Interview - Broken Social Scene

"We do something that's very beautiful and serious ... but we don't take it too seriously."

Feature by Sean Michaels | 15 Feb 2006

"We're going to bring nine or ten of us and have a celebration," Kevin Drew tells me. And he means it. When Broken Social Scene lugs its amps and guitars and drum-kits over the ocean, when Drew takes the stage with his ragtag band that's, yeah, more a scene than a band - they are going to celebrate. Celebrate, and make some art-rock noise.

Broken Social Scene's beginnings were far less extravagant. At the turn of the century, Toronto was a city of a hundred unknown bands, and Drew and Brendan Canning were just two friends who played music together. They released their debut in 2001, a laid-back album of ambient shivers and ratatat surprises. On tour, however, the duo began to crave the contributions of other musicians. They wanted something a little noisier, a little more dazzling, a little more fun.

As veterans of the Canadian scene, it wasn't hard for Canning and Drew to attract some help. They started inviting friends to play at shows. One night they'd be a jazzy post-rock band, jamming til dawn; the next, they'd play garage pop till their throats were hoarse. "When you're making music with the people you love and trust," says Drew, "you can fuck up here and there and they'll be okay with it."

The now-expanded Broken Social Scene hooked up with producer Dave Newfeld, who would spend days and nights mixing, multitracking, coaxing songs from the morass. Musicians would wander in 24/7, contributing a part or having a jam. And by the end of 2002, 'You Forgot It In People' was released; sixty minutes laced together from hundreds of hours of recording.

'You Forgot It In People' was, in indie-rock terms, a smash hit. Swelling with strings and a swamp of feedback, pop choruses and crooked lyrics, the album topped critics lists and saw the band festooning magazine covers across North America.

"We had a real heyday of being the big hype band," recalls Drew. "Everything was in position for us to make a proper album with great radio songs." Instead, they went back into the studio with Newfeld and made something else. "We didn't want to make a romantic album, an 'I'm on the road all the time' album. We wanted to make something that really, really got a hold of you. Whether it strangled you, punched you, pissed in your face... or whether it kissed you, embraced you, jerked you off."

In step with the band's success, the recording process became more, not less, chaotic. Newfeld's arrangements became even denser. Drew describes it as "eighteen hooks going off at once." There was dissent, disagreement, frustration. "He (Dave Newfeld) does a lot of amazing things," says Drew, "...and takes a lot of liberties." Newfeld put it a little more bluntly when he spoke to Toronto Life Magazine: "They feel I've taken a chunk of their soul and said, 'Here, let me fucking groom it while you're not looking,' and then they come back and I go, 'Look at your soul, I've put platform shoes on it, what do you think? Looks nice and tall now.'"

Of course there was also astonishing art. The band's self-titled record, released in the UK in January 2006, is a breathless collection of lunatic pop-rock, delirious and triumphant. "It's a mess," Drew says, happily. Listeners will hear Doves, Pavement and The Beatles, but all of it mashed up and supersaturated. They'll also doubtless hear flashes of other acts which lent members to the cause: The Dears, Stars, Metric, Feist; post-rockers Do Make Say Think and rapper K-Os. "We do something that's very beautiful and serious," says Drew, "but we don't take it too seriously."

On Feb 17, Broken Social Scene come to Glasgow's School of Art. "We don't have aspirations for playing shopping malls," says Drew. There will be blazes of distortion and ecstatic choruses, jams that resolve into swooning crescendos, a handful of Canadians making enough sound for two dozen. But most of all, as Drew stresses, there will be songs: "Let the songs be the role-models, not the people who write them."

Broken Social Scene play Glasgow School of Art on Friday Feb 17. Tickets are £10.