Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene : Q&A

<img src="https://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/brendancanninginterview.jpg" alt=" " />Between playing the smallest and biggest of stages, Broken Social Scene’s own Brendan Canning sat down to talk to QRO....

Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene : Q&ABetween playing the smallest and biggest of stages, Broken Social Scene’s own Brendan Canning sat down to talk to QRO. In the conversation, Canning discussed headlining Village Voice’s Siren Music Festival on Coney Island (QRO recap), their ‘warm-up gig’ at the much smaller Mercury Lounge, his new record, ‘Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning’s Something For All Of Us…’ (QRO review), self-leaking the record, the ever-changing nature & line-up of the Scene, their past, their future, winter, summer, new stuff vs. the classics, his dog, and much more… (including ellipses)

 

QRO: Was [the Mercury Lounge show] the first time you guys played Something For All Of Us… at a show?

BC: We had been playing “Love Is New” and “Churches Under the Stairs”, but the other ones, yeah, it was the first time.  If you gotta start, might as well start in New York.  It seemed as good a place as any.

QRO: You said you didn’t know all the songs yet…

BC: No, we got five of them, which is good.

QRO: Where did the idea of that one-off, ‘ticket + CD’, friends & industry show at come from?

BC: My manager?  I thought it was a good idea…

QRO: What was it like, going back to playing at such a small venue (QRO venue review) – especially considering there’s so many people in the big band?

BC: It was fine, another gig…

Brendan + Justin + Apostle of HustleIt was nice to do it in a club we were familiar with.  I played there with another band as well.

QRO: Did you & Justin [Peroff] know [Apostle of Hustle’s] “National Anthem of Nowhere” before you played it last night?

BC: Yeah, well, we used to play it in Broken Social Scene, and then it got recorded for [National Anthem of NowhereQRO review], and then Andrew [Whiteman, Apostle of Hustle] took it.

QRO: But it had been a while since you’d last played it…

BC: A couple years, yeah.  I didn’t quite get all the changes, but what the hell…


QRO: What was the recording process like for Something For All Of Us…?

BC: It was, you know, go into the studio, muck around for a few hours, try and come up with some ideas, come back the next day…

Spend the first couple of months mucking around, trying to come up with ideas, because we didn’t have anything written beforehand.  And then, once you have a bunch of ideas, you try to take the ideas to a finished level.

QRO: After making so many records, in so many different bands (Broken Social Scene, By Divine Right, Valley of Giants, hHead…), how was it making an officially ‘solo’ record, or at least one with your name in the title?

BC: Well I did a lot more singing, obviously, so I guess that was probably the most newest thing for me to discover.

And sort of really having the final say, as it being a ‘Brendan Canning record’.  It was liberating and frustrating at the same time.  You don’t have anyone to check in with, which can be great, but also sort of have its drawbacks, because sometimes you want to have more people to weigh in on certain ideas.

And sort of really having the final say, as it being a ‘Brendan Canning record’. It was liberating and frustrating at the same time. You don’t have anyone to check in with, which can be great, but also sort of have its drawbacks, because sometimes you want to have more people to weigh in on certain ideas.

QRO: Did you play more guitar and maybe less bass in this one, or when you’re going on tour, since you’re the frontman this time?

BC: Some of the bass lines that I play on the record, I just can’t sing and play them at the same time.  I don’t know how Sting or [Rush’s singer/bassist] Getty Lee do it…

Some guys can really separate their left and right brains.  Because it’s very mechanical operation, the moving of the fingers – it’s not just mechanical, ‘cause you gotta play with ‘feel’ – but it’s a motor motion; whereas to [also] try to sing and emote, that’s a different…

I gotta say, more power to those guys.

QRO: Did/do you feel any extra pressure with this record, considering your name was on it, as opposed to other Broken Social Scene records, or other records you’ve done?

BC: Yeah, I think you feel a little more like your own ‘personal’ reputation is at stake, whereas, if someone doesn’t like a band record, you can say, ‘Shit man, I did I think you feel a little more like your own ‘personal’ reputation is at stake, whereas, if someone doesn’t like a band record, you can say, ‘Shit man, I did my part…  The parts you don’t like, I probably wasn’t involved with…’

QRO: Where did the whole idea of the ‘Broken Social Scene Presents’ concept come from?

