In May of 2003 a few WQHS members sat down with Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew of Canada’s Broken Social Scene in a quaint little park area outside of the Khyber in Philadelphia. We asked them about their current tour, how they operated as such a large collective, their Juno Award (from what I understand, a Juno is the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy), fist fights, and more. This is how the interview went:
WQHS: You are a very large band. Too big (at this point) for you all to go on tour at the same time. How do you decide who is not going to come on tour with you?
BSS(Brendan): There is a core touring group that we have. Which is Kevin and myself, Jason, Andrew, and Justin… and Leslie is with us on this trip. She’s sort of….she’s becoming a core member. I mean, she’s often away. Everyone else sort of has other duties with other musical ventures. So we at least have a band that can tour as a five piece and then it can turn into a six piece or, like I said, in New York we get a couple extra members. Two for sure, maybe a third. If Chris Brown wants to play trombone on a song or two… So yeah, that’s kinda how we’re running things right now.
WQHS: Okay, so you got me thinking, who would win, out of everybody (core members and extra members), in a fist fight?
BSS(Brendan): Who would win? You mean pegging certain members against other members? Well, certain members aren’t expendable and I guess other members ARE expendable. So, we could break it down into fist fights and what-not… But if you have a specific question, if you’re pegging certain members, if that’s what you mean…
BSS(Kevin): Andrew Whiteman would win, ladies and gentlemen. Eventually, it would come down to Jason Collett and Andrew Whiteman. The two men in thier thirties. Because Brendan and I would probably be saying, “Ow!” within five seconds of… well, you know.
BSS(Brendan): But of course, we’re not expendable. And so I would be like the Don King, or maybe Kevin would be Don King and I would be, oh, I don’t know, Don King’s right hand guy.
WQHS: So you won that Juno Award. Were you expecting that? Was it completely out-of-the-blue? And what did you think of it after you received this award?
BSS(Kevin): It was out-of-the-blue, but we knew that we were in the running for it. It was something that we weren’t paying that much attention to and then our parental figures really kicked in their opinion and forced us to go down to the Junos. We have a lot of friends who work in the business and they were all going to be down there and we were playing a gig down in Ottawa, so we went down. I didn’t think we were going to win, but I think that in the back of our heads we all wanted to win, just so that we could say that we won a Juno. There’s a lot of skepticism to the music scene in Canada. Who’s recognized and who’s not and it was a real nice category with all the bands being Buck 65 and Royal City, Hot Hot Heat, Broken Social Scene and The New Deal. So it was a nice category to be in and the award show was in a night that didn’t focus on the main award show, which was a bunch of bands that none of us really care for and we were the night before with choirs, best gospel, best bluegrass, best children’s record, best alternative record and best rock record. So, it was fun and we won and everybody was happy for us. Even all the skeptics who couldn’t give a shit. But they were all very happy.
WQHS: So you got signed to the major label. What do you make of this? What do the other band members think?
BSS(Kevin): We did a licensing deal, first of all, which is always much better than signing away your life, but you still sign away your life in a certain aspect. It was a very, very, very tough decision. The A&R rep for the label, Mercury in England, was a very lovely gentlemen and he really did woo us into it.
BSS(Brendan): Maybe stress that it’s European and the UK, so for North America we’re our own entity.
BSS(Kevin): We are our own entity in our own homeland and it was a way that could keep the band going because it was so big and it was a way that we saw that we would be able to cheat a little and be able to bring our wives and our children out on the road with us. And just be able to have the funding, which, you know, all comes from our own end. But to be able to have the push and the funding to make “this” happen and we all thought we’d give it a really good shot. It’s a different record world than it ever was before, it’s just very very different and we didn’t mind the idea of joining up with this label that’s trying to restart their new alternative label with The Rapture and us and bands like Joy Zipper and My Computer, who we will all hear of shortly.
BSS(Brendan): Sigur Rós too, I think.
BSS(Kevin): No no. That’s going to be edited because that’s not happening. But, you’re joining an enemy in some way who is somehow trying to bring good karma to the world and for every good there is a bad, and I just thought maybe that we could slide in and be the good. And also there is a lot people who are involved in this so you can’t just think of yourself. It was a group decision. If it was up to us, I don’t think that we would’ve signed it, but, it was a group decision and we signed it and we felt comfortable with what we were doing. And we’ll see, it could destroy us as human beings, but we’ve already pretty much established ourselves as human beings already so we’re just happy to be able to go and play over there and that’s pretty much why we’re doing it.
WQHS: How have the shows been so far? And what have you thought of Philadelphia?
BSS(Kevin): I was really shocked by Philadelphia. I don’t know about you.
BSS(Brendan): Yeah, I liked Philadelphia so far. Lots of nice shoes, it seems like they have lots of good shoe options here. Andrew got a really nice pair of shoes. I would like to see a little more. We really only saw the main strip, and a little bit back from that, and the lakefront. So pretty touristy stuff. You can’t really get a strong gauge, but as far as me being a fan of music from the 70’s… I have a lot of records in my collection that are Philadelphia records… and sports teams. For me personally, Philadelphia was always my team as a kid, like Bobby Clarke was my favorite hockey player, Dr. J was my favorite basketball player, I even like the Philadelphia Phillies and I don’t even like baseball that much. And the Eagles, like Ron Jaworski was my favorite quarterback. So, for me particularly, coming to Philadelphia… I have a very strong opinion as a child, for whatever reason… I like Philadelphia, and they were always my favorite sports team, so it’s interesting for me to come here, but it’s not like I keep that in the back of my mind coming here, I’m really just interested in buying a couple new records, playing a show, eating some food, getting out of here alive, hopefully finding my glasses, so stuff like that. So it’s not so bad.
