Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Make Believe - East Coast vs West Coast

Since the Canadian iTunes (only) single has been well received by the fans, is moving up the Canadian charts and only a few have noticed the alternate version, perhaps this is a small audience debate. East Coast vs West Coast. I think though, the different versions have opened the door for a larger conversation on Ian's music.

Who is Ian Thornley? How do YOU appreciate his talent? Is he a Nu-metal screamer, chugging the chunkiest riffs and emoting with full throated roar? Is he a rootsy, clever folk guy twinkling the dobro and the mandolin? Is he an inventive but mostly traditional blues PLAYER? Is he a MODERN songwriter that can write hooks for mainstream R&B (Jully Black - Until I Stay) or World music, like Sting or Bono (Provide)? OR is he a Classic Rock re-constructionist like The Black Crowes, the latest Raconteurs, the last few Foos and so many others of late (Good Son, Might Be The End)? Or is he an old time crooner from the 40's and 50's, Ray Charles and beyond (Barely Be, All I Need - He's got a hold of something very different with these gems that seem to be of bygone eras. The vocal harmonies in "My Heart Is" is another example of Ian's fluency with old techniques.)? OR is he a straight ahead modern pop-song guru (Brit POP, That Song)? Is he a hired gun guitar slinger (Rosie, Hurricane) or witty front man (Thornley)? The wonderful problem is that Ian is all of those things.

In some ways it's a decades old debate, had by music fans, managers and record execs since pop music became a high stakes game. How do we see the artist? How do we manage our expectations of their musical journey? Will we go along for the ride? Look at the Led Zep debate! Some are Zep I and II fans only, some are HARD lovers, others are EPIC lovers, others are hippy wanabees and dig the musical pilgrimage that Robert Plant has brought them on. The greats come in many flavors and the debates rage on.

The execs guard their investment like fisherman with a limited bait box in search of a killing as the public swarms like frenzied piranha to and fro. It's a funny and unpredictable mess, with the vast unprincipled internet which insatiably collects with an amoral self-destructive appetite. The record company delays, born of uncertain times, frustrates artist and audience alike. How is an artist to position himself? With whom do you align? What audience will support your venture most? How do you keep the base happy and still expand your vision? How do you bring along the rest. What IS your base? What about timing? Are you on the back end of a pop trend? Are you an innovator?

A lot to think about, especially when your goal is to make the audience FEEL something and look natural in the process. That's show biz.

I chalk up a lot of the recent Thornley history to indecisiveness and unanswered business questions. Ian has, as much as said so, of late. In the interview on Explore Music site, Part 2 of the video interview he did there, which was mysteriously removed from the vid portion, but is now up in audio on their 12/19 podcast, had to do with the record company struggle. The balance between leading and being lead.

"Will you surrender to the leading of someone, somehow?" - Undersold.

Ian makes reference to being easily influenced by a good pitch. Hence Come Again. A moment of compromise to a successful genre/market. A perfectly reasonable concession to business reality. It just didn't satisfy in the long haul. Too many crowded the market and there wasn't a noticeable enough separation between Thornley and the pack. The meal was hamburger and no matter the quality of the beef, those that like steak just won't partake enthusiastically. A slim portion of the hamburger market segment was won over but the more nuanced aficionados were left hungry. Ian does not follow modern music as a fan and therefore has no understanding on how to serve that market. Ian made fun of his weakness in one of the Explore segments. He is left to depend on those "in the know". He said that he had become highly suggestible. I assume that it's from years of market misses and big expectations of a cocky young man. Most of us uber-fans are incredulous at the un-mega-ness of Ian. After a while you get like Ian often says, "Oh Well".

In the past 4 years Ian has shared his sketchbook on stage and in the studio. We get to see how songs evolve; some to market, others to our private myspace stash. He said that the record company has finally acknowledged the need to showcase a few of his facets, at the urging of producer Nick Raskulinecz. He should be our new hero. He's got the clout and chops that Ian soooo needed thoughout his career. While Tiny Pictures will be an eclectic collection, Make Believe is certainly more from the market driven side, but it's not without it's Classic rock pedigree.

The day of Ian's Edge 102 appearance, I logged in and tried to setup and record it; to no avail. I only half-assed listened as they got to Ian introducing the new single Make Believe, while talking it up he stated that there was a couple versions. My ears perked up! Within seconds I was like, "Holy shit! This is a whole new song". New instruments, different arrangement. I was ecstatic. Since then I have listened to an edited-EQ'd version culled from the interview that a friend had provided. I've burned it to a CD to listen on the road and have played it a bunch more at home.

Sometimes I listen to music on the radio while driving and once in a while I'd switch back to the CD to play Make Believe as if it is the next song in the rotation, just to see if it fits. Once, while driving, Stairway to Heaven came on the radio so I switched back and forth between the live radio and the CD player. Except for the brightness of modern recording, stylistically they are built of the same musical vocabulary.

