Volume 92, Issue 73

Friday, February 5, 1999


The Concrete Beat

Rock 'n' roll ain't dead, just needs a Big Wreck

Local artists tread methodical path to fame

Week's up, end is near

Jen McLaren joins the Nettwerk

Space shuttle and Nimoy land at IMAX theatre

Pakistani, Korean cultures raise awareness

A symbol of greatness

Underground Sound

Celebrity sightings

Rock 'n' roll ain't dead, just needs a Big Wreck

©Photo by Margaret Malandruccolo

HEY GUYS, I CAN'T PINCH A LOAF WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING. Big Wreck should make a big mess at the Wave tonight.

By Michael Murphy
Gazette Staff

Of late, various voices in pop music commentary have revived a familiar and time-tested mantra – that rock, like Elvis Presley and John Lennon, is dead.

Sure, they say, rock 'n' roll still accounts for more albums sold than any other single musical genre, but with hip hop, rap, R&B and boy bands taking increasingly big bites out of the record sales pie, rock's market share has shriveled more than Keith Richards. So, is rock really a dead art?

Not according to Big Wreck, the Boston-based rock quartet who came into being in 1992 when four college music students – Ian Thornley, David Henning, Forrest Williams and Brian Doherty – decided dropping out would leave them more time for rockin' out. Most patriotic Canadian music fans will happily point out that Thornley, the band's charismatic frontman, hails from Toronto, Ontario.

The group's drummer Forrest Williams avows while rock may be slumping, it's far from extinct. "We think there's hope," Williams states. "There are good bands out there who just have to be heard. They're rare but they're out there and it's just a matter of getting people off the usual junk food music."

Big Wreck's first attempt at creating nutritious sonic sustenance for the music-consuming public took the form of In Loving Memory Of..., a 1997 Atlantic Records release. The album did quite well commercially, thanks in large part to the runaway success of "The Oaf," the hit single which worked its way onto prestigious U.S. top 10 charts and dominated MuchMusic's airwaves all summer.

"There's a bit of an insanity kind of thing which happened when we were big in the States," Williams relates. "It was just kinda weird, the way the industry all of a sudden becomes your best friend."

Williams and the band seem pleased with their first taste of big-time U.S. success but they obviously don't have any naive misconceptions about the recording industry. "It's a total game and you've just got to learn how to play it," he says cynically. "Basically, it's about being a politician."

Nor does Big Wreck appear awe-struck in the face of their own accomplishments. "We can deal with the fact that people think we're great, when we're not really that great," he jokes self-deprecatingly.

Williams does admit, though, the band's recent North American tour dates were enthusiastically received. When describing a typical Big Wreck live show, Williams is clear. "It's a wall of sound. It's very loud and very aggressive."

As for the group's musical philosophy, Williams stresses the importance of accessibility and broad appeal. "You have to make it speak to someone else," he states. "You can't just sit down and be a geek. If you're gonna be successful, you've gotta write in a way that speaks to the average person. A good writer, I think, is someone who does that and throws in his knowledge of music.

"We've always been open to doing whatever we want to do in our music," he continues. "It comes out as rock but there's a lot of other things we throw in there. On the new album we should have more diverse sounds going on than the last one, which was fairly straightforward rock."

So what is Williams' take on the falling fortunes of rock and good music in general? "It's like anything," he professes. "If people are told it's good, after a while, somehow people buy it. I don't know why. I don't like Wonderbread, but somehow they sell tons of it."

Music critics will likely never settle the rock 'n' roll debate, but if rock really does need resuscitating, the guys from Big Wreck seem more than willing to give it a little mouth to mouth.

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