Before the release & tour of his new solo album, You Gots 2 Chill, Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene & more talked with QRO. In the conversation, Canning discussed Chill (both the record & the tour), creature comforts vs. paying your dues, returning to New York’s Mercury Lounge, BSS’s recent performance of their seminal You Forgot It In People, other projects like his revived pre-BSS band Cookie Duster & soundtracking the upcoming Lindsay Lohan film, The Canyons (including how to soundtrack a foursome scene), where all the best instrumental titles come from, his “fair weather dog” Sandy, and more…
QRO: How did You Gots 2 Chill come about?
Brendan Canning: Well, aside from a couple songs I had record Ohad Benchetrit (Do Make Say Think, Broken Social Scene), it was my friend, Steve Singh, who I recorded the record with. He just said, “Hey, why don’t you just come over? You know, I got lots of good gear at my studio…”
He initiated it, and I have a lot of acoustic guitar licks, and he knew that, so I that was it, you know? It started out summer of 2011, just sort of assembling acoustic guitar riffs, trying to flesh them out.
QRO: At what point did you decide, “This is going to be a solo Brendan Canning record”?
BC: I don’t like to make too much about anything, you know? ‘This is what it’s going to be’ – I like working on music, and then whatever it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be.
At least, with this instance, whenever someone would say, “Oh, I hear you’re working on your new record with Steve…” I’d sorta say, “We’re just working on some songs…” Like, let’s call it a ‘record’ if it’s finished. Let’s not talk about it in such a, ‘Hey, I’m working on my record’ kind of thing. It’s an ‘outdated concept’ for me for a minute, there…
QRO: It’s all tracks now…
BC: I do buy records, I still like that way, but just for this particular…
QRO: Have you ever gone into some recording thing and it didn’t work out, it didn’t become a record?
BC: There’s been a bunch of songs – I think that’s just kind of the nature of the beast. I think you do a recording project, ‘Oh, we finished it, but we really didn’t…’
I think, with Social Scene, I was working on some Cookie Duster stuff – this other recording thing that I do – I definitely have a bunch of recording tracks with that, that I haven’t released over the years because a lot of it was gonna happen, and then Social Scene took off. And then I just didn’t really have any time or ability to go out and release something and promote it; my focus was on Social Scene.
But generally, I think, anything I work on these days, if I’m gonna work on something, then I’m gonna release it. I wouldn’t throw myself into a scenario where the chips are stacked against me.
QRO: What were the tracks that you said you had made earlier, with Benchetrit?
BC: “Post Fahey” and “Makes You Motor”.
QRO: Who else participated on Chill, other than you and Steve, and Benchetrit?
BC: A woman named Daniela Gesundheit (Snowblind) – killer singer. And my old next-door neighbor, a really amazing violinist, Edwyn Huizinga. Another local singer in Toronto, Justin Rutledge, did some singing on one track. A lap steel, pedal steel player, this guy Kevin Neal.
Just a whole bunch of people who’ve never played on Social Scene records, basically.
QRO: But now you’re going to be touring Chill – who is in the live band?
BC: It’s gonna be Steve Again, a guy named Greg Calderone – he actually starred in This Movie Is Broken, in case you missed that ‘blockbuster’… A woman named Natasha Pasternak is gonna do some vocals, and probably some other stuff. And a drummer named Jay Anderson. All good players, all people that I like as individuals. It’s gonna be a cool band.
I wanted to go it as a five-piece. I just can’t think of it in any other terms.
QRO: Have you played any Chill songs live in front of an audience yet?
BC: No [laughs]
I gotta get into the rehearsal space, quick…
I did a radio session, back in Canada. I played a couple tunes. But, no – this is gonna be a brand-new experience for me & anyone else in the room. It’s kind of exciting.
QRO: Did you ever tour Cookie Duster’s When Flying Was Easy (QRO review)?
BC: No. Just did a couple local gigs. I had sorta warned everyone in advance – since that was coming hot off the heels of basically eight years of writing, recording, touring with Broken Social Scene; I wasn’t in any way, shape, or form ready to like, ‘Here’s the new band – now I’m gonna go out and tour, and put all my energies into making this happen…’
I had that album finished, but I maybe didn’t have the best strategy to get it heard to a large audience.
With my name particularly on this record, I can’t go half-way on it. I gotta go play shows, and I gotta develop the sound of the band. You gotta go and sell your wares.
QRO: It has been a while since you’ve done a tour – are you itching to get back on the road, or do you not want to leave the comforts home?
BC: [laughs] I do like the comforts of home… I like certain aspects of touring.
I think it’ll all just depend on how the shows go. If the shows are fun, then being on tour will seem like a really fun thing to do. And rewarding. It’s really gonna come down to, ‘Are people into this? Are people willing to come out and support me?’ Are they feeling the vibe of this record, or the vibe – ‘cause it’s not so much this record; it’s the vibe I wanna bring to a stage.
