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Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene

Monday 9th August, 2010 9:44PM

A couple weeks ago I spoke with Andrew Whiteman, core member of Broken Social Scene, the Canadian collective that includes members of Do Make Say Think, Valley of the Giants, Stars, Metric, Feist, and Andrew’s own project Apostle of Hustle. We talked about their latest record Forgiveness Rock Record, working with John McEntire of Tortoise, their latest tour, and Kiwi music. He was such a rad dude. Go to the show.</p>

SP - The last three Broken Social Scene albums have been recorded and produced with Dave Newfeld. Forgiveness Rock Record was produced by John McEntire. What was it like recording with him?

AW - It was very different recording with John. Yeah, how do I describe it? If Dave Newfeld is like Jackson Pollock, then John McEntire is more like Jasper Johns, for the abstract expressionist crew.

How did it affect the way you wrote and recorded songs this time?

It affected it hugely, hugely. But, in once sense no because we’re a very computer-based band? You know we lay down thousands and thousands of layers and peel them back later. So in a way no, as we still did that with John but in a different way. Being in Chicago was different because we’re used to being in Toronto when we do everything. The state of mind in the band was very different because we hadn’t recorded a proper album with Lisa [Lobsinger] and Sammie [Goldberg] on board, and there was more of an openness. It was a change of pace being in a different city and recording with someone else, more of a positive state of mind rather than a desperate state of mind. We’ve always recorded in situations that have been really desperate.

Do you reckon you were channeling a Chicago-aesthetic rather than a Canadian one this time round?

We were channeling the incredible restaurants of Chicago! It seems that dining out ended up being a large part of the experience. We went to some amazing restaurants, and ate a lot of great food. And we had bikes, we rode bikes everywhere. Chicago’s a big flat place so we’d ride bikes to the studio, and ride bikes home after the meals, and that was a good head-clearer at the end of the night. It wasn’t one of those desperate record-until-four-in-the-morning-and-smash-your-head-against-the-wall experiences, it was a little bit calmer I guess.

More of a luxury recording experience?

Yeah! That and calmer. John does that to you. John McEntire, he’s a samurai in the corner. He’s not effusive. He sits there and listens, he watches, he observes, he takes it all in. He gently suggests things, but hardly ever. He’s waiting. He’s waiting, and that sense of stillness was very different for us as well.

You guys are all huge Tortoise fans right?

Yeah, hard not to be you know? Huge Sea and Cake fan.

Can I just ask, after that talk of food, are you guys vegetarians?

Who’s a vegetarian...Lisa is a vegetarian, Marty is a else really. I was a vegetarian for eight years, not anymore...

And what were you drinking while recording?

A lot of nice wine when we’d go out for dinner...hmmm let’s see. Not a lot of wastedness really. Not much of a drunken session! It just wasn’t that, it wasn’t a heavy substance situation. There was a bunch of partying for sure. We did some recording in Toronto as well, overdubbing and stuff? It was at Giant studios which is owned by Jimmy Shaw our friend from Metric, and Sebastien Grainger. So when you’re in your own backyard you got easy access, so that had a bit of fuel to it. But in Chicago no. Drunken nights here and there, but not the basis for it.

So how long did it take you to record the album?

We went there and came back numerous times. So I couldn’t say. Potentially when we started jamming at Charlie’s place [Charlie Spearin] to when it was mastered, probably somewhere around eight months all told. But we toured and had shows in amongst all that. There were times when Charlie was on tour and he wasn’t around, Apostle of Hustle [Whiteman’s own project] was on tour we toured with Gogol Bordello for a month so I wasn’t around for a bunch of the sessions. It was broken up a lot.

So hard to organise so many of you!

That’s a joke! We’re not organised, we don’t organise. Why bother you know? You do your best.

I’ve always wondered who does the songwriting when you guys are jamming and who actually chooses what tracks go on the record?

