The 2018 Juno Award nominees for Rock Album of the Year Big Wreck are over the halfway point of a 35 date tour in celebration of the 20-year-anniversary of their chart-topping debut album In Loving Memory Of…
Big Wreck has back-to-back Vancouver dates (March 1 and 2) scheduled at the legendary Commodore Ballroom where lead guitarist and vocalist Ian Thornley hopes for a reprieve from the frozen tundra that Canada has offered up thus far on tour.
“Touring Canada in the winter sucks but the audiences have been fantastic. Diving into that old music has been fun, however, touring like this in the winter has been tiring and is always a bit trying.”
Touching on topics such as guitarist/vocalist Paulo Neta’s decision to leave the band ahead of 2017’s Grace Street Tour, he and his tech’s guitar setup for the tour, and the relationships he shares with bandmates Brian Doherty and Neta, as well as the late Chris Cornell, Vancouver Weekly speaks with Thornley on a rare day off from the grind.
The In Loving Memory Of… 20-year-anniversary tour
Featuring such memorable singles as “The Oaf (My Luck is Wasted)”, “That Song”, and “Blown Wide Open”, Big Wreck blasted onto the scene with their 1998 debut. Ian Thornley, and fellow former Berklee College of Music students Brian Doherty, Dave Henning and Forrest Williams made waves around the world with In Loving Memory Of… however, no country was more profoundly impacted by the four-piece than Thornley’s home, Canada. Now three-quarters of the way through the tour the singer admits that staying healthy is paramount when making the trek across his home and native land.
“Knock on wood; nobody has gotten sick yet, which makes it a little easier. The shows and audiences make it all worthwhile. Everybody has their own superstitious to beat the cold, drinking ginger which is less than pleasant but seems to help, as well as putting three pairs of socks on.”
Thornley has built up a reputation of owning a considerable guitar collection, many of which he and his tech Shane “Sugar Bear” bring on the road with the band.
“Shaner is very busy, and that is the way that he likes it. I do not know how many guitars I have with me on tour, nothing ridiculous. The first record has so many drastically different tunings on it; we need to bring more (guitars) than usual.”
Thornley maintains that it is the guitar’s preference to stick to its tuning, and not his desire to show off his toys that has Sugar Bear care for so many axes while on tour.
“Guitars like to settle into whatever tuning they are in, and you can intonate them to that tuning. Touring with several guitars becomes a necessity in music; it is not a boastful kind of thing, even though it might appear that way it is more about function.”
The cold Canadian winters pose a whole other problem for anyone dealing with tuning the six-stringed instrument.
“Depending on where Shaner (Sugar Bear) has his guitar world if it is near a door that gets opened by say the opening band while loading out and a nice stiff, cold breeze moves in it will impact things. It was 30 or 40 below in Saskatoon, ridiculously cold. I am playing Suhr guitars for the most part which are not temperamental at all; they are incredibly well made and consistent.”
Previously, Sugar Bear had three guitar-wielding musicians on the road with him, something that changed just before the band’s last tour in 2017.
“There is just the four of us again, Paulo (Neta) left before the Grace Street Tour.”
The band is not looking for a replacement to Neta, as Thornley admits that things change by having just two guitar players, but not necessarily for the worse.
“I don’t think that there is any lack of information coming off of the stage. The initial reaction when Paulo left was, ‘oh man; this is going to be different’. It went right back to how we used to do it, like riding a bike. I have been in a four-piece for longer than I was in a five-piece. You become familiar with that sound and that feel, it is a little rawer, and you have a bit more wiggle room. You don’t have to stick to the script quite as much in a four-piece because there are fewer things that can fall apart, fewer noises going on.”
Despite Big Wreck disbanding in 2002, Thornley and fellow co-founder, Brian Doherty remained like brothers, the same can be said about Thornley’s relationship with Paulo Neta after Neta chose to excuse himself from the project. “It was nice having Paulo. The guy can sing incredibly well, and our voices sound great together. Paulo is such an outstanding guitar player and is a great guy to have around. Paulo and I are still friends; I had dinner with him not long ago.”
As for rekindling his friendship with Doherty after some time apart, Thornley suggests that getting back together was easier being that there was no blow-out between the two remaining original members of Big Wreck.
“If I did have a conflict at that time it certainly was not with Brian. It is just a matter of maturity. We are like brothers; I have known Brian for over half of my life, and I love the guy, it is a pleasure to share the stage with him. The time off was never a personal thing. Brian got married and was living four hours away, I got married and we just sort of drifted apart.”
The death of Chris Cornell and the stigma of mental health issues
Thornley has been referred to in the media as Canada’s Chris Cornell, an unfair comparison being that there is only one Cornell and only one Ian Thornley. However, Cornell’s death impacted music and reignited the conversation surrounding mental health.
“If the stigma of mental health has not been completely lifted already by now it is being lifted; it certainly should be. I met him once or twice, and he seemed like a pretty healthy and together guy, but I guess you never really know, right? It is a terrible loss, but I would say more for his family and his kids (than for music). Some dear friends of mine were impacted greatly by Chris’ death because it did come as a surprise.”
As for the broader issue associated with mental health disorders, Thornley admits that drugs and medications have never been in his wheelhouse and he cautions people to consider what they put in their bodies, legal or otherwise.
“Some of these antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can affect you in really weird ways. You see the ads for pills to get you to quit smoking that has side effects like suicidal thoughts or tendencies. I don’t think that you ever know what you are getting into with some of these medications. It is not my thing. I would be careful with any of that stuff, any of sort of medication that helps you to tune out and make you numb is scary, man.”
Thornley and Big Wreck play The Commodore Ballroom March 1 and 2, a venue that he and the band have become accustomed to playing. “It is always fun, and we always have a good time at The Commodore, it has a great crowd and is a good sounding room. When asked if he can remember playing any other stage in Vancouver Thornley takes a second to ponder it and laughs. “No, we did the PNE one year and it started raining, I remember that. It is usually two nights at The Commodore, and we can’t wait to see you (all there).”