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broken social scene
article by allan harrison.

Editor's Note: No, we haven't adopted a new "shorter features" format -- this interview simply ran shorter than most.

It's a grey, scuzzy Sabbath afternoon in the centre of Manchester. Single mums, students and sacked Fall session men amble lazily around the city square, tickled by the light autumn drizzle. Kids on skateboards leap off benches. Statues of Lord Peel seem to be glaring ominously at the phone-company billboards and shopping complexes. Really, all human life is here, albeit in bleached-out, rainy form. Today, my head is pounding, eyes sagging from lack of sleep. I've spent the night on hard concrete in the bitter aftermath of a drunken, violent house party, and after such a bitter end to a bad night, I badly need uplifting, I badly need an injection of humanity -- but then, Broken Social Scene are playing tonight. The upwards-of-fourteen-members-strong collective (though merely six-strong on European soil) is in Manchester to polish off their UK tour.

Toronto's Broken Social Scene are the band responsible for what is arguably one of the most extraordinary pop records of recent memory, You Forgot It In People. Naysayers may well be bored to tears at the mere mention of their name, but to the converted (and more than likely, the uninitiated), theirs is a music that sounds fresh, vital, and somehow universal.

I'm due to meet BSS frontman-of-sorts Kevin Drew at the venue, Manchester's swanky Night And Day Café. The bar's decor suggests a cross between a library and a chin-stroking coffee house, and proudly has a reputation as a meeting place for local rock stars and trendy beards. Taking a seat, I spot a dictaphone-clutching chainsmoker (presumably a music journalist) perched on one of the venue's plush sofas -- and sure enough, before long, BSS guitarist Brendan Canning soon emerges to greet him. My headache seems to grow ever more unbearable, and isn't appeased any by the coffee-table lounge jazz (and Badly Drawn Boy) that oozes from the bar's sound system.

Not long after this, Kevin Drew appears, looking every bit as knackered, whey-faced, and conspicuously "Sunday afternoon"-looking as I am. He's affable and warm, but there's a halting cadence to his speech that suggests either tour-fuelled exhaustion or the mother of all hangovers. He takes one glance into my sleep-shodden, hung-over, cold dead eyes, and I take a glance into his, and as if by magic, some intuitive, unspoken understanding is reached...

· · · · · · ·

Splendid: So you're the founder of Broken Social Scene?

Kevin Drew: Myself and Brendan (Canning) sort of are, because we had made a record together, and Brendan had been in many successful bands in Toronto. I put out a couple of records with Charles Spearin from Do Say Make Think called KC Accidental, but Charlie's currently not with us because he's on a DSMT tour throughout the UK and Europe right now. Charles and I got together because DSMT went on the road about three or four years ago, and I'd just moved into a new house... I had a beautiful basement and they needed to put their gear somewhere. I knew of Brendan at that time, but I eventually got to know him and he came over...we started recording and it just sort of fell into place. We made a very quiet little album, very mellow. It was just the two of us to start with, but Charles and Ohad (Benchetrit) came back and mixed it. and we had a lot of guests on it. We sort of collided -- half my friends with some of Brendan's friends -- and just formed this big band.

Splendid: But why the personnel expansion from two to sixteen?

Kevin Drew: Well, fourteen, twelve, whatever. We put the first record out and we got asked to do some shows, so we asked Justin Peroff to play drums for us. We'd do these jam nights, just hang out, get high and play for people. We have a lot of musician friends and that's how it came together, so for about a year we were just screwing around with our friends in Stars, Metric, Raising The Fawn, whatever. It started to become known that we'd always said it was our last show, because some of the people we were playing with live in London, some in Montreal, some had moved to LA, so we didn't really know if we were going to be able to get this group of people together. We decided that we didn't want to play anything off this little ambient record we had, so we just sort of started accumulating all of these songs. For a year, we played around, had this little ambient record, and this band became a band, then we decided we had to go ahead and record it. There's five solid members who give up their life for it -- Jason Collett, Andrew Whiteman, Justin Peroff, Brendan Canning, and myself -- but then, Charles Spearin and Evan Cranley have a real major part to play, too. Also, Leslie Feist, Amy Molan, Emily Haines who sing on the record -- they all have a major part of it. It just depends where we are -- like, if we go out on tour with Stars, we have everyone from Stars, and if we go out on tour with Metric, we suddenly have our friends James and Emily, who played on the record. Now that we're in Europe, we're just a five-piece rock band along with our friend Leslie Feist.

