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An Interview with Ian Thornley

by Gail Worley

Big Wreck's lead singer, Ian Thornley, 25, looks like he came to our late afternoon interview straight from rolling out of bed. Nevertheless, despite the bed-head and sleepy eyes, he is undeniably handsome -- resembling a blond Chris Cornell. In a few hours, Big Wreck will take the stage at one of Manhattanís larger concert venues, in support of the Art Metal band Dream Theatre, with whom they've been on a country-wide tour.

The members of Big Wreck met while students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Their professional training is evident from the degree of top quality musicianship -- oozing with full-on passion -- present on their Atlantic Records debut, In Loving Memory Of... released in October of 1997. Thornley cites a few of his influences as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Psychedelia, the blues, and southern rock in a '70s progressive hard rock vein, that pretty much describes Big Wreck's sound. Add Thornley's deep, provocative voice and emotionally vulnerable lyrics and the package is nearly irresistible to anyone who loves real rock and roll. When asked how Big Wreck fit into the big picture of multi-faceted '90s rock, he tells it like this: "I look at it as a circle, and how many ways can you divide that circle into pieces. It's been done so much that the pieces are just getting smaller and smaller, but you can still fit in there somewhere and do your own thing, which is what I'd eventually like to do." Whether Thornley realizes it or not, Big Wreck are already doing their own thing, and doing it well.

This interview took place in the ladies' bathroom at Irving Plaza, where the acoustics were great.

Have you toured with other bands besides Dream Theatre, or is this your first tour?

Our first real tour, I guess. Where you're with the same band all over the country. We've done a lot of stuff on our own, always opening. As far as commercial success goes, money's good. Clothes and guitars are good. But at the same time, if we could just have a consistent following -- play places this size for the rest of our career -- I don't think there's anything wrong with that. You know, you're always going to be hungry for more.

You seem to be taking a very emotionally raw stance with a lot of your lyrics, and singing about the way you feel.

That's all you really can do.

But the thing that seems different about Big Wreck is maybe the level of sincerity. It doesn't feel like you're just singing something because it seems like the right words to say, you know. Like, girls like to hear this kind of thing.

You know, it's an interesting thing with song writing. [On] certain tunes, I think I'm writing about one thing -- and I don't usually talk about it -- but six or nine moths later I'll come back to it again and it's... about something totally different, that I didn't see [before]. That's another reason for not printing the lyrics. I don't want to ever have a relationship with a prospective audience where I'm the creator and you're the follower. I never would have that perspective. I'm just the guy who got lucky in certain situations and was able to be in the right place at the right time and spit the tune out. There's a lot of fucking songs out there that I wish I'd [written].

The songwriting on In Loving Memory Of... reminds me a bit of the second Stabbing Westward album, in that it seems to tell the story of an ill-fated relationship.

The majority of the album is actually written about one girl. Somebody who's still fucking me up.

When you wrote the song "That Song," which I guess is about the phenomena of relating a song to a situation, person, or experience... was that about a particular song?

It actually came from one particular moment where I came out of a supermarket... and it was the same thing of [thinking about] the same person... almost wanting to dwell on it. I was fine, [when I] walked out of the supermarket. [Then] a car goes whizzing by playing this tune... I only caught about three or four notes of it, and it brought me back and triggered something where I was like 'Fuck!' -- you know what I mean? -- for about three days. Then you really get into it and you're really down on yourself and you really want to fucking wallow in it, so you go and put on that song... and it doesn't work. You're mind starts to wander, it just doesn't work.

It's the same thing with, like, a photo. If there's a photo of you and that person... you're getting ready to do something, you're late, putting your clothes on, and you just sort of glance at it on the way out of the room. You pick up the photo and you stare at it and nothing really happens, know what I mean? There is no particular song...

What's "Look What I Found" about?

That's another one of those [songs about the music business]. It's like everybody rips everybody else off, musically. I mean, I can't fucking believe some of the shit [out there]. How many Eddie Vedder guys are there going to be [imitates Eddie Vedder's signature growl]. Fuck! It enrages me. They're everywhere.

So, is that what you mean by "Look what I found?" Like, someone to imitate, borrow from, and make money off of?

Yeah. I think, if there are any songs [of ours] on the album that you can compare to other bands, that's one of them. I think it sounds like a Soundgarden song. I don't think we're really a Soundgarden band... We're just soaking in the same things that they are. As far as the vocals, I just looked around within the past year and a half and said 'well, who's cool?' Or 'who's good' and who should I try and emulate. It was just like Robert Plant, [Chris] Cornell, Jeff Buckley, and all of these guys who are just really good and sort of untouchable.

It's interesting that you used the word "untouchable."

I mean, the Eddie Vedder thing isn't untouchable.

I think the days of untouchability are over.

I think that it's coming back around. I'm more than positive that, in the forum we're going into, being a modern rock thing, there's nobody out there who can do -- musically -- what we do. There's no guitar player who can play what I play. There's no guitar player who can play what Brian (Doherty, lead guitarist) plays and the same with [the other guys in the band]. The live show is really where that comes out. The untouchability that I see -- that I want to eventually have -- is going to come from hours and hours of working and trying to squeeze the last drop out of it, which nobody does. If you keep working and working something else is going to come out of it.

It's like there's a big pile of music, rock and roll music, where does it start -- know what I mean -- and where does it go? During the '60s and '70s, during the big heyday of really trying to stretch it out and experiment, you have guys looking down in the pile; searching way down there, digging around and pulling shit out that was really cool. "When the Levee Breaks," that's an old blues tune, and that's cool. Where did that come from? Where is the guy who did that first? You know what I mean? People these days, they don't do that. They're taking off the top of the pile because it's easy... and I get really offended. Anyone can do that schtick, but no one can actually do what Eddie Vedder does.

We've been working our asses off. I've been working so hard at music since I was fucking four or five years old, and look where we are... and look where these people are. If I ruled the world, I'd want to go straight to the top right now, and then just pull out a sword and slay everybody, and just make a lot of room for good people and good musicians to come in. I think that's happening now. We've been at this a long time and we've worked really fucking hard. I just hate hearing about these bands that get slapped together and get respected and you see them on trade magazines like Guitar Player. And you think 'this guy's not really a guitar player.'

But isn't the kind of fame those bands experience rather fleeting?

Well, yes and no...

Aren't they viewed as being "This Years' Model"?

I hope so. I sort of look at it that way too. It all comes out in the wash.

Big Wreck's video for the first single, "The Oaf," can be seen on MTV.