Interview: Brendan Canning (of Broken Social Scene)

If you couldn’t tell from past coverage, Consequence of Sound has a sweet, soft spot for Brendan Canning, and more specifically, Broken Social Scene. That’s why our minds nearly jumped out of its skulls when contributing writer Nicholas Comney came back to us with this in depth, very conversational interview with the experimental frontman himself.

Canning, hot off a supporting tour for his latest endeavor, his second solo effort, Something for All of Us…, seemed excited as he digressed on everything from collaborations to touring to even Canadian Thanksgivings in October. It’s a lengthy albeit intriguing interview, so let’s spare no more time…

Consequence of Sound: There’s a lyric in the song “Churches Under The Stairs” (off of Something for All of Us), where you say, “do you think that we are momentary?” Do you, yourself, believe this pose?

Brendan Canning: Yeah, that’s a Kev [Kevin Drew] line. He and I both wrote the lyrics for that. It’s just a question you have to ask yourself.

CoS: In a past interview, you mentioned that there were multiple choruses chosen for the album’s single “Hit the Wall.” What made you go with the featured lines, “hit the wall in the wall and forget about it,” rather than the ones better left unsaid?

BC: There were different parts to the song; like, “we had the time to.” That sort of was where I had the chorus originate, but then that seemed like an alternate chorus. Because of technology, you can sort of say, “hey, what if we put these lyrics here” and see what works.

When I play it now, it makes perfect sense. Verse, chorus, verse, alternate chorus, bridge, solo, feedback, back solo, short chorus, second chorus, (Laughs) chorus underneath the second chorus. The possibilities can sometimes be endless and you can over think it.

CoS: Are you a fan of these “endless possibilities” that come about with technology, in terms of mixing music?

For someone like me, or some other members of this band, technology can be a real help, you know, and sometimes it can be a hindrance because you can get lost in the world of it. It definitely adds to the sonic cacophony of what’s going on, so you have to be really careful when you’re mixing because you could be like “oh, I really like this guitar feedback, but maybe we just pull it back a bit because it steps on the horns, there.” I spent a lot of time in the studio, maybe just a little too much time.

CoS: Yeah, it seems that it can be sort of an Achilles heel for people who are true perfectionist because there is so much more that can potentially be done to a track that you just don’t know when to it call quits.

BC: Yeah, it’s often like that. You can get lost in what you’re doing; lose the plot I believe they say.

CoS: I watched the video for “Hit the Wall” this morning and to be honest, it kind of freaked me out because it reminded of this reoccurring nightmare I used to have when I was younger. So, I was curious, how did the idea for it come about?

BC: Well, a friend of mine, Shawn Terrell, he’s a video director. He’s done videos for me, as far back as 1994. With this one, I just hadn’t worked with him in awhile and he had a good concept going. Sort of like a Donnie Darko, David Lynch, Twin Peaks thing. When we talked about it, I just said, “uh huh, I like that, maybe not that,” you know, and just lent myself (with my acting abilities) to the video and hoped for the best. I like it. It’s once again, not to be over thought or anything, but it’s meant to be a dream.

CoS: Do you enjoy making videos, since it is kind of like playing house?

BC: Yeah, I don’t mind it. It’s not my favorite thing, but as long as there is something good that comes out of it, in the end, then I don’t mind it. If I were to repeatedly have a close-up of my face and be lip-synching over and over, again, then I’d probably go a bit bananas over that. But, since we’re making somewhat interesting, visual pieces, it’s good enough for me.

CoS: In your press kit, the case is made that Something For All of Us is an album that will allow you to reintroduce and reinvent yourself. Do you agree and/or feel that you are stepping out of the shadows on this new recording?

BC: Yeah, I am singing a lot more and really giving the final say, while listening to others around me. It’s not like I had tunnel vision. But yeah, for the average music listener or casual person that is into our band, they may not recognize me, as well as someone else like Feist or Emily Haines (because they’re singing), even though they aren’t really involved with our band, very much, these days.

CoS: Sort of like a George Harrison type thing.

BC: Yeah. Well, actually, he wrote a lot of the music and maybe I wrote some of the vocal melodies, too, but it’s not like we act so much as I wrote this song, Kevin wrote that song, Charles wrote this song, or Andrew wrote that song; everyone sort of spits out their parts. In every song, people’s involvements vary and the way songs come about, each one has a slightly different story to it. So yeah, I suppose it is stepping out of the shadows for lack of a better word.

CoS: Before this album, there were only three previous times, where you took the reigns of lead vocals for Broken Social Scene. Was there any hesitation for you, coming into this project, since singing is such a vulnerable form of music and expression?

BC: Here and there. But eventually, you have to just get it done. You have to be able to stand behind what you have there.

CoS: Now, this transition is not so smooth as I would like it to be, but I’ve read that you love to cook, so do have any special plans for the Thanksgiving holiday, coming up next week? Before you answer that, though, and this is me being ignorant, so please forgive me, but do Canadians even celebrate Thanksgiving?

BC: Yeah, but our Thanksgiving is in October.

CoS: Okay. What day?

BC: It’s usually the second weekend of October, but I was not home for that. When we finished our last American tour date, we had a little break, before we did the South run…we finished Boston on the 26th and came home to Toronto and had a couple days off. Some of our crew was there and a few of them are American, so I made like a half-Canadian, half-American Thanksgiving dinner.

CoS: What are the typical meals for the Canadian Thanksgiving, in terms of turkey versus whatever?

