn’t just a changing of the band name, which is essentially all it was. But we had changed labels and our management, which was SRO, which also Anthem records is attached with SRO. SRO was our management, and then we just, once we got out of the 604 thing, we were able to go with Anthem. And then it just creatively, it was like, “Okay. Go in the studio and do what you do.” And it was like, “Oh God, thank you.” There’s nobody saying, “No, no, no, no, no, it has to be under three and a half minutes. No, no, no, no, no. No guitar solos, no big words, no chords with numbers in them.”

I felt like out of the cage. I was just sort of able to do whatever I wanted, and I think that shows in the music. I think that whatever that is, it did sort of hark back to the Big Wreck thing and I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the fact that Bri was back in the fold.

I mean, essentially we went in as Thornley, but we were a five piece Thornley, right? We went into the studio as Thornley, but it was somewhere during the first few weeks of tracking, it was either Nick Raskulinecz or Eric Ratz, one of the two said, “We should just call this a Big Wreck album. We’ve got a new label and a new this and a new that, and Brian’s back in. Let’s just call it Big Wreck.”

And both Brian and I were like, “No way, man. Forrest and Henning aren’t here, so it wouldn’t be right.” But then we sort of warmed to it. One of the guys put a sticker on the track sheet, put a Big Wreck sticker on the track sheet. It was like, all right. I mean, the music could fall into that, so why not? And then, everybody was behind it. Everybody was into it. We’ve accomplished far more on this side of it then we did previously. This is our fourth album, I think, since Albatross. Yeah. So I guess it was the right move, whoever suggested it.

You’ve had your ups and downs over the last 25 years with both Big Wreck and Thornley, but is there a defining moment that you treasure?
I have a lot of them that I treasure, of course. I wouldn’t be still doing this. I mean, it’s not easy. It’s not an easy way of life being on the road and living on a metal tube that never seems to find a smooth road. Yeah, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t. There are moments almost nightly that I treasure, and that’s sort of the goal and the reason why I do it, you know? It’s all part and parcel with striving to make everything better than it was the last show. And then of course, every once in awhile you realize that you can only control so much and then something really beautiful happens. I think those are the moments you really treasure.

You’re heading back here to Southwestern Ontario for a few gigs. I know you hit Guelph, Hamilton, London, and you’re returning to Sarnia. So, do you have any fond memories of the area?
Yeah, plenty. I have some friends there. And of course, you know when Brian was there, yeah, I have a lot of fond memories of the Sarnia area for sure. Whatever that big festival was that you guys had many, many years ago, Bayfest was it?

Yes, Bayfest.
We played one of those, and I made a couple of friends down there that they’re still friends of mine to this day. So yeah, and I’ve gone and stayed at their place. The water down there, down on the beach there, yeah I loved it down there for sure.