“I could tell it was going to be killer before we even got into the room and jammed.”
And killer it was, as the three musicians, Ian Fletcher Thornley, Dave McMillan, and Glenn Milchem, delivered musical magic in an explosive cocktail of guitar, bass, and drums onstage at Mavericks Friday night. The generous set list was comprised of nearly every track from Ian Fletcher Thornley’s first solo album, Secrets (Anthem Records/Warner Music Canada), released Oct. 30th this year. The album steps away from the bigger, wonderfully bombastic sounds of his earlier work with Big Wreck and Thornley, and delves deeper into the more elemental essence of guitar/bass/drums, with the help of his long-time bassist, Dave McMillan, and Blue Rodeo drummer, Glenn Milchem.
“I had never worked with Milchem before. Our manager, Andy Curran, suggested him and my friend, Colin Cripps (Blue Rodeo), also raved about his drumming. So we ended up meeting and talked about a vision of what we wanted to do and he just seemed right there every step of the way. I could tell it was going to be killer before we even got into the room and jammed. And that’s all it really took to seal the deal for me. The three of us got into this little recording space and started running through some of this material, and it was “ooh – this feels great!”…there was definitely something there. ”
For 12 days at a secluded cottage in northern Ontario, the three worked on a myriad of free-flowing ideas and experimentation with an array of stringed and percussive instruments in a mixture of acoustic and electric textures. The sessions were brought out with incredible colours of ambience, and amplified purity by renowned producer, Mark Howard, who also joined the band on tour to mix the shows live.
“At this cottage, we lived and breathed music for 12 days…that’s where we made and mixed the record. It was more about capturing the performance and the moment – it sounds that much more authentic to me. And with someone that’s got a track record like Mark’s, it’s easier for me to trust that he knows what he’s talking about. During mixing, I always like to comb through everything, but this was more mix-as-you-go. It was more about the big picture as opposed to the individual piece. Once we’d scratched out a rough arrangement, we’d play it through a few times to see what felt best, then just rolled tape. It was usually the first or second time through that sounded best.”
The show began with the intoxicatingly exotic tones of “Fool”, in a seamless blend of instruments and a hypnotic potency which was present in varying degrees on every song. “Elouise” burst in hugeness with every throng of the guitar and bass, and with every glorious snap of the drums, which were mixed to perfection.
Thornley’s voice was in excellent form, with his signature long sustains and impressive high reaching notes, flavoured with just the right amount of effect to further enhance the music’s lushness. This was especially prevalent in “Frozen Pond”, which was also thick with a crisp blend of percussion and highlighted with a great guitar solo while the drone of a looped riff maintained itself throughout the song. Thornley switched to an acoustic for the album’s single, “Secrets”, a lively piece with its light chugging pace and bright melody. “Feel”, my favourite track on the album, was alive with its beautiful swells of textures and intensities. Milchem’s use of percussive sounds and strong drum syncopations were mesmerizing, while McMillan’s booming bass progressions acted as the heartbeat throughout all the material.
By this time it was evident Thornley fans were already familiar with the new material. The crowd got a unique opportunity to experience the music, transported from the studio to the stage at the hands of the album’s producer, Mark Howard. I couldn’t help but watch him from time to time, engaged in constant motion over the board as he tweaked dials and changed settings with precise timing. For him, each song was already a well-travelled road and I felt I was truly witnessing a master at his craft.
“Blown Wide Open”, a classic from Big Wreck’s debut 1997 album, In Loving Memory, was rearranged and added to the new album. Inserted at the end of the set, all three instruments erupted to their fullest extent as the song climbed with an almost psychedelic intensity and the ethereal tones of Thornley’s voice echoed over it all.
“I’d been doing a version of that song along those lines for a couple of years now. We reworked it and cut an acoustic version of it a few years ago with Colin Cripps and I really dug it. In the background there were these atmospheric trippy guitars. Then I wanted to hear more of those guitars and no acoustics. But it ended up the three of us just jamming that one out and Mark adding all the trippy stuff.”
A few surprises in the set came with not only an onstage marriage proposal earlier in the evening, but also with a couple of Big Wreck pieces like the powerful, “Albatross” (Albatross – 2012), and one saved for the encore, “Under The Lighthouse” (In Loving Memory Of – 1997). The encore also included the band’s ripping rendition of Led Zep’s, “Gallows Pole”, complete with a guitar solo that reached into insane levels and revved up the already excited crowd.
Ian Fletcher Thornley’s, Share Your Secrets tour continues throughout Ontario until mid December. More dates have been added in March 2016 across the rest of Canada. For more info, visit ianfletcherthornley.com.