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Broken Social Scene

What were some of the early influences for you guys?

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You touched on influences a little earlier, but what were some of the early influences for you guys around this time?


In our camp, it’s historically known that Charlie and I met because we went to music school together, and I was a Tortoise fan, an early Tortoise fan, and I heard that he was a Tortoise fan, so I went up to him and chatted him because I wanted to know everything there was to know about music. So I started playing him four-track recordings, and he started playing me some early Do Make Say Think recordings, and we really connected on the idea of instrumental music, and we really connected on the love of recording, so that’s kind of how we found ourselves sort of with similar influences to go on and do this.


You have to understand, we were doing it for fun, and we were doing it to sort of get into some soundtrack worlds, and then when Feel Good Lost was being made, the second record came out, and I remember talking to Charlie and saying, “You gotta meet this guy, Brendan!”  I told everybody, “You gotta meet this guy, Brendan; we’ve gotta bring him into the mix!  I’m having the time of my life over here!”  Charlie took Feel Good Lost and went and mixed it with Ohad, and it stayed really much “in the family”. That’s how we started Social Scene beyond Feel Good Lost because I would bring everyone to meet Brendan, and Brendan brought in Feist, and Andrew Whiteman kind of slid in through friends I was supposed to meet that Canning knew, so we brought him in. I sought out this gentleman named John Crossingham to play some drums because I didn’t know whether Justin was going to stick around. So we suddenly found ourselves having this crew, and whoever was in town would just start playing shows where we’d make stuff up every time we did it, and we started cataloging what we had done, and “Causes” started to appear, and the original “K.C. Accidental” started to appear. “Anthems” came through in a show that we did. It kind of just happened naturally, and it was all around the albums of K.C. and Feel Good Lost that this started to evolve.


So you have to understand, we never really played K.C. live—we played this one show at a bar called The Mockingbird—Emily Haines opened for us, and it was the only time we ever did a K.C. Accidental show. Since then, I think that was 1998 or 1999 we did that—we’ve never done anything else since. The funny thing is that since Feel Good Lost, only now are we starting to play at least one song from it—we’ve never really included it in our repertoire, never really played it. It’s just interesting how these records have gotten left behind.


What was originally behind the decision to keep the project as a mainly instrumental one, and what, in particular, made you decide to do vocals on “Them”?  Also, according to the press release, the duet with Emily on “Them” was her first recorded vocal. Did you realize you had a star on your hands?


Well, I met Emily when I was 14 years old. I used to sit in her bedroom when I was 17, and she’d play piano songs for me at 18. I very much understood the relationship with her and her father, Paul Haines. She came from such a musical, lyrical background that I knew when I was a teenager that this woman was going to go somewhere because she had a lot of drive and passion. When she met Jimmy Shaw, they connected on their drive and their goal. I have recordings and stuff of theirs that a lot of people haven’t heard. For Charlie and I, this is the first time we are saying, “OK, let’s re-issue our recordings”, but I know there’s a lot of tracks for a lot of people who have kind of their first records out there, and they’re hard to find.


In preparation for this interview, Kevin, I re-read an interview you did for us back in 2007 where you said, “You know, I made those two K.C. Accidental records with Charles, I made that Feel Good Lost record with Brendan, and there’s something about just making a record with one other person that allows you to have so much freedom and so much ... there’s not 18 opinions flying around and you don’t have to always say, ‘Oh wait wait wait I won’t play that because I gotta get somebody else to come in and play that or they won’t be on the song.’” With Forgiveness Rock Record, you guys were back to ... well, 18 opinions flying around. How would you guys compare the isolation of K.C. to the madness of today’s Broken Social Scene?


Well, to answer that question entirely, that quote would be taken from where I made Spirit If… with Ohad, so I did it again where I just made a record with one other person, so I had guests come in, but it was the same thing where you spend all your time with one guy. I just adore it and love it, but the one thing about it that’s great is that does re-fuel you to go back into what is Broken Social Scene, but on this Forgiveness Rock Record, it was like making a record with a band, so it was almost as if it were one person, and it wasn’t that different at all because the discussions I would get into with Charles and Brendan, I would have those same discussions while we were recording. And also, everyone came into it satisfied—Charles had just made Happiness Project; obviously I had made Sprit If…; Brendan had just made Something For All of Us…, so we were all coming into it really looking forward to being a band again and kind of having this idea of sitting around, and that’s what spearheads this whole “solo project” or “side project” thing is that it really makes it easier for us to work together when we have other outlets, and there was really absolutely no chaos—zero chaos—making Forgiveness Rock Record. It was actually the kindest process we’ve had yet making a record, and also a very inspiring one, so it was good, and I think, as you get older, you’re happy for the projects that you did, and you’re happy that everyone knows that you can easily go back and sit in the room with one person again.


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At this point, Drew graciously thanks me for doing the interview, telling me he really wants people to “HEAR THESE RECORDS”, and passes the phone to Spearin, who eventually settles into his portion of the interview after escaping the street noise on the band’s bus.


