Escena Social Quebrada: An Interview with Apostle of Hustle
Broken Social Scene guitarist and amateur musicologist Andrew Whiteman talks about his Latin-influenced band, Apostle of Hustle, which he hopes won't be mistaken as 'indie'.
If you've seen Broken Social Scene live, then you know Andrew Whiteman packs a wallop with his Strat. His skill and swagger on lead guitar elevates the Toronto rock collective's mammoth major chords into bona fide rock anthems. But when he's not touring the world in a fourteen-person caravan, you can find him strumming minor-key inflected tumbaos on his tres cubano as the voice and leader of Apostle of Hustle.
PopMatters spoke with Whiteman during a stint of three sold-out nights at New York City's Webster Hall with Broken Social Scene, just before he would depart for Europe and Australia to complete a six-month tour supporting Broken Social Scene's most recent album. Only after that will he have a chance to begin recording the sophomore follow-up to Apostle of Hustle's critically acclaimed debut, Folkloric Feel.
Folkloric Feel is one of those albums whose songs reveal themselves over time. Did you set out to create an album like that?
Once the album was done, and we listened to it, we looked at each other and we pretty much knew who was probably going to get it, and how it was going to go down.
The songs are very different from one another, yet it's cohesive.
That record was the product of five years or so of different influences, different people involved, four different studios, a bunch of scrapped songs -- it's a real mutt of an album.
Did Broken Social Scene producer Dave Newfeld help a lot in creating Folkloric Feel's sound?
He came on late in the game. But as you can tell with BSS, his thumbprint is all over it. We initially just wanted him to come in and mix the album because we had done all the recording in other places. And he wasn't satisfied with that, of course. So we did a fair amount of re-recording at his place, Stars & Sons Studio in Toronto, to the point where in some instances we just trashed old versions of songs completely and recording them entirely new with Dave.
Newf will freak out, and he won't leave the studio. During the mix of Broken Social Scene he'd say, "You guys aren't even around. I don't wanna hear your shit! I just wanna stay here and finish this!" [laughs] So we'd say, "Go ahead and do your thing, Newf." But you know what? It's not hard to stay away. Stars & Sons is a very claustrophobic, crazy place. It's also where he lives. The crazy thing about Dave is that he used to be a wedding DJ, So he prides himself on this deep understanding of what will make normal people jump out of their chairs.
That's an interesting sensibility. You wouldn't necessarily think that that would translate into producing great records.
He's very analytical and a perfectionist. Every 30 seconds, he'll ask, "Is this good? Are you bored by this?" When you listen to the BSS record, you can hear it.
One inspiration for Folkloric Feel you've cited is Manu Chao. One of his bandmates describes him as a "mythical figure from Barcelona."
I've never met him, but I lived in Barcelona for a time, and from what folks tell me, he keeps himself relatively close to the streets. He has an elusiveness to him. He obviously doesn't court celebrity and the things that are offered to him. But with his records, you gotta lay some of that down on his producer Renaud Letang.
He's also produced Björk and Feist. With your connection to Feist, have you thought about seeking out Letang to help on the next Apostle record?
I have thought of it, but it's not the right time. Feist is about to work with him again. Besides, he's a little, you know, cha-ching.
For a while Manu Chao did this guerilla tour through Latin America, where he would just travel around these poor villages, set up in the local town square and play for people, bring art to them in an immediate way that some of them probably never experienced in their lifetimes.
I'd love to do that someday, bring the music back to the people. Of course let's face it, you have to be moving some units to be able to afford to do that. Hell, I'm not even sure how I'm getting paid for this tour! [laughs]
Manu Chao sings in French, English, Spanish. Have you given any thought to singing in Spanish on the new Apostle Record?
There are a few cuts on the vinyl of Folkloric Feel that are traditional Cuban songs, sung in Spanish. On the new record, there's a poem of Garcia Lorca's that I've put to music, and maybe a few other tracks will be in Spanish. I mean it's a blatant attempt to get attention somewhere I want to be.
The Spanish vibe is a great thing.
Man, I love flamenco music. My favorite flamenco artist is Enrique Morente. He's a bit of a genre-pusher in his own right. When BSS was playing Primavera in Barcelona last year, Enrique Morente was playing. I couldn't believe it. I saw him at this little theater, maybe 500 people, and I was sitting right in the front. It was so shockingly good -- one of my favorite musical moments ever. And then, as if that wasn't enough, the next night Sonic Youth was playing. We had passes to hang backstage, and who else was hanging out? Enrique Morente. I read that later Sonic Youth did a gig in Valencia in Spain where Enrique Morente came out and jammed.
Does he play flamenco guitar?
