Broken Social Scene on “Hug of Thunder”

The Goal is People

Oct 02, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear Photography by Norman Wong Bookmark and Share


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Kevin Drew wasn't sure anyone would care.

The ringleader, if there must be one, for Broken Social Scene points to the calendar as his primary reason for doubt. Seven years have passed since the band's last album, Forgiveness Rock Record, a near lifetime in the "here today, gone today" modern musical climate. Despite the success of that album, the myriad successful projects associated with the band, the supergroup status attached to the name Broken Social Scene, Drew needed some encouragement to believe the fans who were there in the past would be there again.

It took those inside and outside of the band to convince Drew to rally the musical troops. It also took a moment of legitimate terror to strike a communal chord.

"After that horrible night in Paris [the Bataclan attack] where you feel not only for all of the families involved, the fans, the venue, and the band, you also feel for this idea that just hit so close to home," says Drew.

"Charles [Spearin] called me the next day and said, 'I just want to play shows now.' Within that, Brendan [Canning] was also really adamant about saying, 'Let's record a new record then. If we're going to do this, we're going to want new material.' [Producer] Joe Chiccarelli was also really pushing for us to make a record with him. He was coming to Toronto and meeting with the guys. Charlie and I were on the fence because you don't know anymore if people care. You live a humble life and think, 'Maybe our time came. We tried really hard to break through when things were easier logistically and financially and we never quite got there.'"

Fortunately the voices outside eventually overpowered the internal ones and Drew set out to do what he's done every few years since he and a few others recorded Feel Good Lost in 2001. Since then the email chains have grown (Canning says it takes thousands of emails to organize everything it takes for a new Broken Social Scene record release), but the mission remains the same.

"We decided to set all of that aside and said, 'Let's just get in a room and start playing together.' Over the course of a year, on and off, we were rehearsing, jamming and recording. People just slowly started appearing," says Drew. "We put out an email saying, 'Hey, we're going to make another record. It's been quite a while, so who is in?' People slowly said, 'I'm in,' then they made time in their busy lives to come out and start playing with us again.

"It was a very natural process in the return. You never quite know what's going to happen, but we just did what we know how to do very well, which is to be in a room together, create melodies, not get in each other's way and have everyone be the best that they are."

Canning is a big part of the internal process, a co-leader, who has been at the core with Drew since the outset. While other members come and go to various projects that include Feist, Do Make Say Think, Stars, and Metric, Drew and Canning remain the sun in Social Scene's solar system, even as they stay plenty busy with their own musical projects. Thus if the band was ever going to return, it was going to take Canning and Drew in tandem.

"I really want to do my job in this band," says Canning. "After so many years, certain things can deflate you and I didn't want to have any of those negative thoughts that come with being in a band around us. You're either suffocated or you have competing ideas or if you don't talk everything out, then certain things fester. I'm the de facto A&R guy of the band that no one knows abouteven the band members themselves. I'm trying to pull the best out of everyone.

"I'm trying to direct the traffic. I'm trying to get people to see the clear path. We all want to get on that clear path and it takes a while to get on that same page. We started in 2016 under Joe's idea, who said we should set up in my living room. We did. We turned it into a jam space, Charles manned the board and we rented gear all in this Victorian house built in the 1880s where I've lived for 20 years. We wanted to hang out, make meals, and get back to one, as it were, like a very Monday-to-Friday operation."

The end result of Drew's diligence and Canning's "catalytic" role is titled Hug of Thunder, a new 11-track album produced by Joe Chicarelli (Spoon, The Shins, The Strokes). Originally slated for release in 2016, the details couldn't come together in time despite Chicarelli's insistence on responding musically to the cultural moment.

"I remember when Joe came in, I said, 'Why? Why do you want to do this?' He said, 'Because now is the time to come back. Now is the time to strike.' He was really pushing for us to get it done and wrapped last year," says Drew, "because everyone is obviously returning now with the same anthemic message of trying to hold on, to get through these times of anxiety, depression, too much information, and all of the things that are overtaking us."

For a band with quite the revolving door, it simply took too much to get everyone on board. "So many people are coming and going that you can't keep track of them," says Drew. The full lineup for Hug of Thunder is Kevin Drew, John Crossingham, Brendan Canning, Sam Goldberg, Charles Spearin, Ariel Engle, Justin Peroff, Leslie Feist, Andrew Whiteman, Emily Haines, Evan Cranley, Amy Millan, Jimmy Shaw, Lisa Lobsinger, David French, Ohad Benchetrit, and Jason Collett.

"We're a difficult band in that we have different forms all over the world, where we're known and where we're not, where we should go and where we shouldn't, what our offers are," Drew continues. "It's a strange band to put into a business model, let alone an incredible band to put into an artistic model. You're always riding some fine line wondering if this is going to work, no matter what."

Despite the tremendous amount of work and organization and persistence it takes to create a Broken Social Scene album, the band's creative chemistry remains its constant. Even as he doubts the process, the spark inevitably finds its way to the surface once again, as illustrated by their new track, "Protest Song."

"I have a great moment in the studio that I love to tell because it tells who Broken Social Scene is," says Drew. "We were recording 'Protest Song' with Emily and it was Charles and myself on guitar, Brendan on bass and Justin on drums. I told Charlie in our headphones, 'Look, we're playing the two guitar lines, but I can't hear. I can't have your guitar in my headphones because I'm focusing on mine.' He said the same. I said, 'Let's just play it and we'll go back and overdub.' He agreed.

"So we recorded the song, walked back into the studio and everything was just so in line. It made me look over to him and say, 'Of course we are, because we know each other's rhythm and melody and timing so well from 20 years of playing together.' We didn't even need to listen to each other. There's something beautiful about that with Social Scene. Because you have such melodic history together and because each person brings their own individuality to the songs, you don't have to replace each other. You just have to let everyone be themselves. It was very natural in that aspect."

It's in the live setting that both Drew and Canning say the joy of being in the band manifests itself most. Broken Social Scene might be a significant musical collective, but they recognize their fans are as much a part of it as any single musician.

"It feels incredible to be back," says Drew. "We just did a European tour and had the time of our lives at a time where you're wondering if you can still have the time of your life. We're a loved band within this group of people who come out and see us. The ones who do are usually diehards who know what we're doing. To be up there with your friends and to have absolute trust in what's happening is just something you can't take for granted.

"We're always fighting an uphill battle, hoping people come to our shows so that we can all be together and engage in this together, but I'm excited to just continue on," he continues. "What we want to do is just keep playing shows and keep putting out records and try to reach as many people as we possibly can. The goal is people. People determine everything for this kind of band. That's why we want to embrace this."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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