ATH Interviews: Broken Social Scene
Charles Spearin Interview
ATH: It’s been a bit since BSS has put out a proper album, is this due to a multitude of projects by all the members, or have we seen the end of the collective as a whole?
Charles: Well we toured a lot together but we also took some time off from each other. We took about a year off in late 2006/early 2007 and everyone sort of worked on their own stuff at that time. After being so close for so long, we kind of needed a little bit of elbow room with a break from each other. We still wanted to make music so we took the time to expand our own music instead of the sometimes exhausting collaborative idea of a band. Of course everyone else got invited to work on everyone elses projects and all of our projects were really done at the same time. Kevin, Brendan and I all had projects going on at the same time with staggered release dates. It kind of made sense to call their projects Broken Social Scene Presents because it’s the band and mine didn’t really have a lot of the same players.
ATH: BSS has managed to garner a lot of respect for the way they went about things, not to mention the music. What has your role been in the entire process?
Charles: It’s hard to put into words even. I think I’ve been more involved in the sonic production of the records and the texturing of things live. I have a background in recording engineering and I used to do live sound engineering and that’s been my second love besides music. I’ve been heavily involved in the recording process, especially for You Forgot it in People. I recorded the KC Accidental records with Kevin before that as well. Then I was quite a bit less involved for the Broken Social Scene self-titled one because Dave Newfeld kind of took over that. After that I co-produced Spirit If… so I was back in the studio for that. I like being the behind the scenes, engineer or mood manipulating guy if you will.
ATH: Do you ever look back on the lifespan of BSS and wish that you could go back and change something, or go about things in a different way?
CS: Not really. The band has grown pretty naturally. I still think it’s a pretty healthy band even though we’ve had some tough times just because we spend so much time together. We’ve done a very good job of compromising out of respect for each other as musicians. I think we’ve done a good job of it because we’re still together and still playing. We’re a large dynamic group and a lot of patience is involved with scheduling and things, but I still consider ourselves a healthy band.
ATH: Can you elaborate the reasoning behind leaving the BSS moniker off this release?
CS: It didn’t make sense for Kevin and Brendan to call their records “Kevin Drew” and “Brendan Canning” and it didn’t make sense to call it Broken Social Scene because it wasn’t really either one. So the solution to that problem was to call it BSS Presents. My songs are a bit more personal in a sense that it’s me talking to my neighbors in my house. Not to say that their albums aren’t personal too, but they brought in a lot of people associated with BSS to help out on their songs. I didn’t see the BSS guys too much while working on my record. I worked with other musicians like the Do Make Say Think guys and it just wouldn’t have been right to call it a BSS Presents record.
ATH: In the bio of your new record The Happiness Project it states that you set out to record an album of tones and melodies that illustrated the conversation and meanderings of everyday life? Do you feel that you were successful in your goal? Was there any thing you would have done differently looking back at the process?
CS: Yeah I think it was an experiment that went very well. I didn’t know what I was doing at first. I had the idea to invite my neighbors over, record them and hopefully find some sort of melody in the nature of their voice that I could make songs out of. The process just got more and more easy as I went along. I could get more and more expressive with the music and it was like I was co-writing with my neighbors. They would provide the melody and I would harmonize it and arrange it. I feel like it was this really lucky experiment. Now it’s getting a proper release which I never really even expected.
ATH: A lot of the record seemingly has a huge jazz influence. Is this due to your own obsession with jazz or does it own more to the overall search to find the perfect melodies to accompany the conversations?
CS: I think maybe a lot of the jazz comes from musicians who are playing on it like Leon Klingstone who does the sax for Mrs. Morris’ voice on the album. He plays quite a bit on the record and has sort of been my right hand man on the project. Dave Clark, who is a fantastic jazz drummer in Toronto, plays drums on the record. It wasn’t intended to be a jazz record at all. It has moments that could be played on a jazz station, but it sort of falls in-between genres I think.
ATH: Have you played the piece for those who participated in the recording? If so, what do they think of the end product?
CS: My neighbor Ana who did the “Happy All the Time” piece loves the project and is thrilled at the thought of it. Her daughter Victoria is also on the record and she’s really happy. I played it for Mrs. Morris but I don’t think she really understands it. Everyone seems to like it.
ATH: Where did you get the idea for this project, as its clearly something you thought an awful lot about?
CS: I’ve been wanting to do it for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had that Charlie Brown syndrome were you listen to your parents and they sound like that “waa waa waa waa”. I’ve always thought it would be great to make songs out of those kinds of melodies from voices. I’ve come across examples of it several times and it just took me putting a little wind in my sails to realize that this can actually happen. I had never heard this done in a sort of accessible or pop way before. I took some of the maybe lofty classical pieces that are a challenge to listen to and made something that’s a little more light-hearted. It’s been a long time coming.
ATH: The US media always hails the Canadian scene and its vitality, are there any up and coming band that we should know about?
CS: I’m a big fan of my friends The Lullabye Arkestra on Constellation Records. They are a sort of soul punk band with a record coming out pretty soon. I don’t get out to see bands as much as I used to really. I’ve got two little kids so I’m on tour and then I’m home. If you give me like an hour, I’m sure I could come up with something better.
ATH: BSS has made it’s way to our town on several occasions. Are there certain hotspots that you have to hit up when you are here?
CS: Yeah what happened to that place Las Manitas? It used to be on 2nd and Congress and it looks like it got torn down. I got up this morning to go there and it was gone. It must have moved or something because it was really popular.
Many thanks again to you Charles. We’re looking forward to that new record coming out. The above photo is provided courtesy of Jonathon Edwards. Look him up on myspace.
Read the Brendan Canning Interview