If Big Wreck vocalist-guitarist Ian Thornley had his way, the group’s recent tour of Canada would have never ended.
“I truly think that it was one of the best tours I have ever done,” he says from his Toronto home. “I don’t think I could attribute it to any one reason other than it seemed like we hit the ground running. Everybody was really focused and so from the first night of the tour in Edmonton until we wrapped up, it was just incredible, night after night. I wanted the tour go on forever.”
Thornley has more than just that tour to be excited about, however things weren’t always so smooth for the band, which will play Casino New Brunswick on New Year’s Eve with Matt Mays and Josh Royse.
Formed in Boston by Berklee School of Music students, Big Wreck struck gold right out of the gate. Bolstered by a trio of hits – “The Oaf,” “That Song” and “Blown Wide Open” – the group’s 1997 debut record In Loving Memory Of… was certified for sales of more than 200,000 copies in Canada.
Their sophomore release, 2001’s The Pleasure and the Greed suffered from a lacklustre marketing effort that saw the album stall on the charts. Big Wreck went their separate ways in 2002.
In the eight years that followed, Thornley formed a namesake group, eventually releasing two full-length albums under that moniker.
In 2010, the guitarist rekindled his friendship with former Big Wreck guitarist Brian Doherty. After Doherty joined Thornley as a substitute guitarist, the duo found their musical chemistry was as strong as ever.
Big Wreck was born again.
In 2012, the band released Albatross, their first album of new music in more than a decade. The record was warmly embraced by throngs of patient fans who pushed the album into a Top 5 debut on the Canadian album charts, higher than any of their previous work.
This past June, Big Wreck released their fourth full-length effort, Ghosts. While the album more than meets what fans have come to expect from the guitar-driven band, the record’s 13 tracks are given ample room to breathe and explore the textures that Thornley and crew have laid out before them.
“For the making of Ghosts, we deliberately stuck with the template that we used for Albatross,” Thornley says, noting that they even stuck with the same production team from their previous record. “Things were much more streamlined with Ghosts. Everything just ran a little smoother.”
Asked if the positive experience on their most-recent Canadian jaunt was the result of an increased confidence among band members, Thornley instead chalks it up to the chemistry they have found.
“Where the band is now, there is a real chemistry between everyone on stage and in the crew. Everyone has each other’s back each night because collectively, there is a high that we are chasing. It’s a feeling of truly being in the moment as though nothing else really matters at that moment.”
With four albums of music now jostling for position in the Big Wreck set list each night, Thornley says the group is in the unenviable position of cutting specific songs from their set each night.
While fans don’t have to worry about whether or not they will hear the “hits,” Thornley says that Big Wreck’s approach to the live show has always been a big picture view.
“It’s sometimes hard to choose a set list that will flow the way we want just because we have so much music to choose from, all of which stands to paint different colours,” he says. “You look at guys that have been at this a lot longer than we have been and they trot out hit after hit and play for three hours a night. We just aren’t in that position but find a common ground where we play stuff from the new record and mix it up with a bunch of fan favourites.
“Coming up with the perfect set list is always a matter of trial and error, however. As a band, we will try something new mid-way through a tour but end up going back to what we were originally doing. It’s always nice to have that nervousness and excitement playing something new to help keep everyone on their toes.”
This past October, Thornley brought his talents to a whole new audience: The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The hospital embarked on a fundraising campaign for a new creative arts and multimedia space, “Marnie’s Studio,” affording children the ability to harness the power of creativity to improve both physical and emotional health outcomes.
Like the wildly popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from this past summer, the initiative of The Hospital for Sick Children engages artists to donate their talent and time to the hospital and then subsequently nominate another artist to take up the challenge.
Thornley says that his session with Achahk, a 14 year-old lung transplant recipient, gave him a healthy dose of perspective:
“It was just wonderful, being in there around these kids that are eternal optimists,” Thornley says. “It was really inspiring to see their attitudes, a definite wake-up call for me. You’ve got these brave kids laughing and joking who are also undergoing treatment or needing to take medication every 15 minutes. Through everything they are living through and with, they still managed to be kids. Seeing that first-hand makes you grateful for just how good some of us have it.”
What: Big Wreck with Matt Mays and Josh Royse
When: Wednesday, Dec. 31, 9 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $69.99 (plus taxes and service charges) Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone at 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca