Canada’s best kept secret may soon be the country’s greatest export.
Broken Social Scene, currently touring the world, was born in 1999 with musician friends K.C. Accidental?s Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, formerly of By Divine Right. It has since evolved into a collage of musicians with colourful music.
The 2000-2001 winter brought the first Broken Social Scene album, Feel Good Lost. The album?s guests artists included vocalist Leslie Feist (By Divine Right), drummer Justin Peroff and trombonist Evan Cranley, a member of the romantic pop band Stars.
?It was December and we were all ready to kill ourselves,” says Feist. “It was brutal! We phoned up (our local hangout) Ted?s Wrecking Yard and asked to book a show for February. They asked what the name of the band is. We said we didn?t know, we?ll decide later. It would be our winter project to write songs for the gig; it was booked; we had our deadline. Right before the gig, we were tossing around names. Broken Social Scene was an album Brendan and Kevin made; kind of instrumental music. It never got released and wasn?t a live project. We said let?s take that name, it is such a good name and that project will never have another life, so that became the name.
In 2002, You Forgot It In People was released and included Charles Spearin (Do Make Say Think) in its creative core. Depending on musicians? schedules, they would go in and out of the band for performances and recordings. The music remained fresh thanks in part to the revolving support cast, which also included Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric; John Crossingham of Raising the Fawn; and Bill Priddle of Treble Charger.
Due to their growth, BSS?s own Arts & Crafts label got American distribution as well as a deal with EMI Music Canada, to distribute the albums on their home turf.
Guitarist Jason Collett, a successful indie soloist, soon joined BSS. The core of Drew, Canning, Whiteman, Collett and Peroff, and their rotating family of musicians then went on bigger tours such as the coveted South by Southwest festival. They won praise from Rolling Stone to SPIN magazine, got a U.K. license deal and toured there too. At home, they continued to tour and won Best Alternative Album Award at the 2003 Juno Awards. Their latest album is self-titled and was released earlier this year.
The Arts & Crafts label continued to release more albums for members of their music family such as Collett?s 2003 internationally-acclaimed Motor Motel Love Songs. Earlier this year, Collett, who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Bramalea, released the record Idols of Exile to further acclaim.
Collett describes Idols of Exile as ?a bit of a sense of arrival for me. Anybody?s life can be caught in traffic for various things. I?ve been slowly heading towards making this record for a few years now,” Collett said, while working in his shop. He returns to his carpenter roots when he has free time. “You gotta have patience in this industry. This is the first time I?ve had money to make a record. Even though it wasn?t a lot of money, it was significant that it was the label?s money. I?ve never had that luxury before.
?It also feels great to being in amongst this renaissance of the Canadian music scene. I?m right in the middle of it, being in the Social Scene. It?s not just about my record, but also about the newest Social Scene record. I?ve been listening to some new tracks of The Stills? record. They are all good friends that we?ve played with. There is so much hype and creativity that is spurred on by your peers.?
For Idols of Exile, Collett attempted to write love songs that aren?t typical. ?A lot of the record has been an exploration of my youth, growing up in the suburbs. It?s trying to make sense of that. In a pop way, I?m trying to weed through the junk in our culture and find the rays of light; the small things that are worth living for. I?m still trying to figure it out. You write without calculating or thinking about it, but then you produce a body of work that has some cohesion; that definitely has a theme. Lately I?ve spending time in Europe. The last time we were there, they were voting on the new Constitution. I loved how the people of France refused it. There is something about the spirit of the way that the French embrace life, existentialism and art that I really like. It?s really different from North America. It accepts that life is tragic. That kind of resonated with me, even though I had already finished this record. Generally that philosophy is what the record is about. That?s why I end the record with song, These are the Days. We are taught in our culture that you can have it all; the perfect marriage, house, everything. I don?t think anybody ever attains that. I?m trying in just a small way to explore that. You will frustrate yourself trying to pursue happiness in a box.?
Happiness to Collett is finding the way to continue to be vital. ?That means experiencing pain and loss. You?re feeling it. It?s finding a way to remain passionate. Pursuing what you feel you are called to do, whether it?s sharing your life with someone, or pursuing a craft or art that makes you fulfilled. That involves sacrifices. You cannot live a vital life if you are not experiencing some compromises and sacrifices.?