BC: Just gave Kevin [Drew] & I a chance to do more of our own thing, when we didn’t have another band, all the other band members.  Gave us a chance to step out on our own a little bit.

QRO: Did you two feel that your records would get more interest & attention if you included the ‘Broken Social Scene’ moniker?

BC: Because Broken Social Scene is involved in the album, they’re very much Broken Social Scene.  ‘Broken Social Scene Presents’ because it’s the band that’s playing behind the record.  And the fact that Kevin & I kind of started Broken Social Scene…

Just gave Kevin [Drew] & I a chance to do more of our own thing, when we didn’t have another band, all the other band members. Gave us a chance to step out on our own a little bit.

It’s an idea.  I don’t know if it was the ‘best’ idea, but we stuck with it – for a couple records, anyway…

QRO: Was it weird, switching from supporting Kevin during his record [Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew’s Spirit If…QRO review], to him supporting you for yours?

BC: No – we’ve been playing together for a long time.  Just another face of it, that’s all…

QRO: You wrote all the songs in the studio – there wasn’t anything you’d had around for a while?

BC: “Snowballs and Icicles” and “Take Care, Look Up”, those were two songs that I’d done a couple years prior in the studio.  And “Churches Under the Stairs”, that was the last tune we recorded for this record, so I actually came into the studio with a bass line, and Kevin had a vocal idea for it.  Sort of like a duet – it is a duet.

QRO: Is there any reason both Something For All Of Us… and Spirit If… end in ellipses?

BC: I can’t speak for Kevin, but Something For All Of Us, it was meant to be more of a question.  But the art director & the artist both thought a question mark just doesn’t look right, just the aesthetic of a question mark, so we did the dot-dot-dot, as in, ‘Is that really the case?’

Then, when we looked at Kevin’s record a couple of days later, ‘Look – we got a running theme happening…’

QRO: What was making the video for “Hit the Wall” like?

BC: Well, lots of mosquitoes were out, it had to be shot twice.  We shot it in a town called Flamborough; it’s near Hamilton [Ontario, Canada – actually was amalgamated into Hamilton in 2001].

It was on the property of these people who were dog breeders.  Some of the stuff, where I’m doing the lip-synching bits, there’s dogs howling in the background, like big rottweilers.  And that was at seven-thirty in the morning – it was a night shoot.

Videos are not always the most fun, but some parts of it were fun.  But ultimately, making videos, that’s another ‘marketing tool’ for your records.  And you want to make it fun, hopefully add the right element of humor to it.

It’s an idea. I don’t know if it was the ‘best’ idea, but we stuck with it – for a couple records, anyway…

I was with an old friend [Sean Michael Turrel] who had made videos for my first band [hHead].

QRO: Where did the idea for the video come from?

BC: It was him.  We kind of worked it a little bit together, but ultimately, he was the director, and I trusted him.  I liked the way it turned out.

QRO: Who does the female vocals on “Antique Bull”?

BC: Lisa Lobsinger.

QRO: There’s three or four female vocalists listed on the record…

BC: I realized I should have made that clearer.  She was out on tour with us in 2005 & 2006.

QRO: Are you going to have a female singer on tour, at Siren?…

BC: I know Kevin really wanted that girl from Beach House (QRO photos) to sing with us.  I haven’t heard them, but he seems to like them a whole lot, so…  But I don’t know if she’ll do that.

We might tour with Land of Talk (QRO spotlight).  I’ve talked to [Land of Talk singer Elizabeth Powell – QRO interview]; we both want it to happen.  And she could take care of a lot of the female parts.

We’ll be on tour in October.  All the dates aren’t together yet, but I think the date in New York is Music Hall in Williamsburg (QRO venue review)…

QRO: That used to be Northsix…

BC: That was our first show in New York.  Us & The Fiery Furnaces showcased for Rough Trade Records.  They signed to Rough Trade – we didn’t.  Rough Trade passed.