I think it’s gonna be cool – but what can I say? It’s my record. [laughs] I gotta be the one saying it’s gonna be good – but it will be good. Whether that means the touring side of it will be fun, who knows? We’ll find out in the fall.
I’m very curious, at the very least, curious to see how it goes.
QRO: When you tour, are you just gonna do songs from Chill, or are you also gonna do something else?
BC: No, I want it to be songs from the record, and then I want it to be a couple songs from my previous solo effort, the ‘Broken Social Scene Presents’ (Something For All of Us… – QRO review) – but I gotta bunch of new songs, too. I wanna do it all.
I wanna have it be a real show. And I know, maybe, ‘Oh, you don’t wanna play too many brand new songs,’ but I feel the band I’m assembling, it’s gonna be cool no matter what we do.
QRO: For this tour, you will be playing smaller places than with Broken Social Scene – are you looking forward to the intimacy, or fearing the smaller backstages?
BC: [laughs] There are certain ‘creature comforts’ I definitely got used to, touring with Social Scene, because we did well, and when you do well, people sort of take care of you nicely.
What can I say? I have to have an honest beginning with this record. I can’t assume, in any way, that I’m releasing record, and not about to hit the fifteen hundred soft-seaters. I gotta pay my dues…
But, like I said, if the vibe is right, I think it’ll be really fun.
QRO: When you come to New York, you’ll be at Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review) – same place you did the Something show back in 2008…
BC: Yeah. I like Mercury Lounge. A good little room. And it’s nice that it has a front bar that you can close the door on.
QRO: Yes – especially this album. There’s definitely quieter stuff on it…
BC: I won’t be so jazzed if there’s just a lot of people chatting in the back.
But at the same time, it’s gonna have the ability to rock out. In its own way.
Tour dates for You Gots 2 Chill
9/27-28/13 – Montreal, PQ, Canada – Casa Del Popolo
10/23/13 – Allston, MA – Great Scott
10/24/13 – New York, NY – Mercury Lounge
10/25/13 – Philadelphia, PA – World Café Live (Upstairs)
QRO: Do you worry that Chill is going to be compared to Something, as they’re both say ‘Brendan Canning’ on them, yet were made very differently? One was ‘Broken Social Scene Presents’, the other solo, five years difference…
BC: That’s the thing – a lot has happened in the time from that record to this record, so they should sound different.
QRO: On Something, I had asked you where the title to instrumental “All the Best Wooden Toys Come From Germany” came from…
BC: Oh yeah…
QRO: This time, where did the title to “New Zealand Tap Dancing Finals” come from? Do all the best instrumental titles come from other countries?…
BC: [laughs] I don’t know why…
At least “All the Best Wooden Toys Come From Germany” was my buddy, over at my house, talking about toys he bought for his kids, and he just spat that line out, “Well, all the best wooden toys come from Germany…”
With “New Zealand Tap Dancing Finals”, just like, ‘Ahh… this song just needs a cute title.’ There’s no fun story, other than I’d been watching – there’s this little, minute-long cartoon, Beached Az, a New Zealand cartoon. Pretty fucking hilarious – it’s probably the funniest thing I’ve seen all year, actually. If you like New Zealand humor…
QRO: How come, after Forgiveness Rock Record (QRO review) came out, Broken Social Scene never played live anything from the two ‘Presents’ records, Something For All of Us… or [Kevin Drew’s] Spirit If… (QRO review)?
BC: I don’t know. Yeah, we kinda neglected those songs. Maybe we had the, occasionally we’d play, “Love Is New” or “Frightening Lives”. But they just kinda didn’t make the set, after a while. We just have so many songs.
I think we did play “Frightening Lives” enough. Maybe. I can’t even remember – I’d have to look it up, see what we were playing off of Forgiveness Rock…
QRO: Did you want You Gots 2 Chill to be more removed from BSS – no ‘Presents’, not even on [longtime BSS label] Arts & Crafts?
BC: It’s less to do with Social Scene than anything that I’ve been doing, because basically Social Scene is what I’m gonna be most known for, for a long time.
But yeah, it’s its own thing. It’s very much ‘me’.
And I’m just as capable of running a record label out of my house; Arts & Crafts are running a label out of their office. It’s just like, get a few good people on board, try putting a good band together, and see if people want to support your music. It’s a pretty simple process.
Whether you gain public acceptance is the real missing element – do you have it, or do you not?
QRO: Did you realize that, alphabetically, after You Forgot It In People is… You Gots 2 Chill?
BC: [laughs] Well, that worked out well… [laughs]
QRO: Speaking of which, how was doing You Forgot It In People at Arts & Crafts Field Trip (QRO recap) earlier this summer?