Feist?s 2003 Arts and Crafts label record is called Let It Die. This past spring she won two JUNO Awards for Alternative Album of The Year and New Artist of the Year.
?Everything is kind of a fluke,? begins Feist?s recollection of how her career came to be. ?You get from A to B, then you notice D over there, you check that out, then you go back to A. It?s not like a clear trajectory. I was singing in a punk band for all of my teen years in Calgary. I cracked my voice on tour, came to Toronto to see a musical injury specialist, spent six months and decided I wanted to stay here. I didn?t want to sing that kind of music any more. Bit by bit, I met people that I started playing with, in different forms and types of music. I was learning to play guitar partially because I was told not to sing for a year, and the guitar can kind of do it for you. I put in some years with By Divine Right, made my first record, was a champion of Apostle of Hustle, lived with Peaches and was involved in a bunch of her early shows, played in Royal City for like 20 minutes. There was a lot of stuff!?
“Do what you can where you are with what you have” is Feist?s new favourite quote. It?s all about playing it by ear and staying liquid. She?s always been liquid; adaptable. ?By luck of the draw, having become great friends with a complete variety of players and writers, I got to spend time in By Divine Right. Jose Contreras is one of the best songwriters. All Hail Discordia was his first record. I was a fan. I don?t get fanny, but I was at the gigs freaking out that rock music could be so heavy and smile inducing. So the fact that I got to play guitar, watching his singers for basically my boot camp years; my first couple years of playing guitar were amazing. Living with Peaches, falls out! Watching how she balanced real life and this created life, I have a lot of respect for what she does.?
The fact that she made her album in Paris is also kind of a fluke. ?I didn?t know anything about Paris except that I was the wide-eyed Calgarian who had never been to Europe at that point. I was touring pretty much all the time in Europe, including with Gonzales who produced the record, for two years. We had an idea to make this record. It was more to make some recordings. After a while we realized it was a record. We did sessions in between touring. We?d go and spend four days at a time between dates and go to Paris and record, and then realized we had an album.?
There was no pressure to become mainstream. In fact there was no awareness of it at all. Partially because it?s a world she?s never had anything to do with, noticed, listened to, or was a fan of. ?I?m a bit oblivious to that, kind of culturally illiterate. I can?t tell you what movies are good or what directors have done. I can talk to you about books but I don?t remember what the name of it was! All these echelons of culture and the way it’s all categorized so strictly was just too many rules to keep track of. I think influence for us was the message as opposed to what it was going to sound like. We made up some rules to the game in a way. While travelling, there are like 23 hours a day when you are killing time. We spent a lot of time listening to each other?s Discmans and what we all had. Gonzales had Burt Bacharach, and I had Blossom Dearie, different jazz stuff and a copy of my demos. I called them The Red Demos because that?s the colour the cover was. Cumulatively with hours to kill and one of my best friends there with me to hatch ideas with, when we got sick of playing hang man, we would imagine what it would be if we recorded.?
Once Feist realized it was a record, and maybe would be heard by people, she was banking on the quiet solitary moments in people, as she puts it. ?Everyone knows themselves, not everyone knows themselves in the same conscious way. But we all relate to ourselves in some way. That?s the kind of stuff that interests me. It?s the little moments of motivation. Like Lost In Translation; the quiet, going on vibe, trusting yourself, or not trusting yourself. If anything, I was thinking that I wanted to write these songs so that there is space for people to crawl inside rather than telling them something that happened to me, you know??
Jason Collett knows why Broken Social Scene has struck such a chord with music fans. ?Joy and celebration are very tangible in the music, especially when you see it live. It?s a group of friends who made the music for each other. We didn?t make it for a record label or with marketers in mind. This seems like a big deal, but it isn?t, it?s how things should be. The industry doesn?t see it like that. We work in a void outside of all that. The industry is trying to figure out, just how to make the right combinations of chemistry that went into something like this so that they can market something like it. It?s like the organic food movement. It?s providing something that you know people need. People need food that isn?t poisoned; music that isn?t poisoned.?
From now until Christmas, Broken Social Scene continue their world tour with 34 more performances in France, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, the United States and home in Canada in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.