Plants and AnimalsJust a few weeks after the release of Waltzed in from the Rumbling, we caught up with Plants and Animals in between concerts, somewhere on the American Eastern seaboard. The trio’s new album, their first after a four-year hiatus, sees the Montréalers take a new, more subtle, pop-rock direction full of captivating grooves. Theirs is a serene and calm musical road – the antithesis of their current road trip.

Life on the road isn’t always a cakewalk. As Nicolas Basque tells us from his cellphone, lost somewhere on the highway, yesterday was quite hellish. “One of our vans has a lot of problems and we had to stop several times,” he says. “We got to the hotel at four in the morning and had to cancel our show. This morning we had to rent a new one so we could get to our next concert.” The trio, currently touring with a backing singer, a bass player and a sound man, should probably also take a car mechanic along with them. “Well, actually,” says Basque, “it’s our drummer [Matthew Woodley] who kinda is, because he’s always the one that goes to the garage. We joke around that all of us should take a course in auto mechanics.”

It’s a long and winding road, but “the reward comes every night when we go on stage”, says the singer and guitarist. Especially after four years away from said stage, but that was a well-considered choice. After the tour backing their third album, The End of That (2012), “we needed a break, and it just happened. We also all had kids during that hiatus. Today we’ve found our stride again. It sure won’t be four years until our next album.”

“The trick was to find a way to combine our desire to be more exploratory with our compositions, while creating songs that can be played live.” – Nicolas Basque of Plants and Animals

While some fans were wondering if Plants and Animals had decided to close up shop, Basque and his acolytes were actually reflecting on their careers, which began in 2003 with their eponymous debut EP. “We really thought about what we wanted to accomplish with our songs,” he says. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we want to work in the studio? How do we give ourselves the time to explore?’ The trick was to find a way to combine our desire to be more exploratory with our compositions, while creating songs that can be played live.”

Plants and Animals have found that balance on Waltzed in from the Rumbling, a gorgeous, meticulous album in which they re-discover their love for folk songs, first evident on their debut album Parc Avenue (short-listed for the 2008 Polaris Prize) – while doing away with that album’s psychedelic flourishes and replacing them with stripped-down grooves.

“All we’re trying to do is create music that expresses who we are today,” Basque explains. It’s a carefully crafted album in the sense that each song has a twist to it, but without showing off or being theatrical; a reflection of musical maturity. “Now, we try to transition emotionally rather than using tempo or structural changes, the kinds of things that impress people,” says Basque. The album includes subtle string arrangements, as well as two backing vocalists (Katie Moore and Adèle Trottier-Rivard) who bring a new feminine touch to the repertoire.

The songs – including the lyrics, written by singer and guitarist Warren Spicer – were written on the fly, in the studio, and have that classic rock je ne sais quoi reminiscent of the warm, rallying sound of 10cc or Blood, Sweat & Tears of yesteryear. But not really that of Radiohead, which several music journalists and critics have evoked.

“We don’t really know what that comparison is all about,” says Basque, a little surprised. “Honestly, it’s the first time this comparison has been made. We’ve often been told that we sound like our influences, but nobody has ever been able to name a single one! That said, we take it with a grain of salt. Radiohead is such a major band, that has influenced a whole era of rock. I guess, in the end, everybody ends up being compared to them. I can understand a certain resemblance on certain songs, but overall, not really. But at the end of the day, if you’re going to be compared to a band, might as well be that one, no?”