Musicscan: How have you experienced the response to your new album over here in Europe?
Broken Social Scene: Well, I suppose in Europe we first started in the UK and oddly enough, we found ourselves with a deal with Mercury Records, which was not the smartest move we could have made. That kind of fucked things up for us, because we got a late start on everywhere else, because they were staggering the releases for us. We came over and played a festival in France and we did a Berlin club gig, but besides that it was just the UK. So last year in May, which was when we first started touring Germany, it was a little bit difficult because we had already received a lot of accolade back home and the first gig was to about 80 people in Hamburg, which isn’t so bad for your first gig. It was a bit disheartening at first, though. I mean now, a year and a half later, the situation has changed. We definitely don’t begrudge the work that we put into it at the beginning, but at the time I wasn’t all that pleased with how late we were touring the record. I mean we did extensive tours of Spain, which was nice because of the scenery, but maybe not really that necessary.
Musicscan: How time-consuming has the band become up to this point? Are you involved pretty much full-time now?
Broken Social Scene: It has been a full-time job for years now.
Musicscan: How many people can you currently feed with the band?
Broken Social Scene: Justin is DJing a lot now back home. I used to do that, too. I mean everyone gets paid pretty well when they are on tour. Charles has another group called Do Make Say Think. Broken Social Scene is not his only income, but probably his primary source. Me, Kevin, Justin, and Andrew pretty much all live off of the band.
Musicscan: Are you happy with the situation right now?
Broken Social Scene: Yes, I am happy with the situation. It would be nice to really get some serious time off and work on some music, which we haven’t done in a long time. We started to do it live now where we are letting it hang out a little bit and not stick to the plan as much. I mean we have a setlist that we stick by but in between songs there is a lot of just going off on a few tangents, which is the most rewarding for me.
Musicscan: So do you regularly improvise certain parts of your set? Does this also work in a studio context?
Broken Social Scene: Yes, it all depends on how much we like fucking around. There is a lot of improvising in the studio, too. That is half the reason why the records take so long to make. We are not 4-tracking or demoing all our songs and then come in with set songs.
Musicscan: Yes, tell me a little bit about the recording process for this album as it certainly is not how bands usually record their records. Would you do it again like that?
Broken Social Scene: No, I wouldn’t, because we were touring in between working on the record. We went out for a couple of months and we believed in Dave, our producer, who was left with countless tracks and digits to pick through and pick the best bits for what he saw fit. But you come home and the complexion of some songs had taken different shapes. It was a bit frustrating. I was trying to stay focused on it and to stay connected to it, but you lose a lot of things when you are in and out all the time. Especially because we had done the other record in his studio as well and there are no windows, which is a big problem. It gets really super hot in the summer. You really can’t work like that. It was fun and frustrating the first time around and the second time around it was still fun and frustrating, but it was becoming more frustrating and a little less fun. A lot of things had changed in the band. I mean when a band is on the road for two years, people change and people’s lives change.
Musicscan: Do you feel that there is a lot of personal friction in the band?
Broken Social Scene: No, not right now. We have a lot of new people on this tour. For instance, Lisa Lovesinger who is singing on this tour has never toured with us before and she is brand new to the band. It was a lot about seeing if James and Emily were around so we could tour or if Evan and Amy were around? They were our go-tos a lot of the time because of Stars, Metric, and Feist as well. Although, we were lucky enough to have Feist for the North American tour.
Musicscan: Let’s return to the musical aspect. David Newfeld, your producer, certainly had a huge impact on how the record sounds, but I also understand that you were a bit frustrated at times, because messed with the tracks so much?
Broken Social Scene: He had to, though, to be fair to him as well. It was not an Us versus Him situation, but more like “this is what we have” and we would just dump it and he had to sort through everything. It was not like that all the time. There were other times where he went to extreme measures where he didn’t necessarily have to, but you can get lost real easily when you are mixing and remixing all the time. Because of the nature of this band, there are a lot of different options and the mix can take turns. But we would definitely work with him again. He is a big part of the band.
Musicscan: Do you read features and reviews about yourself? And what do you think are the pros and cons of doing that?
Broken Social Scene: Not so much as other people in the band. My girlfriend will read them more. She will approach me and be like “you should read this.” I glance through them, but I don’t read them that closely. I think I haven’t really said anything that stupendous or embarrassing. At least I think so.
Musicscan: But doesn’t it alter the way you perceive your own music to some extent if you see how other people perceive it?
Broken Social Scene: Not in the end. Once you put on your headphones and listen to the record, your heart will tell you one way or the other. I mean even in the bad reviews you can say that he or she are right in this or that respect, and then you can also read the good reviews and say that he or she is right about that.
Musicscan: How do you manage all the organizing work that goes into this band? I imagine it has got be a never-ending process with so many people, doing so many different things all the time.
Broken Social Scene: It was hard before we left for this tour. The beginning of this tour started in October in Kingston, Ontario and it took us all the way to Frankfurt today. I sought out this woman, Lisa Lovesinger, who really helped to make the tour happen. Otherwise I don’t think we would have been able to do the tour. It is just a lot of phone calls and trying to figure out what the best version of this band to take on the road is. The band would also function in a 4-5 piece setting. It would just be different, that’s all. It has its advantages and disadvantages. Right now, I don’t see too many disadvantages. We just split up the pay check in a few more different ways, if we weren’t this band would it have been so fruitful? I don’t think so. There are so many people that add so much to the group. It would be foolish of us to close doors for just some unknown reason. I don’t know about the idea of making a record with four or five people. I mean it can be done if you are Led Zeppelin.
Musicscan: Would you say this chaos, spontaneity or chance is also an important aspect to the sound of the band? Does this also reflect in the music?
Broken Social Scene: Yes, I think so. The live shows for sure, but the studio records, too, because it is a bit cacophonous. I mean it is organized but it is cacophonous. It is also organized in a live context, because everyone is a good listener, not every single time, but most of the time, myself included. It all makes sense in the grand scheme. A lot of people are blown away by the shows and they seem to enjoy the performance.
Musicscan: What do you hope people to take away from a Broken Social Scene show?
Broken Social Scene: I guess a real simple thing: music without pretension, music as a way of communication. It is like going to communion. It is not like our shows are some holy trinity, but I suppose you are there to congregate, you are supposed to be together, it is supposed to be a party every night. Hopefully, we are throwing a good party, which makes people feel welcome.
Musicscan: Do certain circumstances have to be in place for that to happen?
Broken Social Scene: Yes, moods affect it, architecture affects it, walls affect it, the meal affects it. Everything affects it. I am very much affected by if I am treated well. If it is a nice room. Everything. It is very frustrating to play a place that is like a concrete bunker. We enjoy nice, warm clubs. Wood is always nice for that.
Musicscan: Most bands I speak with say that they are treated much better over here in Europe as the clubs are supposedly better, the food is better and they get treated a lot nicer in general. Do you feel the same way?
Broken Social Scene: We get treated well in the States and Canada. There is a different lifestyle in Europe compared to America. The phenomenon of the suburb is not quite as inherent in Europe as it is in North America. The vast majority of the North American society is based on the idea of suburb living. I think there is a certain disconnectedness to life in North America that isn’t so strong in Europe. Most concerts in North America are often considered social events. You are going out to see a show and you like music, but half the reason is because you go out with friends and you see a lot of people, at least for me anyway. I have been living in Toronto for so long and playing music for so long. One of my best friends lives in London and she doesn’t go to shows anymore. She is like “the bars are smoky, it is too crowded, there are too many bands out there.” She doesn’t really like this and that. People eventually stop discovering new music.
Musicscan: Is pop music always already global these days or do you think that there are local specificities that mark and distinguish certain regional and cultural aspects?
Broken Social Scene: Oh yes, for sure. There is lots of music from Toronto that you are not going to discover. It might be a real big thing there. There are always communities and there is always going to be community based music. We are not that much of a global nation that we discover everything about every community.
Musicscan: I wasn’t really referring to discovering music, but if the aesthetic of the music already carries global characteristics, the way it sounds, the way it feels. Could you make out certain aspects in your music that you could identify as specifically Canadian or from Toronto?
Broken Social Scene: No, I think that is part of the reason we are doing well internationally, because there is no specifically Canadian sound. What is a traditional Canadian sound? Well, there is east coast music, which is very much based on Celtic roots with its own kind of twist and there is a lot of great country music from Canada. In the 80s, Canada had a very particular musical aesthetic with bands like Pursuit of Happiness and Grapes of Wrath. It was all very acoustic guitar driven music, but I don’t know if that is a good example. But with all these bands you could tell that they were Canadian bands, which wasn’t necessarily always a good thing. Not that they were bad bands…
Musicscan: What is the biggest compliment someone could make you as far as your music is concerned?
Broken Social Scene: Oh, lots of things. If someone tells you a very personal story about how much it means to them. Someone told me that we were like the musical version of Woody Allen. I got that one in Oslo.
Musicscan: Do you think there are still new sounds to be discovered or can modern music basically be reduced to a recombination within postmodern concepts of pastiche and bricolage?
Broken Social Scene: Yes, I think we are a culmination of five, six or maybe ten bands, encompassing five different styles of music. We all carry with us lots of different influences. Whether we are rehashing them or whether we are reshaping them. Of course, I hope we are reshaping and not rehashing them, but that is for other people to decide. The last new scene I can think of is the Grime scene in the UK, which I know very little about. There are always varying forms of music. If you listen to a Madonna single for example. It is nothing earth-shattering but it is not a bad single. There are a lot of 80’s bits and a lot of 70’s bass lines and filter sweeps what Daft Punk would have been doing in 1997. It was pretty crazy when I first heard Drum’n’Bass or Jungle, all the syncopated rhythms. That blew my mind for a while. However, I think anything can sound fresh as long as it is delivered with honesty and potency.