We’ve run into them, ‘cause both of our careers started at the same time.  It’s kind of interesting to watch them…

QRO: Where did the title to the instrumental “All the Best Wooden Toys Come From Germany” come from?

BC: A friend of mine [Jeff Rogers] – actually, a guy who used to manage The Crash-Test Dummies, he’s a friend of ours, mine & my girlfriend’s.  Actually, hHead was on his label, called Handsome Boy, just to give you some background on the guy…

But he was over at our house, and he’s got a relatively new son – well, at the time, he was new-ish – he had started talking.  Jeff was telling us some ‘goo-goo-ga-ga stories’, and then he would talk about this toy he had bought.  It was a wooden, and he said, “Well, all the best wooden toys come from Germany.”

For instrumental ones, you’ve just gotta think about what it feels like. A song kinda feels a bit like ‘elves in the wood shop’, Fantasia kind of thing or something. A slightly left-of-center Walt Disney…

As soon as that came out of his mouth, “I’m taking that…”

QRO: Is it hard to come up with titles for instrumentals?

BC: On [instrumental debut] Feel Good Lost, Kevin came up with most of the titles – I don’t think I came up with any titles for that record.  Kevin was pretty good with titles. For instrumental ones, you’ve just gotta think about what it feels like.  A song kinda feels a bit like ‘elves in the wood shop’, Fantasia kind of thing or something.  A slightly left-of-center Walt Disney…

QRO: An unmastered version of Something was leaked onto the Internet, and, in response, you ‘self-leaked’ the finished version, just so people wouldn’t think the unmastered version was what the record sounded like.  Was that a tough decision?

BC: No, because we’re just not dealing with millions of dollars.  It was just something that I had to do.  The version of “Chameleon” that went out was really the most affected song.  It was nothing like it was supposed to sound – it was all bathed in a reverb track that isn’t supposed to be there.  And we spent a long time working on that tune.  It’s such a delicate little mix and balance, I just wanted people to hear the tunes the way they’re supposed to sound.

QRO: What’s next for the Broken Social Scene ‘franchise’?  Another ‘Presents’, a full band record, or do you not know?

BC: A ‘Presents’ record?   Well, we’re just going to have to see.  We had a few different ideas, but right now, we actually haven’t talked about that too much.  We’ve more been talking about, ‘Okay, when are we going to record the next record?’

That’s the thing about being a ‘creator’, and working on your own schedule. You gotta work long hours, but then, there’s so many distractions – and artists can be lazy, too. Especially when the nice weather hits…

We’ve been talking a lot about getting the record started to record in November.

QRO: And that’s a Broken Social Scene, no ‘Presents’?…

BC: The band Broken Social Scene.

It would be great if it came together quickly.  Keep us rolling forward as a band.  We’ll see if that happens.  I’d love it if it did.

Kevin & I still have other things on the go, but it would be nice to take five or six months and really focus on making a record.  It won’t be an ‘every day’ five or six months, but I think that’s a fair amount of time.  ‘Okay, let’s try and do this in five or six months’, and let’s see if we can’t, come the end of March, ‘Hey, here, I think we got an album.  Let’s check it out.’

QRO: Do you think winters are better for recording, because you have to be indoors, and you don’t want to be on tour then?

BC: It’s definitely harder to drag yourself into the studio on a hot day.  When we go to rehearsal, and the sun is shining, we spend the first hour-and-a-half of rehearsal – it’s probably why we learned only five songs – we’re outside, having a beer, relaxing, chatting…  We rehearse at Charles’ space, so he’s got a backyard.  Enjoying the sun, enjoying life – granted, there’s work to be done…

We finished You Forgot It In People in the summertime, and it was difficult to be in the studio – especially when there’s no windows, and no air conditioning.  For Something For All Of Us…, we did spend some time in the studio, in the summer, but the album started in the winter, and finished in the winter.  Because it’s easier – well, if you’re going to be indoors, you might as well be working. That’s the thing about being a ‘creator’, and working on your own schedule.  You gotta work long hours, but then, there’s so many distractions – and artists can be lazy, too.  Especially when the nice weather hits…