The Canadian single (heretofore known as the West Coast) is all glitter and polish. The CD version (East Coast) has little of the grit Ian relishes, but the EC (at least the low-er quality one that I've heard) has a much bigger, harder drum track. It has as much polish as the WC but the nuance is pure classic rock. There is a more standard rhythm guitar instead of the sitar-sound during "I got this film in my head" on the WC. The percussion/clipped cowbell after the first chorus is gone, replaced by piano? and banjo? The classic Leslie warble makes a subtle intro at this point also. "On to the next one, funny how time flies.." the music drops out with a long bass note for some needed space. This provides the expectation needed for the passionate "Ten Years Gone" style string bends into a soaring arpeggio which underline the next chorus. There's a ton of countermelody going on in the big guitar parts underneath as this builds. I can't wait for the hi-fi version in February!

The "As long as I play me, and as long as you play you.." rave up has a really nice "Mott the Hoople" / Alice Cooper "Billion Dollar Babies" era slide accent shifting under the lyric and the euro-siren two note pattern. All this keeps growing more powerful, anchored on a clear baseline, to the very "Foos" (thanks Nick) phased guitar run. The classic rock echoing wail, "credits roooolll!" that was/is in the live version replaces the trippy studio panning. I have mixed emotions on this because I love both the simple space and the full studio gimmickry. My only criticism is the very standard rat-tat-tat-tat drumroll that comes out of the post wail strumming. It needs to be jazzed up, IMHO. Insert grit/mistake/stutter here. More Bonham please.

This song will be best experienced in a big hall like this:

This early live version seems like a compromise between the EC and WC. I cannot hear the Pagian accents if they are present but the coda is more like the EC version. I hope it evolves some complexity as Ian plays it on the road. I'm sure it will, if only to keep it interesting for him.

The coda on the EC is sooo much better than the clipped ending of the WC. The pattern of rock classics like Stairway is to have the post musical orgasm afterglow as an outro. The radio debut on the Edge102 even has the dj "aahhing" appropriately at the end. Just the result desired by the classic rock audience.

About 3 minutes in:

In fact, Make Believe (EC) followed by Stairway, is a natural. The 12 string pattern flows from Make Believe outro to Stairway intro very smoothly. Try it yourself.

Ian has real winner here with both versions. If he can get the pigeon-hole fixated critic/writers to listen past the surface he can perhaps get some positive press. If not, it's up to us fanboy-soldiers to pump it up. I suspect that radio success, and public acceptance will follow this one. Make Believe is a hit for sure. It WILL have a life all it's own. Those that want to dig deeper will be amazed at the depth Ian possesses and those that want a just a simple rockstar will be satisfied too. Quite a coup.

I'm really looking forward to 2009 for Thornley. Mass success or not I do believe Ian will deliver some wonderful deep music. Listen up!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Okay, I've listened to the live version 50 times and now the studio version "recorded live in a car" another 50 times. I've read the lyrics posted on Thornleyfans. My pre-release judgement is ready to be rendered. With the promise from Ian of a return to headphone enjoyment, I have to say this single is as consummate a track as Ian has EVER recorded.

Tavis, Cale and Eric who do background vocals on the live version, add a bit of a different flavor "live" and it is different in a good way. I do not miss it in the studio version, but I look forward to the live because of it.

It seems, as well, that Ian will now be marketed as "himself'. As much as we like/enjoy his co-horts in all their combinations we must acknowledge that whether a flaw or strength, Ian captains his own ship to it's prevail or demise. A creative entrepreneur, that I'm sure frustrates/thrills his team. Giving credit to those around him, from Big Wreck, through multiple Thornley live lineups, each has added his own spice to push Ian. Business delays can and do kill the emotional momentum that a band, as a unit, thrive on. You can just practice, or "side project" so much before 'team" goes away. People gotta eat.

We've all been blessed to have over 30 songs in demo, live or with other artists that clue us to the seemingly bottomless pit of creativity that is Thornley; Any one of which, to us faithful, could be considered a hit. For whatever reasons, Providence has not permitted the "breakthrough", for Ian. And speaking of "Breakthrough", "Make Believe" is certainly a companion song.

As was mentioned by someone on the thornleyfans message board, "Man Overboard" is the little brother to "Lost at Sea". At least metaphorically or thematically. Thanks to a GREAT recording of this one-off show with the nascent Thornley, we get to enjoy the powerful vision which quotes Zep's "Kashmir" and his own "Blown Wide Open". He takes us from languidly afloat on a raft to standing defiant in a storm, both musically and lyrically, all the while clueing us to his artistic journey; solo career plusses and minuses. I just realized that this song deserves it's own write-up. Later.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at
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That ability to reveal ones journey while telling a story is one of Ian's strengths. Duh, I guess you don't create in a vacuum. Big Wreck's "Breakthrough" exposited on the frustration of awaiting that game changing moment of elation when an artist cracks the charts. Couched in a "relationship" song, it's really about "making it" in the music biz. The longing to hit it with the public. I'll never know how this song wasn't a hit? I get goose bumps EVERY time. (Myles Kennedy sings on this one too. What I wouldn't give to see them do this live...oh boy!) So many levels of listening on this one. Great riff, great drumming, keyboards, bass line, the calliope breakdown, and that rave up ending, WOW; a true pop masterpiece. PLEASE!

