Interview with Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning, who performs Wednesday in the Mission

Brendan Canning, who released his second solo LP a few weeks back, performs this Wednesday at the Chapel, so we asked our pal Jarid Maged, a legit BSS scholar, to perform a Q&A. Here it is:

Jarid: Back when the Broken Social Scene Presents solo records were released, they sounded to many like bonus BSS albums, so much so that BSS band mates toured in support of those records, and their songs later resurfaced at BSS shows. This album, however, is very different. No Broken Social Scene Presents, no Arts & Crafts (rather, your own Draper Street Records). You Gots 2 Chill is so laid back, so beautiful, that I’ve found it really hard to call this a true sophomore solo record (in the wake of Something For All of Us). What was it that steered you in this direction?

Brendan: It’s true. The BSS presents series was more of a way more Kevin and myself to have a final and unequivocal say on how our albums should sound without having to check with everyone. Everyone in BSS had their own bands: we did not; and so I suppose YG2C is really my first solo effort and my new band has no direct affiliation to BSS. Although Greg Calderone, multi-instrumentalist in my band, starred in This Movie is Broken.

For the past fifteen years or so I’ve been playing more and more acoustic guitar, so much so that I would say it’s my primary instrument. That is the inspiration behind this album. A lot of years of collecting riffs, developing my style
and then finally the opportunity to breathe and make some creations that I’ve wanted to make. The first installment if you will.

With this record, did you feel at all liberated with distancing yourself from Broken Social Scene Presents? Given that this is the first solo record since the hiatus was announced, did the core members of BSS – or your own time in BSS – have any influence at all on the final product?

Ohad Benchetrit of BSS/Do Make Say Think and myself collab’d on Post Fahey and Makes You Motor at his studio Th’ Schvitz. Those tunes were finished before I did the bulk of this record with Steve Singh, also a band mate and high school chum.
He also runs a home studio, Hutch.

Like many major cities, Toronto’s changing with the times, becoming, like San Francisco, very tech heavy (and very expensive). When I think Toronto, the last thing that comes to mind these days is the ability to, well, Chill (yet you somehow seem to pull it off). I noticed you’ve lived on Draper Street for over two decades, so you’ve definitely seen a lot of things change around you. How much of your own Toronto experience played into the song writing and recording process?

Well it’s my life so Toronto is a huge part of where my inspiration comes from. From the filthy air, to the never-ending condo sprawl, to the beautiful people I get to see every day and the vibrancy that never lets me down. Most of the time. Your own sanity is your own responsibility.

There’s so much do-it-yourself all over this record, from the living room recordings, right down to the cover art. Broken Social Scene started out very DIY, and grew into one of the most influential bands (brands, even) in indie / Toronto music, providing the foundation for what would become one of most well-known labels in the business in Arts & Crafts. Do you see Draper Street Records growing into something more than You Gots 2 Chill?

I believe the phrase don’t put the cart before the horse should be heard. Baby steps.

Is there a story behind the voicemails, and the decision behind in putting some on the record? I heard that you still have a landline (“Long Live Land Lines” perhaps?). I’m picturing a tape recorder answering machine too, no?

No, just automated voicemail on the landline. I still like talking on a landline. I had a lot of riffs collected on my answering machine and it’s really a big part of my process so why not invite people into that world for thirty seconds?
Now it’s voice memos on the cell.

To date, the videos in support of the record (“Plugged In” and “Bullied Days”) are stunning low-budget films that have kept you almost entirely off-screen – needless to say, a bit of a change from that Brendan Canning as John Travolta character we saw in Something’s “Love Is New” a few years back. Why the decision to stay off-screen this time around?

No reason in particular-it just worked out that way and I like the fact I’m not really in the videos save for a cameo.
I leave certain creative decisions up to my partner in the label, Sarah Haywood.

So, visa issue in October; there seem to be more and more of these lately. First, that sucks (and I missed you in New York). What happened?

A boring and expensive and terribly annoying story which I won’t bore you with. I suppose the positive is that I was able to re-jig the band and swap out a couple members. After two shows we made three line-up changes. It just worked out that way.

Compared to the Broken Social Scene collective of somewhere between a dozen and two dozen touring members at any given time, relative to BSS tours, what’s life on the road been like this time around?

I love my new band and we’ve become a tight unit in a relatively short period of time. It’s very familial and a back to basics kind of tour. Snug in a van, long drives, winter frost with the finishing line in LA. I’m enjoying it for all it’s worth. My bandmate Greg and I jumped in Mara lake in the Canadian Rockies a few days ago. Extremely cold and life affirming. New band baptismal.

When I think Broken Social Scene live shows, chaos comes to mind. I have to imagine these shows are very different. Gone are the leg kicks this time around?

It’s true-there are no leg kicks. That is not to say this band doesn’t get very loud and proud but it is not a BSS show, this band is very much it’s own thing and it’s solid.

It’s been awhile (October 2011, in fact; for now, the last Broken Social Scene show in the US), but any San Francisco memories you’d like to share?

All SF gigs for BSS were ALWAYS memorable.

Our first shows at Great American Music Hall, Bimbo’s, the Filmore, Outside Lands, you name it. SF was basically top three in the world for BSS and it was always an event. I am forever grateful for the love we got in that town. That’s why we played our very last gig in North America in SF.

I will soon be touching down at the Phoenix Hotel and that is basically like saying I’m home.

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