Splendid: That's quite an elaborate, collaborative set-up.

Kevin Drew: It is, but a pop-oriented one. We've kind of opened up these doorwells of singing actual songs, you know, coming from an instrumental background and deciding to write some four-minute-thirty songs as opposed to ten-minute-thirty songs.

AUDIO: Almost Crimes (Radio Kills Remix)

Splendid: How was that transition?

Kevin Drew: Well, I sing... so going from not singing to suddenly singing your guts out, that was a huge moment for me. You know, music...there's so much of it, it's almost embarrassing to be in a band these days. It's almost embarrassing to be white and be in a band these days, and I just felt that we did have something to add. Nothing different, but maybe because it's such a collective and there's so many opinions, and the whole band is based upon tolerance, patience and...what do you call it when you meet in the middle?

Splendid: Compromise?

Kevin Drew: That's it. I always seem to forget that word in interviews. I dunno, maybe I'm through compromising... (laughs) Where was I?

Splendid: Tolerance, patience and...?

Kevin Drew: Right, compromise. There's a lot of human beings involved, lots of families. I don't know, I feel like we have an edge-up because everybody was through wanting it, they were just doing it now. We have a lot of guys in this band who have been there, done that, so it's a nice vibe when you don't so much want it, you're just doing it.

Splendid: One of the things a lot of people seem to like about You Forgot It In People is that really unique sound you've concocted -- sort of intimate, yet massive. How did that work out?

Kevin Drew: A lot of it's based around one-takes, and a lot of it's made up on the spot. We had this crazy producer, David Newfeld, who really made this record his own. We were never into giving up any of that style, since we were all producers in our own right.

Splendid: How did you meet up with David Newfeld?

Kevin Drew: He was doing this "pet song" compilation, asking bands to come in to his studio and sing songs about pets. We had this budget for five days in one studio, but for the same amount we could have gone to David's for two weeks. So we thought "Yeah! It sounds good, he's got great gear!". Then, seven months later, we re-appeared with an album. It was definitely one of the most beautiful, difficult processes, but that's usually how it is when it comes to sound.

AUDIO: I'm Still Your Fag

Splendid: So how long did it take to make?

Kevin Drew: About three months over a seven-month period. The record was actually done in April, but then in June we went back in and recorded a couple more songs, and just gave ourselves a few more options because it was starting to sound like a compilation album. We weren't sure how that was going to go over, but we knew we had to do it because that's what we came up with.

Splendid: Was there any music that seemed to bleed into what you were doing with this record?

Kevin Drew: I think everyone's influence comes through. I mean, for me, I spent a lot of time with Dinosaur Jr., Jeff Buckley and Tortoise. Those were the three bands that I was obsessed with. So many people love so many different things... Brendan is a major DJ in Toronto, while Jason's got the Bob Seger influence to the My Bloody Valentine to the Manu Chao to the Dirty Three to straight-up pop songs. It was fun to do that, because we're big Sonic Youth fans, big Ennio Morricone...we're big fans of everything. The most music I listen to is reggae, that's all I really listen to. Not that you can tell from listening to the record, right?

Splendid: Well, I hear a weird kind of a dub pulse going on in a couple of the songs..."Looks Just Like The Sun", for example.

