Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew takes a bubbly approach to making an album under the microscope.
Broken Social Scene may be the best thing in music today. Let me explain myself after you are done rolling your eyes. I wouldn't call BSS my favorite band; I probably wouldn't even call them my favorite band from Canada. But the majesty of a band like theirs lies in their story and how they have come through the system. A collective group of musicians from Toronto play on and off again together for years and release two albums off their own label. Their second record, You Forgot It in People, certainly seemed destined to fall through the cracks. Then major buzz stirs through the indie music community and people are dying to get their paws on it. I am so excited that I bought an import just to hear what all the fuss was about.
And then something funny happened. People became curious and began downloading some of the tracks. Each song on its own attempted something very unique and adventurous, but it wasn't until hearing the entire album in sequential order that the record could be properly digested. It was a pop album that required your attention like a Tolstoy novel. It was so vastly layered because they were so many hands in the mix, cutting and scraping, as gold shimmered just below the surface. It was as if the longer the album spun in your stereo, the more layers leveled out and the more sparks that flew. It was beautiful and anybody who gave it a chance found something they came to love.
This was an album that should never have been found -- an orphaned child that was never supposed to be claimed, much less adored. All it needed was a little light to grow and suddenly it started to thrive. It was an album that made everybody realize that a lot of amazing music waited out ther. They may have never found themselves on a top the Billboard charts, but opening for a group like the Pixies, traveling the world to play before newly anointed fans, I think they were as taken by the love they found as much as we were by the new ideas they shared with us. You Forgot It in People is an album that made me realize that a group's marketability acts only as a bullshit lazy excuse for record executives to take chances with bold ideas. This was the anti-iPod generation album; void of a true blue single. Even small indie labels have money and promote something to get behind and let people listen to it. Even on the "pure" indie level, we are dished out servings and giving suggestions about what we should like. This was a story whose soundtrack found people's ears because it had to; because it was too special to be contained, to remain hidden. The question on everyone's mind was, "What would they follow up with?"
The answer, of course, is not an easy one. Lead singer and founding member Kevin Drew calls their self-titled third album "one huge gigantic beautiful mess"/ It is the vision of a band who never considered the motto, "If it ain't broken, don't fix it" Instead, they destroyed everything in the room just to see what each little piece looked like on its own before forcing mismatched parts back together to see if it could stand. Expectations were high and many people thought that maybe the band didn't have it in them to make another timeless record. So when I talked to Drew, do you think he was worried?
Hardly. He is taking a bath.
"We ended up making more of an indie record than we anticipated. We realized that we could play it safe and we are supposed to follow a pattern, but that is only one way of looking at it," says Drew as I hear water splashing in the tub. "This album reminds you that if you stay in one spot too long, you're gonna get knocked over. On this record we really challenged everyone. It took me ten listens to really like it. We made it so you can find whatever you want in there."
What you find "in there" is a message sprawled on the inside sleeve that reads "We hate your hate," which also is one of the b-sides on the album's packaged bonus EP. So far the camps are split down the middle about what to make of this latest product. Pitchfork once again has championed the band, calling it an "exercise in excess" but one that succeeds in pushing ideas to the forefront. However, my colleague here at PopMatters, Zeth Lundy, loved YFITP for its spontaneity and inspiration but found the new record "swollen" and "unnatural". Like it or not, many more people were listening this time around and the band, more than anyone else, was all too aware.
"I didn't even get to make up my own mind about it because some fuck leaked our album. We never got a break to digest it and look at it ourselves. Don't get me wrong, I am not against downloading -- the Internet is what made us. But these songs weren't even completely done and you get some asshole critiquing things before we even really had a chance to do so, you know?
"It was irritating and slowing us down. We never expected the last album to break like it did. I like making my decisions without thinking about things. We didn't want to take everything away. We were learning how to really share things. We were constantly dealing with that."
When Drew talks about "we", he is referring to the 17 members that comprise the band. Everyone is involved in various side projects including Feist (who is opening for and performing with the band this fall, and a person Drew calls "the hardest working person in show business"), Stars, Metric, and Apostle of Hustle. I joke with Drew that his band is the Canadian equivalent of the Traveling Willburys or the Yardbirds. When I suggest that a successful collaboration with this many members is something a group of American musicians may find impossible doing, he politely disagrees. When I bring up the b-side "Canada vs. America" he dismisses any hard feelings and mentions that Americans comprise their biggest fan base. He points out that he "loves America and Americans and only takes issues with the criminals now running the show", He adds that music is like anything else -- you simply need a direction, a leader. And in a band where several people take turns handling the microphone, it is Dave Newfeld, the band's producer, who doesn't mutter a single word on the album, whose voice resounds most clearly.
"Newfeld is the captain. We love making music with Dave. The songs weren't fully done and then he takes them and just turns them upside down. It's hard to let go of something you have made but we completely trust him and could see were it is going. He took songs like 'Hotel' and 'Major Label Debut' and we all got into it. The music became dissected. You want to hate it because of the process but you can't let egos get in the way."
Drew is a major supporter of the new information revolution allowing people to find new music and talk with one another about what they like. When we begin talking about the influence of the blog community and pop culture forums like PopMatters and Pitchfork,I tell him I refer to it as "The Pitchfork Effect." We both agree that it's refreshing that many more things are accessible in this era, and Drew is excited that the torch has been passed to a group of people who challenge themselves to find something important to them, rather than the next big thing.
"Pitchfork is just so silly. The buzz that it generates is unreal. It is a great thing how sarcastic they can be -- it is amusing. They get a kick shitting on bands. We were really surprised they didn't shit on us. Pitchfork is already bigger than Rolling Stone in terms of influence. As soon as the '90s ended, music fans were like, 'Fuck you!' Now the young people are taking over and are like, 'I don't need you to tell me what to like and not to like anymore!' Take the choices and give them back to the kids, I say."