No, he's a canta. A singer. He has this incredible, powerful, emotionally keening voice. This is the kinda guy I want to connect with. I'm basically the world-music geek of BSS. That's why the production on my next Apostle record needs to be different. I need to connect with a different segment. It's a bit of an obsession of mine. You have to realize that everyone comes from somewhere. I've just been thinking about that a lot these days. A lot of folks think that they can't categorize Apostle into a genre, and I'm happy about that. It doesn't mold into this or that. While I'm happy to be an outsider in those terms, I'm discovering that I can still lean on certain traditional musical structures or themes or forms that just work over and over and people respond to them. All I've been listening to this past week is Bob Dylan's Live at the Gaslight 1962 and folk anthologies, and these things can be really instructive and helpful in crafting songs.
In rock music over the past 20 years, who do you see as some of the best composers?
One that comes to mind immediately is Tom Waits. He changes. He won't stop. If you listened to his first record, there was no way you never would have imagined that Real Gone was coming out from this guy. What a great thing that the guy gets more fucked up as he gets older. He's like Hassan I Sabbah in William Burroughs's "Old Man of the Mountain." That's Waits -- he just gets weirder and crazier as he gets older until he retreats up into the mountainside and makes these things. And if you're brave enough to go up there and deal with him, you get rewarded.
With Broken Social Scene there's a lot of collaborative songwriting, and yet Kevin Drew does the lion's share of the vocals. Is there a consensus that Kevin's voice is the best mouthpiece for the style of BSS?
He's the jefe, man. Kev's the jefe. In a lot of ways, the BSS songs come from him and his acoustic guitar. He'll say, "Here's my song, here are the chords," and then we just have to jump in. It usually happens really quickly -- ten minutes, half an hour and the song's made. But then the songs will always change over time. We all can't even fit in the studio at the same time! I'd go away for six months on an Apostle tour, and come back and say, "That doesn't sound like anything like the song I did all my guitar parts on. Where did that go?"
Is it nice having more autonomy with Apostle of Hustle?
Oh, absolutely. With Broken, we're an experiment. We're conducting an experiment. Now we look at it and realize that is what we're doing: It's an experiment musically, it's an experiment as an organization, it's also an experiment politically in a way.
After the next Apostle record, will you go right back into the fold of Broken Social Scene?
It actually might time out well. Kevin is thinking about doing a solo record after this tour. I'm recording the Apostle record after this tour; I need to deliver it in September and tour behind it. So by the time that finishes up, maybe Kevin will have completed his solo gig, and we'll probably fall right back into it.
Do you think Folkloric Feel has been overshadowed by the BSS juggernaut?
No. I mean, I'm a realist. People would have never even heard Folkloric Feel if not for Broken Social Scene. I'm very thankful, actually. I feel completely happy, completely at home, and I think it has laid a foundation. Once BSS gets back from Australia, Apostle of Hustle will record in Montreal in March and April at Masterkut studio, which is the home of one of my favorite singers - her name is Lhasa. That's her home studio so I'm going there.
Are you going to stick with a similar sound?
No. Arts & Crafts pushed Folkloric Feel down a certain avenue when it came out, but I want to reach this whole chunk of people I'm not really getting to. I think I'm going to try to make a folk record -- well, whatever my version of a folk record would be. I want to make a record that will force Arts & Crafts, whether they like it or not, to go to a different place.
Any ideas for who's going to help you produce the next record?
I do want to work with Marty Kenack. He's been BSS's live-sound guy for about three years. If anyone loves our live show, it's half his fault. I don't know how he does it. We've got six guitar players and all this stuff going on, but with him I can hear everything clearly. It's not mush. It's all Marty.
Do you already have the songs written?
We've got about 18 songs; about half of them are done. That's different from Folkloric Feel in that this time we'll have a lot of songs to choose from, and ones to get rid of to make the most cohesive album we can. I want to make a record that's a little more immediate for people.
Are a lot of the Arts & Crafts people going to be on the next Apostle record?
Hopefully Evan Cranley from Stars is going to be on the record. He lives in Montreal. I'm recording in Montreal. That's another step I'm taking -- I don't want to be in Toronto. I'll also probably have [BSS member] Ohad Benchichrit -- he plays a big bar mitzvah saxophone.
The minor keys of Apostle of Hustle are a far cry from BSS. Are you more comfortable operating in a minor key mode?
That's definitely what Apostle is for. I know it's a fantasy at this point -- from talking to booking agents they tell me it won't work -- but I see myself as more akin to the old jazz musicians on 52nd Street, playing a two-week residency at some small joint. Practice during the day, and any other musicians that are around, you invite them in. Your set changes night to night. I really respect that idiom.
That's a bit of a change from the way Broken Social Scene tours.
It's terrible for indie rock musicians nowadays. For them, when a gig is over a gig is over. There's no "Hey, let's all hop in a cab and go to this other place and we can still keep playing!" That just doesn't exist. Sometimes all you want to do is keep playing -- I mean that's what we're here for, right?