QRO: Do you think it would be hard for you, if you lived in Florida, or southern California?  ‘Cause being in Canada, it means you really got to be indoors during the winter…

BC: Well, we tried – we rented a little chalet outside of Puerto Vallarta, and we had a ‘band retreat’ kind of thing.  And there was a little band space there, and we recorded some demos – I think we recorded some good stuff, but there weren’t too many sessions…  There was a lot of hanging on the beach, drinking margaritas, some of the guys were bodysurfing, others were sitting, reading, swimming…

We’re definitely a band that people like to have at festivals. I think we’re a very fun band to have at festivals. I think we provide something that a lot of bands don’t.

I don’t know how you would do it, if you lived in California.

QRO: I guess if you grew up there, you’re used to it…

BC: Yeah, they’re used to it.  ‘It’s gonna be nice & sunny tomorrow, so fuck it…’

QRO: Even though Broken Social Scene is already so successful, do you still get financial support from the Canadian government?

BC: Musical welfare…

QRO: When you play or just visit The States now, do you notice the strong ‘loonie’ [Canadian dollar]?

BC: Well, when we get paid, we don’t make as much money anymore…

QRO: What is the Toronto music scene like now, now a few years removed from its ‘blowing up’?

BC: Different bars, different bands…  It’s progressing.

I don’t go out to see as many bands, ‘cause I’m on the road, and when I’m not on the road, I don’t see that many.

Ultimately, I’m not the best person to comment on the Toronto music scene.  I know what my friends are up to, and when they’re touring…

There’s one band called ‘Foxfire’ that I really like, locally.  Trying to help them out a little bit, going to their rehearsals, saying, “Hey, don’t do that” or “Hey, can you play this?” and “Let’s hear how that sounds…”

More for the sake that I knew the bass player’s dad, who had recently died.  Family friend, kind of…  And they were obviously influenced by Broken Social Scene – there were nine of them on stage – so I’ll comment on a band like that.  But it’s also funny & frustrating, trying to hang out with a young band that needs a lot of help.

I know Kevin likes this band ‘Still Life Still’.  Life goes on… lots of new bands…

QRO: You’re doing Siren, and then a bunch of festivals.  Do you do anything differently musically when you play outdoors?

BC: Yeah, I take a slightly different approach.  Maybe don’t spend five minutes yammering on back and forth to each other like we did [at Mercury].  Some of the improv stuff, play it a bit straighter, but you can relax a little bit more, because it’s not ‘your’ show, per se, it’s a whole festival.  Just try and keep the party going…

QRO: You guys have been outdoors in New York a bunch of times, like at Prospect Park Bandshell (QRO venue review) a few years ago, and Central Park Summerstage (QRO venue review) before that.  Do you prefer playing outdoors?

BC: In New York, we’ve played Hudson River Rocks, we played McCarren Pool (QRO venue review), Summerstage, Coney Island, Prospect Park – I think that’s the five big ones.

We’re definitely a band that people like to have at festivals.  I think we’re a very fun band to have at festivals.  I think we provide something that a lot of bands don’t. I got no problems…

QRO: Also, is it perhaps literally a ‘bigger stage’, ‘cause there’s so many people in the band?

BC: Yeah, a bigger stage is good.  Like at [at Mercury], I feel a little bit more inhibited to ‘rock out’, because you can’t rock out too much – you gotta tight space.

Especially playing new songs, too.  You haven’t had time to work on your ‘dance moves’ for each song…

Broken Social Scene in Mercury

QRO: Who all else specifically is going to be on this tour with you & Kevin?

BC: Justin, Charles [Spearin, Do Make Say Think], Andrew, Sam Goldberg, and Leon Kingstone, the newest sax player.

And then different people are coming in & out for different shows.  Amy [Millan] & Evan [Cranley] from Stars will be out, I think Jimmy [Shaw] & Emily [Haines] from Metric (QRO live review) will be out for one of them in Montreal.

