By Danielle Reicherter
In a label obsessed time, bands often classify their music using self-appointed genres that sound like terrible band names in themselves (Crabcore, Tron-pop, Crunk, Really?) to stand out from everyone else within a sub-subculture. So what adjective-laden description does lead singer of Plants and Animals, Warren Spicer assign to his music? “We call ourselves a rock band and don’t have to worry about it,” he declares, on the phone from Canada.
Those are strong conforming words considering Plants and Animals appeal to hipsters, hippies, and even hip-hop star Danger Mouse, who invited Plants and Animals to play a gig with Gnarls Barkley after hearing their 2008 album, Parc Avenue. Aside from the uber-cred they got after impressing Danger Mouse, that album was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in 2008, an annual music award given to the best full-length Canadian album of the year. (In prior years, the prize committee would release a compilation featuring each of the short-listed artists; this was the first year that didn’t happen, though fans got a free iTunes gift card with each purchase of a short list album.) The group did score a hit, however, a year later when they won the Juno award for Best New Band.
Unlike some other rock bands, Plants and Animals rejected the traditional four-person lineup while also disproving the stereotype that all modern Canadian acts have at least six members. Like School House Rock claims, three is the magic number (the other two-thirds being drummer Matthew Woodley and multi-instrumentalist Nicolas Basque). Friends since college, the trio decided to use bass guitar when recording but thought adding a permanent bass player would never work. “There’s something about three people that makes it easier to navigate… [It] forces us to make music in a certain way,” Spicer says.
Here’s the point where we would describe Plants and Animals’ sound, perhaps comparing them to another group. The only problem is, we fear making the same mistake as other music writers before us and adding yet another name to a list of bands Spicer didn’t intend as an influence. “You Google us and see we’re being compared to twenty or thirty other bands,” he says. “All of a sudden you don’t have a reference point so you have to listen to the music and figure it out yourself.”
Still, listening to Plants and Animals may reminisce your ear toward a familiar fuzz. That’s cause the band records everything straight to tape. Their website plays this fact up, describing how “raw and recent the songs sound,” due to their technology-of-yesteryear. They also describe their act as a creature of evolution from the start – “as their name suggests.” Though intended to be an instrumental band, by the time Parc Avenue was released, it turned out their style was better ado with Warren’s keen vocals. Good thing, too.
Their new album, La La Land (released on 4/20, something Spicer mentions was not on purpose but admits is funny) moves those reference points even further away, proving a musical versatility most sophomore releases lack. Partially recorded in an old Parisian mansion, the title is appropriately fantastical, taking listeners from the couch-jumpingly upbeat ‘Tom Cruz’ to the island jammy ‘Kon Tiki,’ ending on echoey retrofest ‘Jeans Jeans Jeans.’
Ultimately, the first single chosen was “The Mama Papa,” whose film noir style video recently won the weekly Freshman video contest, ensuring Plants and Animals rotation on MTVU. Fans may recognize the actor playing the magician in the narrative-driven video as friend of the band Joe Cobden, who also starred as a man obsessed with a certain deli staple in a series of promotional vignettes for La La Land. “The pickle thing… We had varying ideas and I had written the one where [Joe] is dancing around and the pickles come out of the speaker, I don’t know why. So we said, ‘Why not have pickles in all of them?’ then it’ll have a theme yet be totally random,” Spicer says with a laugh.
And like a Darwinian creature of evolution, it’s often the randomness of life that brings about change (or something like that.) So it shouldn’t come as a shock that their name, too, was totally random, if not for its spiritual implications. “We thought up the name about eight years ago,” says Spicer. “Even then it wasn’t named to be aligned with nature-loving people. We just liked it. I do like camping though, that’s where the spirits are. In the woods. They’re not downtown.”