The second question; certain ideas always end up getting more fleshed out and having a certain priority. Ultimately there’s something like forty two jams in various states of being completed so fourteen of them got completed to put on the record and then ten more are on the digital download lo-fi record. So you know, you watch your children grow, you see which ones wanna get ahead sooner. But there’re tons of great songs that aren’t really finished. I don’t know when we’ll get to finish them! The first question, some of the tunes it really depends on the song. Some are pretty idealistic jams that we all came up with. Some of them were more formed. ‘World Sick’, Kevvy (Kevin Drew) came in and had the melody, chorus, lyrics and then we figured out what beats went on it, what guitar hooks, that kinda thing. Some are in between that. For ‘Forced to Love’ I had a bit of a hook, a melody and some chords and I brought that in and then people do whatever they do to that. ‘Sentimental XX’s’ that ended up with Amy [Millan of Stars], Leslie [Feist] and Emily on it [Hains of Metric] we actually played that a bunch of times live and called it ‘Kevvy Key Jam’ and it was just an instrumental. Then we threw it at Emily and she came up with an interesting part . In Toronto Feist and Amy were in Toronto and they added their parts separately. It depends on the track.

Do you think the Broken Social Scene Presents series changed the way you guys work together at all?

No, no not at all. I think it was Kevin being nervous about just saying it was a solo ‘Kevin Drew’ record. It wasn’t a marketing scam or anything, it was just Kevin being nervy. It kinda confused people. We all play on the records anyway, we play Kevvy’s and Brendan’s songs live! There are jems on those records, it was just nerves I think.

You guys have been doing some film scores; I especially like the one for Half Nelson and I read that you’ve been working on the score for Scott Pilgrim vs The Word. Is this something you guys will be doing in the future?

That’s more of a Kevin, Brendan thing. For Scott Pilgrim they got tapped by Nigel Godrich to help out. So they went over and did that in London at Nigel’s place. I didn’t have anything to do with that, but to greater or lesser degrees we’re all interested in that. We’re interested in creating and maintaining a life in music with people that we’re in touch with and people that we’re close to. You know obviously doing music scores for films is one of the only ways you can pull it off besides touring. Film directing itself is one of Kevvy’s big dreams and I think he’ll be good at it. His instincts are good when it comes to people and I think being a film director is about that. Hopefully making scores is something we can all get involved in. Maybe when we’re done with this touring cycle in a year and a half we can settle in and write to film. That would be exciting. I spoke to Nigel about it in London. He both enjoyed it, and was incredibly frustrated. He had never stuck his foot in that world either. And there’s a lot more people to negotiate with and through.

Just to finish up, what are you listening to right now?

I’m a big podcast fan so I download podcasts from Accelerate magazine, from Stone’s Throw, there’s a place called Percussion Lab. I also like flamenco music, I’m not really big on the indie rock so much, but you know we all listen to it. We all listen to a lot of stuff. Flying Lotus! [Oh my god that album, AMAZING] Really fantastic, amazing. Ummm...Tom Waits. That kinda thing. My wife is an amazing singer and she sings Arabic music called Sha’abi music. Sublime Frequenciees is a label that releases this sort of thing. I’m really into that. Actually, I will give one shout for one indie band we have a lot of band love for Here We Go Magic. We did five shows with them, they were fantastic kids, we had a great time, we partied our asses off with them. Hopefully we’ll do some shows with them in Canada. Oh and, you know who I love? Trinity Roots and Fat Freddy’s Drop? I love their music. I’m a big big fan. I never seen those cats live. Do you know them? [Andrew subsequently asked via email if the Fat Freddy's Drop horn players would be interested in sitting in on either of the shows, so if you're reading this let the editor know!]

I’m sorry I don’t!

Well big shouts to them.

Broken Social Scene are playing live at the Kings Arms in Auckland on August 6 and Wellington’s SFBH on August 7th.

Soong Phoon