Forward to December 2008, on the verge of new Thornley studio polish. YEARS of non-breakthrough. YEARS of fans holding their breath and Ian barely being. Make Believe. Another intimate snapshot of life in Thornley's head. And another pop masterpiece.

So Far So Good, Thornley's first hit was a bit of a departure for what we had come to expect from Ian, judging by the high standards of Big Wreck. But in it he nodded toward the reality of the market. The nu-metal production and a vocal cadence, not evidenced previously, won him new fans. Just enough nuance kept the old guard happy but wanting more. After four years delay and squandered momentum, Ian could perhaps start fresh as a "new" thing. Much has been learned in the process, and one of those lessons is to keep the faithful happy; no matter what flavor they come in... new or old.

In Make Believe, the vocal cadence is entirely modern, but the music is "classic". The baseline is subtle yet percolates. The drumming is VERY tasty. According to Ian, Daniel Adair is on some tracks, perhaps this one. It leave space and DOES not sound like anything Nickleback.

We’re rolling down the highway
I’m rolling down my window
Then I stick my hand out and drive with it as it flows
If I started thinking, instead of looking back
You wouldn’t see me sinking, before they covered up the tracks

Your hand outside, in the wind of a moving vehicle, oscillates up and down, mirroring the music biz journey Ian has been on. UP and friggin' DOWN. Never stable. I give him credit for turning his struggle into his art. Don't think too much, just get to creatin'!

This is what it feels like, coming down
We’re all in the movie, can turn it off or shut it down
This is what it feels like, if that’s so
Then where is the director to tell us where the hell to go

What now? I've been locked into this machine, this movie, where I play this part, and the ending is inevitable but I don't know what it is. If it's so great to star in your own movie, how come this director is nowhere to be found. Where is the producer to give credence to my vision? I think he finally found it in Nick Raculinicz. The breadth of this song is evident even in this ultra-compressed youtube recording. I hear some sort of, dare I say, cowbell-ish percussion (or is it an artifact of the youtube recording - help!)

I’ve got this film in my head
They’ve scripted all that I’ve said
Let’s make it of real before we’re dead, because we’re
Close enough, we’re diamonds in the rough
Today’s the day we finally say can’t turn this movie off
And if we’re not, we might as well just blow this all to hell
It’s not a film or a fantasy we’re not just make believe

Going through the motions of life, the painful wait until the next dramatic scene, the wait is what kills ya. He talked about it in the interview that goes with this premier. People move on, go on to other things. It's not just this show biz entity; it's real people with real lives, that have to be sustained between the hits. Management needs to "LOOSE the Hounds!"

So this is what it feels like, running through my lines
I’m never need to ad lib; I find it’s just a waste of time
This is what it feels like, when the hero dies
On to the next one, funny how time flies

Going through the motions of presenting your "hero" (your single) that will rescue the album in the eyes of the soulless record company that just DOES NOT hear it. That feeling of not wanting to explain yourself, to sell the work further, beyond the obvious merit of the song itself. That's the ad lib that is tiring. Explaining yourself to the disinterested unexcitable gatekeeper: BOOOORing. Now it's YEARS of great heros dead to the world. Lost at Sea, Barely Be, Blind and on and on. Oh well.

Again we hit the power chorus that the market loves and Ian does so well. We are what we are! Diamonds in the rough! Just release the stuff. I wanna be done with it!

As long as I play me, and as long as you play you
God I love this scene, I gotta thank the cast and crew
Don’t let the credits roll, don’t let the credits roll

This is a nod to the fans, in my opinion. He is the me, and we are the you. In the end, it's about the fans accepting Ian's creations for what they are. As I've said before, Ian's sketches are cherished to me. I know most here feel this way. It's all at it's best when getting that direct appreciation from the fans with no annoying, but necessary, trappings between. Artist to fan. No execs, no journalists, no hype. It's only in tiny moments, that we never want to end, that we experience the "dreamy" mountaintop. People just aren't made to live on the mountantop. It's a precarious place. It's why we crave to be there. It's so rare. Like a dream we never want to end. Ian's music always meets his lyric. Hence the psychedelic harmonies that follow this section.

The music, specifically the baseline, is totally beatle-esque (Dear Prudence). The cascading vocal interplay I know will fill my head-phoned-head on December 12th. I only wish this part was twice as long. DAMN this market's short attention span.

Some of Ian's most impassioned singing (Vs Cornellian screaming previous) is on the outro. The progression is "Stairway to Heaven" but the details owe as much to XTC as much as Zep. It just makes me want to play it again; Just as all great pop songs strive to do.

Here is an XTC song that exemplifies the pop details that Ian calls up and Nick has rendered so nicely. This is a late 90's pop tune, from a band that took up the Beatles gauntlet like no other.

Greenman - XTC

MB is an unexpected pop twist from a guy who always thrills me. Having lived with all the faded, blurry shadows on the wall, that all the Myspace/youtube/message board postings have hinted at, I await the fullness of the new CD. Like Ian said in the interview, it's an eclectic mix. F'-categories! F-the box that you want to put him in.

"Release the Sounds!!!!"

Thank you Lord; it's gonna be a good year.