BC: Turkey. Stuffing. Cranberries. Yams. Potatoes, you know. Brussel sprouts. Green beans. Whatever.

CoS: Do you guys have like a Black Friday event that follows up the gathering? I know down here, the next day is reserved for all-out, consumer riots.

BC: Yeah, you guys do the Thursday Thanksgiving. Ours is usually on the Sunday and then we get the Monday off. It’s similar, but it’s not the American Thanksgiving. The level of commercialism is definitely a bit higher because you have the Thursday football game and it’s a big deal and all that bullshit.

CoS: I know you’re a big soccer fan, but are you a fan of American football, at all?

BC: When I was a kid, I liked American football, but now I don’t really have time for it.

CoS: This is just an idea, but did you guys ever think about touring, in or around, South Africa, during the 2010 World Cup?

BC: That would be fun. I mean, I have talked about getting to Africa in 2010 for the past seven or eight years, but I have a feeling that it’s not going to happen. If I had like scads and scads of money, then I think, maybe. But trying to get tickets and paying like $3000 for a ticket, I would have to a lot of disposable income. In my mind, in would be fun, but sometimes just watching the games on television is enough.

CoS: What teams do you follow?

BC: Liverpool and the Irish national team… Yeah, I follow it. Not nerd-like close, but it’s definitely my fix.

CoS: This is a little off topic, too, but a few weeks ago a friend of mine was telling me about the idea of Quebec wanting to secede from Canada and I was wondering if you have any view on that?

BC: Well, I could see why they’d want to separate. They get the short-end of the stick from the federal government, sometimes. They’re just trying to maintain their culture and heritage, which they do a really good job of. It’s quite separate from the rest of Canada. Like there are pop stars and famous people in Quebec that the rest of Canada will never hear from and conversely you could be doing really great in one part of Canada, but then you come to Quebec and nothing. Actually, the last referendum was in 1995 and it was a pretty narrow margin. Like 51% voted to stay, so Quebec was really close to not remaining part of Canada.

CoS: I don’t know if you’ve heard anything about this, but there’s a proposal, surrounding the idea of eliminating Canada and Mexico’s borders, in order to form a North American Union.

BC: Sounds a little scary.

CoS: Maybe a little 1984-ish.

BC: Well, I don’t know about 1984, but I think we have enough American influence in Canada. From when I was a kid to how it is now, it’s quite a different country. It’s like the American style of entertainment has really seeped into Canada.

Canada used to be a little more provincial and not as hip, maybe, but with that comes good bands that think they can compete with American bands, so you get this big influx of Canadian bands and everyone all of a sudden starts to talk about the Canadian scene.

CoS: I would definitely say that your scene is on top of the list right now, at least in terms of the strength of material that has been consistently pouring out over the past few years or so. I know you have an immense range of musical tastes and I had read somewhere that you’re a big fan of The Dodos, which I was pretty happy to hear about since not many people know about them, despite how amazing they are.

BC: Oh, yeah. We saw them perform at the same festival we were playing at in Calgary, Alberta. They were really cool. You know, we didn’t finish playing until two-thirty in the morning…so after a few drinks, you get all chummy, trade records, and yeah, I really dug them.

CoS: Yeah, the song “Fools” by them is…

BC: Is that on the white record with the yellow-kind of…

CoS: Visitor? Yeah, I think “Fools” is on there and the song “Walking,” which is just one those tracks that you can play over and over again. It’s so good.

BC: Yeah, whatever that one is that goes like (Hums melody of song). I don’t know. I can’t really hum it, right now. It’s their most folk-y sounding song. I mean, they’re all pretty folk-y, but this one’s just a little more bombastic.

CoS: To close out the interview, could you maybe give a few album suggestions for people to check out, maybe a few recordings from your own DJ repertoire that you spin at parties and such?

BC: Yeah, sure. Gil Scot Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Curtis Mayfield’s Sweet Exorcist. Marva Whitney. They’re all old records, you know. Let’s see (Pause) Dillinger, not the hip-hop guy, but the reggae guy. He’s the one who sings “Cocaine In My Brain.” Any reggae guys like King Tubby or Scientist. I actually bought a Scientist record last time I was in Florida.

CoS: Oh, really?

BC: Yeah. Umm, pretty much all of Miles Davis. On the Corner, Bitches Brew, or Kind of Blue. The Soul Jazz, that’s a record label. They re-issue a lot of old funk and reggae. They have the New York Noise Compilations, which are good. [a beat] Glenn Branca. He’s a pretty cool cat. He would have been very influential to a band like Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo or anything like that. [a beat]: Even that new Yo La Tengo record, my girlfriend and my dog both love it.

CoS: Yeah, the song “I Feel Like Going Home” (Hums melody of song)…

BC: Yeah, yeah, that’s their favorite. (Laughs) It’s such a hippie record. [a beat] Okay, let’s continue. There’s Jahnny Clark. Actually, there’s one Jahnny Clark song, “Rock With Me Baby” and then you get all the dub versions – that’s a jam. “Man In Love” by The Tamlins. That is a fucking jam. Then, you have to get Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” For more of his disco-y stuff, go on YouTube and search for “I Thought It Was You.” You know, and of course, Slayer’s Raining Blood.

CoS: That’s a good way to close it out.

BC: Yeah, the all-time classic. That, or Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. Those are two, all-time classics.

Check Out:

Brendan Canning – “Hit The Wall”


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