BSS(Kevin): Tell them how you lost your glasses!
BSS(Brendan): I lost my glasses in Detroit, which I don’t have much feeling for at all. Detroit, yeah, it’s a really strange city. It’s really spread out into a group of suburbs, where “Yeah, this seems like a quaint town” where there’s a couple billion people.
BSS(Kevin): Our drummer wants to move here. He was very enthused by Philadelphia. It’s very nice and very safe and very eclectic, which I love. And how can you hate a city that has The Roots and Bardo Pond? Philly, it’s like you said, we just came in and turned on the soul station because we were happy to have them in this town.
WQHS: Since you’ve gotten signed to a bigger label, let’s say you start raking in millions. What do you do with the money?
BSS(Brendan): Well, I don’t think that “raking in millions” is really in the cards for the avenues that we’re about to travel down. I mean you’re talking…
WQHS: Well, let’s say you win the lottery then…
BSS(Brendan): But, we’re not buying lottery tickets. I mean, we just put out a record, we’re advanced “X” amount of dollars for what we hand them over, which is our finished record. When you say “millions of dollars” you’re expecting us to sell 14 million records like Hootie and the Blowfish which, ultimately, I don’t think is going to happen.
BSS(Kevin): It can’t happen in this day and age. Indie rock can only go so far. It can’t go further..
WQHS: That’s kinda sad.
BSS(Brendan): Well, it’s not sad. I expect we’ll do well. I hope we’ll do well, but it’s an obsolete question, I think.
BSS(Kevin): People ask us that though and it’s not to say that it’s a silly question, but it’s a question that’s not thought about. We really are a day-to-day band. The issues we have to deal with are day-to-day. We have to deal with a lot of people, and a lot of emotions, and a lot of scheduling, and a lot of extra people. The Broken Social Scene is a six member core, and it is a ten member core, and then there are twenty to thirty other people who are involved with this. And there are a lot of other things that you have to keep in mind and account for. And one of those things is not where you’re going, it’s just what you’re doing as you’re going in that direction. I mean we could make millions of dollars actually, if we sold our songs like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did to the Sony Playstation because we found some director who we felt was good enough to represent our tunes for Sony Playstation. We could get into the commercial industry and rake in a hundred grand alone for handing over a song. But is that something that we want to do? No, it’s not something that we want to do. Are we in a position where we can say no to that? No, we’re not. But what we’re going to try to do is keep it so that we don’t disappoint any of you. Which means you don’t suddenly see us selling products and you don’t suddenly see us being in really shitty films. Be we will be doing films and things like that but there’s many ways to make instant cash but I feel like you always just lose that in the back end. We’re going to try to stay true to the married life of members of Sonic Youth and to things that evolve and to things that keep you making music and keep you going out and playing live and keep your income coming in and keep your families fed. And it’s very true that you have to put your living before your profession and that’s what we do. This is something that we enjoy doing and I enjoy it sometimes. I don’t enjoy it all the time. Like I said, it’s a real hassle being out on the road, and my wife’s at home and I don’t not want to be around her that much. So, I’m trying to figure out ways that I can have her on the road with me and it would be a lot easier if we did sell our songs, but we’re going to keep the music to ourselves. But maybe I will end up contradicting myself as I always do in a couple years from now and you can turn around and peg us saying, “Why did you do that toothpaste commercial?” But as of right now, it’s not in our interest. We’re really happy with meeting people like you and doing these little interviews and speaking about the music and having people enjoy our record that’s not a traditional four-on-the-floor-one-singer record. It’s just a big group of people trying to bring some hope into the cities that we play in for the night that we play. And that’s as long as it probably will last, for that one night, but for that night we’re going to come in and we’re going to do it and then you can put on the record and you can listen to it or edit it as much as you want. But we’re very positive and it’s not a great time right now and that’s why we’re here.
WQHS: What have been your favorite albums of the past year or two?
BSS(Kevin): My favorite album of the past year or two… there’s a couple. I’d say Dirty Three’sWhatever You Love You Are was an incredible album for me. The Clean’s Getaway was another fantastic album. David Kilgour’s (of The Clean) A Feather in the Engine is probably one of my favorite albums right now. I just can’t stop listening to it. Well, I’ll go on the indie rock tip and drop that, but besides that all I listen to is reggae. Because reggae will save the world if you let it.
BSS(Brendan): What did I like? I liked that Sharon Jones record. That was a good one. That Spoon record I like. What else? Those are the only two that I can think of. I buy a lot of records but I can never think of them when asked about them.
WQHS: How do you guys write your songs? Do you do it collectively? Or does one person take over?
BSS(Kevin): We just get together and we write. We just jam. Always people come to the table with ideas, sometimes they don’t and we just get together. It’s just a big group effort. Song writing has never been a big problem with us since we have so many song writers in the band. So, they’ll be many albums to come. Hopefully, we’ll leave this rock world very shortly but we did dive into it and we can’t get out right now. Now we have to make another rock/pop record but hopefully after that we’ll get into bleeps and bloops and make records that sound like…<Kevin is making electronic noises with his mouth>… That’s the latest thing from Broken Social Scene everybody. Thank you very very very much.
Originally published May 1, 2003.