 


+++

You guys didn’t waste any time before you got all anthemic on us. “Instrumental Died in the Bathtub” has violins, synths, layers of guitars, etc. There is already a certain “hugeness” to these tracks. Did you guys always envision creating sounds this huge and overdubbed, or did it just happen organically?


I think we just kind of wanted to be playful, I guess, when we were doing recordings. We wanted to use everything we could—every person, everything we had at our disposal—just have as much fun and make it as experimental and playful as possible.


Awesome. I touched on this a little already with Kevin, but a lot of these K.C. songs are very percussive, really built around the drum parts instead of the other way around, which I find interesting because, technically, neither of you two are really known for being “drummers”. This is most apparent on a track like “Silverfish Eyelashes”, which is almost startling with these drum parts or loops ...


You have to think about the time, too—that was 1995. I think we were kind of sick of a lot of the rock music that was around then, so we sort of searched for anything we could that was original and new and had sort of a true culture to it, and one of the cultures was “rave culture”, and neither of us were particular ravers, so to speak, but we did go to raves every once in awhile and had an appreciation for the culture of it and certainly an appreciation for the rhythms of it—the jungle beats, drum and bass. I suppose that was a part of our influence; a lot of the electronic music of the early 90s was really progressive and experimental, and we were really inspired by that. But we didn’t come at it from the same way; we didn’t use computers to make our music. We didn’t use sequencers and that sort of thing, so we kind of mimicked some of the stuff that we heard through electronic music, playing on real drums ...


So there are no loops here?


No, there’s no loops. Some of it’s Justin playing drums; some of it’s Kevin playing drums. There is one song where we had our friend Rich play drums. But no, there’s no looping or sequencing involved in any of those songs.


Wow, that’s crazy!  Here’s one thing I’ve never understood: you guys originally had a bunch of silent tracks bookending the albums. What was that about—just filling tracks to justify full-length releases?


In a way, the second album got released first, so we left seven silent tracks at the beginning to represent the first album that never got released. But in a way, it kind of caught you off-guard because you have to look at your CD player and watch the numbers go by every four seconds and go, “What the hell is going on here?”, so it was something to kind of wake you up before you listen to the music. Anything to try and be playful to what we were doing. And when we finally released Captured Anthems for an Empty Bathtub, we did the same thing—we put some blank tracks at the end of it to sort of represent the other album.


Definitely another sort of 90s throwback—hidden tracks and false endings and all that stuff ...


[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah ...


Ahh, the glory days ...


Yeah, good times. It’s like that album ... ahh, what is that album ... this Mercury Rev album where it goes all the way to 100 tracks to get to the last song, just going over and over and over ...


Once again, Kevin and I touched on this subject, but I’d also like your point of view. How does working with one person on a project compare to other projects you’ve been in, like Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene, where you have a lot of other people?  How does that affect the music?


I enjoy it tremendously. It’s a very intimate experience. You just keep bouncing ideas off of each other, and you just put your trust into one another. It’s a real sort of team effort. It goes back and forth. It’s sort of the same thing as with Feel Good Lost, where Kevin and Brendan are working together. They locked themselves in a basement for four months or something like that, and I can really appreciate that sense of intimacy and focus, and it’s different working in a big band where there’s a lot more ideas and a lot more voices. You have to have a lot more patience and allow a lot more space for other ideas. But I really enjoyed working with Kevin on those two records a lot, and there’s also a lot of naivety to it. There’s kind of this sense of “Fuck the world!”  We were just going to do what we liked the sound of and not worry about it being released or anything like that. We basically made the records for our friends. 


How does it feel now listening to these songs?  You’re older now—you’ve done a lot of touring, a lot of writing. Is it sort of like looking through an old yearbook?  Obviously, you have to think they still hold up; otherwise, why release them?  How do you feel you’ve changed, as both musicians and people, since K.C. Accidental?


It is a bit like looking through an old yearbook—I like that analogy!  I’ve forgotten how we got a lot of those sounds, how we did a lot of the things we did, so it’s nice to hear it fresh because I hadn’t heard it in years and years and years. So we put it on, and I was like, “Wow!  This is really good!” [Laughs]  I’m really proud of it now!  And there’s a sense of kind of coming full-circle now. We’re working with John McIntyre [of Tortoise] for Forgiveness Rock Record, and that’s kind of our roots if you look at the song titles on Bathtubs, there’s one song called “Something for Chicago”, and that’s kind of our tribute to the stuff we were listening to from Chicago, a lot of which was spearheaded by John McEntire. So it kind of feels like we’ve come full-circle on this whole thing, and I’m really feeling good about the way it’s all ... connecting.

Ryan Reed is an Adjunct English Professor, English Department Graduate Assistant, and freelance music critic/journalist with degrees in English and Journalism. In addition to serving as an Associate Music Editor/Music Writer with PopMatters, he contributes reviews, feature stories, and other work to Billboard, Paste, American Songwriter, Boston Phoenix, Relix, Blurt, Metro Pulse, Cleveland Scene, and a handful of others. If you want to contact him for any reason, send an e-mail to rreed6128[at]hotmail.com.


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