- In the case of Broken Social Scene, too many cooks only make the broth better<
There's something so enthralling about a thunderstorm — the eerily quiet, jaundiced sky, the first drops that pierce the metallic air, the cautious anticipation and eventual wild maelstrom of lightning, thunder, wind, and rain.
Perhaps one could say the same thing about passionate lovemaking — or about the music of Canada's Broken Social Scene.
The 17-member collective, which sprung from the initial collaboration of core members Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew, doesn't just create songs that are good for driving, dancing, crying, shouting along with, and yes, getting frisky.
Over the course of just three full-length albums and a handful of EPs, the band has cultivated a devoted fanbase large enough to (almost) drown out the Red Hot Chili Peppers at this summer's Lollapalooza in Chicago, due in large part to their uncanny ability to assemble albums that span a broader range of emotions than a teenage girl has on prom night.
In fact, their 2003 Juno-winning (Juno = Canadian Grammy) album You Forgot it in People (Arts & Crafts) reaches one of many climaxes during the seventh track, "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," when singer Emily Haines (also in the band Metric) repeats in her plaintive, childlike voice: "Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that ... Now you're all gone, got your makeup on and you're not coming back," over a gradually crescendoing chorus of banjo, drums, bass, strings, and softly strummed electric guitar.
It's an elliptical way to make a universal point — young girls love bad boys who turn out to be heartbreakers — but it's a perfect illustration of what makes BSS more than just some band with a billion members. Their wholly unique and somewhat kitchen-sink approach to creating music touches a nerve somewhere in anyone who takes the time to truly absorb what they listen to.
"We've managed to build a really great following all over the world," Canning says. "The people we attract are genuinely interesting people. The good person count to the not-so-good is much higher."
While their first album, the somnambulant Feel Good Lost, was put together mostly by Canning and Drew, it wasn't until they hooked up with Toronto producer Dave Newfeld for YFiiP and 2005's self-titled LP (which also won a Juno) that Broken Social Scene turned into the tour bus-busting communal effort it is today.
Newfeld's method of gathering and layering up to 170 (or more!) different tracks — horns, guitars, vibraphone, singing saw, scads of vocals, found sounds, and god knows what else — for just one song was a major spur in edging BSS into a genre all their own, and it simultaneously allowed the band to invite all their talented friends to join in on the recording process whenever they got a chance.
"Being in a band, if you don't know when to say 'no,' it can just sort of disintegrate," Canning says, "because being in a band can be a real bitch. Fortunately, we have a really mature crew. No one's really dying to be famous."
But their crew is chock-full of artists who have become arguably famous in their own rights — dance chanteuse Leslie Feist, members of the melancholy, '80s-pop-influenced Stars (vocalist Amy Millan is currently on the road with BSS), Haines and Metric bandmate James Shaw, Apostle of Hustle idea man and flamboyant (think David Lee Roth-style high kicks) guitarist Andrew Whiteman, and too many more to list.
See, Broken Social Scene picked an apt name. Like the unpredictable, diverse sound of the latest album, the shambly cacophony of the large group is constantly in flux, with players hopping on and off tour whenever BSS's schedule doesn't conflict with that of their own bands; some form of the group has been on the road at least six or seven months of each year since YFiiP came out in 2003.
"This is sort of a tour that we had some squabbles over whether it was a good idea," Canning says, "but I maintain that it was important for us to play cities in America that we've never played before, to prove that we're a viable act down here — so far I've been proven quite right ... we're playing to packed houses every night."
What can be rough on the band is a boon for fans, who get to witness lead singer Drew belting out the self-titled album's closing track, a nine-minute-plus manifesto called "It's All Gonna Break."
The song sounds like something Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band could've written while on acid and Ecstasy, as Drew is flanked onstage by three other guitarists, bassist Canning, a horn section, a violinist, and at least one drummer, the astronomically talented Justin Peroff, plus a likely second percussionist.
While BSS is "most definitely" not breaking up, according to Canning, they will be taking time off after this tour to work on outside projects: film scores, Drew's got a solo album nearly completed, Do Make Say Think (the dreamlike instrumental opening band on this tour that features BSS regulars Ohad Benchitrit and Charles Spearin) and Apostle of Hustle have new albums coming out, and Newfeld is currently building a new studio outside of Toronto that will replace Stars and Sons — the birthplace of YFiiP and Broken Social Scene.
"There's gonna be lots of action out of our camp," Canning says. "What all of that means is yet to be determined. We just need a little bit of time to be ourselves and work on music just for the sake of working on music. Literally, we just need a little pause for the cause, is all."