Ian Thornley (pictured with his guitar collection) and Big Wreck are playing Cranbrook Tuesday

Ian Thornley (pictured with his guitar collection) and Big Wreck are playing Cranbrook Tuesday

Big Wreck returns to rock Cranbrook

Ian Thornley talks about Big Wreck’s new album, the songwriting process and life on the road ahead of their Cranbrook concert Jan. 31

Ferdy Belland

“It was great,” says guitarist-vocalist Ian Thornley of recording Big Wreck’s latest album ‘Grace Street’ with producer Garth Richardson. “It was fun and inspiring. It was a very personal record for me to make. There was a lot of different stuff flying around, emotionally, and Garth connected with that. As much of a great producer and engineer that he is, he also became a great friend. He and I have gone done similar paths in life, and he knew exactly what I was going through and what I was writing about.”

Big Wreck perform in Cranbrook at the Key City Theatre on Tuesday, Jan. 31, as they tour Canada and the U.S. Sharing the stage are Hamilton’s Ascot Royals.

“It was wonderful to make that record,” says Thornley. “And of course Garth’s extremely talented —his pedigree and his past production work speaks for itself. It was a great experience making ‘Grace Street,’ and one I will always look back upon fondly.”

“It was a collaborative effort between the two of us,” says Thornley. “Garth’s wealth of knowledge is immense. If your imagination’s in the right place when you’re going into the studio, there’s really no right or wrong to how you record your songs, as long as your ideas are flying around all the time. They’re going to land somewhere, and they certainly did with so many of Garth’s wonderful ideas. They added the right texture and the right color at the right time.

“All of this helped elevate the record to a higher level.”

Ian Thornley formed Big Wreck from several fellow music students at the Berklee Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1993. They quickly built a strong live following, due in no small part to the Thornley’s charisma on the mic and his explosive guitar virtuosity. Over two years of non-stop roadwork caught the attention of Atlantic Records, who released Big Wreck’s debut album “In Loving Memory Of…” in 1997. The album sold more than 2,000,000 copies across Canada and the U.S. and remains Big Wreck’s biggest seller to date.

Despite such a promising launch, Big Wreck’s sophomore album “The Pleasure and the Greed” (2001) proved to be commercially disappointing, which is no reflection on the strength of the music. Thornley disbanded Big Wreck in 2002 and retreated home to Toronto. His musical fires kept simmering as an in-demand studio sideman before the ongoing desire to rock compelled him to form a new band — one bearing his surname.

Thornley’s debut album “Come Again” (2004) once again established Ian in the stadiums of North America. But internal strife with his new bandmates, as well as growing dissatisfaction with forced, non-organic songwriting, caused the Thornley band to skid to a halt. Out of the ashes, a re-inspired Ian recreated Big Wreck for a second strike at the rock-and-roll hammer.

Big Wreck officially reformed in 2011 and released their third album “Albatross” to critical acclaim. Fans old and new found Ian & Co. in fine live form, losing none of their powerful sonic magnetism. The band’s current lineup, aside from Thornley, consists of secondary guitarist Brian Doherty, drummer Chuck Keeping, and bassist Dave McMillan.

Thornley explains the lengthy and long-reaching work he and his bandmates invested in “Grace Street.”

“We recorded the basic instrumental tracks live off the floor at Noble Street. I think that took us nine or ten days. We moved over to the Orange Lounge, where we did most of the guitar stuff. We were there for just over two weeks. After that we flew out to the Farm on the Sunshine Coast, where Garth’s place is. That’s where we added more guitar, and keyboards, and all the vocals. We were out there for about three weeks. So all in, it took us just over a month’s work to create the album. An extremely positive experience, to say the least.”

There’s always a low-level pilot light burning in the back of Ian Thornley’s mind when it comes to creativity. He’s always playing guitar in his spare time and has collected a vast archive of demo-recordings, compiling random riffs, chord progressions, melodies, snippets, and even several dozen complete songs that haven’t yet seen the light of day on a Big Wreck album. All are grist for the rock and roll mill.

“I don’t know how to write a hit song,” says Thornley. “It’s not like: ‘well, THAT one has to go on there ’cause that’s a HUGE HIT!’ I don’t believe in that sort of language. You write songs that you love, and you write for the right reasons, and hopefully that’ll sustain you.

“Aiming for a hit? At least, for me, that’s sending a songwriter down the wrong path. Songwriting can be very difficult, but it’s even more rewarding. I’ve already reaped the benefits of this album. I’m done with the tune-smithing and the studio, and now I can just sit back and listen to it. I can let the songs get into me and wash over me.”

Big Wreck’s upcoming Key City Theatre concert marks their first Cranbrook performance in 16 years.

“My love for songwriting and my love for playing live are equal,” Thornley says. “It’s possible to get burned out in the claustrophobic confines of the average recording-studio environment. Even thought I might not physically feel it, and I might not consciously think that I am, I know it’s possible I could burn out in the studio. But I’ll just keep going. I’ll put in 18-hour days in the studio, no problem.

“Then again, the same could be said for the road. It’s a very difficult way of life. Certainly now that I have a young daughter and a life back in Toronto that I’ll miss terribly while I’m on tour. It’s tough! But you learn to roll with it through trial and error. It’s so rewarding if you do it right. Connecting with your audiences, show after show. And if you’re in love with music as I am, and have the opportunity every day to better yourself onstage, or be better than you were the night before, then that becomes a lifelong obsession.

“And you’ll never quite get it. You’ll never get to the core of it … if you did, then it would be over.”

The mighty Big Wreck (with special guests Ascot Royals) rock out once again in Cranbrook at the Key City Theatre on Tuesday January 31, (7:30 pm). For ticket information call 250-426-7006 or visit www.keycitytheatre.com.