“I don’t know if I’d call it an acoustic record; I certainly wouldn’t call it a rock record,” Ian Fletcher Thornley says.
The album in question is Secrets, his first solo endeavour—hence his middle name being mentioned in order to avoid confusion with his titular rock band, Thornley. The record is a project Thornley had considered doing for a couple of years now, but was reticent to follow through on.
“I think there’s very few artists that will hold my attention for an entire record with just a voice and an acoustic guitar—that’s a tough sell,” he says over the phone, taking a break from working on new music for his other band, Big Wreck. “For a song here or there it’s wonderful because it’s a nice break and a nice breather, and a change of speed or change of focus, but for a whole record I was like damn, I don’t think it would be right.”
That’s not to say Thornley is completely alone with an acoustic guitar on Secrets, though: he teamed up with Blue Rodeo drummer Glenn Milchem and Big Wreck bassist Dave McMillan, along with producer Mark Howard. The group spent 12 days recording at a cabin in Ontario, capturing takes live off the floor in order to construct an organic feel to the album—if you listen closely you can actually hear chairs moving, papers rustling or other elements of the environment coming through.
“It just sounds honest and real and raw, and it’s only a snapshot,” Thornley says, noting this album wasn’t about manipulating sounds or getting a perfect take. “This was about capturing a moment, capturing the interplay and capturing the musical conversation.”
Secrets may not be an acoustic album in the traditional sense, but it’s certainly a departure from the heavier arena-ready rock delivered by Thornley or Big Wreck—fans will recognize a reimagined version of “Blown Wide Open,” though. The songs are all highly personal for Thornley—”There was a pretty open wound of a relationship that was all sort of filtering through these songs,” he notes—and Secrets’ stripped-down melodies allow for the lyrics and vocals to remain at the forefront. There’s still an edge to many of the tracks, but the more personal nature of them can pose a new challenge for Thornley on stage.
“A lot of stuff is really close to the heart, and that can be a bit of a challenge vocally. You don’t want to put yourself at risk of choking,” he says with a soft laugh. “That does happen. … If you get too close to the subject matter while you’re performing it, then it can constrain the performance because you end of getting choked up a little bit. You’re walking a tightrope with that. You want to stay connected to it, but not so much that your throat doesn’t work.”
The more minimalist band set-up also allows for a different band dynamic in a live setting, Thornley explains. McMillan and Michem are joining him on his current run of tour dates, and Howard—who acts almost like a fourth member in the group—mixes the show live, adding loops and creating a textural atmosphere to the songs.
“It’s like riding a bike. Big Wreck was, for I would say a good year-and-a-half, we were a trio originally—before we signed a record deal and put out the first record,” he says of the new configuration. “But one of the challenges is certainly filling out all that space. So for instance, if I go from playing sort of lush changes of a verse and I want to go into a guitar solo while I’m singing, there’s a lot of sort of tap dancing that has to take place where I switch sounds while I’m singing, you know? All those things I sort of take for granted in Big Wreck because I have two other guitar players who are unbelievably great, and they’re sort of covering my ass when it comes to that.
“Everything’s a lot more off-the-cuff and a lot more raw,” he continues. “But you have to put yourself in the mindset that whatever happens, happens, and not try to control everything, which is kind of new for me because I like to have everything as perfect as possible. And that’s not how things are; that’s not how life is.”
Thu, Mar 10 (8 pm)
With Chris Caddell
Starlite Room, $25