'Philadelphia's Finest Horn Section'Whoever we find – it will be different people at every festival.  Who knows?  I don’t know those horn players we were playing with [at Mercury], and I don’t know if we’ll be playing with them [at Siren].  But they’re nice kids; drove up from Philly…

QRO: What happened to Bill Priddle?

BC: Broke his collarbone.  Very clumsy three in the morning accident, where he shouldn’t have been dribbling a soccer ball like a basketball with a cigarette in his one hand while walking on cobblestone.

QRO: I know he had an album come out (QRO review)…

BC: Yeah, he did – Justin & I both played on it.  Some good tunes on it…

QRO: You’re going to Brazil & Argentina in late August.  Are you looking forward to your first tour in Latin America?

BC: Yeah, different parts of the world.  I have a feeling it will be pretty good.

QRO: Are there any songs from Something that you particularly like playing live?

BC: I like playing them all; I like the way they sound.

QRO: What about from previous records?

BC: Oh, I don’t know.  It depends on the day, I guess.  “KC Accidental” is always a good one.

QRO: Kevin almost seemed like he didn’t want to play it [at Mercury]…

BC: Oh, maybe ‘cause he wanted to play more songs off my record, ‘cause it’s an album release, but it’s summertime – it’s hard to get it together in the summertime.  Especially with this crew: everyone’s busy doing different things.  We’ll get it together…

Played more songs off my record than Ozzy Osbourne did on the ‘Bark of the Moon Tour’.  Always maintain by that one…

QRO: Is it tough sometimes, playing new material when the crowd’s asking for old numbers, You Forgot It In People, for instance?

BC: Try to find a healthy balance of pleasing yourself and pleasing other people.  But you gotta progress, though.

But it’s fun playing the hits, though.  It’s a little bit of both.

‘The hits’…  Our hits, hits for the BSS fans…

Broken Social Scene playing ‘hit’ “Fire Eyed Boy” @ Mercury Lounge, New York, NY on July 17th, 2008:

QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, don’t like to play live, or just don’t play anymore?

BC: Well, we never really played anything from Feel Good Lost, just because we’re not really that type of band right now.  We put on quite a different show, I think.

I don’t think we play “All the Best Wooden Toys Come From Germany”.  It’s quite orchestrated; we definitely need some strings, which we don’t have.  I don’t bring the keyboard that I play some of those sounds on – it’s too expensive a keyboard; I don’t want to get it wrecked.

QRO: When you fly, how do you make sure your stuff doesn’t get broken?

BC: Road cases…

It’s not so much the things that break.  It’s more the problem of paying for the overage fees to fly heavy gear, which you can sometimes end up paying thousands of dollars for, on top of your flight.  That’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes…

QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?

BC: I like playing in Tokyo, Club Quattro.  I like playing in Chicago at The Metro.  I liked playing at that club we played in Taipei [Taiwan].  I like playing in Toronto, at Leed’s Palace.  I like playing in San Francisco; I like playing at The Great American Music Hall.

New York, I really like playing at the Bowery [Ballroom – QRO venue review] – and Webster [Hall – QRO venue review], too, I like Webster.  Although some people complain about being an audience member at Webster.  I’ve never seen a show there.  The Bowery, I think, is a hipper room.

What’s the club in Amsterdam, Melkveg?  I like that.  We haven’t played The Paradiso yet, the big room; I’m looking forward to playing that one the next time.  A few clubs in London, too, like Shepard’s Bush Empire, CoCo – they’re pretty cool clubs.

QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?

BC: Getting in a fight with Justin at the airport in Moscow?  That’s not a favorite story; that’s a least favorite…

You could name the city, and I could tell you something about that city.  It’s usually, you play the show, go out, have drinks.  We went out and had drinks after the show [at Mercury], and that was pretty fun.  We’ve had so many good times in New York that I could never just pick one.  Coming here is always a favorite tour story.

Brendan + dogQRO: Finally, how is your dog?

BC: He’s with my neighbors, who likes better anyway.  He’s very cute, but he’s also a little satanic beast.  We like him more than he likes us…

QRO: Charles told me to ask you…

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