BC: Oh, it was great. It was exactly what it needed to be. The band who started it, basically, delivering – we just delivered a very no-nonsense, powerful, rock ‘n’ roll concert. And we did You Forgot It In People from top-to-bottom, and then did some oldies & moldies…
It was great. The festival was reeeeeally well run. We sold close to nine thousand tickets. Doing a ‘reunion’ type thing, it really couldn’t have gone any better. Right from coming down to New York and playing on Jimmy Fallon (QRO Indie on Late Night TV). It was nice – super-nice.
BC: Oh, right – ‘cause Jimmy [Shaw] from Metric (QRO live review), was coming up from that festival. He made it to the Fort York concert, basically we were about to do this song, “Jimmy and the Photocall”, which is written about Jimmy, and literally – he couldn’t have timed it any better. He just showed up on stage. And he had written the horn line in the song, so it was very fitting. So that was cool.
It was kind of moments – everything just worked out perfectly.
QRO: How was making the soundtrack for the film, The Canyons?
BC: That’s a long answer…
QRO: How did it compare with making ‘regular’ records?
BC: That movie, in particular, versus any other film I’ve worked on… That was one of the more confusing efforts, just because it was sort of – I think the hysteria of Lindsay Lohan kinda seeped into the production. And it was done on a very shoe-string budget.
At the end of the day, I’m very happy with the music that I made for the film. Do I think the film’s amazing? That’s not for me to say. I’m too… I have no objectivity about it. But I think what we did for the film was really good.
And it’s something very different from the record I’m releasing now. But I love working on all different types of music. I would get bored if all I was doing was You Gots 2 Chill, 24/7…
Like, I’m in Los Angeles producing a garage-rock/pop band called The Dead Ships. So I get to do that. When I get back home, I’m gonna be working on this David Cronenberg-inspired film, doing music for that. Playing with my good friend, my violinist friend, doing a concert for that. I like to stay busy, working on music, and I don’t like it to be just one thing.
I think that’s probably the hardest thing about being in a band – living that script, that sort of scripted life. Even though, when you get to Social Scene’s level, it’s really rewarding, too. You’re walking out on stage, and people are cheering for your songs. There are trade-offs. I’m just happy to still be making music, and people give a shit.
QRO: How do you make music for sex scenes?…
BC: [laughs] I don’t know. That was funny…
The foursome scene, I gotta say, was pretty killer in that movie. If for no other reason than the foursome scene, I would say that’s worth… That one in particular was kinda spooky, dub-y track, because it’s supposed to be this uncomfortable sex scene.
Because James Dean, the porn star in it, Lindsay Lohan, they hook up with couples, so she makes the dude– they’re having a foursome, and so the dude, she’s like, “Go down on him, go down on him!” And he doesn’t like the fact that a guy’s giving him a blow job…
So that was a fun scene to score. ‘Okay, now it’s crazy music – blow job scene…’
Whatever – looking at bodies on a screen, trying to make it make sense.
QRO: When I mentioned doing this interview with other people, they all wanted to know when there is going to be more from Broken Social Scene…
BC: It’s tough to say… [laughs]
We’re sitting on a lot of music, a lot of music we’ve recorded, but there’s been no talk of, ‘Hey, let’s go write another record.’
I think we’re still so glad that that last – we basically did a week run: we did rehearsals, go down & play Jimmy Fallon, come back up, play the festival. It was so over-and-done with, so quickly & painlessly – I think we all just really enjoyed that, and want to savor that feeling. As opposed to all the times on tour where you get mad at each other, and you’re fuckin’ cursing the band you play in…
You know – familiarity sadly breeds contempt. Some people are better at dealing with being in a band. It’s hard, you know – play tricks on you…
Broken Social Scene playing “Almost Crimes” live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:
QRO: Finally, how is your dog? Was he there for the making of You Gots 2 Chill?
BC: Oh, little Sandy. He’s good.
He had a choking episode recently – with Chihuahuas, they have small tracheas. Sometimes these choking episodes can leave you feeling very helpless. ‘Oh God, I just want to do something for the poor little guy, he can’t communicate…’
I like having animals around. They’re usually more fun to talk to than a lot of humans…
QRO: Was your dog there for the making of You Gots 2 Chill?
BC: No. My friend’s studio, he’s got a couple of dogs.
Sandy, he’d come for a couple. He likes certain sessions – he likes the Social Scene jams; he loves everyone in Social Scene. He doesn’t vibe with Steve Singh.
But maybe he will in the future. I think he’s very prone to success. He likes the fact that Social Scene was successful. I think, innately, he somehow knows that, ‘Yeah, this is the band that’s bringing in the nice dog food…’
‘You’re making a solo record, I don’t know – you haven’t proved yourself yet. I don’t know if I’m into this guy – let’s see how the record sells…’ He’s that kind of ‘fair weather dog’; he’s not like a ‘super nice guy’…