Kevin Drew: Yeah, it's there. Our producer would say to us in the middle of a song, "Oh, you've got to make it like this", and then he'd reference a song off Hair (laughs). We'd all be like "What the hell...?" (laughs). It made it original for me, it wasn't just referencing some Stereolab song or whatever. We honestly gave it what we could, and some guy in Chicago said that we were one of the biggest rip-off bands he'd found, and I just thought that, well, if you're going to get down to stating bands as rip-off bands, then no-one should make any more music. "Original" and "different" are for the pompous ones -- there's nothing original or different out there. It's just different takes, different opinions, different words, different lips. All the chords, all the songs have been written thousands and thousands of times. It's just presentation now.

You know, Allan? We're here, we're tired...we've been on the road for a month, on and off for eight months now. I don't know how a lot of these bands do it -- going on the road for a year, in and out of buses, on and off airplanes. You know, I'm ma- (hiccup) I'm married, and some of the members of this band have kids. We're forced to keep it sort of human and not overdo it, because that's just the lives that we're living. This is supposed to add to it, not take over it. We've come to the UK, we're signed to a major label, and it's different all of a sudden. There's a lot of expectations, but relaxed expectations. None the same; you still have to read the shitty magazines and maybe come to terms with the fact that you're going to have to be involved with those pieces-of-shit mags that really have nothing to do with music, though that's all they claim that they're about. We're not ones to stare at our feet, we're not ones to say "fuck you" a lot, but you have to be careful about where you're going to put your passion.

Splendid: So how's the UK tour been so far?

Kevin Drew: The cities have been good, but the counties have been terrible. I don't know why we're playing places like Peterborough or Stoke-on-Trent -- playing for ten kids who, like, won a prize or something. "Hey, come to my house!" Yeah, okay...we travelled really fucking far for this! It's not that the places are bad; it's that if you're going to play those places, then you might as well be known, because then maybe you'll get 80 people instead of 20. We just played Glasgow last night, and that was fucking amazing. I'm gonna go back there as much as I can now, because the people there, they wanted it. I don't want to go to places where people are, like, "Sell me on it!". I don't have time to sell you on it, man, I'd much rather be doing something else. It's up to you, it's not up to me, you know? But, there's a mentality where that has to be the way. I just think that we've lived long enough where people have said "It's like this, it's like this", and it doesn't have to be any way except the way you want it to be, as long as you're being rational about it. Some people are into paying their dues, and I'm just into playing music. We're not following a quota, we're just going to go where people want it.

AUDIO: Looks Just Like The Sun

Splendid: It seems like in the States you have a massive following, whereas in the UK you're only just starting to break through...

Kevin Drew: Well, in Toronto, we had so many people behind us. That fucking city supported us, it made us get to where we are today, because we kept doing all these shows. People just kept coming to see us. They came out! We had so many friends do us favors, people who have zines, who work the weeklies...every single person supported us, so we left Toronto with a huge support system. Then we went to New York and we built it up there, and we got a big support system in New York, then the West Coast... They all just got into it. I don't think that the UK won't get into it, but it's gonna take time. We can't come and expect it. We've got to work for it. That's what we're doing, that's why we're here. You were in Leicester the other day?

Splendid: Yeah, I was dancing down front.

Kevin Drew: Oh right, you were doing the handclaps? Ah, you should have said...that was you? (he laughs) I remember that -- see, that was a great show, we got to get off stage and hang out with people. That's what this band is about, you know? We love human beings, we're into people. That's what the record's about...you forgot it in people. Currently in this time, with all of the stuff that's going on in the States and the UK, it's a crazy, fucked-up, apathetic, confusing, fearful time, and our record is prominently based on that. We want to bring some of the blood back into people's fucking lives.

Splendid: Amen.

· · · · · · ·

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE LINKS

We never ran a You Forgot It In People review because Arts & Crafts' PR firm never sent us a copy. We're still a little sore about that.

Here, however, is Allan's review of the BSS show in Leicester, UK.

Arts & Crafts, Broken Social Scene's label.

As long as you're reading stuff, here's a review of the Manchester gig that followed this interview.

Buy Broken Social Scene stuff at Insound.


· · · · · · ·

Allan Harrison has been selling quality furniture -- for less! -- for more than 50 years.

[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - george zahora | photos - courtesy of arts & crafts :: credits graphics ]

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